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Suppose you have average math skills. You’re pretty good, but you’re not great. When someone sees you working out a sum in your head, and they say, “Wow! You’re brilliant at math!” If you answer, “No, I’m not. I’m just average,” this is a humble answer. If instead you say, “I am rather a genius, aren’t I?”, that’s boasting. In the world, humility is about accuracy, whereas boasting is a form of exaggeration. The humble man knows the limits of his skills, and he doesn’t accept credit which he knows he doesn’t deserve. The boastful man exaggerates his qualities and takes credit for things which he hasn’t done. Humility has nothing to do with low esteem. It’s not about faking shyness. It’s simply a matter of being honest about one’s limitations.
Now what makes humility such a rare quality among humans is that we’re all prideful, and pride loves to boast. Also, humans crave affirmation from each other so strongly that they have a hard time rejecting any that’s offered to them. So when the boss gives his manager credit for one store’s high sales, the manager takes all of the credit, even though he knows the sales wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of his entire team. Because we humans often feel embarrassed and even ashamed of our vast limitations and carnal motivations, we constantly let others make false assumptions about us which paint us in a better light than we deserve. You’re miserly with your money, and you don’t want to give Aunt Martha a birthday present. So you dig through the boxes in your garage and find an ugly old scarf which someone gave you years ago that you’ve been meaning to throw away. You wrap it up, and when Aunt Martha opens it, she’s delighted. “Why this must have taken you days to make!” she cries. “What a labor of love.” What are you going to say? “Actually, someone else made it and I don’t even like you so I was giving you my garbage?” This is the honest truth, but honesty is often considered rude among humans, so instead we practice good manners which is often a form of blatant lying. In this case, good manners would say, “I’m glad you like it,” and leave it at that. Or you could boast by saying, “I actually did it in record time because I’m so good at crocheting.” Boasting is a form of lying because when you boast, you end up making claims that aren’t really true. Even though the truth in this case would be very hurtful to Aunt Martha, you could still work in good manners and humility by saying, “I don’t deserve the credit for making it. I’m not that skilled. But I’m glad you like it.” Good manners is about protecting the feelings of others by not blasting them with your carnality. Humility is about not taking credit that you don’t deserve.
Throughout the Bible, Yahweh and Jesus both emphasize that They are pleased by humility and displeased by boasting and arrogance. Arrogance is when you walk around in a perpetual state of boasting inside your head. The arrogant man thinks he’s better than everyone else in either a limited or universal way. Boasting is a natural result of an arrogant soul attitude: once you’re always thinking about how fabulous you are in your mind, naturally it’s going to come out your mouth.
Now what’s interesting about arrogance is that it has both positive and negative variations. A classic example of negative arrogance is the fellow at your church who’s always going on about what a wretched sinner he was before he met Christ. “I was the lowest of the low. I was the greatest sinner of all time. Let me tell you: God proved just how merciful He is by saving the likes of me.” This is a form of boasting, but it often gets mistaken for humility in the Church because many Christians have humility confused with focusing on one’s own flaws. Well, no, humility has nothing to do with being down on yourself, it has to do with accuracy. In this case, our braggart is speaking of things he does not understand. Has he seen all of humanity through the eyes of God? No, therefore he cannot possibly justify his claim to be the worst sinner of all time.
Boasting of one’s great depravity is what we call the worm mentality and you’ll find both the saved and the unsaved falling into this trap. It’s really just another form of arrogance—one in which a person flaunts their flaws and failings as a means of exalting themselves. The worm mentality is one that says, “Since I don’t think I have a chance at winning the race, I’m going to draw attention to myself by being the ultimate loser.”
“God could never save a wretch like me.” In some cases, this statement reflects an honest misunderstanding of the limits of God’s mercy. The murderer wishes he could get right with God, but he’s been taught by other humans to believe that he can’t. In this case, correcting false beliefs about God will turn despair into joy. But if it’s someone caught in the worm mentality who is saying, “God could never save a wretch like me,” then this becomes a boastful statement made by someone who really doesn’t want to get in a good place with God. Instead, he’s just interested in exalting himself.
Now that we understand the general concept of humility, let’s talk about how mainstream humility differs from godly humility. Godly humility is still about accuracy, but once we understand some basic truths about who God is, we gain a radically different view of ourselves. For example, the man who knows nothing of God can practice humility by not exaggerating his skills. But the Christian understands that he is dependent on God for every breath, so where is the cause for boasting? We humans are creatures who are entirely dependent on our three glorious Creators. We are incapable of sustaining our own existence. Everything we have was given to us by our Gods—we own nothing, and we deserve nothing. The more insight we’ve been given into how things actually are, the more humility is expected of us, and the more obnoxious our boasting becomes. The worldly man soaks up the applause for the great speech he just gave—that’s typical human pride. But when the Christian pastor takes the bows for the powerful message that God just spoke through him—that’s a hundred times more offensive to God, because the Christian man knows better. All sins are not equal. God measures the severity of our rebellion by the understanding He has given us. Once He knows that you know that all wisdom comes from God, you’re simply not going to get off the hook for taking credit that doesn’t belong to you.
It is because Christians know so much better that their arrogant boasting is of such great offense to God. Not only do we understand that we are totally dependent on our Creators, we also know that Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intensely jealous Beings who get enraged when created beings try to take glory which they don’t deserve. And since we can do nothing without the aid of our Creators, what can we possibly take glory for? Absolutely nothing at all. But simply not taking the glory isn’t good enough for Christians—we should also be redirecting the glory to the only Ones who are deserving of it: our three glorious Lords.
Our Gods have an insatiable appetite for glory, worship, and adoration. This really is quite reasonable when you consider that They are the Ones sustaining us all. When those comforting words fall from your lips at just the right moment and some devastated soul is refilled with hope, that wasn’t you talking, it was God. Sure, He used your vocal cords, but you should be viewing which as some great privilege that you don’t deserve, not as justification for you to steal some of the credit.
Consider how you feel when you are in the company of a human who you really respect. If your human hero were to show up on your doorstep and offer to take you out to coffee, you’d consider it a privilege, wouldn’t you? And the busier you know your hero is, the more of an honor it becomes that he would take time out of his hectic schedule to pay attention to you. A lot of Christians resent the notion that we should consider God working through us as some undeserved privilege. But come on, He’s God. If you’re going to get all touched by a mere mortal clocking time with you, how do you not find it infinitely more astounding that your Almighty Creators should actually invite you to participate in Their amazing works?
When we Christians boast of “serving God,” we’re being obnoxious idiots. We love to see ourselves as generously gifting God our time, talents, and money, but in reality all of these things are His to begin with. We’re not gifting Him anything. If you owe a man $100, and you give him $20, do you call it a gift? No, you call it making a payment on a debt that you owe. Well, we owe our Creators everything, and we never come close to balancing the books. But because our Gods are so much nicer than we are, They generously reward us for being good debtors—meaning that we recognize how much we owe and we’re eager to make payments anytime They call on us to do so. When God wakes you up in the middle of the night to jot down His message for the flock on Sunday, He’s calling on you to give Him some of the time and attention you owe Him anyway. You’re not Mr. Fabulous for crawling out of bed and firing up your computer. It’s more like you should consider it a great honor that the God who can do all things perfectly should invite a bumbler like you to speak for Him. Because you know you’re not nearly as eloquent as the Holy Spirit. You know your execution is going to be pretty sad compared to His, and the only way anyone is going to get anything out of it is if He is talking at the same time as you and stirring souls up to hear what He wants them to hear regardless of what you actually say.
Humility is about having an accurate grip on reality, and the reality is that we humans do not help God get things done in this world. We’re not smooth, we’re not smart, and we’re really lousy listeners. We’re impatient, and we have very little respect for His Authority, which is why we’re always trying to improve on His methods for Him. God tells you to start a home church but not to advertise. You tell Him that you ought to at least spread the word around the neighborhood, or else how will anyone know what you’re doing? Hello, He’s God. Do you really think the One who created your mouth and your brain now depends on these things to get anything done? Or maybe your ministry is tanking and God tells you it’s time to shut it down. You go into a meltdown insisting that you’re making such a critical difference in your community. Hello, He’s God. Doesn’t He know better than you what kind of difference you’re making? He’s been running the world quite capably for thousands of years before you even existed, but now you’re saying that He can’t get along without you? Are you hearing the arrogance of such thinking? Arrogance exaggerates our own importance. Humility promotes an accurate view of things. The accurate truth is that our Gods are the only Ones who are ever deserving of glory, credit, honor, adoration, worship, and applause. They are pleased when we promote this truth. They get outraged when we try to bury this truth and replace it with ridiculous lies.
Encouraging Christians in a Way that Honors God
Understanding Yahweh: Why Moses & Aaron Were Banned From The Promised Land
Understanding Jesus: All who Exalt Themselves will be Humbled (Luke 14)
The Parable of the Unworthy Servant (Luke 17)