Early in Handel’s Messiah come these enigmatic words: “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”
What do these words from Isaiah 40:4 actually mean? They refer to a constant theme of the Bible: those who humble themselves will be exalted. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled. The book of James puts it this way, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
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Pastor D. James Kennedy once quipped, “I hope you all heard my last sermon on humility. It was a masterpiece.”
As we’re about to enter a new year, and as we consider turning over a new leaf, one thing to consider is approaching life and relationships with greater humility.
Because humility is so hard to obtain, it has some nasty, false imitations. People who are constantly putting themselves down, might think they are humble or might try to convince others that they are humble. But in reality, they may be just fishing for compliments.
Charles Dickens has a character in David Copperfield who constantly belittles himself. At first glance, Uriah Heep seems humble, but in his constant show of self-condemnation, he was actually hiding great pride. He turns out to be a scoundrel.
Playing the martyr is another form of false humility. What makes all false humility false is that it is still focused on self. Sometimes false humility is nothing but pride in disguise.
Recently I got to talk with Pat Williams on my radio show. He is the author of more than 100 books. He’s a professional sports executive (Orlando Magic), and a popular motivational speaker, as well as a dedicated Christian.
His most recent book, co-written by Jim Denney, is called, Humility: The Secret Ingredient of Success.”
After Pat told me this book was number 103 for him, I asked him how he managed to stay humble, writing so many published volumes. He answered with a laugh, “Well, until they start selling hundreds of thousands of copies, Jerry, it’s very easy to stay humble.”
I asked him what caused him to write this book? He said, “Throughout my career, I have just been so impressed with the number of humble people—and highly successful—that I have encountered or spent time with or interviewed or worked for or worked with over the years. It’s just left a deep imprint on me.”
He added, “These are legendary people in many respects, yet you’d never know it. And they have a sweet humble spirit. That has touched me deeply. So I thought it would be important to write about some of these people and more importantly, to get the point across that humility can be learned. It can be taught. We need to teach it to our children and our young athletes and our students, and I’m convinced we can do that. So I’m not minimizing the importance of success and living to your full potential; I’m all for that. But I think we can do it also with great humility.”
In the book, Williams mentions how Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, had the opportunity to meet many of the world’s great leaders. When asked, “What is the single most important trait of all great leaders?” She instantly replied, “The absence of arrogance.”
Another Christmas has just passed. The ultimate example of humility can be seen in that of Jesus Christ. We Christians believe that in becoming a man, He who is eternal and infinite at one point in history became limited by time and finite.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on the cross!” In those days, crucifixion was reserved only for slaves, about half of the Roman people.
He concludes, “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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
If you want to be great, then humble yourself, especially before God. Classic Bible commentator Matthew Henry made a fascinating remark when discussing Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount that “blessed are the poor in spirit.” He said that being “poor in spirit,” i.e., humble, is “the foundation for all Christian graces. . . . Those who would build high must begin low.”