What does the word humility mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


Humility is a concept deeply woven into the fabric of biblical teaching and Christian living. It encompasses a profound understanding of one’s place in relation to God and others, and it is marked by qualities such as meekness, modesty, and a lack of pride. This exploration of this virtue will draw extensively from the Bible to illustrate its various dimensions and implications.

Definition of Humility

The word “humility” originates from the Latin “humilitas,” which means “grounded” or “from the earth.” Humility is defined as a modest view of one’s own importance or humbleness. In the Bible, the Greek word translated “humility” means “lowliness of mind” (Colossians 3:12). It implies a state of humbleness, submissiveness, and modesty. In a biblical context, this virtue is often understood as recognizing one’s dependence on God, valuing others above oneself, and having an accurate perception of one’s own limitations and strengths.

Humility in the Old Testament

1. Humility Before God: Humility is fundamentally about recognizing one’s position before God. It involves acknowledging God’s sovereignty, greatness, and righteousness. Micah 6:8 (NKJV): “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” This verse encapsulates the essence of this virtue as walking humbly with God, indicating a relationship based on reverence and submission to His will.

Humility is the attitude of heart, mind, and life that prepares the way for sanctification. Sinners need to come to Christ in humility acknowledging their need for salvation for they are unworthy and unable to save themselves. By faith, they accept God’s offer of mercy (2 Corinthians 5:17). Then, Christ exchanges their worthlessness for His infinite worth and their sin for His righteousness. From that point on, they follow Him in love and gratitude and walk in His path (Galatians 2:20).

Also, humility or meekness toward God means that the believers accept His will and His dealings with them as good, and they submit to Him in all things, without hesitation. A “meek” person has self under complete control (2 Peter 1:5-7). For through self-exaltation our first parents lost the kingdom entrusted to them but through meekness it may be regained

2. Humility in Leadership: Biblical leaders were often called to display humility. Moses is a prime example, described as exceedingly humble despite his significant role. Numbers 12:3 (NKJV): “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” Moses’ humbleness was demonstrated in his reliance on God, his willingness to intercede for the people, and his meekness in dealing with opposition.

3. Humility and Repentance: Humility is closely linked to repentance. When individuals or nations sinned, they were called to humble themselves before God. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV): “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This verse highlights the importance of this virtue in seeking God’s forgiveness and restoration.

Humility in the New Testament

1. The Example of Jesus: Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of humility. His incarnation, life, and sacrificial death epitomize humility in action. Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV): “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus’ humble spirit is seen in His willingness to empty Himself of divine privileges, becoming a servant, and obeying the Father to the point of death.

2. Humility in Relationships: The New Testament teaches that humility should characterize our relationships with others. Ephesians 4:2 (NKJV): “With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” Philippians 2:3 (NKJV): “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” These passages urge believers to adopt a humble attitude, considering others’ needs and interests above their own.

3. Humility as a Virtue: Humility is often presented as a virtue to be cultivated by Christians. Colossians 3:12 (NKJV): “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.” This verse lists this virtue among the virtues that should adorn a Christian’s character, reflecting a Christ-like nature.

The Rewards of Humility

The Bible not only prescribes humility but also promises blessings and rewards for those who embrace it.

1. Favor from God: James 4:6 (NKJV): “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” 1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV): “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” These verses emphasize that God opposes the proud but shows favor and grace to the humble, promising eventual exaltation.

2. Guidance and Wisdom: Proverbs 11:2 (NKJV): “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 15:33 (NKJV): “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” This virtue is associated with wisdom and honor. Those who are humble are teachable and open to divine guidance, which leads to true understanding and honor.

3. Peace and Rest: Matthew 11:29 (NKJV): “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus promises rest to those who adopt His gentleness, indicating that humility leads to inner peace and spiritual rest. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The “poor in spirit” are to receive the riches of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) and inherit the earth in due time. Thus, those who learn meekness—will be exalted at the end (Matthew 23:12).

Practical Expressions of Humility

Humility is not merely an internal attitude but is expressed through actions and behavior. Here are some practical ways humility can manifest in a believer’s life:

1. Serving Others: John 13:14-15 (NKJV): “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Jesus’ act of washing His disciples’ feet serves as a model of humble service, encouraging believers to serve one another selflessly.

2. Confessing Faults: James 5:16 (NKJV): “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Confessing sins and seeking forgiveness from others is a practical expression of being humble, acknowledging one’s shortcomings and the need for communal support.

3. Submitting to Authority: Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV): “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Humility involves respecting and submitting to legitimate authority, recognizing the roles and responsibilities of leaders within the Christian community.

Meekness is the absence of self-justification, the opposite of self-assertion. It has a mild and kindly composure. Jesus Christ, during His hours of bitterest trial, was the perfect example of true meekness. Christ spoke of Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). This pattern, the true Christian must strive to match in his everyday life.

Humility and Pride: Contrasting Attitudes

The Bible frequently contrasts humility with pride, illustrating the destructive nature of pride and the life-giving qualities of humility.

1. The Danger of Pride: Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV): “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” James 4:10 (NKJV): “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” These verses warn of the perilous consequences of pride, which leads to downfall and destruction, while promoting the spirit of being humble as the path to divine upliftment.

2. Examples of Pride and Humility:

  • King Nebuchadnezzar: His pride led to his temporary downfall and madness until he acknowledged God’s sovereignty (Daniel 4:28-37).
  • King David: Despite his greatness, David often exhibited humility, such as in his repentance after his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51).

Humility in Church Life

Humility is essential for maintaining unity and fostering healthy relationships within the church.

1. Unity and Peace: Ephesians 4:2-3 (NKJV): “With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Humility fosters an environment of patience, forbearance, and love, which are crucial for maintaining unity and peace in the church.

2. Humble Leadership: 1 Peter 5:2-3 (NKJV): “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Church leaders are called to serve humbly, not dominating their congregations but leading by example.

Conclusion

Humility, as depicted in the Bible, is a profound and multifaceted virtue essential for a godly life. It involves recognizing one’s limitations and dependence on God, valuing others, and living in a manner that reflects Christ’s example. Through humility, believers receive God’s grace, wisdom, and guidance, and they contribute to the unity and health of the Christian community.

Humility is both an inward attitude and an outward practice. It demands a conscious effort to reject pride, serve others selflessly, and submit to God’s will. As Christians embrace humility, they align themselves with God’s character and purpose, experiencing the blessings and peace that come from a life lived in humble submission to Him.

The duty of man is summarized in the following passage: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Christians should labor constantly for humbleness of mind and to have the meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price (1 Peter 3:4).

The biblical exhortations and examples provide a clear and compelling call to cultivate humility, assuring that those who humble themselves will be lifted up by God, receive His grace, and reflect His love to the world.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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