“None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves.” -Charles Spurgeon
In Christian spaces we hear a lot about pride and humility. How pride is a sin to avoid, and humility is what we ought to replace it with. We must think less of ourselves and more of others. Love God and love what God loves before we love ourselves. The Bible also talks about these characteristics quite a bit. Jesus was a perfect model of humility. But humility is so much more than one Christian attribute among many. It is an essential part of the nature of God, the stories and instructions in the Bible, and the everyday Christian life.
We hear pride and humility together a lot because they are generally opposites. Pride is “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements.” Conversely, humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance” (Oxford Languages). The Bible speaks about them this way:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Proverbs 16:18-19
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
Like most characteristics Christians should wear, we see Jesus modeling it first. His whole time on earth was characterized by humility. He was a humble servant in his ministry. He washed the feet of his followers. He willingly died on a sinner’s cross as a sinless man.
“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.” Philippians 2:5-8
Speaking about this verse on his podcast With the Perrys, Preston Perry said, “Humility is not merely knowing your place. Humility is recognizing you have the right to something but being able to let it go to serve someone else.” Jesus, being God, had all the privileges that come with that status. But out of humility he gave those up to serve those he came to save.
Since Jesus embodies humility so much, I would presume it is not only very important for Christians to model, but it should show as more than simply putting others before ourselves. It should be more than just thinking little of ourselves. Every fruit of the believer has some aspect of humility tied to it.
To have compassion toward others means putting our wants, needs, and desires to the side to provide for our neighbors. Showing grace and forgiveness means laying down the vengeance we wish to see and instead letting the perpetrator get what they do not deserve.
Honoring God with our bodies, our finances, and our words means standing strong against temptations, saying “no” to desires that are so enticing, and saying “yes” to what pleases the Father. Carving out time each day to pray or read the Bible means prioritizing our convenience and comfort below these spiritual disciplines that bring glory to God.
Having patience means letting go of the attention or accommodations we feel we deserve, understanding that God is sovereign over our time. Being honest means releasing our desire for everyone to like us in exchange for potentially painful truth that will point them to Christ.
To be joyful means to, as hard as it may be, get up from the miserable place that is comfortable and praise God for who He is and what He’s done.
Humility is the first step toward a fulfilling life in Christ. Believers are known by their fruit. If nearly every fruit requires humility, then humility might be a good one to start with. But like I said earlier, humility is not simply thinking bad about ourselves and good about others. There is a bit of misconception around what the world sees as humble. C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, or course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
The funny thing about truly humble people is they wouldn’t use the term to describe themselves. A humble person can’t boast about being humble. And if we are standing on the outside, we may be tempted to label these people as weak, or we may get concerned that they aren’t doing enough for themselves, that they need more self-love. These people, however, couldn’t care less about self-love. They care too much about God, about loving and serving Him through whatever means necessary. They don’t care to think about themselves. This kind of person is one I daily aspire to be.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:10