The Law of Humility

“…the requirement of humility will result in honor.”

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Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” In our journey through life, it is tempting to take pride in the positive changes we make in our lives. We want other people to recognize our accomplishments. But in God’s plan, honor is something we receive only as we learn to live in humility. It is not something we should seek on its own. Humility is the path to being honored by God and by others. The law of humility is not the easiest law to write about because we can’t point to a day in our own lives when we have finally reached the state of perfect humility—it’s an ongoing, lifelong process, much like recovery from drugs and alcohol. Moreover, because of the self-abasement that now colors our life, we can’t talk about how often we’re admired by others.

We can’t speak of a time when we were so unassuming and self-effacing that we were honored and celebrated by our peers and colleagues—that wouldn’t be very humble, would it? But it can be said that we’ve had some moments of great pride that led to painful disappointments. We have spent too much time wanting to to be honored by others here on Earth rather than seeking the ultimate honor that comes from the One who struck the match to ignite the sun.

If you are at all like the rest of us, you’ve had times in your life when you were overflowing with pride so that there was no room left for God.

Perhaps you came to recognize your own pride, and have spent valuable time trying to appear humble. When we are full of pride, we do things just to be seen; we act in ways that will be noticed by others, hoping that no one will sense the false humility underneath it all. A certain degree of honesty must be part of your “searching and fearless moral inventory.” The most important ingredient in 12-step programs is honesty. Often those who fail at working the Steps fail in the area of humility. Honesty and humility are two sides of the same coin. Without it, recovering addicts and alcoholics are left with a sense of emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Trust me when I say the devil loves seeing us suffer under the lash of our emotions. We don’t see our obvious lack of power. Simply put, we cannot drag ourselves out of the dark pit by sheer force of will.

ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS

It is only a matter of time before we finally must accept our complete powerlessness and begin to cultivate a humble attitude. It is so simple to turn it all around and find a life worth living—a life that includes infinitely more than we might think. Proverbs 29:23 tells us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lonely in spirit gain honor” (NIV). When we speak of humility, we’re not talking about humiliation. When we get puffed up and full of pride, and think we can do no wrong, those are often the times we are humiliated.

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Usually, we have a hand in such humiliation. When humiliated, we tend to seek paybacks. But humility is a choice. It is, in fact, what starts the process of spiritual maturity. Choosing humility and recognizing our powerlessness are what it takes to stop all of our self-defeating acts of futility. When we are able to truly humble ourselves before God, life starts to work out again.

The Apostle James describes a life without humility. He says that all our battles come from evil desires within us. We make ourselves miserable because we crave more than we have, and are envious of those who have more. We forget to want what we already have, instead seeking to get what we want. When proud and arrogant, we don’t see the need to ask God for anything. Moreover, our motives are so twisted that He is not likely to grant us our requests. We come to a fork in the road, where we decide whether we will lay down our lives for God or seek to keep up with the world.

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, all our doing and building and serving in order to look good before others becomes meaningless. It is much easier to humble ourselves from a place of powerlessness than from the pinnacle of pride and self-reliance. To move toward true humility, we must look inside ourselves and uncover our impure motives. We must also acknowledge that on our own we are nothing and He is everything. As we move toward true humility, we must set aside the false humility behind which we often hide. Humility simply means that we recognize God as the source of every good thing. Authentic humility leads us to the conclusion that if anything good is going to come from all the pain, filth, and struggle in our lives, it will come from God.

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One important benefit to humility is the opening of our eyes and hearts to see and celebrate the people around us. When we get outside of ourselves—a phrase I’ve heard often at 12-step meetings—we can humbly evaluate the impact of our behavior on others. This is the very crux of empathy. Because we care about other people, we want to do whatever we can not to repeat or perpetuate the things we’ve done in the past that were hurtful to them. When we’re truly humble, we care enough about other people that our own pain is no longer the focus of our existence. We do what we can to understand their pain, and what we might have done to contribute to it. We seek to help to alleviate it.  More than humble living, this is the life of an honorable person.

Humility allows us to celebrate our success and progress.  When we hit bottom and go ten days without giving in to our addiction, for example, or when we pick up a 30-day chip at a 12-step meeting, God brings honor to us through other people who have been where we are. He honors us through those who almost didn’t make it out alive, and through those who have never stopped building their character, deepening their peace of mind, and fulfilling their dreams by reaching out to help others.

GOD’S GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that allows the worst of the worst of us to find honor in Him and and through doing His work. When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he identified how living a humble life of serving others brings honor to God (and to us as well). In 1:12 Paul says, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God asks us to give up on our self-engineered crashes, admit that only He can restore us to sanity, and lay ourselves at His feet. That’s it! Recognize that you will never be strong enough or clever enough to defeat the challenges you face. But God can give you the strength, wisdom, insight, and  courage you need, if only you will humble yourself before Him and seek to know His will.

HUMILITY VERSUS PRIDE

Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend. How many recent sermons have you heard on humility? Probably not many. We hear surprisingly little from our church leaders about either of these subjects. Price and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the famous — indeed celebrities of all sorts — and even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people. Unfortunately, few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and our love for others.

Humility is often seen as a weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. After all, it was through pride that Lucifer was cast down from heaven, becoming our chief adversary, the devil.

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Pride is an anti-God state of mind. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of all sin. Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using pride as the means to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying in order to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being God-like. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she opted for autonomy and disobeyed God.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire —when it has conceived—gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

Throughout the Bible, we see the outworking of pride and unbelief in the affairs of individuals, families, nations, churches, and entire cultures. The result is a suppression of the knowledge and wisdom of God. Spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs. In their mind, God becomes smaller and they become larger. Powerful in their own right. The very essence of their being shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their own world, and God is pushed to the periphery. The result is familiar: People exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride begins to grow exponentially; arrogant or abusive behavior rears its ugly head. Every man for himself.

THE BIBLE ON PRIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

James tells us, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (4:10, ESV). Proverbs warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18, ESV). Pride leads to isolation, disillusionment, despair, and lack of breakthrough. Think about the so-called know-it-all. They tend to drive people away. A prideful person is not likely to ask for help because they are not willing to admit they need it. They choose to go it alone. Even when help is offered, a prideful person will reject input, and push the other person away. When this becomes habitual, they make others feel unwanted. This leads to isolation.

This can lead to disillusionment — a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We lose faith. I’ve heard it said that disillusionment is sometimes the aim of a seminary professor. The instructor will argue, “I want to shatter my students’ romanticized notion of church life and replace it with one that is more realistic.” After all, much damage has been caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. Disillusionment, as you can imagine, can be quite overwhelming. We would much rather hold on to our dreams.

Jesus one day washed the feet of His disciples. He asked, “Do you understand what I am doing for you?” Of course, He knew the answer before He asked the question. Jesus warned Peter in advance that he would not understand what was about to take place. To our ears, Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet sounds admirable. Humble, even. Only moments ago His disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. But there is an edge to Jesus’ reply. Why does He rebuke Peter instead of praising him? You would think that He would have been happy to see that Peter recognized there was someone at the table who was greater than them all. Peter was not putting on airs. He was entirely sincere. But he was also arrogant.

Peter’s problem was not that he couldn’t see Jesus clearly. He couldn’t see himself. He was too humble to let himself be washed, but too proud to do the washing. He doesn’t wash his own feet. He won’t wash the other disciples’ feet. And despite his conviction that Jesus is greater, he doesn’t even offer to wash Jesus’ feet. Peter’s objection looks like humility. It sounds like devotion. It is really pride masquerading as false humility. Interestingly, pride attacks us not on our weak points, but on our strong ones. Remarkably, pride is just as willing to encourage self-deprecation as self-congratulation.

LACK OF BREAK-THROUGH

It should be clear that pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride naturally gives us a sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. When that happens, we close ourselves off from learning, from listening, and from opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing. We tend to close ourselves off from break-throughs because we think we have it all figured out. Solution? Humble yourself, let the Lord lift you up to new heights never imagined. “Some never get started on their destiny because they cannot humble themselves to learn, grow, and change.” —Author Unknown.

THE MIND OF CHRIST

How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves?  To put on the mind of Christ, we need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitude must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness, and His exemplar for the same, must take hold of our thinking, our desires, our conduct. What did Jesus mean by humility? The Greek word tapeinos means having a right view of ourselves before God and others. Paul discusses this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

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Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationship with others. As Paul says to the Romans, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16). And as he said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significantly than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). As we refuse to be preoccupied with ourselves and our own importance, and seek to love and serve others, it will reorient us from being self-centered to being others-centered—serving and caring for others just as Jesus did for us.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s Word, and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God. It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root in our souls. I’ve learned that I can only be humble when I decrease and He increases.

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