I wonder if one of the problems has to do with our concept of humility. Sometimes we confuse it to mean a negative opinion of ourselves, particularly when it is in reference to our intellectual and moral capacities and talents. But such a concept of humility is far from a biblical understanding.
Perhaps the best passage to learn about humility comes from another song, this time found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In chapter 2 (v.5b-8) he writes,
“… have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Humility, Paul explains, is best illustrated by Jesus and the fact he did not consider himself or his standing but considered others preferring to serve them and be a servant. Even when this meant dying, Jesus did not deviate away from his call to serve.
In John’s gospel we read of Jesus performing the servant task of washing the disciples’ feet illustrating the same point: Jesus is the best example of humility that we have. But Jesus’ humility is not about a negative self-image but about putting the interests of others first.
Having finished washing the disciples’ feet Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15).
Here Jesus gives us a challenge and raises the question: can we train ourselves to be humble? Despite the obvious difficulties we may encounter trying to be humble it is clear God expects us to try.
But how can we avoid the traps? Again, Jesus gives us the pattern. What matters is the way we approach it. While we may never know if we are truly humble, we can set ourselves goals to practice humility.
Earlier on in his letter to the Philippians Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Here is the strategy. Rather than placing our focus on trying to be humble we should put our efforts in doing routine acts of service for others first. We need to shift the focus from ourselves and our humility and place it on others and serving them. As CS Lewis helpfully noted, “Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves; it’s thinking less about ourselves.” Focussing on ourselves and lamenting the fact that we aren’t humble enough is self-defeating and only serves to generate more self-absorption. However, if we humbly serve others our focus is redirected and humility become the by-product of our service, not the goal of our efforts.
While it may indeed be “hard to be humble” in our secular, consumer-driven individualistic culture, that does not excuse us from trying. In the end we have a choice. It is a choice between the two songs. Between “looking at our face in the mirror” or “looking to the interests of others.” The choice is yours.
Stephen L Baxter