True Grace and Greatness of Humility

Its Meaning
The English word ‘humility’, and its adjective ‘humble’, are derived from the Latin word ‘humus’, which means ‘ground’, ‘earth’, or ‘soil’. It reminds us all that God formed us from the dust of the ground. After Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, God said to him that he would die, and that, since he was just dust, his body would return to dust again. This is a sobering thought, and one which indicates to us our true condition and position before God. In fact, in Genesis chapter 18 verse 27 Abraham described himself as ‘dust and ashes’ before the Lord when he was interceding for Lot in Sodom. Likewise, the patriarch Job, at the end of his traumatic sufferings and the Lord’s revelation of Himself to him, simply said that he abhorred himself and repented of his rash words against God ‘in dust and ashes’, Job 42:6. The Hebrew word most frequently used for ‘humility’, or ‘being humble’, has the idea of being ‘low’. It is sometimes used of low-lying land, but most frequently has the metaphorical sense of being humble, or humbled by others. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament uses the same word to translate this Hebrew word as the Greek New Testament uses to express the idea of ‘humility’, and ‘being humble’. It, too, basically means ‘low-lying’ physically, but, again, is most often used in a metaphorical sense to mean ‘lowliness of mind and attitude’. It is the opposite of being high-minded, proud, or arrogant. Scripture everywhere commends humility as being a thoroughly right attitude to take towards both God and other men and women around us.

Its Importance
The ancient Greek philosophers tended to despise humility as being very mean-spirited, but the Lord reverses this opinion and emphasises the absolute importance of behaving in a humble way at all times and to all people. In our society today also, humility is not thought to be good form or even always advisable. We live in a ‘me first’ culture, where everyone competes with others to gain superiority over them. In the world of business the aim is always to be a manager, not a servant, so that there are frequently too many bosses supervising too few people doing the essential work. The original sin of Lucifer in heaven was pride against God. He exalted himself and wanted to be like the Most High God, forgetting that he was simply a creature. And through Adam we, also, have imbibed something of this obnoxious spirit of pride. Scripture constantly warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but soberly and realistically. A humble man or woman acknowledges their true position and condition before God, and also has a very high view of the character and attributes of God. Although we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, this is no reason for pride in ourselves, but for worshipping God our Creator for making us so. In the final analysis, what have we that we did not first receive from God? We really have nothing to be proud about. And, besides this, we are all just sinful mortals in desperate need of God’s gracious forgiveness. Too often we manifest pride in our own achievements, and the achievements of our family members, or friends, when we should simply be humbly thanking and praising God for giving us both the ability and opportunity to achieve what we have. God says that He will not ultimately give the glory due to Himself to anyone else; for He alone is God. So our pride impugns God’s glory, and that is serious. That is why the Lord says in Proverbs chapter 16 verse 5 that, ‘Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination’ to Him, and will not go unpunished.” On the other hand, we are encouraged to learn in Isaiah chapter 57 verse 15 that the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity dwells ‘with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit’. So our relationship with God depends on our having a truly humble attitude towards Himself and others. That is how important humility is in our characters.

Its Supreme Example
Paradoxically, the supreme example of humility is none other than Jesus Christ Himself, God manifest in the flesh as the only Perfect Man who ever lived. He perfectly exemplified true humility on a number of occasions during His earthly life. In John chapter 13, during the evening before He was crucified, Jesus graphically illustrated humility to His disciples when He girded Himself with a towel as the lowest slave would have done, and washed His disciples’ feet. None of them volunteered to do the same. But the Lord ended His object lesson by commanding His disciples to perform this act of feet-washing to one another. A little while previously, He had corrected their self-seeking argument with one another about which of them should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and sit beside Him, by taking a child and setting him before them as another object lesson in humility. Disciples should manifest the humble attitude of a child, if they wish to become great in His kingdom. In fact, all who come to trust in Him must be ‘meek and lowly in heart’ like Himself, their Master. In Philippians chapter 2 we have the inspiring account of the Saviour’s voluntary self-humiliation and obedient submission to the death of the cross given to us today as the supreme example of selfless humility which we should follow in all our personal relationships. We, like Christ, are to think of others as being better, or more important, than ourselves and even be prepared to sacrifice ourselves for them, as He did for us. This is true humility of mind and heart. He was prepared to receive much less than His rightful due in life, and so should we be. Yes, humility involves self-denial and self-sacrifice at times, and trusts God alone to vindicate us in His own time and way; for He has promised to do so.

Its Rewards
The rewards of cultivating a meek and humble spirit are ultimately many. But we may need to wait until eternity to receive all of them. In this life we can expect only what our Lord and Master received, namely, reproach, rejection, and shame from our fellow-men and women. Both Peter and Paul, who wrote about the virtues of humility in their letters, as well as manifesting it abundantly in their service for their Lord, died martyrs’ deaths in the mid-60s AD. But Peter promised the suffering believers to whom he wrote that, if they were to humble themselves under God’s mighty disciplining hand, He would exalt them in due time. For some this may have happened later in this present life, but for many this would have had to wait until the Judgement Seat of Christ, when they received the martyr’s crown of life. So, if this is our ultimate reward for being ‘clothed with humility’, rather than asserting ourselves and claiming what we perceive to be our rightful due, what is the present reward for remaining humble before the Lord and others? It is surely the daily companionship and fellowship that the Lord has always promised to those who ‘walk humbly with’ their ‘God’, Micah 6:8. The Lord gives special grace to the humble among men who follow Him consistently, grace needed to bear the sufferings brought to them because they are identified with their rejected Lord. But rewards will follow in eternity, and make the sufferings of this little while between pale into insignificance in the light of the glory that will be revealed in us in the day of the Lord’s coming and kingdom. Our reward is ultimately Christ Himself and the fellowship of His sufferings. So, are we all prepared to be humble like our Lord and Saviour? For only so will we enjoy His unclouded fellowship both now and hereafter.

Let us, therefore, like the hymnwriter, be ‘Content to fill a little space, if Thou be glorified’! Yes, the grace of willing and self-forgetful humility is the secret of true greatness of character.

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