If you could pick one character trait you’d like to have, what would it be? In a quick internet search of admirable qualities, I was surprised to discover that humility was mentioned quite often. Although it was commonly defined as having a confident yet modest opinion of oneself, some of the descriptions were overly focused on self-awareness, self-confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance. Clearly our culture’s understanding of humility falls short because it leaves God out of the picture.
Although humility was a quality prized by early Christians, it was not considered a virtue in the ancient Greek and Roman world. Those cultures esteemed power and authority rather than lowliness, which was only considered appropriate for slaves. This is one reason why Jesus was such a countercultural figure in His day. Being by nature God, He emptied Himself of divine privileges, took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death on the cross (Phil. 2:6-8). He is the perfect example of humility, and His followers are called to walk in His footsteps.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he said, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). In other words, as Christians we are supposed to live in a manner worthy of our salvation and our position as God’s beloved children.
First of all, we are to walk “with all humility” before God and others (Eph. 4:2). This doesn’t mean that we consider ourselves worthless. True humility is having an accurate understanding of ourselves in relation to God. He is our Creator, and as His creatures, our proper place is beneath Him. Furthermore, we are sinners who have rebelled against Him in word, thought, and deed. And as Christians, we are undeserving recipients of His grace. All these are reasons to humble ourselves before the Lord in recognition of our total dependence on Him.
Humility also extends to our relationships with others. Pride and self-interest harm our families, damage friendships, and hinder unity in the church. That’s why we are urged to have the same attitude Jesus Christ had. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Second, we are to walk with gentleness (Eph. 4:2). Although gentleness (meekness) is often equated with weakness, this is not at all what the original Greek term means. Meekness is actually strength under God’s control. It is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest, and is rather an inner quality of humility that is not occupied with self at all. A meek person doesn’t contend with God, and is able to endure difficult situations, insults, and mistreatment under His protection.
Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart,” and that is exactly what we should seek to become (Matt. 11:29). Gentleness doesn’t mean we are always nice and never get angry. However, our anger should be aroused by wrongs done against God, not against ourselves. Jesus endured His crucifixion meekly, but He angrily stood up for God’s honor when He saw corruption and commercialism in the temple.
Third, we are told to walk “with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). The word patience means longsuffering, and that is exactly what we should be in both our circumstances and our relationships. When we have a humble spirit, we are able to tolerate the failures, weaknesses, and offenses of others because we realize how patient God is toward us. Rather than exposing someone’s sin, we cover it. Instead of trying to force our standards on other believers, we trust the Lord to work in each person’s life knowing this: “To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).
Finally, we are to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance from all God’s people allows the beautiful unity of His Spirit to flourish in the local church. The focus of our unity is not what we do but what we have in our union with Christ. He made us into one body with one Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, and baptism (Eph. 4:4-5). And there is one God who holds us all together—our Father “who is over all and through all and in all” (v. 6).
Our biggest challenge is to live selfless lives with all our ambitions, desires, and goals submitted to the Lord. Considering the great sacrifice Christ made for us with His death on the cross, how can we do anything less? Although we can never repay Him for our salvation and eternal life, we can commit to walk in a manner worthy of our calling from this day forward.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I pray that you will have a joyous celebration of Jesus’ resurrection this Easter. Remember how Christ humbled Himself to become your Savior and let this truth fill your heart with gratitude and spur you on to live wholeheartedly for Him.