A New Series Pt V: Humility

In his book, Praying with John Wesley, David A. deSilva introduces us to Anglican Bishop Jeremy Taylor, who had a great influence on Wesley. deSilva says “In his Rule and Exercise of Daily Living, Taylor wrote that humility was the virtue that distinguished Christianity from worldly wisdom, being taught first not by the ancient moralists but by Jesus.” In his article about the six ways Jesus fundamentally changed the world, John Ortberg echoes this, saying “The ancient world honored many virtues like courage and wisdom, but not humility. People were generally divided into first class and coach. “Rank must be preserved,” said Cicero; each of the original 99 percent was a personis mediocribus. Plutarch wrote a self-help book that might crack best-seller lists in our day: How to Praise Yourself Inoffensively.” To say this was a new thing is an understatement. The idea of humility may have existed in Jewish culture, but in the Greco-Roman world of the first century, it was a non-entity.  Imagine a culture where people zealously guarded their honor and power, and challenged the honor and power of others, then imagine Jesus doing just the opposite, laying down all His power and honor to serve the God’s will. I’ll bet that attracted some attention.

When people reviled him, Jesus didn’t answer with insults, He turned the other cheek. He never sought to advance His own power and prestige; instead, He became a servant and spent his time with lowest of the low. When the time came, he went willingly to a gruesome, humiliating death on a Roman cross, all to show just how much we are loved. Pretty tough act to follow, huh? Well, here’s the kicker: Jesus calls us to follow Him and do the same. Before you get your panties in a wad, He doesn’t expect you to get yourself crucified; that punishment went out with Romans. I think he does expect you put the wants and needs of others ahead of your own.

Humility isn’t so much a denial of our own worth, but a recognition of the worth of others. It calls us to acknowledge the equality of our brothers and sisters, be they dirt poor or filthy rich. Additionally, humility requires that we not only acknowledge that equality, but act on it. As Paul said in Philippians 2:3-5

” Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”. Finally, humility calls on us to know our place in relationship to God and others.

Make no mistake, however; humility doesn’t give us an excuse not to act when we see injustice or oppression. Just the opposite, humility  calls to cast aside our worries about our well-being and act. In other words, my safety isn’t more important than yours. Finally, humility calls us to recognize our place in relationship to God, others and the world. When we do that, it becomes easy to pour all of ourselves out to bring God’s kingdom to fruition, right here on earth.