August 17, 2012

Biblical humility

Some assume that being humble means thinking yourself worthless. My thesaurus offers words like modest, unassuming, meek, self-effacing, lowly, unprivileged, subservient, debased and other negative words that point to me. These days, even as in Bible times, humility is not considered a positive virtue. 
Yet the Word of God tells me that I am to be humble, like Jesus who was humble and also a perfect and sinless man. What then does it mean to be humble? This passage makes me think about serving the Lord with humility.
And when they came to him, he (Paul) said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God….” (Acts 20:18–24)
From this example set by Paul, biblical humility can be defined. First, it means not being afraid to show emotion. Paul served God with tears. He didn’t fake courage when he was fearful or pretend joy when he was sad. If he felt like crying, he did. He wore his heart on his sleeve and didn’t try to impress others with ‘being cool’ when he was anything but.

Humility also means obedience. God told him to share the gospel and teach others about Jesus and he did it. He did not shrink back even when threatened by those who wanted him to stop. 

Humble means persistence. Some might think that a humble person will back off and quit when the pressure is on, but Paul didn’t quit no matter what happened. Humility is never the opposite of courage.

Humility makes a person a likely candidate for knowing the will of God. While Paul did not know the details, he did understand, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, that he would be put in jail and suffer affliction. Yet this did not make him want to quit. This demonstrates that humility is not cowardly. Paul wasn’t concerned about his own life except that he should do what God asked him to do. 

In contrast, pride thinks of myself first, but Paul was not like that. He put God and the will of God at the very center of his life. Finishing what God gave him to do was more important than his own comfort. Humility did not fold up under negative feedback or responses to his actions. He was more concerned about the eternal destiny of others than anything that happened to him.

As I think about my own life and how I am often afraid to testify to the gospel, I realize the root of this is pride. Instead of being humble, I am guarded and unwilling at times to express what I think and feel. I want to make a good impression, and that I-want can keep me from obedience. Often, I do not know the will of God, and from this passage I can see that being cowardly could be the reason He keeps me in the dark. I’m too concerned about what will happen to me to be trusted with information about the future. 

Even the briefest study of humility shows me that it requires strong confidence in a caring God, not a strong confidence in a sinful self. What can I say? When I confess my pride, the Lord tells me to humble myself. That means to stop trusting my own judgment in all areas of my life and put all my confidence in Him. 

It also means obedience. If my confidence is in God, then I will do what He says, no matter how I feel or think. Humility is self-effacing in that way, but it is not focused on self. It is more about loving God and caring for others to the point that my concerns for myself can be put into the hands of God and left there. 

Oh Lord, catch me in every hint of pride. Show me all areas of thinking and action where I am placing my confidence in my worst idol — me. May I truly die to self and live for You.

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