In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus encouraged us to be meek, gentle, humble. His close friend, Peter, advised, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s might hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
But over the ensuing centuries, many have scoffed at the idea of humility. In a speech prepared for the Royal Society of Medicine, a distinguished British psychologist argued, “The spirit of self-sacrifice which permeates Christianity and is so highly prized in the Christian religious life, is masochism moderately indulged. A much stronger expression of it is to be found in Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This blesses the poor, the meek, the persecuted; exhorts us not to resist evil but to offer the second check to the smiter; and to do good to them that hate you and forgive men their trespasses. All this breathes masochism” (reported by Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 109).
Why does the Bible encourage humility if many around us devalue it? Let me suggest three reasons why you may want to grow in the virtue of humility:
1: Humility enables us to live a life of greater honesty.
Interestingly, the root of our English word “humble” comes from the Latin word humus meaning “earth.” A humble person is a “down to earth” person. Richard Rohr writes, “Humility and honesty are really the same thing. A humble person is simply a brutally honest person about the whole truth.” Brennan Manning adds, “Humble people are small in their own eyes, honest about their struggles, and open to constructive criticism.”
Consider it from the opposite side: An arrogant person is a person who is full of himself, is always wanting to be seen in the best possible light, so often hides or covers up or denies his or her faults and flaws. A humble person is a man or a woman who doesn’t have to prove anything, so he or she can live in greater honesty and openness—not a bad way to live!
2: Humility leads us to a life of greater compassion.
Booker T. Washington remarked, “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” The arrogant push others down to make themselves seem bigger; the humble lift others up, because humbleness and compassion become woven together.
F.B. Meyer observed, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves, one above another, and the taller we grow, the easier we can reach them. Now I find that God’s gifts are on shelves, one beneath another, and the lower we stoop, the more we get.” Arrogance is a life of continually reaching up to grab hold of the highest things; humility is a life of caring for the least among us. Grabbing for the highest leaves us unsatisfied for there is always something potentially higher than what we grab. Caring for the least among us is fulfilling for that is something every one of us can accomplish, and we can take joy in the happiness or comfort or encouragement we bring to others.
3: Humility deepens our intimacy with God.
Jim Cymbala announces, “God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.” When we, in humbleness, admit our need for God, he is right there to meet us!
Phillips Brooks adds, “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 greatness is.” When we, in humbleness, look genuinely at the greatness of God, we perceive our smallness in comparison, but, most importantly, we perceive God’s greatness, and we become filled with desire for more of what God can give to us.
Gerald Kennedy sums it up well: “It is a wonder thing when we know our weakness, we find our strength. This discovery does not create weaklings, but people confident that life never takes them to a place where God is not. This is the birth of fortitude in our soul. It is a great moment in life when we no longer have to pretend to be stronger than we know we are. It is a great discovery when we find that we do not have to pretend, but can confess our own inadequacy in the knowledge that God holds us up and guides us through.”
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.