What Is True Humility?
Good News Magazine
May 1981
Volume: Vol XXVIII, No. 5
Issue: ISSN 0432-0816
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What Is True Humility?
Clayton D Steep  

Why is it valuable? How can you tell if you have it?

   "I am humble and proud of it!"
   You've probably heard someone say that in jest at one time or another. The statement's humor is based on the conflict between the words humble and proud. Most people understand that humility is the opposite of pride, but they might have difficulty defining any further exactly what humility is.
   Just what is humility? Whatever it is, we need it to please God! Humility is one of the three great qualities God looks for in those who worship Him: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Mic. 6:8).
   God is supreme. He owns everything. All wealth and power and glory belong to Him. He alone has life to give. He possesses perfect righteousness, perfect character. No other creature even approaches His magnificence. And yet who is it this great Being wants to dwell with?
   "For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: 'I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (Isa. 57:15, Revised Standard Version). Throughout the Bible God puts much emphasis on humility.

An attitude

   Humility is a state of mind, a way of thinking and looking at things. The apostle Paul referred to "humbleness of mind" as a positive quality (Col. 3:12).
   A person who is humble realizes his true worth. He doesn't think he is better than he really is. This flies directly in the face of modern psychology, which says human beings should build up self-confidence, that we should love, honor and exalt the self and have a "high self-image."
   Jesus didn't have self-confidence. He said, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30)! The apostle Paul lamented, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing... O wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:18, 24).
   Of course, it is not right to have an "I'm-no-good-and-I'll-never-be-any-good" attitude either. Through God's Spirit we can become of value. That's what the miracle of conversion is all about. Without the Holy Spirit we are as worms (Ps. 22:6, Isa. 41:14). With God's Spirit, we can become members of God's Family.
   A humble person recognizes where he is on the road to total conversion. A Christian should not "think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly [realistically, truthfully]" (Rom. 12:3).
   After we yield to God, any good in us — any holy character we have, all that is of value — comes from our Creator, the Giver of every good gift.
   Having a humble attitude requires a deep understanding that without God we can do nothing (John 15:5), but that through Him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13).

Obedience to God's laws

   In every decision we make, we either do God's will or we do our own carnal will. There is a constant conflict between the two opposing forces, "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other" (Gal. 5:17).
   Whenever we do our own will, we exalt the self, because God tells us to do the opposite of whatever our carnal wills dictate. However, when we exalt God and His will, we abase the self and its will. Picture a seesaw. Your carnal will is on one end and God's will is on the other. Because they are opposites, when one is exalted, the other is abased.
   Exalt God and His ways in your life by obeying His laws and fulfilling His will. In so doing, yourself — which is contrary to God — will be humbled.

Putting others first

   "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another," instructed Paul (Rom. 12:10).
   Picture the seesaw once again. You are on one end; anyone else is on the other. Exalt that other person, and at the same time you abase your own selfish vanity. This is humility in action.
   "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4, RSV).
   You might say that humility is giving instead of getting. It is serving others. That is the mind of Christ (verses 5-8).
   One example of humility Jesus gave was washing the feet of His disciples. We repeat the ceremony once a year. Why? Because brethren need the dirt washed off their feet once a year? No, their feet have already been washed and manicured within hours of the Passover service. We show by the ceremony that we are willing throughout the coming year to bend our knees and humble ourselves to serve others.
   We need to take to heart Peter's admonishment: "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (I Pet. 5:5).

Occasional fasting

   The Bible refers to fasting as afflicting or humbling the soul (Ps. 35:13, Lev. 23:27, Isa. 58:3-5).
   Though members of God's Church, we are still physical beings. When our physical flesh is satisfied and content (exalted!) over a long period, our spiritual condition tends toward complacency and even begins to go downhill. So God has given us a physical tool to stir up and revive our spiritual development. The tool is fasting — temporarily abstaining from food.
   Recall once again the seesaw: On one end is the body's desire for food and satisfaction, on the other end is the need for spiritual rejuvenation through a special session of intense prayer and study. Fasting temporarily puts down and humbles the physical so as to give an occasion to exalt and fulfill the spiritual and get it back on the track.

Being receptive to instruction

   Humility is the opposite of the "I-know-it-all" attitude. "When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom" (Prov. 11:2). The humble are teachable.
   That's one reason "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called [to understand the truth in this age]: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are" (I Cor. 1:26-28).
   Paul later wrote: "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him [first] become [what the world would call] a fool, that he may be [truly] wise" (I Cor. 3:18).
   God wants us to be receptive to His teachings. We must put down our own opinions, notions and persuasions and pray like David: "Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation" (Ps. 25:4-5).
   God says, "To this man will 1 look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2). That is teachable humility!

Modest conduct

   Humility is knowing when to be inconspicuous. Jesus said we should not call attention to ourselves every time we do a good work. We should give alms, pray and fast anonymously — in secret. God is watching. That's all that counts. "Thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly" (Matt. 6:1-18).
   We should not be exalting the self by always trying to out-dress everyone else, showing off, boasting, exaggerating, always telling the funniest joke, talking the loudest, getting ahead of the Joneses, always winning every game just for vanity's sake. "Let us not be desirous of vain glory," Paul instructed (Gal. 5:26).
   It must be pointed out that meekness is not weakness. Jesus was meek and lowly (Matt. 11:29), but He was not weak. He was the Son of God, yet He came to earth to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:26-28). Study His actions — how He lived and observe the perfect combination of strength and humility.

The rewards of humility

   "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the Lord" (Zeph. 2:3, RSV).
   Did you notice that the humble are told to seek humility? That's because humility is something we grow in by degrees. Humility (meekness), one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23), must be developed.
   But it will be rewarded. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (I Pet. 5:6).
   A humble person — one whose self is abased — is the raw material the Almighty Creator can take and form into a Member of His Family. "The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life" (Prov. 22:4, RSV).

Beware of False Humility     There is a humility that stresses outward show. It is not what God is looking for in us.
   Many in the world try to "humiliate" or afflict themselves outwardly as a kind of penance or spiritual exercise. They lie on beds of nails, or slash themselves with knives, or flail themselves with whips. Some crawl on their knees over rough stones until their flesh is torn and bleeding. Others take vows of abstinence, forego all pleasures in life or just give up something for "Lent," depending on the degree of self-affliction desired.
   Such is the kind of humility — however sincere it maybe the apostle Paul wrote to warn against. Notice Colossians 2:18 in the Revised Standard Version: "Let no one disqualify you [of your reward], insisting on self-abasement."
   This type of humility consists mostly of negative rules and precepts: "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (verse 21). "These have indeed an appearance [yes, it is mostly outward show, substituting for true humility] of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body" (verse 23).
   God wants our humility to be inward and genuine — not a performance just to be seen by other humans. Once inside and genuine, humility's fruits will become outwardly evident.
   True, we as Christians may not practice asceticism like the world does. But sometimes without realizing it, we may follow the same line of reasoning by feeling guilty if we ever enjoy ourselves in a lawful way.
   Some may feel it is not right to own anything of quality and that therefore we ought always to buy inferior goods. Others may feel we should own practically nothing and just be "God's poor."
   There are many other ways in which a humility-for-show may be evidenced if we are not careful; even such a small thing as avoiding the use of the capital letter I when writing about oneself could be done in an I'm-more-humble than-most attitude. The point is that God wants to see in us true inward humility and obedience, not merely acts that are outward in form only.

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Good News MagazineMay 1981Vol XXVIII, No. 5ISSN 0432-0816