More Like Jesus: Humility (Part 2)
May 9, 2017
by Peter Amsterdam
More Like Jesus: Humility (Part 2)
As touched on in Humility part 1, Jesus’ example of humility is something we are encouraged to emulate. When referring to Christ’s humility, Paul wrote that Christians are to Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.1 Elsewhere within the New Testament we are encouraged to Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.2 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.3 We’re told that Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.4 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.5 These verses show how important humility is in the Christian life.
Part of “putting on” the virtue of humility is “putting off” pride, the antithesis of humility. To begin with, we should understand that not all pride is wrong. The apostle Paul wrote of a healthy pride we should have in ourselves and others:
I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.6
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.7
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.8
A healthy and appropriate sense of pride is present when we respect and value our character, abilities, efforts, and achievements, as well as those of our spouse and children.
While some pride is appropriate, the term “pride” within the Bible is generally used to refer to a negative character trait, one which is displeasing to God. The words used in Scripture as synonyms of pride include arrogance, presumption, conceit, self-satisfaction, boasting, insolence, and high-mindedness. Pride in this sense is a feeling of superiority, an attitude shown by someone who believes they are better than others, an undue sense of self-importance. From a biblical perspective, pride is an improper attitude in our relationship to God. While humility is a result of having an accurate view of God—that He is our Creator to whom we are answerable—pride is seen as rebellion against God by putting oneself above God or attributing to oneself the honor and glory due to God alone.
God’s attitude toward pride is clearly laid out in Scripture:
Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.9
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.10
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”11
The haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low.12
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.13
Seeing how God looks at our pride is reason enough for us to take the putting off of pride seriously. Clearly, it damages our relationship with Him. Pride also hurts our relationships with others. When we feel someone is inferior to us, we feel justified in putting them down—or simply ignoring them. Or, a problem from another angle is that if we think of someone as being superior to us, we feel lowly and unworthy; and we may then focus on what others think more than on doing the right thing or pleasing the Lord.14 Pride damages us and erodes our relationship with the Lord and other people. In short, we cannot love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, if we esteem ourselves above them.
Pride is a part of human nature that resides within us:
From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts … pride … all these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.15
While pride has many faces, some of the more common are pride of race, spiritual pride, and pride of riches. John the Baptist denounced pride of race when he made the point that every nationality is acceptable to God.
Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.16
The Lord addressed spiritual pride in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.17
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.18
We read a warning to those with wealth about not being lifted up in pride about their wealth:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.19
Let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.20
However pride manifests itself within us, it is in essence a problem of self-centeredness. It often shows up in one of these forms: exalting ourselves, belittling ourselves, attacking others, or ignoring others. Let’s take a brief look at each of these.21
When we overvalue ourselves, we exalt ourselves in pride. We exhibit this kind of pride when we build ourselves up, whether in our own minds or in the minds of others. Some symptoms of exalting ourselves in pride are exaggerating the truth in order to gain attention; serving and helping for the purpose of being noticed by others; feeling entitled, that we deserve special attention or favor because of who we feel we are or what we have accomplished. If we have a position of authority, have achieved something major, are talented in some area, and if this causes us to feel that we are particularly special or worthy in comparison to others, then we are manifesting pride. If we find ourselves feeling that we deserve a preferred position, and especially if we are angling for status over others, then we are exalting ourselves in pride.
Belittling ourselves or feeling that we are worthless is also a form of pride. It’s deceptive, because it masquerades as humility; but it can be an attempt, consciously or subconsciously, to attract attention to oneself. It can be manifested in speaking about ourselves in a negative and demeaning manner in the hope that someone will take notice and refute our comments in an effort to build us up. It can be seen when we regularly point out our weaknesses and shortcomings and areas where someone else is better. Another symptom is having difficulty accepting help, gifts, or compliments because we don’t feel worthy or we feel ashamed or awkward about needing help.22
If we are judgmental of others, devalue them by tearing them down, or even attack them, we are exhibiting pride. This happens when our tendencies are to be critical, irritable, intolerant, argumentative, and self-righteous. When we constantly feel we are right and others are wrong, or criticize others’ faults, we are showing signs of pride. Trying to change others so that they will conform to your personal standards and the way you feel they should be amounts to trying to take the place of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life. (Of course, sometimes people do need to change, and it’s fine and sometimes necessary to offer help and advice. If you do so, it should be with prayer, love, concern, humility, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.)
We exhibit pride when we undervalue others by ignoring them, or by not accepting their input. When we are unwilling to listen to others, are unteachable, have an attitude that we “have our act together” and so we close others off when they try to offer advice, we are being proud. Being unwilling to admit fault, refusing to accept correction, advice, instruction, or warning are pride. So is having an attitude of “you need to accept me the way I am” to the point of being unwilling to face that there are areas in your life which need to change, and not being interested in breaking the negative patterns you may be stuck in.
Every one of us exhibits pride in one way or another, as it’s a natural outcropping of the fallen state of human beings. It is manifested in each person’s life in varying levels of intensity, in diverse ways, and in different circumstances—sometimes subtly, other times blatantly.
Following is a list which might be helpful in identifying some of the ways pride is manifested in our lives.23
- Being judgmental of others
- Expressing the attitude that others are not as good as we are
- Thinking we are morally superior to others
- Being critical of others who don’t meet our standards
- Being intolerant or self-righteous
- Ignoring or undervaluing others
- Not listening to others’ ideas or opinions
- Being unwilling to admit fault or receive advice or correction
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Being overly concerned about getting what we feel we deserve
- Exaggerating, bragging, making ourselves the center of attention
- Making ourselves feel worthy by overworking
- Trying to be perfect so we will feel acceptable
- Belittling ourselves as a means of drawing attention to ourselves
- Tearing ourselves down so others will notice, disagree with us, and try to build us up
- Being argumentative and regularly challenging others
- Trying to manage the actions of others so that we feel in control
- Being unwilling to accommodate opinions that are different from our own
- Refusing to change and expecting others to accommodate our weaknesses
- Being inflexible, stubborn, and unwilling to adjust our plans
Sadly, all of us manifest some aspects of pride, and we often don’t notice it in ourselves. The above list can help in recognizing areas where our pride shows itself. It was certainly helpful to me.
Following is a list of attitudes and actions which can serve as an antidote to pride and aid growth in humility.24
Praise and Worship
Praising God for who He is, His attributes, and all that He has done, giving Him thanks and honor and glory, are vital for true humility. In worshiping God we are giving Him due honor. It reminds us who is truly great. He is the Creator and Savior; we are the created and the saved. When we praise and worship God, we are declaring that He is God and we are in submission to Him.
Because God values each of us, we should accept God’s deep and unconditional love for us by valuing ourselves. Our gifts and talents, circumstances, and many other things about us may differ from others; but each of us is precious to the Father. God doesn’t value us because of what we’ve accomplished, our financial status, how popular we may be, or for any other outward reason. He loves and values us because we are His children.
Being honest with ourselves and others builds humility. Pride leads us to exaggerate, hide, pretend, misrepresent, and even lie for the purpose of covering up our shortcomings, failures, and sins. Humility, on the other hand, helps us to trust in God’s grace and unconditional love and honestly acknowledge our shortcomings, failures, and sins to Him and others.
Holiness can be an unpopular word, as in modern times it tends to be looked at negatively, in the sense of someone who is self-righteous and “holier-than-thou.” But that’s not the meaning of it as expressed in Scripture. There are a number of Hebrew and Greek words, all coming from the same family of words, which are translated as “holy.” They convey the ideas of something that is sanctified, sacred, free from wickedness, set aside for God, separated. One of the main usages in the New Testament is the sense of setting something apart for God, to be exclusively His.25
As Christians, we are meant to be set aside as belonging to God. This is often manifested in our being obedient to Him and His Word. It takes humility to obey God, as it requires giving up our ways and sense of entitlement to Him. Sometimes it’s difficult and requires sacrificing our own ways and desires. It takes humility to obey God and trust Him for the outcome.
Serving others requires humility. We may have notable gifts and talents, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be in use all the time. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where we need to set aside our gifts and skills and simply do what’s needed in the situation, no matter how small or behind the scenes it may be. Perhaps there will be a time when you are needed to care for someone in need. Maybe there will be a period where you will need to sacrifice your wants and even needs for the sake of others, or for something the Lord may be calling you to do.
Waiting means putting ourselves at God’s disposal so that He can put us in the role of His choosing. It’s allowing Him to direct us, instead of pushing our own agenda or demanding our own way. It’s being sensitive to the Lord’s direction, seeking His guidance, and giving Him time to impart it. It’s being patient, trusting Him for things to fall into place. Waiting calls for humility.
To sum this up, if we want to cultivate humility in our lives, the starting place is a focus on God. As we grow closer to Him, spending more time concentrating on Him, learning about Him, talking with Him, and making room for Him in our lives, He grows in importance to us and begins to take up more of our “field of vision,” so to speak. When He does, we are reminded of His perfection and our lack of it. When we are in right relationship with Him, we will be humbled by the fact that He loves and values us, as imperfect as we are. This right relationship leads us to a godly balance of healthy self-esteem with genuine humility.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Philippians 2:5.
2 1 Peter 5:5.
3 James 4:10.
4 Matthew 23:12.
5 Colossians 3:12.
6 2 Corinthians 7:4.
7 2 Corinthians 10:17–18.
8 Galatians 6:14.
9 Proverbs 16:5 NAS.
10 Proverbs 8:13.
11 James 4:6.
12 Isaiah 2:17.
13 Proverbs 16:18.
14 Floyd McClung Jr., Follow (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook Publishers, 2010), 82.
15 Mark 7:21–23.
16 Luke 3:8.
17 An article on this parable can be found here: https://directors.tfionline.com/post/stories-jesus-told-pharisee-and-tax-collector-luke/
18 Luke 18:9.
19 1 Timothy 6:17.
20 James 1:10–11 NAS.
21 Points condensed from Katherine Brazelton and Shelley Leith, Character Makeover (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 31–32.
22 In some cultures it is considered offensive to accept help or a gift without initially refusing it. This is a cultural expectation, and not necessarily related to personal pride.
23 This list was condensed from Brazelton and Leith, Character Makeover, 35–36.
24 Points condensed from Brazelton and Leith, Character Makeover, 41–43.