James 4:10 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
As children of God, spiritual beings indwelling human form, we have natural dilemmas and choices. We can live a virtuous life or one of vice. We can take pleasure in and move toward habitual wrong-doing, harmful, and unproductive behavior, or we can live a life based upon high morals and doing what is right.
We choose from all the qualities that exist and apply them to our lives. No one forces us to behave in a certain way. Despite our upbringing, and the challenges we faced growing up, ultimately, we choose who we are, how we behave, and how closely we align our thinking, actions, and being with who God made us to be.
Personal traits or qualities that are deemed morally good and valued as foundational life principles that promote collective and individual greatness are called virtues. A virtue is a behavior that demonstrates high moral and ethical standards. Moral refers to good and evil; ethical refers to right and wrong.
The Bible gives us virtues to consider. In Philippians 4:8 we read, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
These are virtues. The Fruits of the Spirit are virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Other virtues include honesty, integrity, mercy, compassion, courage, generosity, prudence, respect, wisdom, and humility. All these virtues are admirable and have a positive effect on our thinking, actions, attitudes, and lives in general. The one I want to focus on today is the virtue of humility.
St. Augustine said in one of his letters, “The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, third through humility” (Letters 118:22). He also wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues, hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”
Sadly, dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness. This is why the word bothers some of us. But it is also defined as “unselved”, a liberation from consciousness of self, a form of temperance that is neither having pride (or haughtiness) nor indulging in self-deprecation. Seen this way, humility is a virtue that can help us develop a kinder, more honest, and less entitled approach to life. Humility can strengthen our connection with others, foster critical thinking, and facilitate personal growth.
In the world of achievement, humility is important because it helps us learn from our mistakes. Humble people are willing to see themselves accurately and appreciate feedback. Errors and mistakes provide feedback on our own actions.
Examples of humility include admitting mistakes, being open-minded, listening to others, being grateful, and helping others. People who practice humility are more likely to consider others’ beliefs and opinions. This is because humility allows us to be less self-involved and more attuned to the feelings of others.
Humility has many benefits. It helps us to be honest, kind, compassionate, and empathetic. It also helps us learn, grow, and lead effectively. Humility is an attitude of spiritual modesty that accepts our desires, successes, and failings uncritically. Humility can produce more happiness, positive emotions, and well-being because we are less focused on ourselves and more focused on others. This virtue precipitates our fulfillment of Christ’s commandment to love one another.
Pride is thought of as the opposite of humility. To C.S. Lewis, pride was about competition and therefore not a virtue. St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” Pride can be more dangerous than it appears. It can lead to spiritual blindness, where we cannot see our own harmful choices, especially when we are in a conflict or a disagreement.
It can also cause separation from others, where pride justifies our categorization and ranking of people. We grade them and judge them and compare them to ourselves, and we are always superior and preferred. We see ourselves as cleverer or richer or more deserving. Self-absorption is another danger of pride, where pride causes our heart to turn away from serving others to serving ourselves. Pride can also prevent us from seeking counsel and learning anything new.
In the absence of pride, we find humility, which sees no need for competition or comparison. In humility, we are nothing more and nothing less than the other people around us. Humility is not about hiding away or becoming a ‘wallflower;’ it is about the realization that our abilities and actions are not better or less than someone else, but of equal value, just different. Humility doesn’t require the ranking of things but calls for the understanding of the true value or worth of things.
The Bible offers many examples of humility, chief among them being Jesus. The Son of God humbled himself as a servant and to suffer a criminals’ death. He washed the feet of his disciples as an example of how to treat each other. He taught that the kingdom of heaven is not based on worldly standards of success and power but on humility and service to others. He also warned against pride and self-righteousness.
Humility was an important lesson that Jesus taught. In Luke 13:30 Jesus said, “And the last will be first, and the first will be last.” In Mark 9:35 we are told, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” This theme is reiterated in Luke 14:11, when he says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Paul is another example of humility, who served many people and suffered many trials, and saw himself as the least of the apostles and the chief of sinners. Daniel is also an example of humility, who sought knowledge and insight through humble means, and interpreted the dreams of Babylonian kings.
Cultivating humility requires moment-by-moment self-reflection and self-awareness, and an ongoing willingness to learn and grow. Here are some ways to cultivate humility:
1. Practice gratitude: Recognize and appreciate the good things in our life and the people who have helped us along the way.
2. Listen to others: Be open to other people’s perspectives and opinions and try to understand where they are coming from.
3. Admit our mistakes: Take responsibility for our actions and apologize when we make a mistake.
4. Serve others: Look for opportunities to help others without expecting anything in return.
5. Learn from criticism: Instead of getting defensive when someone criticizes us, try to learn from their feedback and use it to improve ourselves.
6. Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment and try to stay present in the moment.
7. Seek wisdom: Read books, listen to podcasts, and seek out mentors who can help us grow in wisdom and understanding.
Like all areas of our spiritual nature, the development of humility requires our willingness and perseverance. It is not an easy road, but it is worthy of our time and effort. First, we need to release the world’s view of what it means to be humble. The world tells us that to be humble is to be weak or passive. But true humility is about recognizing our own limitations and weaknesses while also acknowledging our strengths and abilities.
The world will argue that humility is about putting ourselves down. But true humility is being honest and realistic about our flaws and imperfections. The world insists that to be humble is to avoid conflict and not stand up for our self. But being humble is about facing conflict and defending ourselves in a respectful and compassionate way. Humility is not denying our accomplishments but recognizing that they are the result of hard work and the support of others.
The world will scream at us to tell people just how humble we are and to be proud of our humility. But true humility needs no announcement and does not hide behind self-aggrandizement. Finally, the world will try to convince us that humility is about avoiding success or excellence. But Spirit will whisper that humility is about pursuing our dreams and goals with a sense of God’s purpose and meaning that goes beyond personal gain.
If we feel inclined to tell people that we are humble, we probably aren’t. It is my prayer that we humbly know our abilities, actions, and thoughts have as much value and matter as much as anyone else’s. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA., said it this way, “True humility is not thinking less of ourselves; it is thinking of ourselves less.” I finish with the words of Proverbs 11:2 - Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
May the power of Jesus our Christ open our minds and hearts to the message today.