[dropcap3]O[/dropcap3]ver the next four issues the In Depth column of the magazine will address four virtues – humility, kindness, forgiveness, and patience. The word “virtue” emphasizes the strength of one’s moral life and conduct, whereas the word “character” emphasizes that one’s moral excellence is imprinted or “engraved” on one’s life. Both ring true biblically in that we are to grow into the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13) and that the life of Christ must be imprinted upon us (Gal. 4:19). In this issue the virtue of humility will be taken up.
A critical question to ask is this: How does the Bible describe our character formation and growth in humility? In Genesis 1, the physical creation recognizes the greatness and authority of God and bows in humble obedience to His word. Then in Genesis 2 we see the Lord God, essentially on His hands and knees, forming Adam from the ground to dwell with him in the Garden. Adam’s place in the world is as a part of the creation and so he also must recognize the greatness and authority of God and His word. Humility, then, is central to a biblical anthropology. Humility is not generated within us by recognizing that others are better than us; it is the gracious result of responding to the humble work and Word of God.
An excellent place to start is with the book of Philippians. Reflect on these important biblical texts; listen also to the reflections of the theologians from the past.
Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:7-8)
In this passage Paul is exhorting the Philippians to esteem the other as more important than oneself with humility of mind. To illustrate his point, he draws them to the humility of Christ Jesus.
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (KJV)
Paul (Philippians 3:7-8)
Paul comments on the Philippians 2 passage by describing his own response to Christ’s humble death and glorious resurrection.
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (KJV)
Augustine (Sermon on John)
For Augustine humility is the antidote to pride and so he calls us to imitate a humble God.
Why are you proud? God became humble for your sake! Perhaps you would be ashamed to imitate a humble man; then at least imitate a humble God. The Son of God came as a man and became humble. Your whole humility consists in knowing yourself. Pride does its own will; humility does the will of God.
Martin Luther (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings1)
According to Luther, God makes himself known through the foolishness of the cross to condemn those who misused the knowledge of God through works.
Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise as Isa. [45:15] says, “Truly, Thou art a God who hidest thyself.”
Matthew Henry (Commentary on Philippians)
In addition to making Christ the focus of our humility, note how Henry bundles peace, joy, and humility together.
Christ came to humble us, let there not be among us a spirit of pride. We must be severe upon our own faults, and quick in observing our own defects, but ready to make favourable allowances for others. … Neither inward nor outward peace can be enjoyed, without lowliness of mind. The example of our Lord Jesus Christ is set before us. We must resemble him in his life, if we would have the benefit of his death.
Charles Spurgeon (Sermon no. 972)
The creation texts teach us that God give and humans receive. Because of who God is, the only proper way to receive God’s gifts is with humility; all that I am and have is received from His hand. Spurgeon instructs us to consider the Giver and feel the weight of His gifts.
Humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents, God has given them to us, and let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have, the lower we ought to lie. Humility is not to say, “I have not this gift,” but it is to say, “I have the gift, and I must use it for my Master’s glory. I must never seek any honor for myself, for what have I that I have not received?”
Donald Grey Barnhouse (The Invisible War3)
Although humility is basic to our humanity, the influence of sin and the world seeks to eclipse what is fundamental to our life lived before God. With a subtle allusion to Philippians 2:5-8, Barnhouse explains the divine principle that triumphs over sin, Satan, and the world.
The formula of success in the world has simply nothing in common with the truth expressed by the Word of God. It was the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, however, that revealed the bankruptcy of all that the world still clings to, and that provided the basis for the ultimate triumph of the divine principle which now is in total eclipse in the world dominated by Satan, prince of this world and god of this age… The movement of the Lord Jesus had been in exactly the opposite direction. Satan had said, “I will ascend.” The Lord Jesus Christ said in effect, “I will descend.”
The humility of our character is formed by having our minds set on the work that God has done in Christ Jesus. This keeps us from making prideful judgments by comparing ourselves to each other. Our character is strengthened day by day as we keep our focus on God’s own humility at the cross. In the next edition of PBU Today the virtue of kindness will be addressed.
1Fortress Press, 2005, p. 57.
2Sermon no. 97, August 17, 1856.
3The Invisible War. Zondervan, 1980, p.222.