Folly is evaluating what is good or evil merely from the perspective of an individual in a given moment of time; wisdom is seeing the end from the beginning.
A few years ago, I was seeking to understand God’s will for my life, and I asked Him to show me the work he would have me to do. Looking back, I now recognize that my question and concern had as much to do with my employment as it did with service to God. At the time, I had a particular career path in mind, specifically the one most appealing to me, since I didn’t know of any other method of determining His will. I wanted my life to have a meaningful, positive impact on others, so I was interested in starting, or at least working in, an orphanage. I never received an answer in that regard. Instead, the response to my inquiry, whispered by that still, small voice was, “Humble yourself.” It seemed to me to be a very inadequate reply. That’s not to say I saw no value in doing so, it’s just that I wanted to do great things for God, and I thought my time needed to be occupied by activities that would have a more practical benefit to others. But laboring for God always starts with an internal process of refining, and I see now that even if humbling myself was the only job He ever gave me, the task is such that I will always have work left to do. I now believe that any and all efforts to draw near to God, to know His will, and to serve Him, must start with humbling oneself.
Why is this so? We are told in Hebrews 6:1 that repentance from dead works is the first foundational principle of the doctrine of Christ. Consider that, when building, before any foundation is ever laid, it must first be established that the land is suitable for construction. With that in mind, it can be said that humility is the spiritual ground into which all foundational doctrines are poured and accepted. All godly characteristics are built upon having a right view of self in relation to the Holiness, perfection and power of God. It stands to reason that humility must precede repentance, because without humility repentance is impossible, since pride always justifies itself and will not accept that it has done wrong — and no one repents of an action they consider to be right. (See Psalm 36:1-2) But if I know myself to be a sinner who has fallen thousands of times in thousands of ways, and have seen time and again how my love for God has proven to be weak, frail and miserable in contrast to how much I love myself, then I will have taken the first step toward allowing the perfection that is found in Jesus to advocate on my behalf, as opposed to seeking to justify myself before God. Although acknowledging that there is nothing perfectly good within us is not the natural way we like to see ourselves, it is an essential and truthful one. It’s necessary because every path to repentance leads to Christ, and when we accept the Messiah’s sacrifice as payment and atonement for our sins, he opens the door to God’s Kingdom, making it possible to enter into a relationship with the Father, just as the Lord himself stated in John 10:7-9. So from this we see that without humility it is impossible to even begin a true relationship with God.
The second foundational doctrine of Christ from Hebrews 6:1 is faith toward God. As was the case with repentance, the cornerstone upon which faith toward God is built is also humility. Humility is the end-result of thinking about yourself less and less. It’s the natural product of trusting in God to provide for ALL of your needs with all of your heart, mind, soul and being. To the extent that we are able to do that, we become freed to spend our thoughts and energy towards service to others. But when a person believes that they will accomplish their personal goals through the strength of their own efforts, as they pursue those objectives they often become locked in a path of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion. The fourth chapter of the book of James speaks to this when it states,
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you [do] ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Conflict arises because we want something, someone else wants the same thing, and there’s not enough of it for everyone — so we fight to see who gets to have it. But when we do so, it shows where our interests ultimately lie. The degree of humility James was elucidating here exhorts for a complete relinquishing of self — turning control of the direction of our lives completely over to God. It entails consciously choosing to promote God’s glory rather than seeking to further our own agendas. The Kingdom of God is spiritual, and spacious enough to accommodate all who earnestly desire to enter it. In it there is no scarcity — so if seeking it is our focus, we need not quarrel over the things of this life. We need to learn to make ourselves small and stop seeking personal greatness. We should be content with what God provides, leaving concern for material blessings to the children of the world; because God’s children have a far greater inheritance.
A final point on this before moving on: life never works out according to our plans 100% of the time, because our plans aren’t consistent with God’s plans 100% of the time. How do we respond when the two are not in unity? If we should ever be displeased with the course God would have us follow, do we trust that God alone knows what is best? Or do we insist upon having our own way, and seek to flee from His will, like Jonah did? Are we humble enough to “allow” God to remain sovereign? If we truly desire to serve God with our life, we must be continually willing to submit our will in order to bring it into alignment with His.
Returning back to Hebrews 6:1, we see that it is an outline of the doctrinal progression which forms the backbone of Christianity. A doctrine is a teaching: and just as one does not begin to build upon quicksand, a teacher cannot teach successfully unless the student is willing to learn. God is the ultimate teacher, and His lessons are intended to make us more like His Son; but it is only through humility that we are made capable of understanding His instructions. And yet no matter how much God may open our hearts and minds to receive and understand the truth, there is still so little that we can truly, fully know. It takes humility to accept that fact, and also to acknowledge God as the source of all of our talents and abilities; whereas pride reverences the gift above the Giver. Humility keeps our focus on God, from Whom every good and perfect gift proceeds.
As an example of one such gift, turn back to James again, this time to chapter 1, verse 5, where we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Solomon is an excellent illustration of this, and his story helps to illuminate the difference between the natural abilities God supplies to all men via his general providence, and those which He bestows supernaturally, through His spirit. When God appeared to Solomon and told him to ask for whatever he wanted, Solomon said, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chr. 1:7-10) It’s clear from his petition that Solomon already possessed wisdom. He recognized that it was God’s people that he had the responsibility to lead, not his own. He also had the wisdom to know what he ought to ask for. But it was humility that enabled him to realize that the wisdom he already possessed was insufficient, in view of the stewardship committed to his care. And after receiving his request, he would have recognized within himself, that he had now been given something which could not have been obtained from any other source. As a result of Solomon’s humility, we are given this record of his life:
“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. All the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift — articles of silver and gold, and robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.” (2 Chr. 9:22-24)
And just as it was with Solomon, because God is first faithful to us in supplying our need, our faith in Him is built as we receive the answers to our petitions.
Another testament to the value and importance of humility can be found in the summary statement regarding the life of Moses from Deut. 34:10-12:
“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt — to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Moses, through his submission to the LORD, was empowered to show and display the mighty works of God. He was entrusted with a service to God that has never been duplicated. God’s mighty power and miraculous deeds are intended to showcase the love that he has for His children, and draw the hearts and minds of men to Him. Is it reasonable, then, to assume that God would entrust the highest offices of His service to those who seek their own glory, rather than His? I believe that it is no coincidence that it was also written that “…Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Num. 12:3)
These two accounts illustrate two principles pertaining to humility that tie in to and complement each other. From God’s dealing with Solomon, we see that when we are humble enough to acknowledge our deficiencies, and we look to God for aid, God is faithful to supply our need. The person who desires to serve God must first recognize their own inadequacy for doing so, and must petition God that He would grant them the capacity to accomplish more for Him. But the more pride a person possesses, the less they look to God for help because they lack a sense of need. So, in addition to the characteristics already discussed, humility also keeps us diligent, because it allows us to recognize that our best will never be perfect in this life, and will always fall short of the holiness of God. The second, shown in the life of Moses, teaches that as we become more and more humble, we can be entrusted with greater and greater responsibilities.
Proverbs 16:18 states, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (And the landing is rarely soft!) So to summarize, humility is like a fence restraining us from overstepping our boundaries. If we pick its locks, and trespass in pride’s territory, we will be walking in the same path that caused Lucifer to be cast out of the presence of God. Humility impacts all aspects of a Christian life. It is required in order to acknowledge the need for a Savior for sins — so enjoying a right relationship with God is predicated upon having it — it’s also what makes repentance possible; it stimulates faith; and it opens the door to being entrusted with greater responsibilities in service to God.
In conclusion, Jesus, the Christ, is King of kings and Lord of lords. Though he is greater than all but the Father, He completely emptied himself of self-consideration, temporarily leaving His Father’s side to die for us, so that we might be able to enter back into the presence of God along with him. Let each of us be ever mindful of that sacrifice and go forward putting into practice the type of humility which he so perfectly modeled for us, as it is written:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1-11)