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Humility

by Stu Johnson

Posted: January 10, 2018

Something to be proud of?…

No. 6 in the Thursday Morning Guys series (see list)

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the January 4 session focused on humility.

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

An offhand prompted today's topic. While riding I overheard someone say, "I'm especially proud of my humility"

Obviously, they missed the point.

Concerning humility, The apostle Paul instructs us, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of youto the interests of others." Philippians 2 3-4 (NIV).

In Paul's view, humility is all about the other guy. And, it doesn't mean powering up on him to get what you want. It means considering his interests above your own. Then, treating him kindly, gently, and with dignity and respect.

Anyway, that's my humble opinion. What do you guys think?

Shine bright!

THE CONVERSATION

Among the dozen or so men who had gathered, the topic produced a wide-ranging conversation, including a few tangents we won’t follow here.  A few general comments before proposing several principles:

  • As a character trait, humility has an identifiable opposite: pride
  • “Proud” is often treated like a four-letter word – to be proud focuses on self, which can lead to trouble; false modesty actually is an expression of pride
  • Humility too often is thought of as weakness
  • “Having a wife keeps me humble”
  • Politicians often lack humility
  • Moses and others in the Bible were chosen for their humility – rose above themselves

PRINCIPLES PROPOSED

Three principles struck me on reflection about our conversation.

Finding strength in humility

It is easy to think of humility as weakness—letting others walk over you; not defending yourself, being submissive rather than assertive, being meek. But, being humble is a character trait that aptly describes people who are comfortable in their own skin. Attentive to the needs of others.  Willing to listen. Confident without being arrogant or constantly demanding attention. Able to graciously accept praise.  Quick to give others credit instead of taking it yourself for team accomplishments (even for ideas that you initiated). 

Humble beginnings. How often in the Bible—or history—do we see the least likely person become a leader? Abraham, Moses, David, among many others. Moses became a great leader, but with tremendous reluctance. God even had to use Aaron to serve as spokesman when Moses complained that he did not have abilities as a speaker. (Public speaking remains the number 1 fear for many people even today).  Being chosen to lead does not open the door to an easy task. Moses complained more than once about the stubborn people he had been chosen to lead.

The apostle Paul, on the other hand, was an example of pride and arrogance, chief among the persecutors of followers of “the Way.” Then was humbled by his encounter with Christ through a vision on the road to Damascus (where he was headed to pursue his persecution), which transformed him into a great apologist and evangelist.  

Accountability is key. As one of the guys said, “having a wife keeps me humble.”  When I was involved in broadcasting, I attended many conventions of National Religious Broadcasters and for a time served on its board. That setting revealed some pretty big egos—especially among “televangelists”—but it also exposed me to many well-known, yet humble, personalities. 

For me, one example of genuine humility was pastor, author, and radio-TV host Charles Swindoll (“Insights for Living”). After my first exposure to Swindoll several decades ago, he remains at age 83 a larger-than-life personality, yet he is also very down-to-earth and humble (such consistency, without a tragic fall from grace, is in itself a testimony to his character). I remember him describing how he had a small group at his church that held regular accountability sessions with him—people he could trust to be honest with him and not afraid to knock him down a peg or two when pride and ego were starting to show.  That example has served to frame my own life and the advice I can give to others in leadership positions.  

Crucial to good accountability is respect for confidentiality—what is said here stays here! 

Jesus provides an example of a humble servant-leader-teacher. Even as the Son of God, Jesus lived on earth within human limitations, but without arrogance or the trappings of the powerful who built the earthly empires of his own day.  His remains a heavenly kingdom, a call to humility for those who follow him.  Jesus was not only humble, but was put into humiliating situations as he suffered on behalf of humanity. Those who seek to be Christ-like in their daily lives will be driven to humility, and many will share in his suffering, especially where persecution threatens the lives of Christ-followers.   

Avoing the dangers of pride

The flip side of humility. Too often, public figures—politicians, entertainers, athletes, business leaders—are noted for a self-centeredness that spills out as arrogance, a larger-than-life persona, and a total lack of humility.  In an age where “attitude” and quirkiness are celebrated, there is an attraction to making oneself noticeable. It seems today that there has been an increase in those who take on a strong persona precisely because it causes discomfort, even repulsion, in more tradition-bound individuals.    On the other hand, I have known many people who are interesting “characters,” especially among the college faculty I studied under and later worked with, but they could also be very humble—and much loved.

The problem comes when a person is driven to extreme self-centeredness. An excessive focus on self usually leads to trouble. It was Satan’s pride—his “I will” stance—that marks the center of evil rebellion against God as creator of the universe and sustainer of life.  Such self-centeredness also fundamentally opposes the God-ordained institution of human community.

Even the humble can stumble. Road rage provides an example even the humblest among us should be able to relate to. In the extreme, it is terrifying and deadly.  But how many of us lose our cool when driving?  There is a level of anonymity that can allow a Jekyll and Hyde transformation.  We tend to see other drivers not as people who might be our neighbors—to whom we should be civil, even when they (or we) make a mistake—but as objects in a life-size video game.

Encouraging humility in others

Being proud of someone is different than self-centered pride. It is a form of encouragement.  Sometimes, though we have to be careful with language. It may be better to say we a “pleased” with something we see in someone—a behavior, an attitude—rather than using the term “proud.”  Even Scripture, however, while casting woe upon “the proud,” embraces pride in good things (see examples below).

Set a good example by showing gracious acceptance of praise.  How do you react when someone says they are proud of you, gives you praise for something you have done, or thanks you for something? First of all, a genuine “thank you” or “you’re welcome” is a good place to start, instead of the phrase so common today—“no problem.” Don’t stop there. If you are a believer, it should be natural to give credit to God from whom your skills and gifts derive, along with praise for others who provided help and encouragement along the way—parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, mentors, friends, etc.  

I just saw a rerun of the PBS program about Theodore Roosevelt's 1914 journey into the heart of the Brazilian rainforest, the "River of Doubt." Following the journey, which nearly took Roosevelt's life, the National Geographic Society initially did not accept his story that he and his companions, chief among them Brazilian explorer Candida Rondon, had travlled the length of the extremely dangerous river. After presenting his evidence, the Society recognized the achievement and honored him with a medal. In response, Roosevelt said he could not take the sole credit, citing the role of Candido Rondon. The Society struck a second medal for Rondon, who had returned to his work among the indiginous population in the jungle. He was made Marshal, the highest military rank in Brazil, and the state of Rondonia is named after him.

Be a good mentor. Take advantage of every opportunity to help others develop good character. One of the guys mentioned the story about advice given to Harry Truman when he became a U.S. Senator—don’t believe what you hear about yourself when you get to Washington!  (That could be taken two ways, of course—either building or destroying your ego based on the nature of the comments! Or, as we find in Ecclesiastes, “Don't pay attention to everything people say—you may hear your servant insulting you, and you know yourself that you have insulted other people many times” – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, Good News Translation.).

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

There are hundreds of references to humility and pride throughout the Bible. Following are just a few—a link is provided for each, so you can see it in context, read it in another translation, or dig deeper.

The contrast between pride and humility

  • You rescue the humble, but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them. (2 Samuel 22:28)
  • Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. (2 Chronicles 32:26)
  • You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud. (Psalm 18:27)
  • Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud. (Psalm 138:6)
  • Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)
  • Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. (Proverbs 29:23)
  • Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud. (Proverbs 16:19)
  • In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
  • But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 21:12) Similar to Luke 14:11

The life of humility and its rewards

  • Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. (Psalm 25:9)
  • The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged. (Psalm 69:32)
  • Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 15:33)
  • The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord. The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:19)
  • Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.” (Daniel 10:12)
  • God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. (Matthew 5:5)
  • So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:4)
  • When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? (Luke 14:7-8)
  • Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
  • Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
  • Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
  • They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. (Titus 3:2)
  • If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)
  • So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. (James 4:10)
  • Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. (1 Peter 3:8)
  • So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. (1 Peter 5:6)

The humility of Christ

  • Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
  • “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’” (Matthew 21:5)
  • Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)

Warnings about pride

  • Stop acting so proud and haughty! Don’t speak with such arrogance! For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done; he will judge your actions. (1 Samuel 2:3)
  • But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 32:25)
  • The wicked are too proud to seek God. They seem to think that God is dead. (Psalm 10:4)
  • Arise, O Judge of the earth. Give the proud what they deserve. (Psalm 94:2)
  • A fool’s proud talk becomes a rod that beats him, but the words of the wise keep them safe. (Proverbs 14:3)
  • For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted. (Isaiah 2:12the first of many similar passages throughout the book of Isaiah)
  • They were proud of their beautiful jewelry and used it to make detestable idols and vile images. Therefore, I will make all their wealth disgusting to them. (Ezekiel 7:20)
  • “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God. (Habakkuk 2:4)
  • On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed, for you will no longer be rebels against me. I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you. There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain. (Zephaniah 3:11)
  • You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. (Romans 2:23)
  • Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! (Romans 12:16)
  • A church leader must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. (1 Timothy 3:6)
  • For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. (2 Timothy 3:2)

The positive side of pride

  • I would face the accusation proudly. I would wear it like a crown. (Job 31:36)
  • He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance, the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves. (Psalm 47:4)
  • Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus[a] returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you. (2 Corinthians 1:13-14)
  • I had told him how proud I was of you—and you didn’t disappoint me. I have always told you the truth, and now my boasting to Titus has also proved true! (2 Corinthians 7:14)
  • Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. (Philippians 2:16)
  • We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. (2 Thessalonians 1:4)

About the Scripture references: NLT = New Living Translation,  ESV = English Standard Version,  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: January 10, 2018

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