Humble Thyself In The Sight Of The Lord…
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (KJV)
I was asked a very good question this week. What does it mean to humble yourself before God? This is a critical question for those of us who are Christians, so I decided to devote a blogpost to this topic. Let’s jump right in.
What is humility?
C.J. Mahaney states that humility, as the Bible defines it, is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. The word “humble” is used 73 times in the Bible (in the English Standard Version), and nearly every single occurrence of the word is in the context of acknowledging one’s sinfulness before a holy God. An example that sums up this definition is found in 2 Kings 22:18-20:
But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king. (Emphasis mine)
Notice that to humble oneself is to be penitent before God, especially after hearing His word. To be penitent is to be regretful or remorseful of one’s sin, to repent of sin, and to seek God’s forgiveness for sin. It recognizes that one is hopeless apart from God’s grace towards us. It throws oneself in desperate trust on His mercy.
The New Covenant expands on humility
But that’s not all. This is very much an Old Testament definition so far. In those 73 instances of the word humble we see some remarkable fleshing out of the word once we start seeing New Testament examples. While it is certainly evident in the Old Testament, in the New Testament we see a much greater emphasis on the source of the Old Testament commands: pride. Jesus defined pride in its relationship to humility in this way: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
So we see that pride is exalting oneself, to think of one self more highly than others, including God. Directly addressing this, Paul wrote to the Roman church, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think….” (Romans 12:3) We are not to have unreasonable pride in ourselves. Why should we be proud of ourselves at all? After all, we are wretched sinners who deserve only Hell! “There are none who are righteous, no, not one; there are none who understand, no one who seeks after God!” (Romans 3:10-11)
God Opposes Pride
Why is pride so bad? Because it directly challenges God. Remember, humility is acknowledging our sinfulness and need for God’s grace. Instead of desperately trusting God’s grace to remedy our desperately sinful condition, pride stands up and says There’s nothing wrong with me! I’m just fine the way I am! I don’t need God’s mercy! I don’t need Jesus! I can handle it! I’ll take care of my problems! I can get to heaven on my own strength!
What a crock of rancid yak butter.
Scripture repeatedly warns us that those who refuse to humble themselves before God suffer dire consequences. For example, God through Moses and Aaron asked Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Exodus 10:3) We all know what happened there – plagues, horrible plagues, culminating with the death of every firstborn Egyptian son. All through Scripture are examples of those who refused to acknowledge their sinfulness before God and paid the price. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
Scripture tells us that God actively opposes the proud, while actively assisting the humble. “The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” (Psalm 147:6) “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” (Proverbs 3:34) “For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.” (Psalm 149:4) Sometimes God allows things to happen in our lives to force us to stop getting a big head. Our bubble needs bursting! Sometimes all we need to end a time of trial, struggle and suffering is to stop, step back, take a deep breath, and say, “Ok, Lord. I get it. Help me to meditate on my sinful attitudes and actions, to beg your forgiveness, and trust that Jesus has secured your forgiveness forever on the cross.”
How To Cultivate Humility
With all this, how can we learn to be humble? What can we do to cultivate an attitude of humility in ourselves? C.J. Mahaney, again, has some excellent suggestions for us to meditate on.
- Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.
AS EACH DAY BEGINS:
- Begin your day by acknowledging your dependence upon God and your need for God.
- Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God.
- Practice spiritual disciplines — prayer, study of God’s Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at the day’s outset, if possible.
- Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.
- Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.
AS EACH DAY ENDS:
- At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God.
- Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep.
FOR SPECIAL FOCUS:
- Study the attributes of God.
- Study the doctrines of grace.
- Study the doctrine of sin.
- Play golf as much as possible. (Stephen’s note: or some activity that gives your mind release)
- Laugh often, and laugh often at yourself.
THROUGHOUT YOUR DAYS AND WEEKS:
- Identify evidences of grace in others.
- Encourage and serve others each and every day.
- Invite and pursue correction.
- Respond humbly to trials.
I have not attempted to treat this subject exhaustively, but rather to define what it means to be humble, why it’s important, and to give us some suggestions for cultivating humility. I’m indebted to C.J. Mahaney’s short book Humility: True Greatness in putting this post together.
Resources on Humility
C.J. Mahaney – Humility: True Greatness
Wayne A. Mack – Humility: The Forgotten Virtue
William P. Farley – Gospel-Powered Humility
Stuart Scott – From Pride to Humility: A Biblical Perspective
Donald Whitney – Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
John Bunyan – The Fear of God