The Bible tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). But humility is a difficult virtue to get right. It’s often misunderstood as the attribute of doormats and people who can’t speak up for themselves.
When we talk about humility, it’s often as if it’s the opposite of confidence and being mindful of ourselves and our own needs.
Thankfully, we have a model for humility in Jesus. He personified the humble character that God expects from us, and He wasn’t a wallflower who lacked self-confidence.
Paul teaches the Philippian church about Jesus’ meekness when he says:
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” —Philippians 2:3–11.
Here are five tips for walking humbly that we can learn from this passage:
1. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
Our intentions matter. We’re not to make decisions based on our prominence or how it will make us appear—even when the action is right.
For instance, Jesus discusses the pharisaical tendency to pray to be heard by others (Matthew 6:5), giving publicly to be honored by others (Matthew 6:2–4), or fasting in a way that draws attention to themselves (Matthew 6:16). Obviously, praying, giving, and fasting are necessary disciplines, but they diminish in value when we become the focus.
We need to cultivate a healthy self-awareness that helps us see when we’re doing things to promote and elevate ourselves.
2. Value others more highly than ourselves
Jesus shows us what’s expected of us when He says, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:12–13).
Laying down your life for another is the highest expression of love because it’s the ultimate expression of placing someone else above you. But most of us won’t ever be exposed to an opportunity to die in another’s place.
Instead, we’ll need to place others above our comfort and convenience. Humility is found when we’re willing to serve when it’s inconvenient and when the personal cost is high. And let’s be honest; until we learn to do that, we’ll never be ready to lay our lives down for another.
3. Care about the interests of others
In Galatians, Paul tells us that the law of Christ is fulfilled as we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). What’s truly amazing is that when we’re all committed to carrying each other’s burdens, our own burdens become lighter.
But caring about the interests of others isn’t as easy as it sounds. We’re hardwired to put ourselves first and to see everything else through a lens of our needs, desires, and wants. It takes genuine effort to train ourselves to take a step back and truly care about the experiences and troubles of others.
4. Use your position for the advantage of others
It’s hard to fathom the idea that the God of the universe would care enough about us to abandon His throne, put on flesh, enter our experience, and allow us to put Him to death. As Paul points out, Jesus "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage" (Philippians 2:6).
It’s easy for us to assume that any privileges or authority we have, we’ve earned. They’re ours to milk so that we can get the most possible enjoyment and fulfillment out of them. But when we look at Jesus’ example, we see that we’re becoming humble when we give up our rights or entitlements to serve others.
5. Be willing to take the lowest position
Humility isn’t just a posture or a frame of mind: it’s action. We might fool ourselves into thinking we’re more humble than we are, but it becomes a lot more obvious when we look at our choices.
Are we willing to do the difficult jobs and tasks that no one wants? If you answered yes to that question, are you willing to do it without apology or excuse? If someone walked in on you cleaning a public restroom, would you be worried that they’d think you “deserve” that job? Would you feel the need to explain how you volunteered to do this so that they’d have a higher opinion of you?
Humility isn’t just about taking the lowest position, it’s also about accepting the stigma that might come with it—and that’s a much tougher pill to swallow.
Humility: the highest virtue
In “Humility” by Andrew Murray, the famed pastor said:
“Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.”
Humility is so important because it protects us from the insidiousness of pride. The danger of pride is that it’s largely invisible to us. By emulating the humility of Christ, we learn to recognize pride’s presence in our life.
Humility is a trait we all need so that we can shine the light of Christ to those we disciple, or lead in small Bible study groups. You can learn more about how to live as a missionary to those around you, by reading the We are All Missionaries guide.