I find it interesting that humility is not one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. I think this is probably because it is one of those qualities that works its way into all of the fruits of the Spirit. All of the good qualities Christians are to posses have an element of humility within them. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control … you can’t have any of these things without humility.
Throughout the book of Proverbs, it seems every chapter has nuggets of truth regarding humility and pride. They seem to play role in everything good or bad described in Proverbs. Humility helps your relationship with God, with people, with your finances. And so rather than zero in on one of these elements, I’d like to take a bigger view this morning and ask the question, “How can we be humble and not proud?”
Certainly we can never be humble without the saving work of Jesus Christ in our lives. But once we’ve become a Christian, how can we continue the sanctification processes and become more humble and less prideful.
So here are three ways we can become more humble and less prideful:
1. How to be humble and not proud: We have to know what true humility really is.
To be humble and not proud, we have to know what we are aiming at. What is humility and what is pride?
I don’t believe I’ve found a Proverb that neatly summarizes what humility and pride really are. I think what the Proverbs mostly do is describe the benefits of humility and the curses of pride. For example, Proverbs 22:4 states, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 11:2 states, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”
And so before we really dive into humility and pride as mentioned in the Proverbs, perhaps we should take a wider biblical lens and define what these things really are.
C.S. Lewis defined humility this way, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
We often think that being humble means having a lowly opinion of ourselves. And in some ways we should. When we don’t have the grace of God, we should feel hopeless. We should know that without Jesus, there is nothing good in us.
But if Jesus is our example in everything, does this mean that since Jesus was humble Jesus thought himself a loser? Did Jesus’ humility cause him to think everyone was better at life than himself? Did Jesus walk around feeling he was the worst Rabbi in Israel? Jesus did not feel this way because having a poor opinion of yourself is not at the heart of biblical humility.
Biblical humility is when we stop thinking of ourselves and we start submitting to God. It’s when we start putting others before ourselves. With this proper definition, we can see that Jesus is the humblest man because he puts God first every time and he sacrificed the most for the least deserving. Jesus’ was humble because he put others before himself.
Biblical humility is not ultimately about lowering yourself; it’s more about lifting others up. For example, Philippians 2:3-5 states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
Notice the emphasis in Philippians 2:3. It does not say, “in humility count yourselves lower than others or less significant than others.” It says rather, that we should “in humility value others above ourselves.” The emphasis is not on our lowness or lack of significance. Humility focuses on the needs and well being of others. It says “count others more significant than yourselves,” not because other people are more valuable than you but because that’s the mindset of humility, to put others before yourself. This is why Christ was humblest, not because he was lesser than all people but rather because he was able to put others before himself.
When we have a poor understanding of what true humility really is, we will end up possessing a false humility. A false humility is when we intentionally put ourselves down as a way of lifting ourselves up in the eyes of others.
False humility is rooted in authentic pride. False humility is shown most often through an effort to highlight one’s own great sinfulness and unworthiness. False humility focuses on your sin and has no gospel relief insight. It simply wants to show the greatness of the sinner by focusing on the greatness of his sin. True humility is all about focusing on others. So even when we are barraging ourselves and putting ourselves down, we are still focusing on ourselves, which is pride. Humility looks towards Christ. False humility, which is just pride in a different costume, focuses on self.
Certainly there’s times where we should humbly highlight our own weaknesses. But we must do this only when it draws attention to Christ and not our own failings. Paul claimed to be the worst of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15, but he did this to highlight the greatness of the gospel and not the lowness of himself.
In short, a humble man does not think less of himself but rather thinks of himself less. He submits to God first and looks out for the well being of others.
2. How to be humble and not proud: Know the blessings of humility and the punishments for pride
I think this where the Proverbs really helps us be humble rather than prideful. One of the main teaching tools that God uses throughout the Bible is the promises of rewards and punishments. God encourages good behavior by reminding us of the good we will reap if we produce good fruits in him. God has designed us to be motivated by rewards. Certainly the rewards are ultimately in Him and bring him glory, but nonetheless, humans are motivated by rewards.
For example, in Matthew 6 Jesus is teaching us to have a right motivation when doing good deeds. He tells us to give without letting other people see it, pray without the need to impress others, and fast without putting on a show. But in each of these sections Jesus says, “And then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus motivates us to do good by reminding us of the rewards we will receive if we do.
In Hebrews 12:2 it states, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not want to go to the cross. He despised the shame of the cross. And yet Jesus went to the cross because of the reward of joy that was set before him.
To overcome the temptation of pride, we must take hold of a greater promise of reward that is given when we are humble.
Humility is essential in receiving blessings from God. For as Andrew Murray said, “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”
So here is what the Proverbs state come along with humility and pride:
- Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” Riches, honor, and life…. Does it get much better…
- Proverbs 11: 2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” Humility brings wisdom while pride will bring embarrassment.
- Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” A humble person will go unpunished for pride.
- Proverbs 29:23, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Humility will bring you a good name before God and man.
- Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Pride will destroy you.
- Proverbs 16:19, “It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Humble people have better friendships. Proud people are horrible to be around, so horrible that it would be better to be poor than have the proud as your friends.
- Proverbs 29:8, “Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath.” Prideful people produce problems wherever they go. Humble people naturally promote peace.
- Proverbs 12:9, “Better to be lowly and have a servant than to play the great man and lack bread.” Being humble helps you live within your means, helping you to have financial security and peace.
- And finally, Proverbs 3:34 reminds us of the greatest reward, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” If want to have favor with God, we must be humble.
Proverbs 3:34 is also where we will find our last point on how to be humble.
3. How to be humble and not proud: Be Rightly Aligned With God
Proverbs 3:34 is quoted twice in the New Testament in 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6. When Peter and James quoted it, they used a Greek translation of the Old Testament, and so Proverbs 3:34 in the New Testament is quoted as, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
It all begins with God. Notice how the verse starts, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This sentence starts with “God.” If we want to be humble in this life, like this sentence, we must remember everything starts with God. Peter and James set the context of our reality. We don’t live in a world by ourselves. We don’t live in a world that we created. We don’t live in a world where God is absent and not on the throne running the show.
Pride is rooted in the belief that God is not God. Pride thinks self is god. I was talking to Dave about this a few weeks ago, and he said, “Pride is self-idolatry.” Pride is the worship of self. Therefore to be humble, we must be rightly aligned with God.
In closing, humility is so important because it is essential for everything we want as Christians.” Our humility certainly does not earn us favor with God. Humility, however, is the type of soil that the seed of faith can grow strong in. Humility creates the type of atmosphere where God is welcomed to bless you as you sit before him with open hands. If you want to be a mighty warrior in the hands of holy God, it starts with being a humble servant willing to submit to the Master.