Humility may be defined as a sober or proper self-estimate. Humility has four elements: (1) self-distrust; (2) self-dissatisfaction; (3) self-disrespect; and (4) self-abasement.
But these ingredients of humility can be exaggerated into faults. Self-distrust can be cultivated and exercised to such an extreme as to make one incapable of accomplishing what he is capable of accomplishing, thus making a failure of himself and his undertakings. Self-dissatisfaction can also be cultivated and exercised to such an extreme as to completely discourage one from undertaking what he is capable of undertaking. Self-disrespect can be cultivated and exercised to such an extreme of self-abhorrence as to mar or ruin everything that one undertakes. Likewise, one’s self-abasement can be so exaggerated as to mar or ruin everything that he undertakes.
Pride, the opposite of humility, is an improper, untrue, incorrect self-estimate. Its elements consist of an overweening self-confidence, self-satisfaction and self-respect, that manifests itself in egotism, haughtiness, vainglory and self-righteousness. It is one of the worst disgraces of character, and is soundly condemned in the Scriptures. Satan is the classic example of pride (Isaiah 14: 12-20).
The Great Importance of Humility
Humility lies at the basis of repentance and faith in Christ, without which justification is impossible; for it requires humility to recognize that we are sinners, and to accept justification as a free gift from God through Jesus’ merit. It lies at the basis of our learning the Truth, for without it we cannot humble ourselves to be taught (Matthew 11: 25, 26). Humility also lies at the basis of consecration – deadness to self and the world and aliveness to God – for without humility how could we give up our wills, and take the will of another as ours? Furthermore, it requires humility to lay down our lives in God’s service, and to develop a Christlike character. Finally, in order gain victory in the Christian warfare requires our giving up our ways and plans of fighting the good fight of faith, and accepting those of the Captain of our Salvation.
Examples of Humility
The Bible is filled with examples of humility. How humbly Abraham drew near to intercede with God for the people of Sodom (Genesis 18: 27)! Jacob confessed his unworthiness of any of God’s mercies and truths (Genesis 32: 10). Moses was humble almost to a fault (Exodus 3: 11; 4: 10). Humbly did David acknowledge his littleness and that of his family (2 Samuel 7: 18, 19). Daniel attributed not to himself but to God his great and unique understanding (Daniel 2: 30). John the Baptist exemplified it in his relations to our Lord (Matthew 3: 11, 14). The Apostle Paul was one of the humblest of men, even referring to himself as the “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1: 15). Next to God, Jesus, as the One who was “meek and lowly in heart,” throughout His prehuman, human and post-human life, is the finest of all examples of humility (Matthew 11: 29). But God is the supreme example of humility. He stooped to make His Son our Savior, to reveal Himself to us, to teach us repentance, faith and consecration, and to prepare us for eternal life (Isaiah 57: 15).
The Trial of Humility
Just as Jesus was tested on every point of character (Hebrews 4: 15), including humility, so too must we be tested. Our humility is subjected to pride-alluring conditions, that under test it may overcome them. These tests first come under easier conditions, and if faithfully endured, the conditions are made more and more untoward. Humility is tried more severely than many of our graces, doubtless to make us fall-proof amid conditions of exaltation.
Next to God, Jesus is the classic example of endurance of severe tests on His humility (Philippians 2: 5-8, Rotherham), and that because of the high exaltation to follow His faithfulness under tests (Philippians 2: 9-11). Every prominent servant of God has had, in proportion to his wider use, specially crucial experiences along this line. In fact, every overcomer of every class, either has, or will have to overcome amid tests of humility (James 4: 6, 10) (1 Peter 5: 5, 6).