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Wednesday, June 06, 2012


There is a standard list of virtues that we commonly think of as "Christian virtues". It's pretty simple, you know? Like "love, joy, peace", the sort of things that the Bible lists, just to make it easy. One of the "big ones" in Christian virtue (if not human virtue) is humility. Paul told the Philippians:
Do nothing from rivalry 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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus ...(Phil 2:3-5).
Humility, then, was a basic component of the mind of Christ and, as such, ought to be for us as well. So ... what is humility? I don't think we have a good handle on it.

The dictionary isn't very helpful. One tells me that humility is "the quality or condition of being humble". Ummm, yeah, thanks. That helped. Typically we think of humility in the same language that we think of humiliation. To be humiliated is to lose pride, self-respect, dignity. Humble means "not proud or arrogant", "modest". We think of it as meaning a feeling of insignificance and, more likely, inferiority. Or, perhaps, if we're feeling magnanimous and hoping to think warmly about this clearly Christian virtue, we might say that it is "selflessness". Yeah, that's good.

Now, this is just me, mind you. I'm just talking here. But I think we're missing the point. I think we are, in all honesty, looking in the wrong direction. Indeed, I think that where we are looking is the fundamental premise of genuine biblical humility. What do I mean?

We have the prime example of the Christian virtue called "humility" (because obviously there are many definitions and understandings, and not all are virtuous) found in Christ Himself over there in Philippians 2. You know, that passage where we are to have the same mind that Christ had. But I stopped the quote before I got to the mind that Christ had. In His example we see that He was "in the form of God", but didn't consider that something He needed to cling to. Instead, He underwent the "kenosis", the covering of His glory as God in the form of a humble servant. So, I ask you. Did Christ become less than God? Hopefully you would answer without question, "No!" He did not become less. Thus, He was not less Himself than before He humbled Himself. He was not less self. He was not self-less. So what did He do? Jesus took His eyes off self and put them on us, on His Father, on "the joy set before Him", on anything but self. He saw the work He was doing on our behalf as valuable and us as valuable because of the work He was doing. He didn't minimize Himself; He maximized that which was outside of self. His eyes were outward, not inward.

"Selflessness" might be okay as a definition here, but in my mind it begins with the wrong term and, as such, is very likely to lead in the wrong definition. It begins with "self". It looks inward, says, "I am consciously going to set 'self' aside", and moves toward "others". And it is that initial inward look that I believe is not in view in the Christian virtue of humility. Instead it is, as I said, looking in the right direction. I believe that true, Christian humility is not less of self, but more of others. It is more of God, more of His Son, more of the Spirit. It is more of your spouse and your kids, your coworkers and your neighbors, your friends and even your enemies. "Self" doesn't actually factor into "humility". It isn't that we "stuff self". It's that we, so satisfied with who Christ is and His full indwelling of us, no longer need to pay attention to self. This kind of Christian humility considers others as more significant not because we are less significant, but because we're not part of this equation. This kind of humility considers the interests of others as important because others are important, not because I am not.

Now, as I said, that's just me talking. You may disagree. However, in my thinking, if humility is anything else, then when I practice it, be it selflessness, lack of pride, modesty, whatever you may choose, then I would have room to boast, having skillfully managed myself to accomplish this task. On the other hand, if I am right, then I have no room for pride in my humility because it is based on the sufficiency of Christ for all I am and need, and that's not my doing. So you can decide. But that's where I'll stand. For now.

1 comment:

David said...

I just watched "Eli" again recently, and something he said hits on this. He said what he learned from the Bible was to treat others better than you treat yourself. Like you said, it isn't a matter of thinking less of yourself, but more of others. Love others more than you love yourself.