The Truth About Humility


Hi again, John Cress here, and I wanted to talk to you about humility. Here's the deal: I believe humility is the door out of the rabbit hole of this world's way of thinking.

Humility is perhaps one of the most overlooked and unappreciated virtues; it's certainly not a Madison Avenue virtue. In our culture, you're attracted by success and power and ambition and fame and wealth—and not meekness.

William Bennett edited an enormous volume called "The Book of Virtues." In it, he listed a vast array of virtues, like self-discipline and responsibility, work, perseverance, courage and integrity, but humility did not even make the list.

So what does it mean to be humble? The Greek words in the New Testament that are most often translated humble are translated low or lowly, to make low, or to make oneself low, or lowliness of mind. Simply said, humility is to be of low estate. It means seeing others as higher than yourself; it literally means to level a mountain or hill. Humble people have no hills of pride or arrogance sticking up in their life.

Luke 3:4-5 tells us that the mission of John the Baptist was to be "the voice crying in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled up, every mountain shall be made low." You see, John's mission was to preach a gospel of repentance, of humility, a humbling oneself before the almighty God so that you're able to receive the gospel of salvation. His mission was to fill in the valleys and flatten the hills.

The word humble comes from humus, which simply means earth or dirt. Humility is about coming to grips with our humanity, that as the psalmist says, we are like dust. The Scriptures describe a proud person as one who is puffed up. Pride is a determination to be seen bigger than ourselves, but when we are humble we're down to earth. No energy is wasted on pretension.

Did you know the words humor and humility and humanity and human all come from the same root word? So humility is when you take God seriously, but you don't take yourself too seriously. Most of us do the exact opposite: we take ourselves really too seriously, we're so puffed up and pompous, but we don't take God very seriously. Humility is actually being in touch with your humanity. It's not putting yourself down, saying, "I'm nobody. I'm just worthless. It's realizing that you're both a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. It's about being honest about your humanity.

In the movie Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood makes a great theological statement about humility. Eastwood, who plays Harry, says, "A man has got to know his limitations." Humility is knowing your limitations!

Pride's always based on a false evaluation of yourself; you narrow your field of reference so you can be a big fish in a small pond and you start thinking how great you are. Pride is always based on a lie, you see. It is a false evaluation of your own talents, your own abilities and where you got those abilities in the first place.

Everything you have, even your talent, is a gift from God. You don't own it, you don't deserve it, you didn't work for it—God gave it to you. You're nothing without God. Humility, on the other hand, is an accurate, unbiased understanding of your strengths and your weaknesses, to realize your limitations. In James 4:10, we read:  "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."

One of the unique features of the ancient castle of shogun in Japan is how the doors were shaped on the outer wall. The doors are at least one foot off the ground and about two feet too low for the man of average height to walk through. So to enter the house of the shogun, you had to lower your head and pass through the door head first. In other words, to gain admission into the home of this warrior master, you would have to expose your head to his sword. You would place your life in the hands of that warrior of whose home you were about to enter. Submission came before admission, and admission was necessary for communion. This is equally true in the relationship we have with God. You cannot enter into His presence and have a relationship with God without coming to him humbly.

It's interesting to me that the Bible never calls us to pray for humility. Instead it says we're commanded to be humble. You see, there are some things God does and some things He requires. Being humble is something He requires, something you choose. I talked to one guy one time who said, "I asked God to take away my pride, and God said, "No," and I didn't understand, and then God pointed out, "Pride is not something I need to take away from you. It's something you're supposed to give up. It's a choice. You choose not to be self-centered. You choose not to be arrogant. You choose not to be egotistical. Instead, you come with a lowered head as you enter the House of the Lord."

I was told when I was in Peru that a llama serves as a cultural metaphor for pride. You see, to keep a herd of llamas corralled, all you need is a rope— not a fence, just merely a rope. All you need is that one rope circling around the herd to keep them enclosed. Why? Just by placing that rope at the height beneath the head and at the base of the neck, the llamas are secured in this makeshift pen. Rather than stooping beneath the rope, the llama stands tall but remains captive. They either refuse to or physically are incapable of bending their necks, and thus they are seen as a symbol of arrogance.

Erwin McManus writes, "Humility is a chiropractic remedy when our necks are stiff and incapable of bending." I like that. Humility is a chiropractic remedy when our necks are stiff and incapable of bending. The prophet Micah in Micah 6:8 proclaims, “This is what the Lord requires from you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with your God.”

So in our lives, may every valley be filled up and every mountain made low. May we know our limitations so that we can lean in more and more on the strength and the ability of Jesus, trusting in the gifts that He's given each one of us. And may we lower our heads as we enter into the fortress of our God so we may commune with Him and live humbly with our God.