The Lost Virtue of Humility

“Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach than humility.” –Johnathan Edwards.

The greatest influencers on my life share one common trait, humility. Pastor T.A. Duke, or as most knew him “Brother Buck,” embodied humility in a way that few ever attain. In June of 1998 he and I travelled together to Kalispell, Montana where we preached a revival at Hungry Horse Baptist Church. One morning during the trip I awakened to find that my shoes were missing. Upon further inspection I found them sitting outside my bedroom door shined and polished. Brother Buck was the consummate servant, always seeking ways to lift up those around him, even at his own expense. I still get emotional when I think of that precious elderly man sitting up late into the night polishing his youth minister’s preaching shoes.

Andy Westmoreland, a leader in Christian education and recently retired president of Samford University would often go out of his way to serve the people around him.  A few years ago in Mobile at the Alabama Baptist Convention as I was finishing up an alumni reception which I had been planning for months, I received a call that my wife would have an unexpected surgery later that afternoon. As the event ended I told Andy about the call, and asked him to pray for my wife. With a look of empathetic compassion, he placed his hand on my shoulder and prayed, and then said, “you had better hurry back to be next to her, and don’t worry about cleaning up. I will take care of it.” I tried to convince him to let me at least stay for a bit to assist in the cleanup, but he refused. As I walked out the door I watched the president of a major, world renowned university dressed in his suit, grab the garbage off the tables, tie up the trash bags and walk them out to the dumpster. I wept when I drove away as I pondered on this example of the heart of Christ. 

Finally, my mother and father, Terry and Jean Blackwell have been to me tremendous examples of selfless servants. I could tell countless stories about their servant hearts and passionate drive to not bring attention to themselves and make everyone’s life around them better.

Each of these servants have taught me valuable lessons without saying a word, mainly to strive each day to make the lives of those around me a little easier. I have yet to fully attain it.

Throughout Scripture there is a clear call to a life of humility.By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4.

Paul consistently challenged his churches on the subject with the most profound and clear call found in Philippians 2: 1-11. “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of othersPhilippians 2:3.  In this passage Paul points to Jesus as the ultimate example for the divided church, challenging them to take on the mind of Christ.

James challenges his churches in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Notice he says, “God opposes the proud.”

Peter’s statement at the end of his first epistle is cathartic and shaking, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” 1 Peter 5:6.

In 2 Chronicles 7: 13-15 humility was God’s prerequisite spiritual posture for the people before he would act to restore their land, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land, v. 14. Notice that God calls for humility before prayer, worship, and repentance. Why? Because He knew that if humility wasn’t found in their hearts the other things would never follow. Humility would precede healing for God’s people. 

Finally, Jesus gives us the ultimate example in John 13 as he takes on the role of the lowest servant. He grabs the bowl, the towel, disrobes and takes time to wash the feet of the men who, later that night, would betray him and run away. Surely his words to them in Matthew 23:12 burned in the hearts of the disciples for years to come, “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In C.S. Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity, he spends a great deal of time on the subject of pride and humility.  He describes pride as a spiritual cancer eating away at God’s work in the life of a believer.

“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free, and which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else, and of which hardly any people, except maybe some Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

He later says, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more than the next man.” Though those words were written decades ago, they remain true today and have been true since the beginning of time. I know that my perspective is somewhat pessimistic, but I believe that humility has become the lost virtue of our day. Is it any wonder that Satan used the sin of pride in the garden? Pride is the ultimate “anti-Jesus” sin, because it smacks in the face of the person and work of Christ. If you continue to climb Pride Mountain, you will eventually reach its peak labeled, “I don’t need God.”

Most people don’t recognize the cancer of pride eating at their soul. There is within each person a desire to gain success, fame and notoriety, not so much for their own self-satisfaction, but mainly as a way of outdoing others around them. Pride causes human beings to constantly compare themselves to others, striving to gain extrinsic advantages as if they are in some type of competition. This competition can be a conscience reality, or an unconscious subtle undercurrent, but yet it is undeniably real. Counter to that is the life of Jesus, who at most every moment, was busy making the lives of those around him better. We are never more like Jesus than when we are serving those around us without any expectation that the service will be reciprocated. Followers of Christ should never embrace a quid pro quo mentality.

“Humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision of all that God is.” –Andrew Murray.

How do we seek true Christ-like humility?  True humility is not something we strive for, rather it is the natural result of a close walk with Jesus.  I have found that the most humble people are not people who are trying to be humble, it is simply their natural tendency. The three men I have previously mentioned are all men who walk close to Jesus, each of which have embraced and lived out Paul’s command, “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” Phil. 2:5.  We become like the people we are closest to.

In our age of social media our concern has become even more myopic as we strive for the most followers, likes, shares and online friends. We live in a “selfie” world. If we could only for a moment, put our phones down, turn our computers off, and turn our cameras away from us, we will see a world filled with people who need the touch of the foot washing Savior.

Biblical humility is bathed in the fact that we are weak, we are precariously fragile, and our life is nothing if not lived for the glory of the one who created us. 

God has given to me great examples of humility, and for that I am grateful.  While I hope to exhibit similar attributes as Buck Duke, Andy Westmoreland, and Terry and Jean Blackwell, my ultimate goal is not to fully mimic any of these great men. My pursuit of biblical humility is to become more like Jesus, every day, all the time. It is a prayer that is constant for me. Where are the humble people today? In a selfie world, we are called to live selfless lives. Make a commitment to be more like Jesus, and in doing so humility will come. Serve someone today, not for selfish reasons, but simply because Jesus has called you to do it.

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