Humility is one of those things that I know is good for me but also one of those things that is so hard to put into practice. Our culture regularly drives us to “be number one!” Many of us have jobs that require an annual review in which we sum up all of the great things we did through the year.
And yet, humility is a foundational characteristic that is supposed to make up the Christian life. It is the quality Christ exuded when taking on humanity and dying on a cross. If Christians are supposed to make his character our own, then humility needs to be near the top of our own list of character development. For our own growth, humility begins with a proper recognition of our place in the universe. Isaiah 66:1-2 says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
Since God is the creator of the cosmos, what can we possibly bring to the table? Those questions are rhetorical. Our planet is a mere footstool for God (and the feet were not a clean and honorable part of the body in the Ancient Near East, which is why Peter freaked out when Jesus tried to wash the disciples’ feet). God doesn’t want us to feel down and depressed about how insignificant we are. This is, however, a call to recognize the greatness and grandness of God. A high view of God puts us on the right path to humility.
One we get that human/divine relationship understood, the next step is to look in the mirror and not think better of ourselves than we ought. Luke tells a story of Jesus in Luke 14:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
There’s a practical wisdom to Jesus’s words. It’s FAR better to choose humility than to have someone else thrust humility upon you! Don’t get so big-headed you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Instead, choose lowness and, if other people exalt you – score! If not, you’re no worse for the wear and can avoid the walk of shame when someone tells you you’re in a place for someone more important.
Finally, humility involves building others up. Paul writes in Philippians 2:
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 you to the interests of the others.
I would also contend that part of looking out for the interests of others includes not taking credit for an idea or action from another. Give proper credit where credit is due.
We’re not looking for false humility. That’s just pride in disguise. But a genuinely humble person who recognizes her place before God, who accurately sees himself in the mirror, and who honestly seeks to build up others, will be the kind of person who reflects the character of Christ.