The Benefits of Being Humble

Discover how humility draws us closer to God.

By Elizabeth Peale Allen, Pawling, New York

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:2, admonishes us to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” But the word humility tends to be an unflattering word these days. It has overtones of shame, discomfort and thinking poorly of oneself.

But “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). And Mary, who was strong enough to say yes to an unconventional pregnancy, sang that God “has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:48). Jesus was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Clearly humility–at least in the Biblical sense–doesn’t have anything to do with being a doormat! Rather, it’s a virtue that God wants us to have. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9).

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Humility has the same root as humus, the rich soil I spread in my garden to help good things to grow. So why do we think it’s bad? In part it’s because we mistakenly equate humility with low self-esteem. But self-esteem is built on our individual assessment of where we fit into the “pecking order” of life.

Humility is based on the understanding that because we were made in the image and likeness of God, we have inherent, eternal worth. We don’t have to be on top or have the last word to know how valuable we are.

To be humble isn’t to put yourself down, but to put God first. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

The knowledge that we cannot do anything alone is a cornerstone of humility. “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God,” writes Paul to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:5). It’s a lesson we unfortunately need to learn repeatedly. It took the Israelites forty years of wandering in the wilderness to grasp “that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Another building block of the humble life is remembering that we have nothing that we did not receive from God (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every gift originates with Him; whatever good we do with those gifts is attributable to Him. How can we then consider ourselves superior–or inferior–to anyone else?

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Have you ever tried to be humble? It doesn’t work. Acting humble is just that: acting.

The lesson plan for humility is buried deep in the relationship we build with our heavenly Father. We become humble when we seek God first and see ourselves as He sees us. If you’re looking for specific things you can do to cancel out pride and cultivate a humble heart, consider some of the actions the Bible associates with humility:

  1. Praying, seeking the Lord’s face, and turning from wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  2. Having a responsive heart (2 Chronicles 34:27)
  3. Doing what the Lord commands and seeking righteousness (Zephaniah 2:3)
  4. Fasting (Ezra 8:21)
  5. Being contrite in spirit (Isaiah 66:2)
  6. Becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8)

Humility isn’t a feeling; it is, rather, a right perspective on who we are in relation to God. The closer we grow to Him, the more we grow into His image. The command to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5) comes down to seeking to clothe ourselves “with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).