The fruit of humility, part 1
We are involved in a study of the fruits of the Spirit. Before we even began to delve into the specific fruits, we took a time-out to lay out some of the basic principles of the doctrine of grace. The primary reason for that detour was so that we would understand the fruits of the Spirit in proper perspective.
In other words, that even as we exhort one another to live lives of virtue and even as we encourage one another to strive to produce these fruits in our life that we would all understand clearly that all that we do is due to the grace of God. We have all declared “chapter seven spiritual bankruptcy,” remember?
As we study the various fruits of the Spirit, we will all be seeking to implement them in a greater way in our daily lives. But whatever is praiseworthy in our Christian walk, it is because of the grace of God causing us to desire to do it in the first place and then enabling us to actually perform it. Whatever virtues we possess, it is not a cause for our boasting of our great spiritual status.
We are nothing in and of ourselves. We are nothing except what God deigns to make us and to give to us out of His gracious loving kindness. This applies to all the fruits of the Spirit. And it should become unmistakably obvious today as we study the fruit or virtue of humility. The apostle Paul writes in
NKJ 1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
If love is the chief of all virtues, then humility is its handmaiden. Love cannot truly be love without humility because love flows through humility. All the other fruits and virtues likewise flow through humility.
One of the great doctors of the early church, John Chrysostom, said it this way: “Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”
Over the past many years, we have often spoken of being an overcomer. It has become apparent to me that there is a thread of continuity that runs through and ties humility with forgiveness, grace, jubilee and overcomership. We have often stated that to be an overcomer, one must apply the principle of jubilee. That means we must be forgivers.
Being forgivers means giving grace to others, to those who have offended us. Remember the definition of grace? It is unmerited favor. In other words, perhaps the person who has offended you does not deserve your favor; but that is exactly what it means to show grace. Isn’t that what our Father does for us?
We will show later the link between humility and forgiveness, and thus demonstrate the thread which ties humility to being an overcomer. So, if you are striving to be an overcomer, the fruit of humility must be evident in your character.
Let’s begin though, by looking at Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition for the word humility. For the word humility, it says: “1. In ethics, freedom from pride and arrogance; humbleness of mind; a modest estimate of one’s own worth. In theology, humility consists of lowliness of mind; a deep sense of one’s own unworthiness in the sight of God, self-abasement, penitence for sin, and submission to the divine will.”
Humble, humility—two forms of the same word. To be humble is to possess humility; although, in the KJV, this is sometimes expressed as “lowly” or “lowliness of mind.” For example, we find Paul writing to the church at Ephesus.
Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love
Let’s compare and contrast humility with humiliation. Up until quite recently, to humiliate had only one basic meaning, which was right in line with being humble. To humiliate simply meant: to lower in condition. Thus, in theology when we speak of the humiliation of Christ, it refers to the entire earthly life of our Lord. He lowered His Godhood into a lower condition: manhood. That was His humiliation.
In the past couple of decades or more, however, the word humiliation has come to have other and more negative connotations. Now it also carries with it the meaning of degrading someone or of being degraded by someone. This degrading or debasing may or may not be justified, but it causes shame or embarrassment.
Let me give you a couple of illustrations of humiliation as it is now more commonly understood. First, you could picture a man who humiliates his heavy-set wife in front of all her friends and relatives by giving her a bathroom scale at her birthday party. Or, you can imagine how a college professor frequently humiliates one particular student by berating him for his stupidity in front of the whole class.
To repeat, to humiliate can have either that kind of negative meaning or simply the neutral meaning of lowering one’s condition. I think it is a truth that if we do not humble ourselves, then God will do it for us; and oftentimes this comes in the form of humiliation. Here is a little example of that; and it’s a true story, as far as I know.
There was a very famous classical pianist a couple generations ago named Paderewski. And there was an American college student who considered herself quite highly skilled when it came to playing piano. Well, she went off to Europe and visited the home of Beethoven in Bonn, Germany.
She asked the guard for permission to play the piano. After she had played a few bars of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” she stopped and turned to the guard and said: “I suppose all the great pianists have played during visits here.”
“No, miss,” said the guard, “Paderewski was here two years ago but he said he was not worthy to touch it.”
As it is said: Pride goes before a fall. Actually, what the verse really says is this:
KJV Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Hopefully, the young lady learned a lesson from that incident. If she had any conscience at all, she should have blushed with shame. This next proverb was written for her at such a time.
Proverbs 11: 2 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
The word lowly there could have been translated humble. “But with the humble is wisdom.”
The virtue of humility seems to be unique among all the other virtues in that it has a paradoxical quality to it that no other fruit of the Spirit seems to have, at least none that I can think of. What I mean is that we can consider ourselves as patient without losing the virtue of patience. We can say that we are longsuffering without losing the virtue of longsuffering. These are all relatively speaking, of course. We can say that we are kind and gentle and meek without losing those virtues.
But the minute we say, even within our hearts, that “Gosh, I sure am getting humble. I am really achieving this virtue of humility,” that is the moment we are losing humility. Pride is creeping back in. That is what I mean by the paradox of humility. It is that paradox that makes it somewhat humorous to say—and you’ve heard me offer this joke before: Hey! Have you read my latest book, which is entitled: Humility and How I Achieved It?
And if you are not grinning about that, then I need to thank you for giving me an object lesson in humility.
To get serious, let’s return to the Scriptures. For the nest several essays concerning humility, we are going to be seeing how the Scriptures teach that humility is required, how that humility is rewarded and how humility is exemplified.
After that, we will discuss the very important topic of how to avoid false humility, primarily in the context of what is generally called self-esteem today. Is self-esteem good? Is self-esteem pride? What is the proper understanding of self-esteem? God sets out several of His requirements for man in the passage beginning in…
Micah 6:6 Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Brothers and sisters, do you see what that is saying? Can you see that as a reference to aborting babies? Could that be saying: I sinned and ended up pregnant; therefore I will sacrifice the baby.
shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
God will have none of it! (To be continued.)