Humility of all virtues is uniquely Christian. It is the base virtue out of which all other virtue comes. It is ‘ground zero’ of beginnings and is the opposite of pride. The word pride in the New Testament has very little to recommend it. Humility is difficult to define, hard to grasp, easily seen, eternally remembered and instantaneous in power. It never runs out of gas!
Humility is hard to find, more difficult to acquire and almost impossible to maintain. When someone jumps up and bellows, “I’ve got it” – he just lost it. The wise man said, “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). True humility is universally admired, yet the spirit of the world crushes it, kicks it and shuns it. While privately praising it, the world labels humility as impotent, weak and childish. It is more often misapplied, misdefined, misunderstood and by the most of us, ‘just missed’! Our Lord continues to ask the question, “How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me” (Exodus 10:3). True humility is the raw material out of which other virtues grow. Without it, it is almost impossible to get started.
To amplify the misunderstanding that abounds on this subject, just reflect and remember the countless number of times that the phrase ‘he’s one of our humble members’ is applied to some spiritual carpetbagger or pew sitter. We take the most beautiful garment spun in the looms of heaven and drape them across the fallen shoulders of a half converted member. The most brilliant crown is kicked about, finally resting on the head of one who has neither the grace to remove it or the goodness to support it. It must possess you – you cannot possess it. When you become conscious of it’s presence – it evaporates and disappears. To try to manipulate it, it just becomes more evasive.
Humility is the highest, hardest and longest lesson to be learned in the school of believers. It is imperative, for without it man stumbles at first and falls at last. It is not some optional gear that may be purchased at some way station on the road. It is a necessary and vital ingredient to begin the mix. God has never saved a proud man. Jesus begins his sermon with these simple words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Here is the genesis of conversion, and the place where every sinner starts. Pride is the lock, sin is the cell and humility is the key.
This great virtue is enjoined upon every Christian. It is not a special aptitude of some, but to the contrary must be the attitude of all. The Apostle Paul writes, “For I say, through the grace that is given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). This primary principle deals with our relationship to God and all other attitudes and relationships find their strength or weakness from it.
The writer James puts it in a far more direct way by writing, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). Have you ever seen a farmer examine a handful of soil? He rubs it ever so gently between his fingers as a woman would a new fur coat. He is the master of the soil and from it he expects to reap a harvest. Humility is the broken soil in the hand of the master. The one goal that yet lies before man is how to get down on his knees before God. Can a proud heart sing or pray or place God in the center of his heart?
The Psalmist wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:17). Humility brings men to a point of law in order to teach them the grace of God. In answer to the question, “Do you want justice?” humility cries, “No sir, I want mercy!”
Simon Peter, late in life wrote these words, “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder (older). Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5-6). Humility dictates a basic equality, for each one is to be subject one to the other. This takes you back to the words of the Master, “If any man would be my disciple, let him DENY himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Mark 8:34).