Written by Doug Britton – permission granted
God and humility — The meaning of humility in the Bible
Many people have the wrong idea about God, the Bible and humility, or being humble. They think being humble means groveling in front of others or thinking they are no good and others are better.
That’s not what the Bible says. God says when you are humble, you are free from pride and arrogance. You know that in your flesh you are inadequate, yet you also know who you are in Christ.
You don’t need to defend yourself when you understand what the Bible says about humility, for you know who you are in Christ. You can be a peacemaker without needing to fight for your rights. You can walk humbly in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in your own strength.
Godly humility is being comfortable with who you are in the Lord and therefore putting others first. The picture of humility in the Bible is one of a strong person who loves others, not someone who is a wimp.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
Humility also is recognizing that you need God’s help, knowing you can’t truly succeed in your own strength. It is thanking God for your talents and gifts, and giving him credit for your accomplishments.
It is being comfortable with who you are in Christ and seeking to build others up, not yourself. It is gratefully walking in God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.
In the Bible, Jesus gives us a good example of humility in action. Although he was the son of God, he was gentle and humble–and he was strong.
I am gentle and humble in heart. (Matthew 11:29)
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Humility in action
Many people misunderstand the Bible, God, and humility. They think humility means being weak or passive. That’s not God’s message to us. The following statements show the power in humility.
You can defuse arguments when you are humble.
You don’t need to stand up for yourself in an angry manner. And you don’t have to win every argument.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
You can handle unfair treatment peacefully when you are humble.
You can respond to unfair treatment without becoming bitter. Godly humility means you do not feel a need for vengeance or revenge.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
You do not have to put on a “false front” when you are humble.
When you understand God and humility, you don’t need to act like a big shot. The better you know God, the less you have to prove.
You can eat “humble pie” without being crushed when you are humble.
When you are humble, you can respond to and learn from criticism without becoming defensive—whether it is deserved or not deserved. Likewise, you can be aware of your failures without being emotionally devastated.
You can ask for forgiveness when you are humble.
Even if you think you are only one percent wrong, you can easily apologize for what you did wrong.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
You can talk with the right attitude when you are humble.
You can talk courteously and lovingly, regardless of the situation — even if you need to be firm or take strong action.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
Being humble does not mean being a wimp
As I already wrote, many people misunderstand humility. The following statements correct three inaccurate pictures of humility.
Bible-based humility does not mean groveling.
When I humble myself, I feel strong in the Lord. I don’t need to be defensive.
Bible-based humility does not mean being unaware of your gifts or calling.
Although we should avoid self-pride, godly humility does not mean we should pretend we are unaware of the gifts God has given us. The key is to remember that they are from God.
Although I am less than the least of all of God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:8)
I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Corinthians 12:11)
Bible-based humility does not mean we should never speak directly.
When God says to be humble, he lets us know we must examine our motives and attitudes. We also must examine how we respond to others. But there are times when we need to take strong action. Here are two examples of taking strong action while maintaining a humble spirit:
- Jesus was meek of spirit, yet he chased the moneychangers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12 and Mark 11:15-16).
- As an employer, I can discipline or fire someone, yet do so quietly and gently.
God and humility — Enjoy the power in humility
You will usually be more successful when you practice what the Bible says about God and humility than if you are pushy or arrogant. (When you are humble, you are likely to have more influence than when you fight abrasively.)
Even if you don’t achieve the results you hoped for, you have the joy and pleasure of having acted in a godly manner. When you understand the meaning of humility in the Bible and put it into practice, you are a winner—even if you do not “win.”
1. How would you define the meaning of humility in the Bible (or the meaning of “humble” in the Bible)?
2. Write a prayer asking God to help you understand the Bible’s message about humility and to help you be more humble.
Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God’s truths in your daily life. (Visit http://www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Visit http://www.dougbrittonbooks.com for practical, biblical, cross-cultural books, Bible studies, and ebooks.