“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
It’s hard to be humble in a world that pushes us to be better than others; to win at all costs, to climb the ladder to succeed, and to take care of ourselves before we consider others. In the midst of these worldly messages, how do we remain humble and direct the praise and spotlight onto our co-workers, our friends, our boss, or others?
John the Baptist is a great example of stepping out of the spotlight and redirecting it to Jesus. In John, Chapter 3, his followers are worried that more people are following “that other man” who is also baptizing people. John lets them know that he knows his purpose: he was sent by God to pave the road for Jesus. In John 3:30, John says “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
When I first started in management, I was a horrible supervisor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I took all the credit for improvements and good performance. I believed that management was supposed to tell people what to do, so I bossed my employees around, continually focusing on how I could increase while others decreased. I was following the world’s message.
Fortunately, I had a supervisor and mentor who cared enough to tell me that I was not a good supervisor. I didn’t like hearing that, but I was eventually able to let go of my pride and listen. She taught me how to turn the spotlight on others. I remember the first thing she impressed on me was to “teach other people how to take over your job.” I thought that was crazy! Why would I want to teach people how to take my place, so that I would become obsolete? She said that my goal should be to build them up, encourage, and empower them.
That was a big change in my attitudes and my perception of my job. But it paid big dividends in all areas of my life. It is still easy to occasionally fall into the earthly thinking of increasing myself. It will always be a struggle for us to consider others. It takes quiet time alone with God, prayer, and friends who are willing to hold us accountable. Where in your life do you need to decrease and so others can increase?
Recently, I texted a friend to brag about a good deed I had done that morning. I even said I deserved some recognition and accolades. My friend sent me back a sarcastic meme of someone clapping and then pointed out that I misspelled “accolade!” It’s good to have friends who will keep you grounded. As humans, it is our nature to want to be recognized for our talents, for what we have accomplished, and for the positive things we do. Humility is recognizing that God is the Giver of every good gift. Humility is knowing you can’t truly succeed on your own strength. It’s not denying the gifts and talents you have, but instead giving credit to God for these gifts.
In Genesis, Chapter 41, Joseph has been called in front of the Pharaoh of Egypt to interpret a dream that no one else has been able to interpret. If I were in Joseph’s shoes, I would probably have been thinking, ”Here’s my chance to make myself look important and talented, since no one else has been able to interpret the King’s dream. I may finally be released from jail and maybe even get some gold coins out of this.” Yet when Pharaoh asked Joseph if he can interpret the dream, Joseph responds, “It is beyond my power to do this. But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease” Genesis 41:16 (NLT). Joseph had a humble heart, and he gave God the credit. Joseph knew where his talents came from and Who should receive the glory.
Outwardly giving God credit for the good things that happen is not enough, however. Humility must be your heart’s attitude. People can show outward humility, but keep pride in their heart. When no one is around, are you giving God credit for even the little things He does in your life? One of my favorite jokes—and one that might convict us all—is about the woman who prays and asks God for a parking space close to the door of the store. When one comes available, she quickly states, “Never mind. I found one.” What are some areas in your life where you can give God credit and thank Him for what He has done?
Have you ever realized you were making negative comments about someone you found difficult? Maybe you can’t agree with them, or they have offended you? Maybe your feelings and comments are even about a loved one whom you feel is wrong. Comments such as “my boss is a jerk,” “that stupid neighbor is driving me crazy;” “my spouse is_______” (you fill in the blank) can become normal. Have you ever found yourself refusing to give in because you were certain you were right? These are a forms of pride. They seem to lift us up and put them down. When we are saying these things in front of others, we are shouting to the world that “I am better, my opinion is right, it’s all about me.” What do we really win if we are right and someone else is wrong? If we are lifted up as they are embarrassed?
Jesus is our example of what it means to have a humble heart. Scripture says He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8). It was humility that caused Him to submit and not retaliate against those that beat Him and wronged Him. Because of His humility and obedience, He hung from the cross for all of us and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34 (ESV). He died for each of us, despite all the wrong things we do.
Two of my longtime close friends found themselves in repeated debates on a political topic with conflicting views. Negative, hurtful comments were said on each side and it led to them going their separate ways. A year went by and neither was willing to admit wrong or change their stance on the topic. Each said that they were standing for what they felt was right; it should be the other person who reaches out first. Pride causes us to make lame excuses, to be stubborn and only see things our way. Unfortunately, one of my friends died before things were made right. At the funeral, my friend told me that he should have just called, and he now realized that feeling like he was right and justified in the discussion was not worth what he had lost.
God wants us to honor those that He puts into our lives. God wants us to build relationships with the ones we love and with the ones that are difficult. Showing humility is not always having to be right, but to talk in an uplifting manner about others, to swallow our pride, and to admit when we are wrong. When we honor others with a humble heart, we are honoring God. Who is the most difficult person in your life right now? How might you need to humble yourself in your attitudes and actions towards them? Ask God to help you love this person as He does.
Jesus was ridiculed by the Pharisees on several occasions because He spent time with and gave His attention to people they considered unfit and sinners. Jesus lived a life of humility. He spent time with those no one else cared to spend time with or love. He visited and healed the sick and dead. He fed thousands of people. Jesus made it known that He had come to serve, not to be served, and He didn’t rule out anyone in this attitude of service.
In my sociology class, we talk about the different classes of people in society and how our culture focuses on status and wealth. We talk about how all humans want to socialize with people in the same class or one above them, moving upward. One activity that I do is to randomly assign each student a role in society, from the wealthiest to the poorest, from glamorous jobs to dirty, laboring work. Then I tell them they are on a sinking ship and there is only room for three out of the ten on the lifeboat. The group needs to decide on the three people in the group who will be allowed on the lifeboat and why.
The outcome is usually the same in every class and every group. They quickly rule out those who society sees as the lowly. The man without a job, the woman who dances at a club, and even the garbage collector. If someone does choose them for the lifeboat, they are ridiculed for their decision. The wealthiest and most famous people are the ones who are always voted on the boat. This activity allows me to have a great discussion about the fact that our society has a false sense of greatness and deserving.
Doesn’t this happen in real life? As a society, we quickly rule out those that are deemed lowly just by our walking past them, not allowing them to come into our circle, not getting to know them, or by not showing compassion. These are the ones we need to be serving as modeled by Jesus. These are the ones that we must not rule out. Is there anyone whom you have ruled out? How can you humbly serve them this week?
All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. We have secrets and sins we try to hide because we feel guilty and ashamed, or because our pride tells us it isn’t that bad. Pride can blind us from what we are really doing and the consequences of our actions. But there is no point in trying to hide from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. Humility teaches us to admit to and confess our sins.
King David gives us an example of how trying to hide our sin can make things worse, but how humility can lead to forgiveness from God. In 2 Samuel, Chapters 11-12, David commits adultery, then commits murder to cover it up. David tries to hide his sin until the prophet Nathan confronts him. David humbles himself by listening to the rebuke and confessing his sins to God. The Bible says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” James 4:6b (ESV), and we see this in David’s repentance and restoration.
Even though God knows our sins, He wants us to come to Him with humble our hearts, admitting what we have done. Just as there is no point in trying to hide from God, there is no point in lying about our sins and our struggles. We need to be honest and real with God during our Quiet Time each day. He can’t be shocked by what He already knows.
Humility before God is not complete unless there is also humility before man. The willingness to humble ourselves by sharing with others the weaknesses which we confess to God is also needed. Joining a Life Group connects you with others who can share struggles.