Things that conspire to keep you humble–and why that’s good.

“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5)

You and I resist the proud, too, don’t we?  The braggart who takes all the credit for work the whole team accomplished is deserting his friends, turning them into enemies and setting himself up as a target for their animosity.

Not very smart.

The next time he seeks our help or invites us to join his team, we think hard about accepting.  We know how he works and it’s not good. We resist him.

Pride looks good on no one, least of all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in particular ministers of the Gospel. Pride is one adornment we should all reject.

I wish I could stand before you this morning and say all the Lord’s people have this down pat, that pride (or egotism, however we want to say it) is something we do not have to struggle with. But the evidence to the contrary is all around us. Christians sometime are the world’s worst prigs, pharisees, egomaniacs.  And some preachers are the chief offenders.

Lord, help your people.

Humility, let us say, means not to think down on yourself, to put yourself down, to crawl and cower and, in the memorable words of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9:8, refer to yourself as a dead dog.

Humility is simply to know who you are, with all the potential and limitations that involves.  Not too high, not too low.  Balance. Health. Reality.

Humility is good. It’s Christlike, it enhances all the spiritual gifts, and it inspires confidence in a champion’s supporters.  Humility attracts people and encourages them to like you because it “feels” safe.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).  “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).  “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10).

My observation is that while a portion of humanity struggles with inferiority feelings and low esteem, the great majority fights a never-ending battle to check the ego, to rein in their over-inflated esteem, to tame the self.

Since humility is so essential to everything in life, God has arranged matters so that a number of forces about us are always at work humbling us.  While most of it is painful, it’s almost always good for us. (And to re-emphasize, by “humbling,” we simply mean “to restore our proper perspective about our place in the Lord’s world.”)

1) The universe humbles us.

“When I consider the heavens and the works of thy hands, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8)

2) Failure humbles us.

“It is good for me that I was afflicted,” said the Psalmist, “that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

You had great hopes and were brimming with confidence. Then, the project did not work out the way you planned and  you lost your investment, disappointed your supporters, and had to start from scratch. While some will urge you to get back up and regain your old bluster, you know better.  You have been forever humbled, and hopefully will be a better person for it.

3) The winners around us humble us.

All around are people who are better looking than you, more athletic, smarter, wealthier, and more popular.  About the time you thought you were the sharpest person anywhere, a champion enters and sucks all the air out of the room. Everyone runs to them and suddenly you have no audience.  It happens to the best of us.

The trick is not to let this fact overwhelm you and stifle your interest or discourage you altogether.  You are still something special, an original from the hand of God. However, reminding yourself that you are not the best, the brainiest, or the biggest but part of the Lord’s people is a good thing.  Dialing your self-confidence back a notch–far enough to clear up your vision–is often a good thing.

4) Scripture humbles us.

Over and over God’s Word calls on us “not to think more highly of ourselves than we should think” (Romans 12:3) and “with humility of mind, let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).  Furthermore, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

5) Our spouse will humble us.

Your mate knows the real you.  She knows, as the saying goes, that you put your trousers on one leg at a time.  At a panel of ministers’ wives before a large crowd and a television audience, the spouse of one well-known preacher told everyone, “I tell him not to get so big in front of me because I saw you this morning in your shorts.”

A wise spouse will know when to humble and when to lift up.

6) Our children will humble us.

No matter how big a celebrity life makes you, to your children you are just dad or mom.  They are not in awe of you.  Nothing does a “great” man or woman more good than having to learn to change diapers and deal with headstrong toddlers.

7) The people under us will humble us.

If you are a manager or a teacher or a pastor, the people entrusted to you will frustrate you, thrill you, bless you, and drive you crazy. In particular, if you are a minister of the gospel and thus a shepherd of the Lord’s people, those “sheep” will push you to the limits of your endurance, challenge you on everything you declare, and make you question your sanity sometimes.

My friend Dr. Joe Cothen, longtime seminary professor and dean, said his preacher father told him and his two brothers, “The Lord has put a delicate balance in the church. He has put just enough headstrong stubborn church members to keep you the pastor humble. And just enough sweet godly saints to keep you from quitting.”  Dr. Cothen said he found both groups in every church he ever served.

8) Our best friends will humble us.

A friend will tell us the truth about ourselves, even if it’s painful to us (see Proverbs 27:6).  Perhaps this is why celebrities impressed by their own success change friends as they climb the ladder; they’re searching for sycophants who will not speak truth to them but cater to their ego.

Cliff Barrows used to tell of the times the Billy Graham team would be traveling to a meeting by automobile, and they would pass a farm where people were in the field doing hard labor.  “Billy,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye,”except for the grace of God, that’s you in that field.”  We all need such friends.


Being humble–that is, “not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but thinking soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3)–allows us to….

1) Love other people without ulterior motives.

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love; in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

2) Be useful to the Lord in every way.

The proud is resistant and so the Lord resists him. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

3) Give God and others the credit for everything that is done.

Paul said the Lord chose the “foolish” and “base things of the world” in order to “shame the wise” and so that “no flesh should boast in HIs presence” (I Corinthians 1:26ff.).

The parable of servanthood in Luke 17:7-10 instructs us to say about ourselves even after we have done everything the Lord asks, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.”

4) Humility allows me to serve others in the lowliest of ways.

John 13:1ff shows the Lord Jesus humbling Himself and stooping to wash the feet of the disciples.  He said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:14).

5) Humility solves a world of church problems before they ever get started.

In one of his book, Pastor Kent Hughes tells of a church fight that broke out and ended up in the law courts. The judge assigned the case to a Christian mediator who took it upon himself to trace this conflict to its onset.  Eventually, he discovered that the spark setting off the conflagration took place at a Wednesday night dinner at church where a child received a bigger piece of ham than the chairman of deacons.  Ego and pride can be such ugly things.

A couple of final comments on this large subject….

Humility is the requirement for servanthood, and servanthood is the essence of life in the kingdom as well as for greatness in this world.

The best way to know if you have a servant spirit, it’s said, is to notice how you react when treated as one.

Since the urge to dominate and receive credit and recognition never goes away, we must always be on the lookout for its deadly reappearance and plan to deal with it.

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