When Jesus was asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He responded by pointing to a small child. In explanation He said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Humility is linked with true greatness in the kingdom of God.
The importance of humility was not just a one-time message by the Savior. It was a regular part of His teaching from start to finish. The first recorded sermon we have from our Lord in the book of Matthew starts with the admonition, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). And on the night Jesus was betrayed He instructed His disciples that the greatest among them must be servants of the others (Luke 22:26-27).
Humility is a crucial pursuit for the believer. In a day marked by social media grandstanding and self-promotion, humility is even more critical. Yet, how can one tell whether he or she is truly being humble? Some time ago I read a fantastic book by Thomas Watson, called The Godly Man’s Picture. What follows is an adaptation of the points he put forward in his book many years ago, along with a few quotes and summaries of his points. These are 10 hallmarks of humility which mark the Christian life.
1. A humble Christian is emptied of all proud thoughts of self.
The believer understands the reality of present sin in his life, and so does not think highly of self or his accomplishments. When a humble man hears the praise of others, he is able to put that in its proper context because he remembers that he is only a sinner saved by the grace of God who still struggles in many ways.
2. A humble Christian thinks better of others than of himself.
The Christian understands his own sinful tendencies and propensities, and sees the faults and failures of others as less offensive than his own sin. The Christian is patient with others because he, like the Father, understands the human condition is dust (cf. Ps 103:14). At the end of the day, the Christian values others more than himself (Phil 2:3-4).
3. A humble Christian sees his good works as inferior.
Those who are proud boast in what they have accomplished. But the humble man or woman says, “Alas, how little I have done!” The best we can do is nothing compared to what we ought to do. In the words of Watson, “I dare not say I have prayed or wept; those which I write down as duties, God might write down as sins.”
4. A humble Christian complains of his wickedness, not his circumstance.
A humble soul is forever telling how bad he is, the hypocrite is forever telling how good he is. The more knowledge a humble man has, the more he complains of ignorance; the more faith, the more he complains of his unbelief. Look around inside the church and you will mark mature believers by the nature of their conversations. They refuse to complain about the circumstances God puts them in.
5. A humble Christian will justify God’s actions during his own suffering.
Trials and suffering are inevitable in this life. When trials come, the humble man knows that God is just, loving, and good. The Christian knows that he is unworthy of any kindness or benefit that the Lord should grant. The Christian will go to death defending the rightness and goodness of God in allowing trials into his life.
6. A humble Christian seeks to magnify Christ and not self.
While the unbeliever seeks to magnify self and draw attention to his own greatness, the Christian routes all success or glory to Christ. The believer understands that everything comes from God, even the very breath we breathe (Acts 17:25). Therefore, the believer seeks above all things to magnify Christ as the giver of all good things. Additionally, the love for Christ is so strong in the believer that he can part with anything, as long as Jesus receives glory and honor.
7. A humble Christian is willing to take rebuke for sin.
This is perhaps one of the most undervalued aspects of humility. Humility is an essential requirement for those who would receive rebuke or reproof. As Proverbs 9:8 says, “The proud will not take reproof, but the wise man will love it.” The humble man understands the tremendous value of rebuke, as it enables them an outside perspective and an opportunity to grow in Christlike character. In fact, the mature Christian is so desirous of helpful rebuke, that he will take both the reproach of an enemy as well as the criticism of a friend. Though 90% of a rebuke may be errant, there could be a valuable 10% where the Christian can grow in Christlikeness.
8. The humble Christian is content to be anonymous.
While those around us cry out to be recognized for their great deeds, the Christian is not just content to be anonymous, but prefers to be anonymous. The motto of the believer is with John the Baptist, “Let me decrease; let Christ increase” (John 3:30). The spirit filled with humility is willing to give 100% effort, and receive 0% of the credit. Can you imagine what a church would look like when nobody cares who gets the credit for what is done? What an amazing family it would be if all were only concerned that Christ be glorified. The mature Christian is content to be outdone by others, and for them to be esteemed more highly so that the crown of Christ may shine the brighter.
9. A humble Christian is content to be in the circumstance God deems best for him.
To put it succinctly, a proud man complains that he has no more; a humble man wonders that he has so much. Perspective is so crucial to the believer. When the heart lies low, it can stoop to a low condition. As Christians, we understand that the worst piece God carves us is better than we deserve; therefore the mature Christian takes it thankfully upon his knees.
10. A humble Christian will never be superior to a person or a position.
It is often the way of the world to view people or positions as too far below us. But for the Christian, there is no position he is too qualified to perform, and no person who is too lowly to associate with (cf. Rom 12:16). Christians do not live with the same mindset that the world does. We are not celebrities. We are lowly servants who are only doing what is our duty (Luke 17:10).
Humility is essential to the Christian life from start to finish. Sadly, we often don’t do a great job of taking time to sit down and think about what humility actually looks like. So, thanks to Thomas Watson for making me realize I have a long ways to go in my pursuit of humility. Am I alone?
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