What Is True Humility? (Newsletter 08.08.18)

Dear Church Family,

What does it mean to be humble? For most of my life, my default definition pretty well agreed with a common dictionary’s definition: “having a low estimate of one’s own importance.” Maybe that’s the way you think of what it means to be humble—not thinking you’re very important. Well, it is true that Paul instructs us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). It’s also true that there are many proud people who have a very high opinion of themselves, but that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s possible to be proud and yet have a low estimate of your own importance. And on the other hand, it is possible to be humble and yet have a high estimate of your own importance.

Before I try to back up those claims, I’d like to submit to you that we’ve been approaching humility from the wrong direction. Instead of thinking about humility as how we relate to ourselves, we must first think of humility of how we relate to God. Simply put, humility means submitting to the Lord’s will in everything. This is why true humility and the fear of the Lord are so closely related. Proverbs 11:2 says, “with the humble is wisdom.” What is the beginning of wisdom? “The fear of the Lord”, says Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10. We also see the fear of the Lord and humility woven together in Proverbs 15:33, “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” and Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.”

But even more significant is the chief example of humility we’re given time and time again in the New Testament. Who is that example? None other than Jesus Christ. There has been and there will never be a greater demonstration of true humility than Jesus. There has been and there will never be anyone of greater importance than Jesus. Jesus was not shy about this. He claimed to be the Son of God. He commanded people to follow Him. He taught with authority over all His hearers. And, at the same time, He is the One we are called to emulate as we pursue humility.

In what way was Jesus humble? How did He humble Himself? Philippians 2:8 says, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Did you catch that? Jesus displayed His humility “by becoming obedient.” Obedient to whom? His Father. Do you remember what He prayed right before He was betrayed? Three times He prayed the same words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus’s humility was most clearly on display as He submitted to the will of His Father at the cost of His Own life.

Friends, we are humble only if we submit to the will of God in obedience to His Word—whatever it costs us. We are prideful when we choose to follow our will. This is why our pride and sin are so closely linked together. This is why Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8:13 and 36 calls out, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate…all who hate me love death.” There is no humble person who does not hate sin.

But also remember, why did Jesus lay down His life on the cross? He gave His life for ours—to redeem His Bride. The greatest act of humility, the greatest act of service, and the greatest act of love are all one and the same—the death of Jesus on the cross. So then, as we think about what it means to be humble, we must also recognize submitting to the will of the Father involves counting others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). We cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 4:20-21). This doesn’t flow from our worthiness, but from the price He paid for us in the death of His Son. Here and only here is where our true importance lies.

This coming Lord’s day will be a day in the life of our church focusing on humility. As we approach Zephaniah 1:1-2:3 in the morning and Colossians 3:12-17 in the evening, let me encourage you to pray that God would prepare your heart to receive His Word with humility. Ask that you may be willing to submit to whatever He calls us to do. May we be encouraged to know that those who humble themselves before the Lord will be exalted by Him (James 4:10)—even as we’ve already seen with Christ (Philippians 2:9-11).

Gentry