The character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love. At one time I counted fifty instances of love taught, either by precept or example, in the New Testament; I counted forty instances of humility. I regard these two traits as the foundational stones of Christian character. All other character traits, in one way or another, are built upon love and humility.
Yet we so seldom hear any message or read any books on these two subjects. I think this is because they are so intimidating to us. Any honest Bible teacher, whether in speaking or in writing, realizes how far short he or she comes to exemplifying either of these character traits, so there is a reluctance to teach on a subject where one has made so little progress. For years I was hesitant to teach on 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter, and I felt an even greater hesitancy to write on humility, lest I appear to be saying, “I am a humble person.”
I eventually learned that the job of Bible teachers is to point to Scripture, not to ourselves. We can do this with love because we can point to 1 Corinthians 13 and say, “This is what love looks like in everyday life.” But until recently I could never point to a single passage of Scripture and say, “This is what humility looks like.”
Then a request to write a short article on the Beatitudes caused me to study them really for the first time. As I did so, I thought, these expressions of Christian character are a description of humility in action. At last, I thought, here is an objective description outside of myself that I can point to and say, “That’s what humility looks like. That is humility in action in everyday life.”
Of course 1 Corinthians 13 is not an exhaustive treatment of love. And the Beatitudes are not an exhaustive treatment of humility. But both give us a good place to start. And the truth is, none of us will ever attain perfection in the traits that are mentioned. So keep in mind, I am not saying, “This is who I am,” but “This is who I would like to be, and I am praying that I will grow in these traits, even as I pray you will also.” So let’s work on them together.
As we study these traits in the Beatitudes, we need to keep in mind several truths:
First, all Christians are meant to display these characteristics. They reflect qualities of a normal Christian life. They are for the plumber as well as the preacher, for the manager in business as well as the missionary on the mission field. No one is so high in social or economic status in this world, or gifted in ministry, that these Beatitudes do not apply to him or her. Rather they are meant to be seen in the life of every Christian, without exception.
Furthermore, these characteristics are not meant to be reflective of our personalities, or temperaments, or even spiritual giftedness. Some people are naturally more self-effacing than others; some Christians have the gift of mercy and others do not. But none of the traits demonstrated in the Beatitudes are about personality or temperament or spiritual gifts. They are what Paul, in Galatians 5:22-23, calls the fruit of the Spirit; the results of His work in our lives.
Third, our progress in growth in these traits does not determine our acceptance with God, either in our eternal salvation or in our day-to-day standing with Him. It is Christ’s righteousness, not our own, that makes us acceptable to God day after day (more about this in chapter ten.) I can guarantee you that if you are honest with yourself and you let the Beatitudes search you, you will see yourself to be a greater sinner than you thought yourself to be. And when that happens you must flee to the righteousness of Christ to keep from becoming discouraged.
The fourth truth is that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for any progress we make. We are dependent on Him to work in us, and we are dependent on Him to enable us to work because His work makes possible our work (more on this in chapter ten).
So in dependence on the righteousness of Christ and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, let’s be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
- Let’s “hide” or “store up” these words in our hearts (Psalm 119:11).
- Let’s pray over these traits, asking God to show us our deficiencies and to cause us to grow in them (Psalm 119:33-37).