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Humble Thyself

by Richard Afsharian

There are many virtues we are called to have as we study God’s word. When these virtues are clearly stated, those who want to follow the scriptures will never argue the importance of the given virtue. Most often we agree, we teach and encourage others to practice the virtue. Books are written about those who truly showed this virtue in their life, with their words and deeds. These expressers of the virtue are set as an example and praised for their dedication to God as the reason for possessing the virtue.

On occasion when we are found short or accused of lacking the said quality, it is often justified as to why we are in the right. We don’t want to lack and, unfortunately, often times, rather than improve our grasp of the virtue we talk our way through and sometimes even convince ourselves that we are right.

One of the greatest virtues taught in the Bible is humility. In Philippians 2:5-8 we read that "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"

Our attitudes should be the "same as that of Christ Jesus". This is a clearly stated command. This and many other references in the scriptures leave no room for doubt that humility is desired and commanded by God. Pride, the opposite, is abhorred by God. James 4:6 "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’."

To understand humility it is important to examine the definitions and examples given in the scripture. Looking again at Philippians 2, in verses 2-4 it says "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." In verses 7-8 as we read earlier, that Jesus made himself "nothing" and that he took on the exact nature of a "servant", and finally that he humbled himself to the worse, one of the most painful, lowliest types of death, crucifixion.

There is a list of characteristics associated with humility. First of all, our actions should not be from selfish motives. Also, we should not see ourselves as better than others. What we are, we are by the grace of God, not our own efforts. 1 Corinthians 15:10 "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Just the opposite, we are to consider others better than ourselves! This goes against every grain of human nature. We also need to look to the interests of others. What is it that they need, care about, feel, want, etc? What is it that I can do for them?

One concern that is heard again and again is that our rights will be trampled if we allow it (in other words humble ourselves). The promise from God is just the opposite. James 4:10 "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you". Proverbs 22:4 "The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life". Luke 14:11 "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted". And as we read earlier in James 4:6, God gives grace to the humble.

Jesus was Lord when He came to earth. Humbling himself did not mean that He was weak, it had nothing to do with His strength or ability. When He humbled himself to the cross, He allowed what happened. He did so out of love. The only thing strength or ability has to do with humility is this, the stronger and more capable one is the harder it is to be humble. 1 Corinthians 10:12 "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall."

Jesus was obedient to the death, an unjust, undeserved death. How did he act during all this? "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" Isaiah 53:7. "In his humiliation he was deprived of justice" Acts 8:33. Notice the words used to describe our Lord. If those words are used today to describe our character we take offence, we make every effort to make sure we are not considered a "lamb" or "sheep". For Jesus, teaching the other party "their place" was not as important as being an example of true love and self-giving humility. Throughout His life, we never read of Jesus getting into arguments, quarrels or bouts when answering those who attempted to lord over Him, take advantage of Him, step on His rights, etc. Instead, He quietly went about His business of spreading the gospel, and discipling His 12 companions.

Jesus is God and he can do this. But there were "human" examples of humility…many of them. One such example is Peter, when he had just returned to the other apostles from a ‘journey’. On this journey he had healed a paralytic, raised the dead, communicated with God (in a vision), he was used by God as an instrument to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles for the first time and he witnessed their being baptized by the Holy Spirit, then baptized them with water. Wow, what a journey! How was he greeted after all this? With criticism. They said "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them" (Acts 11:3). A softer approach by the apostles would have been to ask Peter about the reports they had heard and the details behind it. Peter’s response could very well have been to answer the criticism with a little bit of pride, after all he had just healed the paralytic, brought the dead to life and talked to God, he didn’t deserve to be criticized. Instead, he took the time to answer the brothers by explaining his actions in detail, so they would understand. This took humility.

Jesus took on the very nature of a servant. What does that mean to me? It means whether I am right or wrong, whether I am justified or not, whether the other person deserves it or not, I serve, I wash his feet, I make myself nothing. The required virtue is clear in the Scriptures. Those who want to follow biblical standards will not argue the importance of humility. Humility will, more than likely, be taught and encouraged. The hope is that we will always be able to look at ourselves with sober judgment. We need to ask God to open our eyes, to see the areas of our lives that need humility. Remember, it is impossible to be proud of how humble you are.