There was a refreshing opinion piece in last week’s local paper: “What politicians can learn from the Boy Scouts.” The author argued that we should evaluate political candidates against the character qualities listed in the Boy Scout Law: Are they trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent? What a great checklist.
These traits are all commended in the Bible, and according to Jerry Bridges, the recently deceased writer and theologian, they, like all godly character traits, are grounded in one other attribute: humility. According to Bridges, the New Testament talks about humility some 40 times (only love is mentioned more), and throughout one thing seems clear: If we’re to exhibit the character that pleases God — and that reflects the character of Christ’s coming kingdom — we must be humble.
God initiates a relationship — not with the rich and influential — but with lowly people. And then becomes their chief encourager.
That’s why the Apostle Paul urged his readers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:1-2). Humility, then, must be evident in our everyday lives — to our colleagues, our family, the cashier at the grocery store, and the waitress at our favorite restaurant.
If we’re God’s people — here to provide a foretaste of the world to come — we exhibit humility. A “worthy walk,” Paul says — meaning a consequential life — is distinguished by humility.
For Paul’s first readers this likely struck a dissonant chord, just as it does for most people today. In Paul’s time humility meant weakness. And anyone who aspired to be gentle and patient wasn’t likely to be a social or cultural heavyweight in the world Rome ruled.
This every-man-for-himself setting led Paul to write the Philippians, telling them, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). It’s why he told the Colossians to “put on humility” (Colossians 3:12). And why Peter wrote, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).
Paul and Peter make it clear: If we’re to thrive in the world God rules, we’re to pursue humility.
Jesus Provides an Illustration
In Luke 14:7-15, Jesus was at a dinner party. Some of the other guests tended to have a high view of themselves, so He told a parable. He explained that if someone were invited to a wedding feast they’d be foolish to take a place of honor. Someone more distinguished might show up, He said, and you’d be embarrassed when the host asked you to move. You’d be wiser to take the lowest place. Then, when the host escorts you to a more prominent position, you’ll be honored in front of everyone.
Jesus closed the story saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The principles of Christ’s kingdom often seem counterintuitive. God commands us to be humble and then, in the same breath, promises to give us power, position,
In 1 Peter 5:5-6, for example, we’re commanded to clothe ourselves in humility. And then comes the promise: When we’re humble before others, “God gives us grace to the humble,” meaning He gives us the power to live God-pleasing lives (see 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:9). And when we’re humble before God, He grants us glory.
Humility in the Old Testament
We see this in the Old Testament, too. In Isaiah 57:15, for instance, we read, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted-up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy places, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”
The all-knowing and all-powerful God initiates a cherished relationship, not with the rich and influential, but with lowly people. And then He becomes their chief encourager.
Isaiah 66:1-2 begins by describing God’s infinite glory: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. … All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be.'”
Whose company does He value most? “This is the one to whom I will look,” He says, “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
If we hope to vote for candidates who are trustworthy, loyal, and helpful; if we long for neighbors who are friendly, courteous, and kind; if we want our kids and grandkids to be obedient, cheerful, thrifty, and brave; and if we hope for a society that is clean and reverent, we must — by God’s grace and power — first become humble.
Our humility must be evident to our colleagues, our family, the cashier at the grocery store, and the waitress at our favorite restaurant.