Humility is an attitude that is missing in many Christian leaders and believers today. Boasting and arrogance have become the new normal in God’s house and it needs to be exposed and removed. In order to effectively reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, your life and ministry must line up with the truth of His Word.
Arrogance is not cool. It is not a sign of faith or boldness. Nor does it prove you are gifted (empowered by God’s Holy Spirit). It produces many harmful results, which we will look at here.
James 3:13-15 NLT If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. (14) But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. (15) For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.
Humility Comes from Wisdom
Arrogance is not godly. It is not a work of His Spirit. James makes that so clear. First of all this sin starts with selfish ambition. It’s revealed when you deliberately do things to be noticed, praised and promoted. Then jealousy follows close behind because you don’t want to share recognition or responsibility with anyone else. Most of all, you want to be the top dog, the one in charge. No one should even dare to touch your “kingdom”.
However, if you are wise and understand God’s ways, you reveal a level of righteous behavior that comes from living an honorable life. You do good works motivated by humility. Therefore, receiving the applause of men or being recognized by others is not your motivation. What stirs your heart is pleasing God. You may even serve in secret, doing things behind the scenes that no one ever notices.
If you are caught up in selfish ambition you may even lie about your accomplishments and exaggerate the truth. You may expect compliments to follow every deed. Bragging about your perceived authority and importance will be evident. You may even feel that the success of the church rises and falls on your amazing deeds. Truly, this is a sad way to live. Ultimately, if you do these things you are most likely very insecure and struggle with rejection issues. You over-compensate by excessive boasting and flashy activity to make sure you stand out.
This type of behavior is earthly. It’s not the attitude of heaven. It comes from the heart of a sinful man who turns away from the light of truth to darkness. A heart of arrogance is not inspired by God’s Spirit at all but is very unspiritual. Jesus doesn’t rule that kind of heart. Instead, you see the full manifestation of the sinful human nature in all its glory. James even called it demonic. Its source of power is hell and it has no connection to God whatsoever. These are bold declarations but they reveal how God feels about arrogance. It has no place in our lives.
The Source of Disorder and Evil
James 3:16-18 NLT For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. (17) But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. (18) And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
Disorder and evil of every kind take place in your life and your church when there are jealousy and selfish ambition. While you may think you’re doing a great work for God and are very effective, His Word says “evil is present.” God’s government, His rule, cannot exist in this environment. Leaders who display these traits bring disorder and evil into their church. God simply does not bless those who do these things.
The Way Up is Down – True Humility
In God’s Kingdom order the only way to promotion is through humility.
James 4:10 NIV Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
The New Testament part of the Bible was originally written in Greek. The word translated humility in these verses is prautēs, which means mildness, humility, meekness. It’s not weakness. It’s an attitude that says, “I am nothing, but Jesus in me is awesome.” It seeks no recognition, but rather finds opportunities to build up others. It doesn’t need the praise of people to thrive because praising Jesus is the main focus of life. It is that life which gets lifted up and rewarded by God.
Matthew 18:1-4 NLT About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” (2) Jesus called a little child to Him and put the child among them. (3) Then He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. (4) So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Isn’t it interesting? Even the disciples of Jesus wondered who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He told them it is the one who becomes humble. The original Greek word translated “humble” here is tapeinoō which means to depress, to humiliate in condition or heart, or to bring low. Depress doesn’t mean sadness, it means to make yourself smaller. It’s the opposite of being puffed up or arrogant. We need to learn how to keep ourselves small, humble our hearts and take the low place.
The Donkey – Not the Chariot
Leaders who run big organizations with lots of responsibility must also make themselves low. Not to diminish their authority, but to exercise their authority from a heart of lowness, knowing they are nothing and Jesus is everything. God can powerfully use someone with a heart like that.
Matthew 21:1-7 NLT As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. (2) “Go into the village over there,” He said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to Me. (3) If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” (4) This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, (5) “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey–riding on a donkey’s colt.'” (6) The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. (7) They brought the donkey and the colt to Him and threw their garments over the colt, and He sat on it.
This is a great example of Jesus’ humility. In fulfillment of ancient prophecy (Zechariah 9:9) He humbly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. Jesus didn’t even ride the adult donkey, but instead, rode the smallest. Then He came into the city to die on the cross and become the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. To be sure, He is the Son of God, but He didn’t ride in a gold-plated chariot with a hired driver and a team of the biggest, strongest horses in the Roman Empire. Rather, He rode the colt of a donkey. He took the low place.
Even at His birth, He was born in a stable and laid in a food bin used to feed animals. The Greek word from the original language translated as humility in verse 5 is praus, which means mild, humble, meek. In fact, He never tried to impress anyone or exalt Himself. Jesus took the low place.
This attitude of humility is so opposite of what many preachers (and believers) do today. They demand to have the best, biggest, and most expensive. In addition, they usually need to prove their success by their possessions, position, paycheck, and power. Like any celebrity, they enjoy being in the spotlight. Television, radio, and the internet make them accessible to millions and they love that. Consequently, the ministry is really all about them. Their work, their image, and their popularity. Where is the humility of Jesus?
Don’t Follow Their Example
Here is a portion of the Bible that explains this kind of attitude perfectly.
Matthew 23:1-12 NLT Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples, (2) “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. (3) So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.
(4) They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. (5) “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. (6) And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. (7) They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’
(8) “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. (9) And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. (10) And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. (11) The greatest among you must be a servant. (12) But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Jesus told the people to listen to the teachers of the Word of God (Bible), but He cautioned them not to follow their example. Sometimes leaders don’t practice what they teach. I have personally met and worked with leaders who had these flaws:
- Crushing people with unbearable religious demands and burdens but don’t like to fulfill those same obligations.
- Doing everything for show. “Hey, look at me! I’m amazing!”
- They dress to be noticed, acting like they are better than the rest.
- Sitting in seats of honor. “I’m upfront. I’m in charge.” Have you ever seen those “thrones” some churches have for the pastors to sit in at the front of the sanctuary? WHY?
- They love to be greeted in public and called by religious titles!
Jesus taught we should not use titles because “all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.” (vs. 8) He doesn’t want us to call a religious leader “Father” because it detracts from God’s place as our Father. He doesn’t want us to call any leader “Rabbi” or “Teacher” because that title belongs to our great teacher and Messiah, Jesus. Obviously, many church leaders have much to learn about humility.
Who is the Greatest?
In verses 11 and 12, He makes three more powerful points. First, the greatest among you must be a servant – a position. Second, the humble will be exalted – a promise. Third, those who exalt themselves will be humbled – a warning. Those who lead must do so from a heart of humility, like a servant (or slave), not a dictator or narcissist. The only greatness you receive when you exalt yourself is your own. That will crumble eventually. If you don’t jump down off the pedestal you put yourself on, God will eventually knock you off of it, for your sake and for those the sake of those you lead.
Philippians 2:3-11 NLT Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. (4) Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (5) You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (6) Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (7) Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, (8) He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
(9) Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is God’s Word, not mine. Get a grip on reality here and make a decision to live in the truth and power of the Word. Lose the selfishness. In addition, stop trying to impress people with your greatness, your talent, your wisdom or your money. Instead, look out for the interests of others, not just your own.
We must have the attitude of Jesus. He gave up His place with God as an equal in the heavenly realms. Then He humbled himself and came to earth as a human being, a very low place for a deity. In order to pay the price for your sins, He died, falsely accused as a criminal. From that place of death and lowness God raised Him up and gave Him the place of highest honor. His name is above every other name. It is important to realize that if you want to succeed in God’s Kingdom you must follow the path Jesus showed us. The way UP is down. Humble yourself.
Always be Humble
Ephesians 4:1-2 NLT Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (2) Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
Live a life worthy of your calling. You are called to represent Jesus on this earth, especially to those who don’t know Him. He wants you to always be humble and gentle. To be patient with others in the church, in the family, and on the job. Love people so much that you make allowances for their faults.
1 Peter 3:8 NLT Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.
Unity, sympathy and loving each other like brothers and sisters is the emphasis Peter made here. We are also commanded to be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude. Is your heart tender? Or is it hard? What’s your attitude like? Is it humble? Or is it gushing with arrogance and selfish ambition?
Don’t get on the wrong side of God. In 1 Peter 5:5-6 the apostle declares that we must “serve each other in humility, for God opposes the proud but favors the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time, He will lift you up in honor.” So don’t get in a situation where God will have to oppose you. Instead, humble yourself and at the right time, He will lift you up in honor. Not in your time, but His time. He will do it His way, not your way.
Examine yourself honestly. Does any of this reveal the condition of your heart? If it does you must rid yourself of arrogance. It’s your only hope. Also, walking in humility is the way to truly prove you belong to Him. It is the key to being effective in your leadership and in your home. Humble yourself and serve others. Put their needs above your own. Then watch God move in your life in a powerful way.