In his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?, Pastor Rick Warren suggests “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” This profound statement unfortunately flies in the face of the way most of us would define humility.
Eating Humble Pie
When someone is forced to "eat humble pie," as the saying goes, we say they are admitting they have done something wrong and are apologizing. The derivation of the word 'humble' comes from old Latin and French words for loins, leading to it being associated with something unpleasant and humiliating.
The old word ‘umbl’ referred to the inner parts of a deer. The story goes that when rich people enjoyed the better parts of the deer, their servants ate the ‘umbles’ which were baked into a pie. Hence the subservient meaning of the phrase and why humility often gets a bad rap.
Humility is a way of life we should adopt and live.
As Pastor Warren's statement implies, humility is a state of mind directed outward, away from ourselves. This, of course, begs the question, if we are to think of ourselves less, of what should we think about more? I suggest three answers: God, others, and ourselves.
Whoa! you exclaim. Didn't you just write how humility refers to thinking of ourselves less? Yes I did.
Two Trajectories of Humility
The outward trajectory of humility certainly should be directed toward God and others. We are humble before God as fallen creatures. And even as Christians who have been saved as children of God and destined for eternal life with the Lord, we remain humble and meek before God as his servants.
In a complementary way, as God's servants, we are to serve others, thinking less ourselves as we give of our time and other resources to help God's people, all his people.
Being Deliberate About Humility
When I write humility should also include thinking more about ourselves, I am suggesting we should think of ourselves as deliberately being outward oriented towards God and others, not running on automatic. Humility should be a way of life we intentionally adopt and live as much possible minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day until we die.
Humility isn't just a state of mind, it is a state of life that we need to develop as we recognize our insufficiency before God and his call to serve others using our God-given gifts. The caveat to this is that while we intentionally seek to live a humble way of life, this is not a way lined with extreme self-denial or pride in being virtuous.
False Humility and Pride
Persons living a life based on false humility or its opposite, pride, either think poorly of themselves as inferior or conceited and superior. Persons who maintain a true humble lifestyle are not arrogant or boastful. They are teachable, ready to learn from others. And most importantly, they are ready to give of themselves in service.
Most importantly, they are deliberately mindful of their part in God's plan as they serve with a lowly spirit in the face of God's overwhelming love for them.
Listen to God's Words
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11
One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. Proverbs 29:23
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
Also read: James 4:6, Philippians 2:3-11, 2 Chronicles 7:14
In the Words of Others
A great man is always willing to be little. Ralph Waldo Emerson
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you. C.S. Lewis
True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue. Martin Luther
Think About It
Does your understanding of humility match what you just read above? If yes, describe how it applies to you.
If your understanding of humility is different from the above, describe your understanding of humility and how it applies to you?
Have you met people who demonstrate the type of humility described above, excluding well-known public figures? Describe why you think they do.
What characters in the Bible demonstrate true humility? False humility?