Humility — The Master Virtue

by Stuart Scott

It is probably safe to say that humility is the one character quality that will enable us to be all Christ wants us to be. We cannot come to God without it. We cannot love God supremely without it. We cannot be an effective witness for Christ without it. We cannot love and serve others without it. We cannot lead in a godly way without it. We cannot communicate properly without it. We cannot resolve conflict without it. We cannot deal with the sin of others rightly without it. We especially cannot resist sin without it. In short, we must embrace and live out humility in order to truly live and be who God means for us to be. It is for this reason that God exhorts us through Paul:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness … (Eph. 4: 1-2).

There are several Old Testament terms translated humility or humble. Mostly they refer to the action of bowing low or crouching down. This is what we should do in our hearts. In the New Testament, there are two words used, one meaning servile, base or groveling and the other meaning gentle, meek or yielding. These attitudes were very negative concepts in the Greek culture, but Christ revealed them to be virtues.

Our Greatest Example

Of all the biblical examples of humility, the greatest by far is the example of Christ Himself. Christ’s coming to earth was an amazing act of humility. Try to imagine what Christ had in heaven-glory, honor, pure worship and majesty. Then read in Philippians how He humbled Himself:

Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond­servant, and being made in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8)

Jesus described Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29, KJV). Certainly He knew when to be firm and when to rebuke others for God’s glory (Matt. 23), but He was truly humble of heart. While Christ was here on earth, He was in complete submission to the Father’s will, even though He Himself was God (John 4:34; 8:28-29). He was devoted to glorifying God (John 17:1, 4). Christ became the servant of men and taught His disciples to do the same (Mark 10:45; John 13:3-17).

Jesus’ perspective is very different from the thinking people often have. In our society, the first or the one who is lifted up is the greatest. According to Jesus, however, the least is the greatest. The humblest person is the greatest person of all (Mark 10: 43-44). This means that the proud person is last in God’s eyes. Jesus’ life is just the opposite of what is valued today. God’s Word tells us that we must have the perspective of Christ, rather than that of the world (Rom. 12:2).

Other Biblical Examples

Other examples of humility in Scripture abound. Abraham gave Lot the first choice when they parted company and divided the land (Gen. 13). Moses is said to be “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). John the Baptist acknowledged that he was not worthy to untie Christ’s sandals (Luke 3: 16). Mary, the mother of Jesus, submitted herself completely to God’s will, saying, “Behold the bond slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to Your word” and “My soul exalts the Lord … for He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave” (Luke 1:38, 46, 48). The tax collector beat his breast and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest New Testament examples of humility. He told the Ephesian elders, “1 was … serving the Lord with all humility and with tears” (Acts 20: 18-19). Paul also referred to himself as, the “chief’ of sinners, and the “least of all saints” (l Tim. 1:15, KJV; Eph . 3:8). Paul had a right perspective of who he was in respect to God.

A Definition of Humility

When someone is humble they are focused on God and others, not self. Even their focus on others is out of a desire to love and glorify God. They have no need to be recognized or approved. There is no competition with God or others. They have no need to elevate self, knowing that they have been forgiven and that God’s love has been undeservedly and irrevocably set on them. Instead, a humble person’s goal is to elevate God and encourage others. In short, they “no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf’ (2 Cor. 5: 15). From these truths we can put together a simple definition of humility:

The mindset of Christ (a servant’s mindset): a focus on God and others, a pursuit of the recognition and the exaltation of God, and a desire to glorify and please God in all things and by all things He has given.

Manifestations of Humility

A humble person lives differently than a proud one. How does your life measure up in the area of humility? Here is a sample list to help you evaluate how humble you are.

1.  Recognizing and trusting God’s character. A humble person acknowledges Who God is and rehearses God’s character often. Because he does this, he trusts God much more than the proud person. In trials, he will even thank God for the reminder of how much he needs Him and for all the good He is doing through the trial (Ps. 119:66).

2.  Seeing yourself as having no right to question or judge an Almighty and Perfect God. A humble man thinks of God as his Creator and himself as God’s creation. He does not see himself as even remotely qualified to pass judgment on God or what God does. He knows that his perfect and all-wise God can do whatever He pleases, and it will be the best for him (ps.145:17;Rom. 9:19-23).

3.  Focusing on Christ. The humble see Christ as their life and their first love. There is no other thing or person that they must have. Through the day they talk to and worship Him often (Phil. l:21;Heb.12:1-2).

4.  Biblical praying and a great deal of it. Humble people want to worship God and they see themselves as totally dependent on God for His enablement. John Owen once said, “We can have no power from Christ unless we live in a persuasion that we have none of our own.” Because they see themselves as needy, they pray often (I Thess. 5: 17; I Tim. 2: 1-2).

5.  Being overwhelmed with God’s undeserved grace and goodness. The humble person sees himself as truly deserving of hell. He is immensely grateful to God for forgiving him of so much (Ps.116:12-19).

6.  Being thankful and grateful in general toward others. Humble people thank God and others often. They expect nothing, so anything that is received is greatly appreciated (1 Thess. 5: 18).

7.  Being gentle and patient. Humble people want to act like God, and they are not focused on what they want. They also want to love others the way God loves them. They are willing to wait and are not easily irritated (Col. 3:12-14).

8.  Seeing yourself as no better than others. A humble person understands the sinfulness of his own heart. He would never see himself as better than others. This is true no matter who the other person is. He understands that he, in and of himself, is capable of the worst sin. He agrees with John Bradford who said, “but for the grace of God, there I go” (Rom. 12:16;Eph.3:8).

9.  Having an accurate view of your gifts and abilities. Humble people do no bemoan the fact that they are not a: gifted as others. Neither do the) exaggerate their own abilities (Rom 12:3).

10. Being a good listener. Humble people consider what others have to say a: more important than what they have to say. They take an interest in others by asking questions and listening. Self is not their primary focus (James 1: 19 Phil.2:3A).

11.Talking about others only if it is good or for their good. A humble person will speak well of others, not negatively. He will convey something negative about someone only if he must do so in order to help that person (Prov. 11: 13).

12. Being gladly submissive and obedience to those in authority. Humble people are first of all obedient to  God, and then the authorities over them (Rom. 12: 1-2 13:1-2).

13. Preferring others over yourself. Humble people are willing to put others before self without first considering their own rights (Rom. 12:10).

14. Being thankful for criticism or reproach Humble people view reproof as good for them and consider that God may be trying to teach them something (Prov 9:8; 27:5-6).

15. Having a teachable spirit. Humble people realize they don’t know everything, and even when they think they are right are willing to consider that they might be wrong (1 Cor. 4:7). The: also know that God can use anyone to teach them, since He was even able to use a donkey to teach Balaam (Num. 22:22-35). They have many people they admire and respect.

16. Seeking always to build up others. Humble people encourage others. They use only words that build up and say what is necessary for the edification of others. They never cut others down (Eph.4:29).

17. Serving. Humble people are on the lookout for ways to serve and assist others. They are the first to volunteer for jobs no one else wants. They take the initiative to reach out and serve others (Gal. 5: 13).

18. A quickness in admitting when you are wrong. Humble people have no problem with saying, “I was wrong. You are right. Thank you for telling me.” (Prov.29:23).

19. A quickness in granting and asking for forgiveness. Humble people are eager to forgive because they know how much they have been forgiven. They have no trouble asking for forgiveness because they want to be peacemakers (Col. 3: 12-14).

20. Repenting of sin as a way of life. A humble person asks God daily for forgiveness and works toward real change (1 John 1 :9; 1 Tim. 4:7-9).

21. Minimizing others’ sins or shortcomings in comparison to your own. A humble person thinks about his own sin more often than another’s sin. He also sees his own sin as more important to deal with than the sin of others (Matt. 7:3-4).

22. Being genuinely glad for others. Humble people rejoice with others when good things happen because they are aware that God has blessed them immeasurably and they trust God for what they do not have (Rom. 12: 15).

23. Being honest and open about who they are and the areas in which they need growth. Humble people are open and honest about their growth in the Lord. They ask for help and accountability in the repentance process, knowing they need their brothers and sisters (Phil. 3:12-14; Gal. 6:2).

24. Possessing close relationships. Humble people have friends and loved ones because they are friendly and love others. They are willing to ask for help with various burdens and problems they may have (Acts 20:31-38).

Get Humble and Keep Humble

It should be abundantly clear that without humility we cannot be the exemplary Christians God has called us to be. In turn, one cannot put on humility if he doesn’t first realize areas where he has sinful pride. Pride lies behind every sin and especially behind strife and contention (Prov. 13:10).

God “is opposed to the proud” (James 4:6). God is actively fighting against pride in order that He might capture or win us (Ezek. 14). Earlier, in this same passage, James says, “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5). Christian, God will deal with your pride if you will not. He will do this because He loves you and because He made you to glorify Him. Spurgeon believed that “every Christian has a choice between being humble or being humbled.”

To the humble God promises grace (James 4:6). When we see ourselves rightly in reference to God and others, we will shine with God’s glory. Paul tells us in Colossians, “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of. .. humility … ” (Co1.3: 12). This putting on of humility, unfortunately, is not a one-time thing. Pride does not die once, but it must die daily. The Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks admonished us well when he said, “Get humble and keep humb1e.”

“The Master Virtue” by Stuart Scott. Condensed from The Exemplary Husband A Biblical Perspective Revised EditionFaithWalk. Vol. 4, No. 4. Pages 45-50.