The more humble a man is in himself, the more obedient toward God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace.
(Thomas à Kempis)
For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
(1 John 4:20)
It is a solemn thought that our love for God is measured by our everyday relationships with others. Except as its validity is proven in standing the test of daily life with our fellowmen, our love for God may be found to be a delusion. It is easy to think that we humble ourselves before God, but our humility toward others is the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real. To be genuine, humility must abide in us and become our very nature. True humility is to be made of no reputation – as did Christ. In God’s presence, humility is not a posture we assume for a time – when we think of him or pray to him – but the very spirit of our life. It will manifest itself in all our bearing toward others. A lesson of deepest importance is that the only humility that is really ours is not the kind we try to show before God in prayer, but the kind we carry with us, and carry out, in our ordinary conduct. The seemingly insignificant acts of daily life are the tests of eternity, because they prove what spirit possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we truly show who we are and what we are made of. To know a truly humble person, you must follow that one in the common course of daily life.
This is what Jesus taught. He gave them an example when he washed their feet. He taught his lessons of humility by demonstration. Humility before God is nothing if it is not proven in humility before others.
It is so in the teaching of Paul. To the Romans he writes, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10); “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited,” (Romans 12:16). And to the Corinthians: “Love” – and there is no love without humility as its root – “does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). To the Galatians: “Serve one another in love, (Galatians 5:13). Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other,” (Galatians 5:26). To the Ephesians, immediately after the three wonderful chapters on the Heavenly life, he said, “Live a life completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another with love,” (Ephesians 4:1-2); “Always giving thanks. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Ephesians 5:20-21). To the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3). Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: “Who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant – he humbled himself,” (Philippians 2:5-8). And to the Colossians: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:12). It is in our relationships with one another, in our treatment of each other, that true lowliness of mind and a heart of humility are seen. Our humility before God has no value except as it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellowmen. Let us study humility in daily life in light of these words.
The humble person seeks at all times to live up to the rule, “Honor one another above yourselves; submit to one another.” The question is often asked how we can count others better than ourselves when we see that they are far below us in wisdom, in holiness, in natural gifts, or in grace received. The question proves at once how little we understand what real lowliness of mind is. True humility comes when before God we see ourselves as nothing, have put aside self, and let God be all. The soul that has done this, and can say, “I have lost myself in finding you,” no longer compares itself with others. It has given up forever any thought of self in God’s presence; it meets its fellowmen as one who is nothing and seeks nothing for itself; who is a servant of God and for his sake is a servant of all. A faithful servant may be wiser than his master and yet retain the true spirit and posture of a servant. The humble man looks upon every child of God, the most weak and unworthy, and honors him and prefers him as a son of the King. The spirit of him who washed the disciples’ feet makes it a joy to be the least, to be servants of one another.
The humble person feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learned to say with Paul, “I am nothing.” He has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not himself and sought not his own honor as the spirit of his life.
Amid temptations to impatience and irritableness, to hard thoughts and sharp words that come in response to the failings and sins of fellow-Christians, the humble person carries the oft-repeated injunction in his heart and shows it in his life: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as the Lord forgave you.” He has learned that in putting on the Lord Jesus he puts on the heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and long-suffering. Jesus has taken the place of self, and it is not an impossibility to forgive as Jesus forgave. His humility does not consist merely in thoughts or words of self-depreciation, but, as Paul puts it, in “a heart of humility,” the sweet and lowly gentleness recognized as the mark of the Lamb of God.
In striving after the higher experiences of the Christian life, the believer is often in danger of seeking the more visible virtues, such as joy, boldness, zeal, contempt of the world, self-sacrifice – even the old Stoics taught and practiced these – rather than the gentler graces, those who are more distinctly connected with Jesus’s cross and death to self: poverty of spirit, meekness, humility, lowliness. Therefore, let us put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; and let us prove our Christlikeness not only in our zeal for saving the lost but also in our relationships with others – forbearing and forgiving one another, even as the Lord forgave us.
Let us study the Bible portrait of the most humble man that ever lived – the Lord Jesus. And let us ask our brethren, and the world, whether they recognize in us the likeness to the original. Let us be content with nothing less than taking each of these texts as the promise of what God will work in us, as the revelation of what the Spirit of Jesus will put within us. Allow each failure and shortcoming to only the more quickly turn us to the meek and lowly Lamb of God in the assurance that where he is enthroned in the heart, his humility and gentleness will be the streams of living water that flow from within us. George Foxe said, “I knew Jesus, and he was very precious to my soul, but I found something in me that would not keep sweet and patient and kind. I did what I could to keep it down, but it was there. I besought Jesus to do something for me, and when I gave him my will, he came to my heart, and took out all that would not be sweet, all that would not be kind, all that would not be patient, and then he shut the door.”
Once again, let me repeat what I have said before. I feel deeply that we have very little concept of what the church suffers as a result of its lack of humility – the self-abasement that makes room for God to prove his power. A Christian, who was acquainted with mission stations of various societies, expressed his deep sorrow that in some cases the spirit of love and forbearance was sadly lacking. Men and women who could choose their own circle of friends, joined together in fellowship with those of contrary opinions, making it difficult to bear and to love and to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And those who should have been encouragers became a hindrance to the work. It appeared the lack of humility was the cause of much of the difficulty. Humility always seeks, like Jesus, to be the servant, the helper, and the comforter of others, even to the lowest and most unworthy.
Why is it that those who have joyfully given themselves up for Christ find it so hard to give themselves up for fellow Christians? It seems that the church has failed to teach its people the importance of humility – that it is the first of the virtues, the best of all the graces and powers of the Spirit. It has failed to show that the Christ-like humility is what is needed and is also in the realm of possibility. But let us not be discouraged. Rather, let the discovery of the lack of this grace stir us up to greater expectation from God. Let us look upon everyone who tries us as God’s means of grace, God’s instrument for our purification, for our exercise of the humility of Jesus. May we have true faith in the sufficiency of God and admit to the inefficiency of self, that by God’s power we will serve one another in love.