Humility is one of those doctrines where almost all Bible teachers and Christians have a reasonably good idea of what it means. They know that it is wrong to exalt self, or engage in mere self promotion, or seek the praise of man. They appreciate the minimization of self and seek to cultivate this precious commodity in their lives with the help of God.
But occasionally they find themselves in a quandary when the demands for humility that others place on them seem inappropriate. Perhaps they face demands to submit to authority where that submission involves serious compromise or error. Or demands to conform where the conformity involves a departure from Scripture. Or demands to keep quiet in circumstances that merit shouting from the housetops.
So what do you do when men hound you to sit in their designated humble box and sitting in that box doesn’t seem right? Do you flush your brain and conscience down the potty in a display of humility that leaves you feeling like a lickspittle? Do you refuse to climb into the box and bear the reproach of being a proud man who promotes divisiveness and selfishness?
Who is right in these situations? Those who make the demands for humility? Or those who refuse to cave in to such demands?
There is no way to objectively answer this question unless we first objectively define humility. Right here is where error finds its entry. Any understanding of humility which is man-focused is wrong in principle and can only be right incidentally. Humility is not submitting to other humans. Humility is submission to God. While this may involve submission to man, there are times when it must studiously and conscientiously refuse to submit to man. The path of humility for Noah and Martin Luther was a path of rejecting all religious authority around them.
But defining humility as submission doesn’t reveal its essence, which we need to know to appreciate its value. The heart of humility is valuing and cultivating the beauty of minimizing self so that the beauties of Christ can grow in our heart and shine forth in our life. Not just such beauties as kindness, gentleness, and love, but also holiness, discernment, and truth—indeed all the beauties of Christ: his character, his gospel, his teachings, and his revealed will and plans.
Once we see humility as giving place to the beauties of Christ, then we find the solution for those painful situations when men make man-centered demands upon us for humility. It is never right to placate men, no matter how godly and devoted they are, if climbing into their humble box involves ignoring, covering-up, or downplaying any of the beautiful things given to us by Jesus, whose beauties Jesus wants us to display in our life and ministry.
Brethren, let not your hearts be troubled in this matter. The true test of humility is not flushing your brain and conscience down the potty. It is not setting self aside in a display of pretentious humility that leaves you feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. It is not letting men walk over like you were a rug. It is not letting others dictate to you how you should live and serve God.
The true test of humility is conformity to all the beauties of Jesus. And since these beauties are all presented to us in the word of God, it is perfectly legitimate to say that the true test of humility is conformity to the word of God: first of all with reference to Christian character, secondly with reference to Christian duty, and thirdly with reference to Christian teaching.
In conclusion, don’t let men bully you into displaying less of the beauties of Jesus on the plea of humility. That is allowing man’s distortions of humility to undermine true humility. Go display Jesus in your life and ministry, and let God deal with those who are offended with you because you won’t sit in their humble box.
“Live with such a passion for the things of Jesus, that you will have no regrets at the judgment seat of Christ.”
Lee W. Brainard