What is Humility?

By Dave

I've been thinking a lot about humility lately. God told us that He would heal our land if His people would do four things: humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). Clearly, our land isn't experiencing much healing. Yet God's people have been praying and we have been seeking His face. So, why hasn't God healed our land? The way I understand it, if we do "our part", God will do His!

I've come to the conclusion that the reason we haven't seen our land healed is because we haven't fulfilled the other two requirements listed in 2 Chronicles 7:14. That is, we haven't yet truly humbled ourselves and we haven't turned from our wicked ways in the sense that it was intended by God when He made that one of the keys. Not that we haven't tried. I think most of us believe that we're walking in humility and have turned from our wicked ways. I'll leave the "turn from their wicked ways" for another article, but for this one, I'd like to consider the question, "What is humility really?" Asked another way, "What does God mean when He says, 'Humble yourselves...'?"

I've heard a number of very good definitions. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, defined humility as "In ethics, freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one's own worth. In theology, humility consists in lowliness of mind; a deep sense of one's own unworthiness in the sight of God, self-abasement, penitence for sin, and submission to the divine will."

Another useful and thought-provoking definition, based on Galatians 3:28 is, "The realization that in God, we are all equal. None is better or worse than anyone else." As that realization shapes us, we will begin to live without the self-righteousness, judgement and arrogance that grows out of believing that as Christians (or Protestants, or Evangelicals, or Charismatics, or ....), we are somehow spiritually superior to others.

But I think the best understanding of true, Biblical, humility comes from Philippians 2:5-8 which reveals an attitude of heart much deeper than some of those other definitions. Let's take that passage apart piece by piece, and see what it might really be teaching us:

Let this mind be in you,... Here we're exhorted to a different way of thinking. There are many other passages of Scripture that admonish us to think differently than our natural mind wants to think. Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Philippians 4:8, 1 Peter 1:13, and 1 Peter 4:1-2 are just a few of those many New Testament verses that help us to see that the way we think is critical to our spiritual victory.

...which was also in Christ Jesus... His mind, not ours (1 Corinthians 2:16). His thinking, not ours. His way of doing things, not ours. The same mind that was in Him. I'm reminded that there is a way which seems right to a man, but it ends in death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). His way always ends in life! We'll look in just a bit at how His mind was characterized.

... Who being in the form of God... substantiates that Jesus was in the image and likeness of God. Remember, this was Adam's original state, too. He was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The marvelous news of the gospel is that God, through the blood of His Son, has made a covenant with mankind to restore us back to that position if we receive His provision!

... did not consider it robbery to be equal to God. When read in King James English, the meaning of this phrase can be lost to the modern English speaker. The word for "robbery" used in the original text has the idea of seizing or taking hold of something. Why the early translators chose "robbery" for the most likely one-word translation will probably forever remain a mystery. The meaning of this passage becomes much clearer when we read it in some of the other tranlations: The English Revised Version renders it this way: "who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God." The American Standard says, "who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped." The English Standard Version reads, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped." And there are several other translations that use this phraseology. In reference to the Greek word "harpagamos", Vine's Expositiory Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says, "In order to express the meaning of the clause quite clearly, a slight alteration is required in the Revised Version, 'Counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God.' The form 'to be' is ambiguous and easily lends itself to the erroneous notion that to be on equality with God was something to be acquired in the future. The rendering 'counted it not a prize that He was on an equality with God,' is quite as accurate and more free from ambiguity."

If we take this admonition seriously, it becomes clear that the mind that we are to have in us which "was also in Christ Jesus" is an attitude that does not pursue "equality with God" as something to be attained to or taken hold of. Yet most of us (myself included!) have been driven to action by an internal desire to be more like God. Remember, the original temptation of Adam and Eve was to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5). So Adam took it upon himself to do what he felt he had to do in order to attain that goal. The irony was that at the time he fell, Adam was already like God! Adam, then, took the opposing mindset of that which was in Christ Jesus - being in the form of God, Adam did see equality with God as something to be grasped! The Lord predestined us to be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29), but it's not our job to achieve it. Our part is simply to surrender to Him. As we yield ourselves to Him and behold His glory, we are changed by the power of His Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Let's move on to the next phrase.

... but made Himself of no reputation... When we read the King James and other translations that rely heavily on it, we're tempted to think of our reputations in terms of how other people think of us. In our modern language, after all, that is what our reputation is! But that puts the emphasis on us and on our behavior, on how we appear to others. However, the Greek words used here more literally mean, "made nothing of Himself" or "made Himself nothing". It has the idea of emptying Himself of every self-centered desire in order to serve. If we were to adopt that mind, it would take the focus off of us!

... taking the form of a bondservant,... The meaning of this phrase is clear, although not terribly appealing to our carnal nature - especially if we're seeking titles or positions as leaders. Jesus, the greatest among us, was the servant of all. And He actually said that to those who were seeking a position of importance in His kingdom (Matthew 20:26; 23:11 and Mark 10:35-44). It is perhaps worth noting here that a bondservant - as opposed to a slave - in Jesus' culture was not one forced into servitude, but one who was a servant of his own free will.

...coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man,... This phrase not only underscores Jesus' complete humanity, but also gives us an inkling of the price that He really paid to fulfill the will of God over His own. John 1:1-3 along with John 1:14 reveal that to become a man, Jesus gave up His position in heaven with God. Imagine being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent and giving all that up to be a helpless, mortal infant born into this fallen world!

He humbled Himself and became obedient... Here's where we begin to see the true nature of humility. With absolutely no ambition to be equal with God, Jesus makes Himself nothing - that is, empty of all self-seeking motive, traded His God-given position in the kingdom for the role of a voluntary servant, and became obedient.

... to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Jesus' obedience was not limited to those areas in which He was comfortable. He didn't obey "in part". He was obedient to the point of death. And a horrific and painful one, at that. His humility came at great price, as well. It's easy for us to think to ourselves (as I did for years), "Yeah, but He was God! He had an advantage that I don't have." But that's simply not true. Three of the four gospel writers give us the account of Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-45). Verse 44 of Luke 22 says that Jesus was in "agony", so much so that He sweat "great drops of blood". The Greek word translated "agony" literally means "intense sorrow, anguish, anxiety". It was not easy for Jesus! It was an agonizing battle to find the humility that Paul exhorts us to find as well.

And this is why I contend that we haven't yet fulfilled at least one of the four requirements that God gave us way back in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Have we "let this same mind be in us?" Have we humbled ourselves to the point of death? I don't believe that this is necessarily a physical death on our part, but I do believe that the call to Biblical humility is the call for each of us to die to every single one of our carnal ambitions, motives, and desires. It's the call to total selflessness. We've prayed, we've sought His face, but have we really humbled ourselves?