“When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove it in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny, as men created in the image of God.”
This is a quote from Andrew Murray and his book “Humility” and it captures the essence of the importance of humility. It means that humility is not just a critical part of our relationship with Jesus, but also the foundation of our relationship to others. Peter strongly encourages every believer to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5) since God is watching and “gives grace to the humble.” So what is humility?
Humility is the quality of being humble. Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness. In a religious context, humility can mean a recognition of self in relation to God. Outside of a religious context, humility is defined as being “unselved”, a liberation from consciousness of self and a form of temperance that is neither having pride nor indulging in self-deprecation. It is defined most clearly in relation to Jesus, found in Philippians 2. In verses 3-5, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”. This kind of humility, exemplified by Jesus’s public ministry, is motivated by a self-sacrificing love.
God does the exalting
The Father honors those who operate in humility. Proverbs 22:4 says, “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.” In fact, He says that the humility of Jesus will be highly exalted, the Father bestowing on Him the name which is above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). The truth is it is best when the Father is the one who does the exalting which takes the pressure off the individual. Consider, 1 Peter 5:6, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” The contrast spoken of here is that the believer humbles himself, to be brought low and God will do the exalting, the lifting up. This is one way that God gets the glory in any situation.
There is the story of a Roman centurion who came to Jesus asking for his servant to be healed in Matthew 8:5-10. This soldier, not a Jew, said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Then he explained to Jesus what he was thinking, “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” This man, like many in military service, understood authority. This non-Jew recognized the authority of Jesus and that when He spoke the healing of the servant, that was sufficient. Jesus acknowledged this centurion’s recognition of God’s authority when He said, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” The believer’s faith demands that he wait for God to bring about His will in any given situation and the result will be greater than anything man can accomplish. In Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.”
Moses and Paul
Let’s look at a couple of examples of this kind of humility in Scripture. Moses has spent forty years in the backside of the desert after running for his life and then God starts speaking to him through a burning bush (Exodus 3). God would use this man, Moses to lead His people from their bondage in Egypt into the land promised to Abraham. Why Moses? Numbers 12:3 gives the answer, “(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)” Moses would be able to speak with God’s authority because of his humility. It was in this environment that the Lord gave Moses authority to confront Pharaoh and lead His people. In Exodus 4:1-5, the Lord changed the staff Moses had in his hand into a serpent and then back to a staff. He was proving to Moses that Moses would speak with His authority, as He says in verse 5, “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
Another example is the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul’s testimony is that “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” Paul came to the conclusion that for him to fulfill the call of God on his life, it would only happen when he acknowledged his weakness before God in humility so that God would be strong in his weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The demonstration of God’s power, God’s ability, and God’s authority would cause men to put their faith in God and not man. The humility of man is the doorway into the authority of God.
A bag of chickens becomes a herd of goats
A story is told about a great sage, Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, who lived in the Galilee about two thousand years ago. Rabbi Chanina was known for his saintliness and also for his extreme poverty. One day, a merchant was on his way to the market when he put down his bag of chickens next to a dilapidated house and went through the neighborhood in search of some food. The man got his food, but then he couldn’t find the house where he had left his chickens. That night, Rabbi Chanina’s wife heard the chickens and brought them into her home.
To make a long story short, Rabbi Chanina and his family cared for the chickens, awaiting the return of their owner, for many years. During that time, the chickens laid many eggs. Rabbi Chanina could not afford eggs, and here his whole yard was covered in them! But he would not touch them because they were not his. Those eggs became more chickens, and soon there were so many chickens that Rabbi Chanina had to trade them in for goats, which became more goats, until there was a large herd.
One day, a man was walking by Rabbi Chanina’s house and said, “That’s the house! That’s where I lost my chickens many years ago!” Rabbi Chanina heard the man’s words and quickly opened the door. “If you are the man who left chickens here, I have something to show you…” And with that Rabbi Chanina gave the man a small fortune, an entire herd of goats!
This rabbi recognized through his poverty (humility) not to accept anything that did not belong to him, but became a steward of it, accountable to God for it. In this way, the bag of chickens was multiplied into a herd of goats. This principle can apply to many different aspects of life, but it basically means that when the believer waits for God to give something, it will be that much greater than when he takes that thing for himself. When God gets the glory due Him, the believer gets exalted.
The Great Commission
Jesus commended His authority to His disciples just before His ascension in Matthew 28:18-20 when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” When the disciple goes in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, he goes under the authority of the Trinity to accomplish the Great Commission, that all nations would hear the Gospel and become disciples, revealing the authority of humility.