Humility? Doesn’t That Basically Mean Humiliation?

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Did you know that Thomas Jefferson created his own Bible? It was his “Jefferson Bible”, a personalized text where he kept what he wanted and cut out anything that felt uncomfortable or that he didn’t agree with.

That seems sacrilegious and horrifying to us. But is what we do really any different? How often do you ignore the Bible’s teaching about some things while emphasizing the verses that help you or that you are comfortable with?

I think some of the Bible’s most ignored teachings are the ones that address things like submission and humility. In our culture, in this day and age, people are completely opposed to anything that they think will take away their “rights”.

What, I’m supposed to be humble? Doesn’t that mean other people will stomp all over me? Doesn’t that mean I’ll have no self-confidence? Doesn’t that basically mean humiliation?

Humility is misunderstood by many people. But it’s a teaching in the Bible, and therefore we can’t ignore it. Let’s look at what humility really is and isn’t, and what it really means for us.

If the Son of God Did It, You Can Too

Throughout the New Testament, again and again we see Jesus doing things that are selfless, serving others and not being worried about glory for Himself. Just one example of this is in John 13, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Here is how Paul describes Christ’s attitude:

…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

-Philippians 2:6-8

Christ is the ultimate example. Out of anyone who has lived on Earth, He had the most right to be proud, to demand that people pay attention to Him, to expect adoration, to stay aloof and away from everyone. He was the Son of God! As Paul says in Philippians, he didn’t care about being equal to God. Even though by all rights He was equal to God, He didn’t demand justice or equality.

He made Himself nothing. He didn’t care how reviled He was, how hated He was, as long as He was doing the work He had been put on Earth to do.

Christ didn’t demand that everything be fair. Why do we?

Humility Does Not Equal Insecurity

I think the reason many people feel weird about being humble is that they don’t have a good understanding of what humility really looks like. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis that really describes well what most people think of when they hear the word “humble”:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

You might have met someone like this, someone who seemed really insecure. You might have thought they were humble. They probably thought they were humble. But constantly putting yourself down is in fact the opposite of what humility truly is.

Here’s more C.S. Lewis that gives a very concise definition of what humility is.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

In other words, humility does not mean that you lack self-confidence. Think about it; constantly putting yourself down is still thinking only about yourself. Someone who is truly humble doesn’t think they are great. They don’t think they are not great. They just don’t think about themselves at all.

True humility is thinking more highly of other people than yourself. This is shown not by putting yourself down, but by building others up in love. A humble person isn’t so wrapped up in their self-importance that they don’t have time to listen to and care for others.

Ephesians 4:1-3 says this:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Look at the virtues that are paired with humility: gentleness, patience, bearing with others in love, eager to maintain peace. All of those are others-focused.

Maybe you know someone who has true humility. They’re probably really fun to be around. They probably don’t often complain or talk about themselves, and they’re likely really good at listening to you. In fact, you might realize that you actually don’t know much about them at all! And when you’re around them, you always feel good about yourself and like someone cares about you. Those are good signs of someone who is truly humble.

The Root of Humility

You really only become truly humble when you recognize this very important truth:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

-Romans 3:22b-24

Once you realize what a sinner you truly are, you have no reason to believe you are better than others. This begins between you and God, in prayers of confession. When you confess your sins and realize how much you actually do every day that needs forgiveness, that flows outward in love toward others and thinking about yourself less.

If you don’t already spend regular time in confession of sin, it would be a good idea to start. It really is the only way to start this process of humility. Before bed can be a good time to do this, reflecting on the day gone by and how you could have served God better.

No one except Jesus has any reason to think they are better than others, and even He humbled Himself and served those around Him. Everyone is fallen, and everyone deserves love and service from each other. Imagine what would happen to the world if everyone thought of someone else more than themselves. It would be amazing, wouldn’t it?

love, grace

What to do next: Leave me a comment below and tell me if you would like more posts on things in the Bible that are often avoided. Be sure to subscribe to my blog as well if you haven’t already!

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