Are you humble? This is the ultimate Catch-22 question. To answer in the negative is to admit that you are not humble. To answer “yes” is to reveal that you have a somewhat high opinion of yourself and therefore are not really humble. You just can’t win.
This past week two people told me that I was humble. One was a regular reader of this column. Another was someone who was at a talk I was giving. Got me thinking. Am I humble? What is humility anyway?
My answer, for sometime now, is that humility is having accurate knowledge of yourself. I take my answer from Romans 12:3 and here I like the NLT.
“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
Any journey to humility must begin with Paul’s exhortation to “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves.” But it is very hard to evaluate ourselves honestly. We are either too hard or too soft on ourselves. The only way we can even begin to be honest with ourselves is by looking at ourselves using the Word as our mirror (James 1:22-25).
Through the Word I know that I am a sinner saved by grace (Romans 6:23).
Through the Word I know that God saved me through the ultimate sacrifice of the Cross (Romans 3:23-26).
Through the Word I know that not only has God saved me He has adopted me as His son (Romans 8:15-17).
Through the Word I know he has given me certain talents and abilities so that I can be a blessing to others (Romans 12:6-8).
An honest evaluation of myself means there is absolutely no place for narcissistic pride. All that is good in me is a gift from God. I was a sinner destined for an eternity without God. God died on the Cross to save me, to adopt me, to give me meaning and purpose, and a future no one can take away.
An honest evaluation of myself means my heart is overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude. And the best antidote to selfish pride is gratitude. If my heart is always saying “thank you God” it leaves little space for “how great I am.”
An honest evaluation of myself also means that I accept the fact that in His grace, God has entrusted certain talents and abilities to me to enable me to bless others. For example I believe God has blessed me with the gift of preaching. I didn’t deserve it. It is a gift of grace. But there it is. What I need to do is thank Him for the gift and be a good steward of the gift.
So If someone tells me that I preached a great sermon I usually say “I am pleased that the sermon was of help to you.” In my heart I say: “Thank you God for the privilege of being allowed to be part of Your purposes.” I say it quickly for I know that sinful pride is waiting to ensnare and trip me (Genesis 4:7).
What I don’t say is “no-lah, that sermon wasn’t so great.” It is very Chinese to be seen to be modest in public. Perhaps it is an Asian thing. And so we play this game by putting ourselves down and pretending to be what we are not. In public we downplay our gifts and achievements but in our hearts, well, everybody knows how great I really am.
Folks in the West play a different game. For them it is “if you got it, flaunt it.” It seems that there, humility is for wimps. In a market economy people must know how great you are so that they will buy your product and your services. I see this approach too often in the churches in the West, and now in the East as well. And so we get a lot of “see how great my church is” and “see how great my ministry is” and very little of “see how great is our God that He chooses to use fragile clay jars like us.” It seems a far cry from Paul’s testimony in 2Corinthians 4:5-7:
“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (NLT)
I guess Christians shouldn’t be playing Eastern or Western games. We shouldn’t be playing games at all. Rather with the help of God we seek to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can better evaluate ourselves more honestly. And when we do that we will remember our utter dependence on God and His utter goodness. We will healthily accept and celebrate His gifts to us and share them with others.
I also like Gary Hardin’s definition of humility in the Holman Bible Dictionary:
“A personal quality in which an individual shows dependence on God and respect for other persons.” I guess a truly humble person will always be thrown for a loop when you ask him or her if he or she is humble. They will find it hard to answer because they are not thinking about themselves. They are thinking about God and about others.
James 4:6 tells us that “God opposes the proud but favours the humble.” Don’t know about you but I don’t relish the idea of being opposed by God. I think we all need to take this humility business more seriously.