Wednesday, December 19, 2012

True Humility: A Christmas Reflection

The clearest description of Jesus' character as He came to be born in Bethlehem is the word used by Paul in Philippians 2:8 -- "He humbled himself."


This is a word bandied about by Christians like a tennis ball during Wimbledon warm-ups. A person who is decisive and unbending to the pressure of others is often said "to lack humility." A person who is quiet like a church mouse and easily fades into the room's wallpaper is often called a "humble" person. It's as if humility to many Christians is a synonym for indecisiveness.

C.S. Lewis disagrees. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points to errors that Christians make in defining humility. Some define humility as "thinking less of oneself." This is seen in language like, "I'm just a little ole nobody," or "I'm nothing compared to so-and-so," or "If people really knew the way I really was, they'd be unimpressed." Lewis is irritated by such thinking. He writes that thinking less of oneself is not gospel humility at all.

Other Christians define humility as "thinking more of oneself" because of God's grace. These people say things like, "I'm a child of the King, so I'm somebody pretty special!" or "By God's grace, I am not what I used to be, and I'm not what I will one day be, but I'm better today than I was!" or "I am what I am by the grace of God." C.S. Lewis says that this group of Christians comes closer to an understanding of gospel humility than the former group, but both groups miss defining true humility. According to C.S. Lewis:
Humility is not thinking more or less of oneself; humility is thinking of oneself less.
Say it out loud. Humility is thinking of oneself less. Humility is a state of unself-consciousness. There's no thought of self. Humility is others focused. The humble person wants to know the story of others. This means a humble person can be decisive, immoveable, and even somewhat stubborn, because his actions are about other people, not himself. Most Christians would consider immoveablity and stubborness to be characteristics of pride, but not so! Christ "set his face like a flint" as He went to Calvary. Nothing could sway Him. Nothing could stop Him. The jeers of peers and the woes from foes caused not one footstep to falter. Yet Jesus was humble. He was doing what He was doing for the good of others.

More than a few Christians may need to tweak their definition of humility.

The one who continually feels himself the victim is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who is constantly worried that he's not measuring up is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who reacts in anger to others over changes in his life is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who changes or alters his actions or views because people are disappointed in him is living a life void of principle and is not humble. The person who is always thinking of himself--how he looks, how he is perceived, how he has been short-changed, how he is not being heard, how he is a victim--is a person without gospel humility.

Just a little food for the soul this Christmas week.


Tanya Kennedy said...

touche' Wow that is something I need to hear...thanks!!! have a wonderful Christmas my friend!!!!

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I love reading John Wesley.

His teachings are pretty close to this post. Get your eyes off yourself and get busy serving God and others and you won't need to examine yourself to see if you are humble or not. You will be focused on God first, then others, in a healthy way.

Not the false humility being served up by some but the real deal.


Aussie John said...


When I was in my early teens my father expected me to share the work on the farm. One of those tasks was plowing with two horses. I had plenty of time to observe them working each alongside his partner.

They were a demonstration of humility, which must include brokenness,and submission.

In their natural state these horses were headstrong, stubborn and willful. They would have never plowed a straight furrow together!

I'm not suggesting that Jesus had to learn humility. He chose to humble himself, but, for us the illustration serves to show that, in the natural earthly sense, humility, brokenness,and submission must be learned.

Like the horses, we need to be broken of our willfulness, stubbornness, and resistance towards obeying direction by our Master, before we will be truly useful.

Two horses, yoked together, working side by side, in close harmony, doesn't come naturally, neither does a son/daughter of Adam working in close harmony with Jesus.

In His humbled state, Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

No room for self interest when yoked to Him.

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Words of life indeed!

Anonymous said...

I liked the practical application in the last paragraph of your post. It alerted me to possible paranoiac tendencies, or to inverted pride,and to consider rather how the suffering servant of God steadfastly performed his selfless mission on earth.You made your point well, Peacher !
(The popular, humourous satirical song by Mac Davis and the Muppets, still brings a smile to the face.)