The Doctrine of Humility
Tod Kennedy, July 2011
1. Introduction. Humility is a way of thinking about yourself in relation to God and others. Daniel 5.1-30 tells the story of Belshazzar. He failed to learn humility from his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar. In this context humility meant accepting God's authority over self and life (Daniel 5.20-23).
1.1. Humility is rooted in the distinctions between God and man (Daniel 5.23; Philippians 3.21). Mankind ought to be humble because we are God's creatures. God's creatures are under God's authority and Plan. God's creatures are also under creature limitations.
1.2. Humility is the opposite of pride or arrogance (Proverbs 11.2; 29.23; Daniel 4.37; James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5-6; 1 Corinthians 13.4).
1.3. Humility is the mental attitude that is required for right action within a group of believers (Philippians 2.3-8). Humility accepts the authority and organization that is necessary in any group, even the church.
1.4. "It by no means implies slavishness or servility; nor is it inconsistent with a right estimate of oneself, one's gifts and calling of God or with proper self-assertion when called for. But the habitual frame of mind of a child of God is that of one who feels not only that he owes all his natural gifts, etc, to God, but that he has been the object of undeserved redeeming love, and who regards himself as being not his own, but God's in Christ. He cannot exalt himself, for he knows that he has nothing of himself. The humble mind is thus at the root of all other graces and virtues. Self-exaltation spoils everything. There can be no real love without humility. `Love,' said Paul, `vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up' (1 Corinthians 13.4). As Augustine said, humility is first, second and third in Christianity." (W L Walker, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1957. page 1439)
2. Bible words for humility (the mental attitude) are also used for physical life (poor, undistinguished, low, oppressed). Poor, low class, oppressed people have no reason to think they are famous, distinguished, or celebrated. So the mentally humble person does not regard himself as celebrated, great, or distinguished in comparison to God.
2.1. Hebrew words include:
2.1.1. wn:[; `anav, nm, Strong’s 6035, BDB 776, poor, afflicted, humble, meek (Numbers 12.3; Ps 10.17; 69.32 H33).
2.1.2. hw:n:[} `anavah, nf, Strong’s 6038, BDB 776, humility, (Proverbs 15.33; 18.12; 22.4).
2.1.3. lp;v; sapel, vb., Strong’s 8213, BDB 1050, be or become low, be abased (Proverbs 16.19; 29.23).
2.1.4. Jd;dak, adj., Strong’s 1790, BDB 194, crushed, oppressed (Psalm 9.9; 10.18).
2.2. Aramaic words include: lpev] shepel Strong’s 8214, BDB 1117, be low, bring low, humble (Daniel 4.34; 5.19, 22; 7.24).
2.3. Greek words include
2.3.1. tapeinofrosunh, tapeinophrosune, noun, Strong’s 5012a, BAG 804, humility, modesty. It is a way of thinking about yourself (Acts 20.19; Ephesians 4.2; Philippians 2.3; Colossians 2.18.23; 3.12; 1 Peter 5.5).
2.3.2. tapeinow, tapeinos, adj., Strong’s 5011, BAG 804 1. of position, power and esteem means low position, poor, lowly, undistinguished, of no account. 2. of emotional states and ways of thinking, in a bad sense pliant, subservient, abject. In a good sense humble (James 4.6; 1 Peter 5.5).
2.3.3. tapeinwsi~, tapeinosis, noun, Strong’s 5014, BAG 805, humiliation as an experience, humility, humble station (James 1.10; Luke 1.48).
2.3.4. tapeinow, tapeinoo, verb, Strong’s 5013, BAG 804 1. Lit. to make low, lower 2. fig., to humble, humiliate by assigning to a lower place (2 Corinthians 12.21), make humble in a good sense (James 4.10; 1 Peter 5.6).
3. One learns humility by being under authority. We learn humility by accepting God's authority and then obeying Him. When you accept God's authority you want to know what He says. You then think and do what He says. You live in God's day to day plan (Philippians 2.8; 4.11-12; James 4.10).
3.1. Humility is a mental attitude which Jesus demonstrated, and it begins in the heart (Matthew 11.29).
3.2. God planned that humility be a part of our lives (Ephesians 4.2): toward God (1 Kings 21.29; 2 Chronicles 7.14; James 4.10; 1 Peter 5.6) and toward people (Romans 12.16; Ephesians 4.2; Philippians 2.3; 1 Peter 3.8; 5.5).
3.3. God will humble every person when Christ returns to earth (Isaiah 2.11).
4. Humility demonstrated
4.1. A child under authority is an illustration of humility. They are not interested in greatness. They are not interested in impressing another. They willingly submit to the master (Matthew 18.1-4).
4.2. Moses, a believer with great authority, knowledge, leadership, and experience, was a humble man (Numbers 12.3).
4.3. Christ demonstrated humility by becoming a man, living under God the Father's plan, and dying on the cross for sins (Matthew 11.29; Philippians 2.8; Acts 8.33).
5. Humility should characterize our service to the Lord (Acts 20:19; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 12:21; James 4.11).
5.1. The humble person is not concerned about who gets the credit. He is concerned about doing his job for the Lord (Acts 20.19; 2 Corinthians 11.7).
5.2. God humbles a believer in ministry through the spiritual failures of those under his ministry. The failures remind the servant that ministry is a spiritual battle. He is helpless by himself. He needs divine resources (2 Corinthians 12.21).
5.3. People can practice a show off kind of outward humility. This may have religious motives. It is really pride. It has no godly value (Colossians 2.18, 23).
6. Humility results in blessing.
6.1. Humility makes you teachable. You are able to listen to the teaching of the Word of God and profit from it (James 1.21).
6.2. Humility makes spiritual growth possible (Proverbs 22.4; Phil 2.8; James 1.21).
6.3. True humility always precedes true honor (Proverbs 15.33; 18.12; 1 Peter 5.6). The law of sow/reap.
6.4. The humble person has the capacity to appreciate God’s blessings to him (James 4.6, 10; 1 Peter 5.5-6).
6.5. God exalts or promotes the humble (Matthew 23.12; Luke 1.48-52; 14.11; 18.14; James 4.10).
7. Summary about humility
7.1. Humility identifies the way you think about yourself in relation to God and others. You think about yourself the way God thinks about you. You accept God's direct and delegated authority over self and life.
7.2. Humility recognizes the distinctions between God and man. Humility agrees with the distinctions between God and man. Mankind is undistinguished from God's point of view. Mankind is undistinguished by himself because he is totally dependent upon God, who created and designed mankind. This is true whether one has great human ability or very little ability.
7.3. Humility is not a negative such as down grading yourself, thinking you cannot do anything, or a lack of confidence.
7.4. Believers are in God’s great plan. Believers have a spiritual heritage, a mission and ministry, and a confident expectation that God will do what he has said he will do in time and eternity. The believer has tremendous potential through God's assets and power, but by himself he is nothing in the plan of God.
8. Conclusion about humility. We all need humility and the blessings of humility. We gain humility by learning to live under authority—God's direct authority under the laws of creation, God's direct authority through the Bible, and God’s delegated authority and will for society, family, and the local church.