The word humility is often thrown around to mean different things. People have even self-professed themselves to be “humble”. However, a humble person will never say they are humble, others call them so. “Let another praise you, not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). Then how do we know we are humble, what exactly is humility and can we aspire to be called humble?
What is humility?
Humility is having a low or modest view of one’s importance. When we can exalt anything other than ourselves or our opinions. Humility allows us to have a teachable spirit and the ability to accept correction. When we are humble, we can acknowledge our mistakes, accurately assess our shortcomings and recognise that it is not all about us.
In Christ, we are called to a life of humility, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:24). To display the same kind of humility that Christ demonstrated is first a denial of self and then a call to esteem others higher:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of othersPhilippians 2:3-4
Anywhere self is inflated or uplifted to a higher place over Christ, pride looks to draw the attention which is opposite to what we are called to. The opposite of humility is not pride but in fact self. Love of self is at the root of pride and comes from within (Mark 7:20-22). The visible appearance of a prideful person begins with the inward esteem of self – one’s achievement, one’s success – a single-minded focus on self.
However, sometimes, the attention of an audience elevates us to a higher status than intended and it is in these moments we fight to be humble. How do we accept acknowledgement of our achievements without becoming prideful or conceited?
Character of humility
We must always remember to give thanks and glory to God, as publicly as we receive the applause (praise). When we boast, our boast should be in Christ alone (1 Cor. 1:31) because He alone is really worthy of all the glory. We can show appreciation for compliments (praise) yet remain humble for we know that every good and perfect gift is from God, therefore we give thanks to Him.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you1 Peter 5:6
Beware of false humility which looks to deflect deserved praise or publicly declare how humble we are, as the Pharisees did (Matt. 6:2,5) . The nature of this behaviour actually draws more attention to self as it is unnecessary and extravagant. Humble people do not exalt themselves. At the right time, we will be exalted when we meet God and hear “well done, good and faithful servant”(Matt. 25:21). Until then, we strive to remain humble.
Humble like Christ
John the Baptist modelled humility in this way. When his disciples were upset at how others were going to Jesus to be baptised, John simply responded “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but ‘I have been sent before Him.’ (John 3:28).
He did not let the fame or crowds that came through his work of baptism distract him from the true purpose; he was only “preparing the way”. John understood who was to receive the true glory and attention. Therefore, when it was time to step aside, he could do so with confidence, “…therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:29-30). This is leading a life of humility. Not seeking to be elevated, but to see Christ elevated.
We have seen humility perfectly in our King who took a servant position for our sake. Christ laid down his life for us. He made “Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7). This is what it means to be truly humble in life.
If we desire to be like Christ in all aspects of our lives, to esteem him above self and to say for the sake of Christ and the gospel, we are willing to lay down our life; we too can live a truly humble life. Everything we do should point to Christ.