Humility in the New Testament
 Various Passages
By Paul Robison

There is an interesting passage in Isaiah 28 as the prophet describes Judah's deteriorating morality.  The priests and the prophets are called drunks and those who revel in wine.  What do you want to bet that they were at the temple on Saturdays?  The priest probably read from the Scriptures, and the prophet probably preached a pretty good sermon each Sabbath day when the Jews gathered for worship.  But you see, they are just going through the motions, and they really don't honor God.  How do we know this?  Because in 29:13 these people are described as honoring God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him.  Could this be called a false humility?  Oh yes, they were keeping the letter of the law, but they had completely forsaken the spirit of it.  Keep this idea in mind.
Since the beginning of 2013, a series of lessons on humility has been preached.  In the first sermon, we saw how we could increase our humility by reflecting on God's grand nature and blessing, on evil's powers, on others' strengths, and on our own limitations.  In the next sermon, we surveyed the Old Testament, and here's what we discovered. From the books of Moses, we learned that we should be humble because God is great, is faithful, and is trustworthy!  The books of history taught us that we should be humble because of God's authority, and humility reveals itself in obedience to God.  The wisdom books revealed that those who are humble take an interest in others, rely on God, and believe that they will be rewarded by God.  The books of the prophets showed that God's greatness should be recognized, and God can exalt or humble anybody.  The next sermon focused on humility in Jesus' life, and we discovered how He thought humility.  He had a mentality of lowliness and abasement even before coming into this world. Jesus also taught humility, to be trusting children willing to abase ourselves in order for God to exalt us.  Jesus also modeled humility as He served others, washed His disciple’s feet, and drank the bitter cup of God's wrath. So, today's sermon will focus on humility in the rest of the New Testament after the Gospels.
Let's begin by returning to that passage which was read in this mornings reading, Colossians 2:16-23: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Some false teachers have been introducing Old Testament practices to those of Colosse, but Paul says that such practices were only shadows pointing to a greater reality, and that reality was Jesus.  Now notice something interesting in the next verse: “Let no one cheat you out of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.”  Did you notice how those false teachers wanted to turn the Christians astray so that they will lose their eternal reward, and they take delight in false humility, the worship of angels, and in going to off into tangents.  These false teachers want to impose a false humility, going through the right motions, but not really holding fast to Jesus, who is the head of the body. Well, what kind motions do they want these members at Colosse to practice?  Listen as we read further: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourselves to regulations--'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?”  These false teachers were saying: “Do not touch!” means “Avoid marriage!”; “Do not taste!” means “Avoid eating certain foods!”; “Do not handle!” means “Avoid touching certain objects that can make you impure!”  “You see, if you'd be super-holy, then avoid certain practices!”  But did you notice Paul's assessment: these things to avoid are perishing, and these false teachers are only pushing their own ideas.  Going through the motions of these practices and ignoring Jesus is a false humility that's leading you down the wrong path!  Notice verse 23: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”  These rituals look good, but they are not really changing you from the inside out like Jesus wants you to be changed.  This is a self-imposed religion and not a Spirit-led religion.  This is a religion stressing a false humility.  Yes, it can happen to us as well.  Can't we get so caught up in the rituals that we forget the Redeemer?  Can't we too go through all church motions but all the while still be intoxicated by our culture's modern philosophies?  In writing an article on humility, someone made this interesting observation: “This virtue [or humility] is susceptible to gross misunderstanding.  Let it be said flatly, therefore, that the biblical humility is not the inverted conceit which disguises itself as lowliness.  It is that attitude which results from a fearlessly honest self-appraisal, a self-appraisal which neither minimizes one's achievements nor exaggerates one's failures. ... It is not moreover, a [virtue that relates just to the individual alone]. It ... gratefully acknowledges God's sovereign gifts ... and enablement in service; thus, it eliminates the arrogance that destroys community” (Grounds in PEB).  False humility disguises itself as lowliness and put myself still at the center of the universe.  Three colleges asked investors how their mutual funds compared with the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.  About 30% said their funds had outperformed the market by 5%, and about 20% said that theirs had outperformed the market by 10%.  However, a check of the portfolios of those claiming to have beaten the market revealed that 88% had overestimated their earning.  The study discovered some market-beaters even lagged the index by 5 to 15%.  One of the researchers concludes: “Everybody wants to believe they're better than average.” Unfortunately, doesn't that statement sound like many church members? We get caught up in going through the church motions and then pride ourselves that we are better than our neighbors (891 in Larson Elshof). Beware of a false humility!
Let's look now at several other passages which help us to understand true humility.  The first is Acts 20:18-20: “And when they had come to him [the Ephesian elders to Paul], he said to them: 'You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.”  Paul looks backward and refreshes the memory of these church leaders.  He begins by saying that he served the Lord; he kept Jesus as His priority.  Then he said that he worked with all humility. He did not exalt himself or try to put himself on a pedestal.  He did not take pay and worked in harmony with the elders.  Were his tears from his persecutions, or from his affection for other members, or both?  Despite the setbacks from persecutions, we see Paul's endurance.  He did not hold back teaching anything that he thought would be helpful for all the members to know.  He not only converted people, but then he grounded them in the most holy faith teaching them all things that Jesus had commanded.  His teachings was done publicly, like at the school of Tyrannus as well as in people’s homes, and remember, these early churches often assembled in people's homes for worship services on Sundays.  Paul was active in sharing “the whole counsel of God” as he states in verse 27.  We see here a humility that manifests itself in perseverance, being helpful, and teaching.  It is said that Philip Pilsbury, of the Pilsbury milling family, could do just about anything on the factory floor.  The tips of three of his fingers were missing ... [That's] the unmistakable mark of a journeyman grain miller.  He worked with the other workers until he had earned master miller.  Only then did he allow himself to go into a management position.  After becoming president, he had an international reputation as a connoisseur of fine foods, but to the workers in Minnesota, his reputation as a man willing to do hard, dirty job was the one that mattered (Larson 209).
Now look at Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  Selfish ambition and conceit have spoiled many a congregation throughout history.  “Petty strivings for place and preferment, jockeying for advantage, pushing and shoving for prestige or attention” (Coffman)--how often have you seen such behaviors in our congregation?  In contrast to ambition and conceit, we are to have a lowliness of mind and to think of others as being better than ourselves. Once we realize how insignificant we are in our relationship to God, it becomes easier to realize our place with other members in the body of Christ. “... there should be no division in the body [or the congregation], but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).  Every member in the body of Christ is indispensable, honorable, and needed. One commentator rightly noted: “In opportunity, in privilege, in the endowment of youth, strength, intelligence, or other of life's benefits, every Christian in some specific sense is better than any other ...” (Coffman).  A missionary once wrote: “'The great fault, I think, in our mission[ary work] is that no one likes to be second' (Morrison).  “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
Now let's consider James 1:9-11: “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as the flower of the field, he will pass away.  For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes.  So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits."  Isn't there a wonderful equality seen here that transcends all economic situations?  "James exhorts both the poor and rich Christian that the sole basis of confidence is their identification with Jesus Christ ... Both must look at their lives from a heavenly, not an earthly, perspective" (Moo).  "The brother who is poor may be glad because God has [given] him to true riches.  The [brother who is] rich may be glad because God has shown him his spiritual poverty" (Moo quoting Philipps). In the presence of King Jesus, we are all just lowly servants.  "Humility towards others will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real" (Murray).  We, like Christ, must make ourselves of no reputation (Ibid).  Our lowliness of heart must not be for a period of time, but it must become the very spirit of our life that manifests itself in the presence of others (Ibid).
Now look at James 4:8-10: "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament, and mourn, and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." Being the good preacher that he is, James quotes from Proverbs 3:34 showing that God resists those who are proud but favors those who are humble. Why is this?  Maybe it's because the proud thinks of himself as more important than others, depends upon himself or herself and one's own resources, and seeks glory for himself.  But none of that is true for an humble person.  God delights in the Christian who sees himself as equal or less than others, trusts completely in Him, and gives all the glory to Him!  One commentator states: "'To humble ourselves' means to recognize our own spiritual poverty, to acknowledge consequently our desperate need of God's help, and to submit to his commanding will for all our lives" (Moo). This is the attitude seen in the penitent tax-collector seen in Luke 18 who did not boast about anything but confessed his sins and asked God to forgive him.  Our ability, status, and money can't truly exalt our righteousness; only God can do this.  Another commentator adds: This is the mourning of godly sorrow and not the laughter of worldly pleasure. James is speaking of humility as an act of resignation or self-humiliation, of bowing to the will of God though a definite act, a decisive and full surrender, like David did in Psalm 51 (Roberts).  A fellow had been hang-gliding and was 4,200 feet in the air, but he was suddenly hit by a blast of air that sent his glider speeding towards the earth.  He knew he was going to crash, but suddenly six feet from his right wing, he saw a red-tailed hawk.  At 300 feet, the trees looked like menacing spikes.  When he saw the hawk, it banked and flew straight downward.  He thought that the hawk was committing suicide.  At 200 feet, a thought hit him: Follow the hawk! It went against everything he knew about flying, but his knowledge wasn't helping now, so downward he pushed.  At 100 feet, the hawk gained altitude and seemed suspended for a moment in space.  Then a warm surge of air pushed the glider upward, and the man was stunned because he was now rising.  Sometimes, circumstances in life pull us down, but like that red-tailed hawk, God's Word tells us to do the opposite of what we think sometimes.  God's Word tells us to dive and put ourselves under God's mighty hand.  When we do, His thermal wind raises us back up as well (101 in Larson).
Now let's explore 1 Peter 5:5-7: "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."  No one is exempt here; all members must be submissive to one another.  We see again "an attitude which puts others first, which thinks of desires, needs, and ideas of others as more worthy of attention than one's own" (Grudem).  Clothe yourself with humility is really gird yourself with humility, and Peter must have surely been remembering when Jesus girded Himself and washed the disciples' feet. Humility is the apron that we put on over all the other virtues.  Someone made this good comment: "The humble man looks upon each child of God, even the most feeble and the most unworthy, and honors him and prefers him in honor as the son of a King.  The spirit of Him who washed the disciples' feet makes it a joy to us to be indeed the least, to be servants one of another" (Murruy).  To grow tall spiritually, one must first learn to kneel, to forget status, and to wash feet or do whatever is necessary to build up other members.
"It is only by the indwelling of Christ in His divine humility that we become truly humble."  Don't we need to recognize Jesus' humility as His chief glory, His first command, and our highest blessing" (Murruy)? Passages in the New Testament reveal many actions. Be aware of false humility or going through religious motions but forgetting to keep our relationship with Jesus strong.  The first passage showed that we need to be helpful.  Like Paul, we need to do whatever will be profitable to other members.  We need to be positive and esteem other members as better than ourselves in a specific area.  Next, we need to be equal and remember our identity is found in Christ, and it is not based on our economic status.  Next, we need to be penitent before God and fully surrender and trust in Him.  Next, we need to submit to one another and place ourselves under God's mighty hand!  Be profitable, be positive, be equal, be penitent, and be submissive to one another; these are the manifestations of true humility.  The world has yet to see what could happen if everyone lost the desire to get the glory.  Wouldn't it be a marvelous [congregation] if nobody cared who got the credit?” (Sanders in Swindoll).  One elder is not a congregation, one deacon is not a congregation, one preacher is not a congregation, one member is not a congregation, and in the power of one, there will not be success.  Only when all of us merge together and work together as a body works, with each part admiring the other, can there be success.  Jesus can help you to become humble.  Why not make Him the Lord of your life today through baptism in His name?  Why not confess if you've been too proud or have been showing a false humility?  Let Jesus be the head of the body while we work together!