When people think about humility, they tend to think of it as the opposite of arrogance. Biblically speaking, there is so much more to understand about humility. While Scripture does often contrast pride and humility, we also discover a rich subtext that helps broaden our perspective.
At one point, Jesus tells the disciples that “the student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24). This helps inform the way Christians should think about humility. Human beings have a particular place within God’s created order, and our posture should reflect that.
But our humility isn’t limited to our relationship with God. We’re also encouraged to demonstrate humility and mutual submission with one another. It’s not about seeing ourselves as less than others but recognizing and esteeming others, too.
Humility isn’t merely a concept. It should be evident in the way we live our lives. In everyday life, humility might look like this:
- Refusing to compare people with one another or with ourselves
- Celebrating the good fortune of others
- Exhibiting patience because we’re not the center of the universe
- Speaking encouragement into people around them
- Forgiving others and refusing to carry grudges
The Bible has a lot to say about the topic of humility, so let’s examine 10 passages to discover how God’s Word addresses this essential character trait.
1. If My people will humble themselves (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
The book of Judges sums up the problem with humanity (Judges 21:25). When left to our own devices, we do what is right in our own eyes, and the outcome is often tragic. One of the hallmarks of humility is admitting that we don’t always know what’s best, and we should submit to God’s wisdom.
In this passage of Scripture, God explains that their restoration depends upon humble submission and repentance.
2. With humility comes wisdom (Proverbs 11:2)
When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.
In his 1711 poem, An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope coined the phrase “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” His point was that rash people tend to rush into situations that wiser folks avoid. This is also true of prideful people. There’s something about pride that crowds out prudence, which eventually leads to disaster.
With humility comes the ability to see things from different points of view. Humble folks don’t assume that their opinion or understanding is completely trustworthy. They accept feedback and even criticism. This willingness to listen to other voices and weigh options puts humble people in the best position to make informed and wise decisions.
3. Humility is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 22:4)
Humility is the fear of the Lord;
its wages are riches and honor and life.
When the author of this Proverb talks about fearing the Lord, it’s not about being terrorized by the idea of God. We should fear the Lord in the same way a farmer fears living out of step with the seasons. He knows he can’t plant in the fall and harvest in the spring. He knows that he needs to store up his grain to not go hungry during the winter months.
Like the farmer, we demonstrate a healthy fear of the Lord when we recognize the dangers of ignoring His commands and living outside His created order. The end result of being aligned with the Lord is life and a healthy relationship with our Creator. When we allow ourselves to wander outside of those lines, we court personal destruction and a broken relationship with God.
4. Those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 14:7-11)
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In first-century banquet-style gatherings, the seating represented the social rank of the guests. If you were to walk into a group, you immediately recognized the most prominent and honored people by where they were placed.
Jesus watched the Pharisees pick for themselves the most important seats. It must have been a little humorous for the God of the universe to watch these guys jockey for the most critical seats available. How embarrassing would it have been if Jesus chose this moment to reveal His glory while these teachers had all taken up the most distinguished seats?
Jesus uses this as a teaching moment, and it’s interesting that He barely masks the behavior He’s calling out. He uses the example of a wedding feast, but it had to be evident that He was addressing their behavior. But He wasn’t simply pointing out how not to fall for a social faux pas; His greater point is that it’s better to humble yourself than to be humiliated.
5. Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
People were used to living in a society based on a very clear societal structure. People who decided to follow Jesus still fell back on the cultural norms they had grown accustomed to. Christians living in civilized Rome would have looked down on people from the more “backward” rural areas around Palestine.
This is Paul’s reminder that in the kingdom of God, there is no status or value based on wealth or worldly prominence-and we shouldn’t behave like there is.
6. Be completely humble and gentle (Ephesians 4:2-6)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Choosing to follow Jesus should represent a massive shift in our priorities. Instead of putting ourselves first, we’re called to put unity first. This means that we choose a posture of humility and gentleness toward others, even when it means we don’t get the recognition we believe we might deserve.
This unity is essential to maintaining peace within the kingdom of God, but it also confirms the truth of the gospel to the world around us. This is why Jesus tells His disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
7. Value others above yourself (Philippians 2:3-8)
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!
This might be the New Testament’s preeminent teaching on humility. In the body of Christ, we are called to do away with vain and self-serving behavior and put others first. This works because they’re supposed to put us first, too.
And then Paul explains that Jesus is to be our model for how we treat one another. If He, being God, was willing to humble Himself (to the point of being crucified), we can be humble to one another. We can choose to put others before ourselves, even when it hurts.
8. Therefore, clothe yourself with humility (Colossians 3:11-12)
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
First-century people were used to ordering life through simple cultural perspectives. How they treated one another was based on religious, ethnic, and vocational considerations. From a kingdom perspective, Christ is all and in all. And Paul wants that to be our motivating perspective when dealing with one another. This means that we’re not taking pride in many of the things that our culture promotes: race, socio-economic status, citizenship, possessions, etc.
9. God shows favor to the humble (James 4:6-10)
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
One of the most consistent messages the Bible offers about humility is that God opposes the proud and embraces the humble. We see it throughout God’s relationship with Israel. We see it in the wisdom literature. We see it in the prophets. And it’s splashed across the pages of the New Testament.
Jesus addresses this topic in theParable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Tax collectors were vilified throughout Israel because they exploited fellow Jews financially for Rome. Throughout Israel, “tax collectors” were considered a particular class of sinner.
In Jesus’s story, a Pharisee and a tax collector go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee thanks God that he isn’t a sinner like the tax collector. The tax collector is so full of shame that he wouldn’t look to the heavens. He prays for God to have mercy on him. Jesus says that it’s the tax collector who went home justified because of his humility.
10. Clothe yourself in humility (1 Peter 5:2-6)
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
The community of God is intended to function with a foundation of mutual respect and submission. Here Peter points out that the shepherds of God’s flock shouldn’t place themselves above the people they serve, but younger people need to submit to older ones. Peter caps this thought off by telling his readers that if they humble themselves, God will exalt them.
It’s essential to note that Peter isn’t simply talking about lifting them up as individuals here. This is a letter to the church. He’s telling them that as the body of Christ chooses to interact humbly with one another, God elevates the entire church.
Learning to walk humbly
The prophet Micah tells us what the Lord expects from His people:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).