In our Guest Blog this time, long-time EBC member Terry Foster contributes a very thoughtful piece on humility which is well worth reflecting on. Thanks Terry!
Humility Before Honour (Prov. 18:12)
Where do you start with such a subject as humility? It conjures up such images as being soft, being mild-mannered, of someone politely yielding within a discussion that becomes heated.
Humility, however, is a big word and biblically it is not a word associated with weakness or timidity, despite what a dictionary may tell you. Rather it is a word to be seen as one of the greatest strengths a person can have. Look no further than Jesus (Philippians 2:5) if you wish to know what kind of attitude you should have (Philippians 1-11 for context).
This short article is aimed for a Christian readership, which is why I have mentioned Jesus already, but feel free to read on if you are not a believer, you might find a unique way of looking at things. As always, the views expressed are private opinions, thoughts enhanced through the input of various evangelists and scriptural passages, all of which I acknowledge as I look to describe this topic.
With the confidence that Jesus Christ is Lord of Creation and the centre of all that is, via this cosmos, our origins, and our sentient capacity, I begin with the declaration that the Mind of Christ remained consistently imbued with humility, thus giving credence to the position that humility is exceptionally important. So much so that it is the essence of the Gospels. If you do call yourself a Christian, one that is following in The Way of our Lord, I would suggest then it is a duty to go to Jesus for an example of how humility should be lived out.
For our Lord to become a man He required more humility than for an Angel to become a worm. (C.H. Spurgeon)
Humility is a great strength, it is not as many see it, a vulnerability made from servility or from a grovelling personality, such thoughts just make for confusion. Humility in Scripture is about a mental attitude, one which grades the interests of others as more important than personal interest. A great preacher, Selwyn Hughes, put it like this; Christianity that does not begin with humility – doesn’t begin.
I couldn’t agree more with that statement, and therefore it is so important at the outset to be aware that the world view of humility – as a weak human characteristic – is directly opposed to the Christian view, which ranks humility in the highest esteem.
I appreciate this article has opened with quite strong words, but sometimes things must be said because humanity remember has fallen into sin, and so much that goes on around the world in society is a lie or a bluff or camouflage to conceal real intentions. Those of us who are Christians are no exceptions because we too are living in this world, and we too have sin in us.
I will try to explain the best I can. People will sometimes deliberately take a lower place, not because they want to, but because they are hoping to gain a better place, that someone will offer a better seat. Some will express a low opinion of themselves in the hope of being contradicted. Like if I said “I’m not a very good writer” in the half hope that I will be told I’m a great writer. I try to be humble when talking about my authorship but nevertheless, it is a thin line I walk at times. To be truly humble means saying things in complete honesty and for the correct purpose. The opposite of humility is pride and pride can be a dangerous sin that slides you into wrong avenues of spirit.
When looking at the greatness of God and comparing God with your own smallness, humility can grow. I am reminded of what the preacher Philip Brookes said about 150 years ago. “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatest greatness is”.
So then, stand at your highest and face Jesus. Humility develops not by looking down at your feet but by looking up. After looking up at Jesus you will be forever humble. An atheist of course is bereft of such a reference point and will burrow into a thesaurus to find that to be humble means to look down and be used by other people. This is the dramatic difference between people of this world and people of God. As Christians we must know who we are, as Jesus knew who He was. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet because knowing who He was gave Him the full Power of Humility, Jesus was rooted in God and so are we. This is how we can choose to be humble in the right way and correct manner.
1 Peter 5:5 tells us to clothe ourselves with humility. Imagine that. We are to wear humility like a piece of clothing. You may get up and have a shower and put on decent clothes but how clean are you? Can you wear a coat as white as the garment of humility? How long will you wear it before it gets dirty? Will it get tarnished just by you looking at it, let alone putting it on.
There is an article by Sir James Simpson, the surgeon who first discovered the anaesthetic properties in chloroform, who was asked what his greatest discovery was. He never mentioned his breakthrough in anaesthetics. He said, “My greatest discovery was when I realised, I was a sinner, and that Jesus Christ was my Saviour”. Now that is humility isn’t it.
When focusing on Jesus we see actual humility. Pies were probably not invented in 30AD but for sure if they were, Jesus would have eaten them. However, He would never have had to eat ‘Humble Pie’ because humility, when covered correctly, does not involve being humiliated after doing something wrong. Yes, if we do something wrong then sure we can apologise and show a courteous and respectful demeanour, but there is no need to succumb to humiliation and be forced to eat humble pie. To do so would be to side-line God’s Authority over your life, an Authority that brings freedom. True Freedom. Free-will under the auspices of God does not mean we are able to do what we like; it means we are free to do what we ought.
My feeling on this is that we should not refuse to be self-effacing if we are caught out in this world with a humiliating event, but we need to always be balanced, and this generally involves God’s Grace. The most reverential and wholesome Christians know that the only way to approach God in difficult matters is through God’s gift of Grace. The best men and women know they are just that, mere men, and women. True Christians don’t talk of their attributes, like their spirituality, their gifts or pray out loud so everyone can hear how good they are or boom out how they saved someone. It is no good to just profess your faith. Real Christians cry. They cry for mercy. They cry for mercy in their tithing, their prayer content, their communication, their love for others, their good works. My goodness. To cry for mercy over good works, how much more should we cry for mercy over our sins. And this my friends, is humility. (Psalm 51:1).
A skilled reading of Luke 18 explains matters better than I can. Pay attention to the way the Pharisee prayed and then the way the tax collector prayed. I must be honest and confess I am not in the class of people in the above paragraph, I have a lot to learn and some way to go, being humble or as we said earlier, wearing a robe of humility as we set out for the day, is not easy at all.
Finding words used by Jesus on humility is sparce. Jesus did not have to really speak about it, He just did it and this is commented upon in the New Testament. In fact, it is commented upon in the Old Testament too would you believe. One time Jesus did speak on the topic, His words, as always, were crystal clear and to the point. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”, (Matt 23:12). Jesus kinda sums up all my pondering in one short sentence.
I feel compelled to finish this article with the revelation given to us in the Book of Matthew concerning our Saviour. Nothing can better highlight the invincibility of a humble nature when applied at its most caring and its most poignant height of a full compassionate attitude, as we see with Jesus Christ. The experience for Jesus in Matthew 26 verse 39 shows perfect humility, which you can see also contains perfect strength. The story causes your spirit to weep and be electrified at the same time. The majesty, control, and determination, coupled with Jesus’ clear perspective, makes our own ideas of humility seem quite grubby in comparison.
It would be normal to summarise things now, but I feel led by God to say that you dear reader need to carry out your own assessment. Maybe read the biblical passages highlighted and build upon the comments I have endeavoured to bring across, or just simply pray with God about these issues. Perhaps do both. If I have given food for thought at any point, then I am blessed indeed to have been of service.
Again, I say that the tough words written are the comprehension of Scripture, as I am overall, I think, quite softly spoken. The Bible isn’t. As we know The Epistles were written before the Gospels as St. Paul engaged with the issues facing the early church by writing letters. The Way created by our Lord was treated with such awe and reverence in those early days that the Jewish people orally handed down from father to son, to wives and daughters, the precious priceless words of Jesus and relayed the awesome path and miracles of Jesus’ Ministry. After around 50 years it was decided to formally put things down in writing and the Gospels were produced. With the infusing of the Holy Spirit, the early church people were so bathed in humility by the teachings of Jesus that they could but only seek out Old Testament scripture to guide them over the lessons set by The Messiah, which were completely unexpected and new to them. The perception is that St. Paul is so obviously humble and yet is remarkably strong within his humility. The highest of all directives from St. Paul is to seek the Teachings of Jesus. Jesus is The Truth. Jesus wore the garment of humility every day and it was never stained or marked in the slightest, even when He lost His Temper. Humility. You have got to love it.
Just one other mention. In my opinion there is no direction scripturally to be miserable with humility. It is good to be of good cheer and to have fun and laugh, this commentary of mine is not suggesting we should all go around being sad or melancholy so to speak. Many will talk about humility with a gloomy looking face, looking down, being despairing. Christian humility I would venture does not seem to be anything like that. It is serious yes, but Jesus, St Paul, St Peter, and the others would have been humble but also strong, joyful, free, clear, and wise at the same time. Look up not down.