The Fruit of the Spirit is Humility

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility…. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Humility may be the most elusive of all personality traits.

If you think you have it, you probably don’t. If you think you don’t, you may well do. Other people are better authorities on whether you possess it, yet they’re not infallible.

The Bible says God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5).

We’re told to humble ourselves (I Peter 5:6), but I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where we are encouraged to ask the Lord to humble us.

For good reason, I’m thinking.

When God humbles you, He does it with a strong hand. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, potentate of Babylon, once he decided that all the gains God had given him were the result of his own military genius, God decided to send him a healthy dose of humiliation. Next day, Nebuchadnezzar was out in the pasture, munching grass alongside the cows. Eventually, when he came to his senses and gave God the praise, the Lord restored his sanity. (Daniel chapter 4)

Lesson number 1 about humility: “You don’t want God humbling you!”

What are the other lessons in humility? Sorry. I don’t know. The last impression I want to leave on this website is that Joe thinks he’s an authority on humility. After all, I am well aware that these articles flood the airwaves with my name out front and just before my name comes that “Doctor.” I groan (sometimes, not all the time) at that. Doesn’t sound like humility to me.

Humility seems to be a matter of perspective.

It’s how you see yourself in relation to the Lord Himself and the people around you.

Some people see themselves as humble before God but “something else” before other people. That’s not humility, but self-deception.

It takes both. You see yourself as created by God, as dependent on Him for the very air you breath, as the Father of the Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, and as having been incredibly merciful to you.

You see yourself as a lot like the people around you (see Isaiah 6:5), as linked with them, as owing a great deal to them, and their servants for Jesus sake (II Corinthians 4:5).

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I say through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

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

And again, “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (12:16).

Humility is a matter of balance.

Neither thinking too highly or too lowly of yourself, believers in the Lord Jesus go forward with their eyes on Him and their hearts set on serving Him by helping the people he sees all around.

Have you ever noticed that the Scriptures address ‘pride’ a lot more than ‘inferiority’? Why is this?

I think the answer is that we humans have far more trouble from over-rating than from undervaluing ourselves. In that 12th chapter of Romans, I can’t find a word that tells people to think bigger and higher of themselves, but at least three times believers are told to adjust their tendence toward a too-big self-concept in order to keep their balance.

Let’s admit the obvious here: People in the ministry have an ongoing battle with the ego. Maybe it’s because we are, ahem, performing in front of crowds. Perhaps it’s because people come to us for counsel and direction and look to us for insights from the Word of God.

In I Corinthians, Paul addresses this very matter: I’ve written to you, he says in chapter 4, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Since most of these articles are directed toward men and women in the ministry, I’d like to mention a few specifics that can be encouraging your ego to expand instead of to stay healthy:

1. The plaques on your wall.

If your office wall looks like a shrine to yourself and your accomplishments, I suggest you box most of that stuff up. Then a year from now, take it to the trash dump (and save your family the trouble of having to do it when you pass on to glory).

2. The titles by which people call you.

One of the first surprises I received on meeting Billy Graham is that he says, “Please call me Billy.” And not Doctor. Not that I did, of course. But I did go so far as to calling him “Brother Billy.”

Titles can create barriers between people. I like to tell people, “When your first name is Joe, it suggests a rocking chair on the front porch. There’s nothing formal about it. (My name is not Joseph but Joe Neil.) The name ‘Joe’ invites familiarity. So, come on in, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.”

3. The names of the employees around you.

Learn the names of your custodial staff, of every employee, and learn about their children. Write notes on birthdays.

One of the ministry boards on which I have the privilege of serving is run by a president with a zillion things on his agenda. But each year, my wife and I receive birthday notes written personally by him. I know no secretary wrote it because no one else on earth writes this badly! But it’s a humble touch and I appreciate it.

4. Never asking for the ministerial discount.

I don’t even know if they have these any more. They used to.

I’ve seen pastors get upset because the hospital did not have reserved parking for ministers. Or upset because someone parked in their reserved spot at church. Not good.

This is one reason most of the preachers I know do not wear “clergy collars.” Those things seem to set us apart and draw attention to ourselves.

When stopped by the highway patrol, do not–repeat, do not!!–work into the conversation that you are a minister on your way to some important function. It won’t help and it could hurt. That officer walks away thinking the clergy see themselves as a privileged class. Not good.

It’s much better for people to discover accidentally that you are a minister. Let them be pleasantly surprised to learn it, having first come to the conclusion that you are “an all-right guy.”

Why do we want to be humble in the first place?

Answer: So God can a) use us and b) eventually exalt us. So people will a) trust us and b) we can serve them.

Even the Almighty has trouble using an instrument that is resistant because it has its own agenda or thinks of itself as too grand for such a lowly use.

(There is no way to end this article–the subject is massive–so, I’ll draw a line here and stop.)