At that time, I’m sure I confessed my pride, as I have done many times since then. However, I’m becoming more aware that false modesty is self-centered also. It is not the opposite of pride. Pride focuses on me with “look at me” but false modesty does the same using a self-pitying, attention seeking “I’m not much” attitude.
Instead of these extremes, God calls for a different approach…
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3)
The Lord exhorts me to be sober-minded and to think clearly. I can examine myself but with an honest and objective attitude, assessing the gifts God has given me without an exaggerated opinion. Should I start underestimating what I can do for God, I’m displaying a false modesty rather than humility. This false modesty is that “I’m no good,” timid, unassertive, spineless attitude that is easily dominated or intimidated. It is repulsive, while humility is not.
The Bible describes humility as a proper estimation of oneself. I am weak and utterly dependent on God for everything, yet because I am made in God’s image and reborn in Jesus Christ, I can do all things through Him who gives me what I need. Yet I’m not to make too much or too little of either my weaknesses or strengths because true humility is never self-focused. As Paul wrote and Jesus demonstrated, humility simply considers others better than myself and then does whatever God asks, knowing He gives me whatever I need to do it.
Thinking others are “better” is not a false consideration either. I’m not to evaluate the worth or talents of others in a sinful comparison to myself, but care for them, putting their needs ahead of my own. That means others are not necessarily “better” than I am, but their concerns “surpass” my own. They are more important.
This is how Christ’s humility expressed itself. He did not seek His own good, but the good of others. This humility is the cure for pride, selfish ambition, vain conceit, and a whole host of other vices. It also sets me free to shine as Jesus said.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)
It is easy to read these verses and say, “I’m not good enough” but if I say that I am not sufficient for this, then false modesty keeps me from obedience. On the other hand, if I boast in my abilities, pride also prevents the light of Christ to shine out of my life.
This reminds me of black holes. They are celestial bodies whose gravity is so strong their light cannot escape. If I think, “Who me? I’m not much” I am pulling back the light of Christ toward myself and hiding it. Just as pride can keep me from shining, so can false modesty.
Oswald Chambers says that “every religious sentiment that is not carried out on its right level carries with it a secret immorality. That is the way human nature is constituted; whenever you allow an emotion and do not carry it out on its legitimate level, it will react on an illegitimate level.”
In other words, we need to watch out for extremes. In the idea of serving Christ with humility, I’m not to let the light of Christ degenerate into a false modesty that focuses on me, me, me. If my light is going to shine, pride is not the answer either. Instead, I must be willing to be exalted or abased, lifted up or put down, trusting the Lord and caring for others no matter what else is happening.
Lord, to shine means to focus first on You and then on the needs of others. I cannot obey You any other way. Puffed up boasting will not work, but neither will a self-centered false modesty. You give Your people all we need to serve You in the right way and with the right attitudes. Keep me from the extremes, but more than that, keep my focus where it should be.