My journey into understanding the nature of biblical humility through the writings in Philippians, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes has been eye opening and challenging. Each book has given me a new perspective and knowledge of how we as servants of Christ should be living a humble life. The process of learning has been relatively easy but the process of application on the other hand has been more difficult. One of my mentors offered this thought, “Just be aware that the greatest way we learn humility is through suffering of some form.”
After reading through the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah searching through a mixed variety of topics I was re-introduced to the word contrite. Isaiah 66:2 records these words: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” Translated from its roots in Greek and Hebrew the word contrite means, crushed, crippled or broken. Exodus 32:20 uses the phrase “ground into powder” a powerful illustration or action of how we are to humbly repent of all our sin and pride before God, giving over absolutely everything to Him. Learning and living in true humility calls us to do hard things, I do believe we will suffer and change in many ways as we grind away the things of this world that we are hanging on to in our lives.
I find two great promises in the words of Isaiah 57:15 for those who live humbly and with a contrite spirit. First we have the promise of living forever with God “in a high and holy place” one day when He returns. Secondly as we continue to live in this upside down world we can be assured that God will give us everything we need to live a good life, in our times of suffering and perseverance He will be with us. A contrite heart will receive the blessings and comfort of our great God; we will one day be with Him in that “high and holy place”. I am thankful that I have this hope and promise of eternal life, I pray that God will use me as his humble servant to call others to His name so they can come to know the same loving, merciful, and forgiving God.
Charles Spurgeon in his devotional Morning and Evening on May 19th wrote these words: “Upstarts frequently usurp the highest places while the truly great linger in obscurity. Even though He is the Prince of the kings of the earth, when our Lord was on earth, He walked the footpath of weariness and service as the Servant of servants.”
Spurgeon was reflecting on a short passage from Ecclesiastes 10:7, “I have seen servants on horses, while princes walk on the ground like servants.” This verses reminds me of some modern day movie storylines (I won’t reveal their names but you can imagine what they may be as I watch these with my three girls) where during the final battle or surprising conclusion to a quest reveals the prince or king coming forward from the crowd dressed as a commoner or soldier. The grand reveal in these stories gives the people a confidence and a cause for loyalty and honor to their prince or king, there is a connection made at a “ground level” that helps bridge the gap from royalty to commoner. There is a sense of compassion, care and love that people feel when they are connected.
Christ in His completely unselfish act of humility walked and served among us as sinners, he connected with the lost, the sick, and the social outcasts; He had compassion on them, He loved them. As Christ walked with us in this world he was among those who experienced the consequences of a prideful heart, He walked alongside people like you and me as we “sat in the saddle” of pride and self-centeredness, I can only imagine how this must have broken His heart. Christ was never here to sit on the horse and lead us from the front; He came to walk with us on the ground. Today when we jump off the horse and walk humbly in His name He gives us the opportunity to lift others up. Through the power of the Holy Spirit He walks with us as we pour out compassion, care and love to others just like He continues to do for us.
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion to the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Ecclesiastes is a book full of great teaching, much of which centers around the senselessness of putting stock into the things of this world compared to the advantage of trusting that God will supply all our needs in life. Reading Ecclesiastes through the lens of learning about humility I was drawn to the very last verses where it hits on the topic of fearing God and keeping his commandments. Proverbs 22:4 clearly tells that “humility is the fear of the Lord.“ After reading through Ecclesiastes Solomon essentially gives us a mini pep talk, a motivational mini speech through these two final verses. We have made it through the following 11 chapters and then he wraps it up like this: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion to the matter”, it is like he says lets not dwell on all that stuff (although he seemed to as he repeated himself often) here is the most important part… FEAR GOD (be humble) and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS (follow the rules).
The humble lives we are called to live don’t have to be boring and mundane, God gives us everything we need, we just have to be willing to accept it in His measure. God’s goodness and love is poured into our lives as humble servants when we allow Him to direct our lives. It is up to us, it is our choice to follow his commandments. Taking what God has given us and finding joy, peace and good in it needs to be celebrated as a gift from Him.
We all face many of the same situations described in the words of Ecclesiastes today. I can think of many people in my own life that continually fight the futile battle in life to achieve the best and biggest in life. I am guilty of the same kind of attitude in many respects; it is a part of my human nature. As I spend more time in God’s word reflecting on the words of instruction for my life the more I see how my life is influenced by the world around me. Today I read Ecclesiastes as a call to dig deeper in knowing my place in God’s plan, depending more on Him for the things that will shape who I am. Thankful for the many things I have already learned I wait in anticipation for what He has yet to teach me.
“Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4
What do humility and fear have in common in this passage? In order to understand that we need to know how the word fear is defined in respect to the text. Fear is often experienced as an emotional response to something or someone that is dangerous, or something that is likely to cause pain or is threating our life. In context of this verse in Proverbs and many other verses in the bible fear is defined as awesomeness, respect, reverence or true faithfulness. The fear of God is the action (on our part) of living in respect, awe and submission to our loving God.
In an earlier blog entry I mentioned that humility is an attitude of the mind, and the action of a servant heart. Out of this fear or reverence our heart attitude and our mind attitude should lead us to obedience in living a life that is honoring to God. God’s love (heart) and actions (mind) is the best example of humility in which we must live by. When we live in the fear of the Lord He will strengthen us, protect us, He will never forget us as we strive to live a life of humility in a world that pushes so hard against that kind of life. Living for a big God, an all knowing, always present God requires us to be humble, He is above us in every way but not out of reach with His grace and mercy and love when we call on Him.
The fear of the Lord is many things, “the beginning of knowledge” Proverbs 1:7; the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10; “a fountain of life” Proverbs 14:27. Living a life of humility comes with its rewards: riches, honor and life. Riches of knowledge and understanding as we live in Him, honor as we put others before ourselves, and life – an everlasting life with Him. God loves a humble servant.
What does Proverbs 25:6-7 have in common with Luke 14:7-11 other than the obvious fact they are both in the bible? In the context from which I am writing they both teach us about humility, and it is all about how we should go about choosing a spot to sit. Although this may sound like a simple matter of choice there are some lessons here that demonstrate how as humble servants of the Lord we need to act.
The thought or message in these two passages is this; if you don’t want to be humbled or humiliated by someone else, you must first humble yourself. As I have said before, it is an attitude of the mind that drives how we choose to live our lives as followers of Christ. I do believe our motives need to be pure as we interpret Proverbs 25:6-7, true humility would have us take our seat in a “lesser” place than the “great men”, our motive should not be to take the lesser place with expectancy around being promoted. I believe that these words carry meaning beyond that of a one-time occurrence of being in the presence of the king. The instruction “do not claim a place among his great men” extends to our life as a whole, our pursuit of wealth and material things just to be like others or even just ahead of others is not the goal. Our goal is to be more like Christ, not our neighbor.
Luke 14:7-11 paints a picture much like that of Proverbs, Jesus’ words in verse 11 sum up both of these passages well; “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”. Here again we can look back at Christ’s example of humility through His death on the cross; He never exalted himself above others. Always putting others first and his willingness to die on the cross in the truest act of humility brought glory, honor, praise to His name. We have been commanded through the Word to follow Christ’s living example of humility; it is my continued prayer that God helps me choose the “right spot to sit”.
Moving from the book of Philippians to Proverbs in context to humility was an interesting transition. The passages in Philippians helped to ground us in the perfect example of humility through the life of Jesus Christ; we now have a model or standard set for us as we move through the teachings found in Proverbs.
Proverbs was written to help us as believers gain a better understanding of who God is, detailing His plan for our lives through examples and teachings of wise and foolish decisions. Although Proverbs highlights many principles and values that point to all areas of daily life the concept of Humility will be my focus. The word humility is recorded twelve times in the book of proverbs (NIV); three of those entries reference the importance of humility coming before honor. Part of our mission in life as Christians is to give honor and glory in all that we do to our Heavenly Father. When we seek honor for ourselves, when we take pride in all that we do our mission begins to fade. We are called to fear the Lord over and over in Proverbs, to fear the Lord we must give Him honor not seeking it for ourselves. Putting God first, humbling ourselves before Him and living that out in our lives brings honor to our lives as a reward from Him.
Humility gives us strength, when our hearts are right with God He provides good things in our lives. Proverbs 15:13, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit”. That cheerful face connects with the heart and comes from a life lived in humility, when our lives are focused on ourselves or we have walls of pride built up around us we will experience a downfall (18:12). Understanding and living out a life of humility cannot be done in our own strength; we have to put aside the temptation of doing things on our own. It is through the power of prayer that we can overcome the experience of downfall and destruction and live a life with a happy heart and a cheerful face.
I imagine that just as I had written in my previous entry that when many of us look to scripture for guidance in the area of Humility we either do an online search, grab a concordance and find ourselves being directed to the passage in Philippians chapter 2, a place where in my bible is titled “Imitating Christ’s Humility”. This is a great place to start, this passage paints the picture of the perfect and most powerful example of humility.
Another great example of humility is found within the book of Philippians chapter 1; our example comes in the form of a choice. The choice is one of life or death. Paul, knowing that his physical death, his escape from the pain and suffering in this world and a new life with Christ is far better than persevering through his struggles is second to his ministry to the people of Philippi. Paul in his situation puts his own desires aside so that he can continue his ministry to the Philippians, “but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body… I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” Paul is certain that if he continues on through his suffering He will be able to reach more people with the gospel message. This is the fruitful labor Paul talks about in verse 22, for Paul this is a labor of love that comes from a humble servant heart that reflects the love of Christ in his own life.
I can’t imagine living in the conditions that surrounded Paul’s life in that time, his attitude, his courage and his faith are commendable. In our “civilized” world today or at least in this part of the world we are privileged and tend to live comfortably, often our choices tend to fulfill our own desires first at the expense of others. Practicing humility in our lives is difficult; I believe it is a process that includes first bringing a humble a desiring heart before the Lord asking for his guidance and direction. Second it is learning and practicing the attitude and action of a servant heart. Easily written, perhaps hard to read, and for many of us challenging to put into practice. Today I am encouraged by Paul’s choice to stay grounded in the faith with a humble heart and his perseverance in pain, suffering and persecution for the glory of God.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. C.S. Lewis.
Paul in the book of Philippians helps us to explore what true biblical humility looks like. Paul’s prayer for the people at Philippi is that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:9). This prayer is something that I pray God will do in my own journey through understanding his design of humility in my life and in the lives of those who I have influence.
“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (2:8). Here is the ultimate definition of being humility, an act that was not of selfish ambition but a heroic moment in time that put all of us ahead of himself. This act of love and compassion demonstrates for us the role we have to fulfill as we seek to be like Him, our lives should be lived humbly not expecting but having faith in His promises. In a world filled with selfish and proud people we get trapped by the influences of self-interest and often put our own needs before the needs of others. Our instruction from scripture calls us “to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (2:3).
I will level with you right now, I fail in this area, and the harsh reality of the truth is I will continue to do it. I am thankful that I live for a forgiving God, when I come before Him humbly asking for forgiveness He has promised to wipe the slate clean and let me start over again. This is not an excuse to continue doing what I do but an opportunity to grow in faith and understanding so I one day will be pure and blameless in his presence. Over the next few weeks as I reflect on scripture it is my hope and prayer that God will teach me to live a life in humility worthy of Him.