Someone shared this passage with us recently:
Solomon was the king – having inherited the throne from his father, David. The previous few chapters tell the incredible story of how Solomon gathered the resources to build the Temple. Here, as he dedicated the Temple to the glory of God, he did something rather unexpected from a monarch – he humbled himself before the Lord and the people – and on a platform about 2.3 metres high so everyone could see him!
Solomon had every justification to be proud of himself at such a great achievement, but he knew that the only way up was the way down!
There's an idea floating around today that must grieve the heart of God. It's this idea that true humility means you have to conjure up a kinder, gentler version of yourself so we can all just get along. It's a humility that says you have to sit on the fence, not offend anyone, and "be nice" with everyone. Am I to believe that John the Baptist was not humble because he confronted the Pharisees and called them snakes? Did Paul lack humility because he appeared to be unkind when he sharply confronted the Judaizers in Galatia and hinted they should all do themselves bodily harm? In addition, in the Old Testament the Prophets of God probably never understood the concept. Where was Elijah's humility when he confronted Ahab and Jezebel, and slew the false prophets of Baal? Surely Elijah wasn't putting forth his best efforts to get along.
An Internet site defines humility like this:
"Humility n. the state or quality of being humble"
"Humble adj. 1. Having or showing awareness of one's defects; not proud; not self-assertive 2. Low in condition or rank; lowly"
Now we have a problem. The Dictionary gives me definitions that don't seem to go along with the Biblical information I have. Should I assume that men in scripture who followed the Lord and served Him faithfully were used even though they seemed to lack this quality? I mean, here we have people questioning other people’s motives, resisting authority, being sarcastic and unkind, and even killing people!
The contradiction comes from the fact that God did not write the Dictionary! Is the definition wrong? No, not technically. At least, not if you're trying to define it from the context of morality or worldly reason.
Let me try to explain what I mean. The definitions above describe a quality that can easily be misunderstood. In our world, apply a little wrong thinking and humility becomes weakness, compromise, accommodation, or peace at any cost, something to be avoided, if you plan to get ahead in the world. The world-view is that humility is a sign of weakness. I suspect it's just the opposite. That's usually the case when you're dealing with the world's opinions.
The definitive passage on humility has to be Philippians 2. The full passage runs from verse 1, all the way to verse 16. In the midst of Paul's presentation, he offers Jesus as the supreme example. This is verse 8:
"And after He had come to earth in human form (as if that weren't enough), He humbled Himself in an even greater way, by carrying His obedience to the Father to the fullest extreme - through His willingness to die on the cross!"
What is Paul saying? And what are we missing? Let's revisit the dictionary definition. Is humility the simple understanding that we're not everything God wants us to be? Does that make me humble? O K, so I won't be self-assertive. Does that make me humble? Some would say it only proves I'm lazy. Can I cultivate the attitude that everyone else is better than I am, or more important? Then will I be humble? I don't think so. If I try to blend into the landscape, not give anyone a problem, not offend any brothers or sisters, then will I be humble? I don’t think so.
Jesus proved His humility by the death He was willing to die. John the Baptist died because of his humility. Paul eventually died because of his humility. Scores of great people in the Bible, and countless others we've never heard about, have died because of their humility. Elijah was spared physical death (even though it's clear he didn't escape self-death), but not because he lacked humility! In the case of Elijah, you just have to accept the sovereignty of God. God does what He wants to do. In this world, there's a good chance this is true - Christ-like humility will get you in trouble, not keep you out of it.
So,what is it? How can we define humility? It is simply the willingness to be obedient to the will of the Father, regardless of personal cost. Understand this, your humility will never depend on what people think of you, or what they say about you. That is irrelevant. Your humility will always be founded on what God thinks of you. Humility has nothing to do with men's opinions. And it’s not based on their selfish sentiments. That's why the dictionary definition is wrong.
Does God put a requirement on us that says if you're going to be humble, you can never offend? John the Baptist spoke the truth, offended a woman, and lost his head. When the Pharisees heard about it, they probably celebrated, because poor John had offended most of them too! Nevertheless, in reality he was only standing for what was right. That's what God called him to do. His obedience cost him everything, except early entrance into the presence of God (not a bad deal, when you think about it). When Paul met the Lord on the road to Damascus,he said, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" This began Paul's life of humility, suffering and personal deprivation. Did he make enemies? Did he offend? Did he see the need to confront? Yes, to all that and more. But, was he humble? Of course he was. It was his humility that caused all those things to happen!
Humility doesn't come easy. You'll never be truly humble if you think you are. You'll never be humble because others say you are. I don't know how long it takes to become humble. I don't know what God will require of us as He forms this humility in us. I can tell you where I believe the process starts. It starts in following the instructions of Jesus found in Mark 8:34. Here's a paraphrase.
"Then Jesus turned to the crowd that had been following Him and said, If you intend to go the same way I'm going (the way to the Father), you'll have let go of your own self-interests every day and submit your life completely to God.You'll have to take up your cross every day as well, so you can die to self - your flesh has to go. And you'll have to follow me continually. I'll have to show you the way, you'll never find it on your own."
True humility comes when you're dead to self and alive to God. It manifests when your own self-interests are gone, and you're focused only on the purposes of God. Like Jesus, we prove our humility through our willingness to die. Humility will probably take us places we don't want to go, to do things we don't want to do. Nevertheless, we'll go. Moreover, we'll be obedient. If we know in our heart and in our spirit that God has raised us up, trained us and hardened us, not for our purposes, but for His. In addition, we won't abuse people just because we want to or because we can. The very idea will be repugnant. And, we'll be obedient to a Holy God, regardless of the cost.
There are people out there who are determined to do what they want to do with their lives, with their money, with their relationships, with everything that constitutes their existence. They give lip service to God, show some interest in the things of God, and fit Him in wherever it's convenient. But, they betray God and themselves continually by their lukewarm lives. They have no intention of ever submitting to Him, no intention of forcing themselves to sacrifice their precious lifestyles to follow God, and no intention of dying to self.They want to believe that it's OK. I'm reminded of the verse in Revelation 20:12 that tells us that the day will come when the books are opened and we'll be judged according to what has been recorded in the books. When my name comes up, I hope it says something about my willingness to be obedient.