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Humility

Biblical Definition of Humility

Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy ( Psalm 113:4-9 ; 138:6-7 ); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross ( Matt 11:29 ; Acts 8:32-33 ; Php 2:5-8 ). The dual usage of "meek" (Gk. praus [prau?"]) and "humble (tapeinos [tapeinov"] "low") in heart" in Matthew 11:29 emphasizes Christ's humility before humankind, whom he came to serve ( Matt 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ) and his submission before God. Humility and meekness are often inseparable ( 2 Col 10:1 ; Eph 4:2 ; Col 3:12 ).

As a sign of genuine religion ( Mic 6:8 ) humility is necessary to enter God's kingdom ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ) or to be great in it ( Matt 20:26-27 ; Mark 10:43-44 ). As the absence of self ( Matt 10:38-39 ; Luke 9:23-25 ), it is a bankruptcy of spirit ( Matt 5:3 ) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God's righteousness for salvation ( Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:15-17 ). It may involve praying ( 2 Chron 7:14 ; Dan 6:10 ; 9:3-20 ), fasting ( Lev 16:29-32 ; 23:27-32 ; Ezra 8:21 Ezra 8:23 ; Psalm 35:13 ; Daniel 10:1-3 Daniel 10:12 ), and falling prostrate ( Ezek 1:28 ; Dan 6:10 ; Rev 1:12-17 ) before the Lord. Since the Lord denounces hypocritical worship ( Isa 58:3-7 ; Matthew 6:5-8 Matthew 6:16-18 ) and false humility ( Colossians 2:18 Colossians 2:23 ), a person's heart must match his or her posture ( Isa 57:15 ; Luke 18:9-14 ; cf. Isa 6:5 ; Matt 11:29 ).

Humility is the prerequisite for honor ( Prov 15:33 ; 18:12 ; 22:4 ; 29:23 ) and physical blessing ( Psalm 37:11 ; Matt 5:5 ). Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord ( Psalms 25:9 Psalms 25:12-14 ; Prov 15:33 ), it may provide the key to wealth and life ( Prov 22:4 ); but even when blessings are postponed, a humble spirit is necessary ( Prov 16:18-19 ; cf. Romans 12:14 Romans 12:16-17 ). It is the gateway to eternal life ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ), not necessarily physical reward (5:10-12).

God gives grace to the humble (or afflicted) but resists the proud ( Prov 3:34 ; James 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ). Regardless of social or moral position ( Luke 1:48 Luke 1:52-54 ; cf. Psalm 51:16-17 ), God often delivers people who humble themselves before him whether righteous kings ( 2 Chron 32:24-26 ; 34:26-28 ), wicked rulers ( 1 Kings 21:27-29 ; 2 Chron 33:12-13 ), or commoners ( 2 Ch 30:8-11 ).

The Lord exalts the humble ( Matt 23:12 ; Luke 1:52 ; 14:11 ; 18:14 ; James 4:10 ) in his proper timing ( 1 Peter 5:6 ). A person must not claim honor for self ( Prov 25:6-7 ; Luke 14:7-11 ) but have an unassuming attitude ( Rom 12:3 ). Jesus' teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant ( John 13:1-16 ), even unto death ( Isa 53:7-8 ; Acts 8:32-33 ) in obedience to the Father ( Php 2:5-8 ), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11).

The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom ( Prov 11:2 ). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite ( Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:5 ) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart ( Isa 57:15 ; 2 Cor 7:6 ).

The Christian ought to emulate Christ's example ( Matt 11:28-30 ; 2 Col 10:1 ) of meekness and humility. Humility is the foremost test of a truly great person or leader ( Luke 22:24-27 ). Paul's teachings and life ( Acts 20:18-21 ) emphasize and elucidate Christian humility. Recognizing he was the chief sinner ( 1 Tim 1:15 ) and the least saint and apostle ( 1 Cor 15:9 ; Eph 3:8 ) he gloried in the grace of God ( 1 Cor 15:10 ; cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10 ) and in the cross of Christ ( Gal 6:14 ; cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:5 ) rather than self-righteousness ( Php 3:3-9 ).

Greg W. Parsons

Bibliography. J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self: Apostolic Teaching for Personal Wholeness; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 2:256-64; F. S. Fitzsimmons, New Bible Dictionary, p. 500; R. E. O. White, EDT, p. 537.

Dictionaries - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Humility
Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/humility.html

Important Characteristics of Humility

Accountable

Ultimately we are all accountable to God and will stand before the judgment seat of God (2 Cor 5:10).  Deep down we know that God knows exactly what we are doing and thinking all the time (1 John 3:20).  But we have also learned how to be very good at hiding it from people.  We should be accountable to one or more brothers or sisters in Christ who we have a close personal relationship with and who we deeply trust (1 Sam 18:1-3; Prov 18:24).  Key to being accountable is having the humility to say, "I did it." (1 John 1:9)

Correctable

The "old man" in us doesn't like to be corrected or told that we have done wrong.  But the "new man" in Christ needs to accept life giving correction or rebuke through whomever God chooses to use to bring it to us.  We need to be able to respond positively to correction - to be corrected easily without being defensive.  See the example of Nathan correcting David (Gal 2:11-14; 2 Sam 12:1-23) - notice that once confronted by the Holy Spirit through Nathan's rebuke David un-defensively admits his sin.  Also see Paul's instruction to Timothy on how to correct a older person by using encouragement (1 Tim 5:1).  Persons in the bible who were not easily corrected:  Cain (Gen 4:1-16), numerous kings of Israel and Judah who would either ignore or kill God's prophets when they brought words of correction and the Pharisees in the time of Jesus who, rather than accept correction, chose to have Jesus killed for rebuking them repeatedly.

Teachable

God's desire is that we continue to mature in Christ.  The only way to do that, to continually learn about how we can become more and more like Jesus, is by coming to truly know Jesus.  God has raised up countless godly men and woman who have been accountable, correctable and teachable so that we can learn from them.  The apostle Paul is a prime example.  We should never be content to stop increasing in all spiritual knowledge and wisdom (Col 1:9-10).  We should also be willing to learn new skills in order to help others and provide for our families and share with those in need.

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:27 ESV)

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9 ESV)

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6 ESV)

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9 ESV)

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:14 ESV)

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness... (2 Timothy 3:10 ESV)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (2 Timothy 3:14 ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness... (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

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