Truth for Young Believers – Humility: The Chief of All Virtues

I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Rom 12:3).[1]

Augustine, writing in the 4th century, said very astutely that “humility is the foundation of all the other virtues.” Just as I would make the case that pride is at the heart of every form of sin, so humility is really at the root of all that is positive and godly in our lives, marriages, families and assemblies.

Of course, it would be helpful at the start to provide a definition of humility. If you were to consult a dictionary, you may read that humility is “freedom from pride or arrogance.” This is somewhat helpful as a rough understanding but fails to convey the biblical usage. It is helpful to identify what original word or words were used in Scripture, and see how they would have been understood or how else they might be used in Scripture. In Colossians 3:12, for example, Paul instructs the believers to put on a number of qualities, including “humility.” This word, translated from the Greek tapeinophrosune, means to have “lowliness of mind.” How does this help us in our understanding?

I should first make clear that humility is not thinking less of yourself, in some sort of exercise in low self-esteem, nor is it an outward performance before others. Perhaps the best explanation of this lowliness of mind can be found in Paul’s exhortation to the Romans: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (12:3). Well, then, you might say, “How high ought we to think? Is that not subjective?” I would argue that humility is having the correct view, God’s view, of ourselves, our worth and our abilities, especially in comparison to Him. It is an acknowledgement of God’s greatness, power and sovereignty. This understanding should then cultivate a humble attitude, a “lowliness of mind,” which then manifests itself in our response to God and our actions toward others.

God Values Humility

Humility is not something that is valued in society. Our western culture’s materialism and ego-centric social media infatuation show the opposite – that pride is the driving force. But our ways are not God’s ways, and so it should be no surprise that, in fact, humility is something God values highly. How do we know this? I will offer you three reasons:

Direct statements in Scripture – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6); Christ’s teaching in Mat 20:26: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

Examples in Scripture – There are ample examples in Scripture of James 4:6 in action: Jonah, David, Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, the nation of Israel, etc.

Example of Christ Himself – In God the Son we have the ultimate example of humility: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:8).

In the next installment I want to show how this virtue of humility, which is so important to God, should be lived out in our daily lives – how it impacts our approach to the Word of God, our walk with God and our witness to others.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.