As beloved followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives that reflect Jesus’ character and glorify His name. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and instill in us a Christ-like character, that overflows in Christ-like action.
We’ve looked at the characteristics of compassion and kindness that we are called to live out as we live in love relationship with Jesus. Now, let’s explore another quality of those who live loved:
Humility. Simply defined, this word means “not proud or arrogant.”
Humility, or humbleness, can be elusive, easily falling in an avalanche of narcissistic thoughts and selfish ambitions, giving way to vanity and conceit.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, “I am humble and gentle at heart.” And in Philippians 2, we read this description of Jesus:
Humility is a part of Jesus character, and were He not humble, He would never have come to earth and died for the ungodly. He would never have taken sins of you and me upon Himself and received the punishment we deserve. Jesus’ humble heart made the forgiveness of sins and relationship with God possible.
In this passage, the word “humble” comes from the greek tapeinoo, which signifies “to make low, bring low.” It can mean bringing to the ground, making level or reducing to a plain. At the root of tapeinoo, is tapeinos, which means “that which is low, and does not rise far from the ground.”
This definition of “humble” is not a popular in our culture. We live in a world where self-preservation and self-gratification are placed above all else. Many of us would like to think of ourselves as not prideful or arrogant, but taking it a step further to this lowly state, this prostration, this reduction, that is not in our nature. Giving up our rights and privileges for the benefit others, taking a position that is deemed beneath us, living in submission and service, this often causes us to bristle a little.
But in Philippians 2:5, we are called to have the same attitude as Jesus in our relationships with others. And I am challenged in this as I read of the humble, submissive, obedient, selfless attitude Jesus has. Such humility that He would leave His throne in heaven to be born in a manger, that He would walk the same dusty roads and eat at the same tables as sinners and tax collectors and fishermen, that He would die the shamed and cursed death of a criminal.
We are called to clothe ourselves in this same humility.
What does this look like for us, as we walk dusty, sometimes painful and lonely, sometimes dirty and messy, sometimes hard and confusing, roads of life?
In Philippians 2:3-4, right before we are called to have the same attitude as Jesus, we read, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV)
There is a quote I see often that speaks of what it means to be humble: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Humility is not self-degrading or self-despising. Rather, humility brings others, their needs and interests, to the forefront. It causes us to consider them and see those needs that are beyond ourselves. It causes us to give up our own comfort and wants for the benefit of others. It causes us to have an others-focused mindset, rather than a me-focused mindset. Rather than living to get what I want, when I want it, how I want it, we live to bless others and glorify God.
Such humility comes as we imitate Jesus and follow Him. In the verses that describe Jesus’ humility, we also see His submission and obedience to God. This first One we must consider, the first One we must look to, is the One we are to humble ourselves before and obey.
Philippians 2:12-16 continues to teach us about living in humility:
As we live in obedience to God, we must continue to grow. We should never think we’ve arrived or that we’re superior to others. We know that it is only God working in us that gives us the desire and ability to do His will. We are each on a journey of drawing closer to God, some in different stages than others, so instead of comparing or judging, let us keep our “fear and trembling” - our breathless awe, our joyful gratitude, our humble reverence for the One who saves us.
All we do is to be done without complaint and without arguing. Even the things we don’t like to do. Even when we disagree with others. This isn’t saying if we disagree we can’t share our thoughts or work through the disagreement. But it should be done without argument. Without the stubbornness of wanting to change the other’s mind just so you can be right. It should be done with respect, willing to hear the other out and understand where they’re coming from.
Philippians 2:9 tells God exalted Christ, raising Him from death to life, giving Him the Name above every name. In Ephesians 2:6, we are told that “God raised us up with Christ…” And in 1 Peter 5:6 and James 4:10, both verses in which we are called to humble ourselves before God, we are promised, “God gives grace to the humble and He will lift you up.”
Humility is not weakness, nor bending under cumbersome burdens, with no regard for our well-being. True humility allows God to work in us and through us. It enables us to see others, and ourselves, without comparison or judgement. It replaces complaints and arguments with gratitude and consideration. When we live in humility, we live as children of God. And we shine. Not because we are promoting self, but because we are reflecting Jesus.