Humility is tricky.
You could argue that humility is, in fact, the trickiest of virtues, for those that are truly humble do not necessarily recognize themselves to be. In fact, the moment you start to recognize your own humility then you have started to drift into an insidious kind of pride – you are proud of being humble.
Tricky, yes. But in spite of its trickiness, humility is not just a suggestion or a pie-in-the-sky attribute; it’s a key mark of the disciple of Jesus from beginning to end. Humility is a prerequisite for anyone to begin new life in Christ, for the first step toward Jesus is a recognition of our own helplessness. Our own wickedness. Our own inability to change the state of our souls. No one comes to Jesus without this; the gospel message is a humbling message by its very nature.
We come to Christ in humility, or we don’t come at all, but our journey into the virtue doesn’t stop there. In fact, humility is one of the ways Paul, in his imprisonment, told the Ephesian believers they could live a life worthy of their calling:
“Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
If humility matters – and it does – then it’s not something we should just sit around and wait to drift into. Rather, we should pursue humility. We should go after it. We can do that in all kinds of ways.
We can, for example, embrace opportunities for anonymity. We can give in secret, choose opportunities for service for which we know there will be no recognition, and intentionally place ourselves behind the scenes.
Another way we can pursue humility is by making sure in our conversations that we aren’t just waiting for our turn to talk, but instead actively listening to what another person is saying and then following up with genuine questions about their perspective and well-bring.
We should do these things, and more, to pursue a posture of humility. But there is a key ingredient that we should integrate into our lives if we want to go humility. What is that ingredient?
Simple enough, right? Maybe so, but then again, maybe not. Because we can “not lie” and still not be a purveyor of true honesty. We can, for example, always keep people at arm’s length, never lying to them, but never really telling the whole truth about who we are, where we are, and how we are struggling. Or we might not outwardly express our sense of self-reliance and still, on the inside, believe that we really can do anything we put our minds to. Honesty is simple, but simple is not the same thing as easy.
There is a particular verse that speaks to this posture of honesty:
“For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly…” (Rom. 12:3).
Other translations call this thinking with “sober judgment.”
This command about the way we view ourselves is couched in Romans 12, the beginning of Paul’s application of the theological truth of the gospel expressed in the first 11 chapters of the book. It’s part of his “therefore” – the action points in light of what God has done in Christ. And in this section, Paul is addressing how the church is to offer herself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. In order to do that, we must be sober; realistic; honest; about who we are… and who we are not.
That honest, sober estimation goes two ways, of course – we must not think more highly of ourselves, believing that we can do all things at any time. But we also must not think too lowly of ourselves, believing we have nothing of value and no gift to bring in service to the Lord.
We should be honest. Honest about who we are. That honesty is not the end of humility, but it’s certainly a start.
So, reader, I would ask you even as I am asking myself this morning – do you have a sober estimation of yourself? Are you all too aware of your own weakness and frailty? Are you so aware, in fact, that you’re willing to share it with others? If so, then keep going. Humility awaits.
Humility is tricky, friends. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go after it. Let’s in this, as in all things, surrender ourselves to the shaping work of the Holy Spirit, and show our surrender by the way we pursue humility in faith.