Why We Must Humble Ourselves

God is pretty clear in his scriptures about his thoughts on pridefulness and humility; he leaves no room for the former but he loves and graciously provides the latter for his children. Psalm 138 says: “Though the LORD is on high, He attends to the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar” (6). In James and in 1 Peter, both authors quote from Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I could go on and on with scriptures showing the folly of pride and the benefit of humility, but I won’t do that here. (We are in quarantine though, so you might just have some free time to do a little Bible word study yourself. Hint hint.)

The tricky part is that we often don’t see the areas in our life where we have allowed pride to grow in our hearts, like weeds sprouting up through cracks in the driveway. Frederica Mathewes-Green writes in her book The Jesus Prayer, “Pride can be hard to detect because it disguises itself in innumerable ways. It appears most often in relationships, because pride springs up when comparing yourself with other people. If you instead compare yourself with God, and with what God is calling and enabling you to be, sincere humility is not so hard to feel.”

As I read through the Psalms, I see a distinctive posture assumed by the psalmist, one of a right understanding of his place in the universe in relation to a mighty God. Over and over, we see the wicked contrasted not with the righteous man but with the Lord. No one is good except God. Psalm 1:5-6 says, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Only the Lord knows the way we are to follow. Psalm 5:8 says, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.” Not make my way straight before me, but make your way straight before me. His righteousness has become our righteousness, so likewise his way must become our way, and his desires should be our desires.

We often think of humility as the antithesis of pride, but we can forget the relationship of humility to other virtues of the spirit. St. Augustine said, “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues, hence in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” That is, we cannot embrace any other virtue until we have postured ourselves appropriately in humility. This involves not self-abasement but simply a right understanding of who we are — and who we are not — and what has been given to us through Christ. Focusing on the gospel therefore compels us to be humble, which allows spiritual blessings to flourish in us.

For that matter, why isn’t humility listed among the fruit of the spirit? Because it is a necessary precursor to bearing fruit. See what Paul says in verses following the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 and 6: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. … For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (5:25-26; 6:3). Insert Pauline mic drop here.

And humility doesn’t stop there; it’s just getting started. In 1 Peter 5:5-7 we read, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Humble ourselves where? Under the mighty hand of God. He’s got you. He can handle all your anxieties, and in fact, he’s bigger than all the anxieties of all the people in all the world for all of time. He’s got everything under control. Take courage. Be humble, and take great joy in the fact that you are very small and he is very big.

Humility is everything, friends. We learn this first and foremost from Christ. Paul writes in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (3-8). If Jesus, who is God, could humble himself so completely, then surely we can remember not to put ourselves before others. We can be free to be happy for other people’s success instead of envying them. We can let go of our anxiety and trust God.

And in the end, or as Peter puts it “after you have suffered for a little while” (thanks, Pete), God himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10). Our job is not to be in charge. Our job is to stay humble, take care of each other, and follow Jesus. It’s God who is writing the end of this crazy story. As Mathewes-Green writes, “If you cling to humility, you will come to joy.” Amen.

Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass

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