I recently received an email pointing out an area of weakness in my understanding. I felt the familiar pang of humiliation (we all know it). It made me question whether it is right for me to pursue a particular course of action. Ultimately, humiliation is another way that the Lord humbles us. There are four primary ways God develops humility in His people. Some of His ways may appear harder to bear than others, but developing humility is a painful exercise for everyone. The word “humble” in the Bible often reflects a word that suggests lowly-mindedness. In fact, one way we can think of humiliation is the undermining of our high-mindedness and self-sufficiency. God develops humility in us because we need to depend on Him, depend on others and think less of ourselves.
Why God needs to humble usGod’s development of humility in us is necessary for God because the very nature of sin distorts our self-identity. A corrupted self-identity explains why Paul warned in Romans not to think of ourselves as higher than it is necessary to think and to think with a sound mind (Rom 12:3). Our corrupted nature conjures ideas of ourselves that are not objectively true. In fact, most of the thoughts we have of ourselves are more accurate when applied to God than to us.
Most of the thoughts we have of ourselves are more accurate when applied to God than to us.We need to be humbled because our high-mindedness won’t do it for us. Left to our own devices, we tend to grow in pride and arrogance rather than in humility. Therefore, God, in His mercy and grace, develops humility in us. There are four ways He does this. Let’s look briefly at what they are.
1. God develops humility through suffering.Peter wrote his first epistle to those who were suffering. After Rome burned in July of 64 AD, persecution arose against Christians who were (likely wrongly) held responsible for the destruction. In the midst of their suffering, Peter points out the example of Christ as an example for them to follow. They were to suffer as Christ suffered (1 Peter 2:21). Christ suffered humbly, trusting the Lord without asserting Himself against those who persecuted Him (1 Peter 2:21-23). Before Peter closed this letter, he exhorted them to allow the circumstances God had brought upon them to humble them. The imperative in 1 Peter 5:6 is in the passive voice, and the “hand of God” points to God’s sovereignty in bringing those circumstances upon them. Peter is indicating that their suffering was in part intended to humble them. Therefore Peter commands these suffering Christians to let God humble them through the circumstances He has brought about. So we can see that God develops humility in His people through suffering.
2. God develops humility through our corruption.I once wrote an email about a situation in which I was not involved. I thought I knew enough, but in reality, I was ignorant of some key facts in the case. Consequentially, I received a firm but gracious rebuke. I learned from this that I need to learn both sides of a case before I argue for one of them (Proverbs 18:17). I also experienced the consequence of my own corruption. The rebuke I received was a result of my stupidity, sin, and foolishness.
Left to our own devices we tend to grow in pride and arrogance rather than in humility.I’m sure you can think of times when you’ve acted sinfully, and then the consequences of that action have come back to you and created far worse hardship than what you anticipated. Our corruption leads us to act foolishly and sinfully. We reap what we sow, and in so doing, we are humbled. We learn humility because we suffer as a result of our own corruption. Humbling consequences of sin and foolishness are a subset of suffering generally, but it is helpful to consider it as another way that the Lord develops humility in us.
3. God develops humility through the gospelOf course, we learn humility from our corruption, not just by the consequences we reap for our sin, but also because of the consequences upon Christ because of sin. To redeem us from sin, we needed a perfect substitute. God Himself was the only one who could do it. So in the gospel, we see He who enjoyed eternal glory (John 17:5) taking up the form of a slave (Phil 2:5-7) and then humbling Himself further by becoming obedient to death (Phil 2:8).
God develops humility in His people through suffering.God develops humility in us through the gospel by presenting the humiliation of Christ to us. He also develops humility through the gospel by pointing out the greatness of our sins, revealing Himself and His holiness to us so that we can see the blackness of our sin in objective terms.
4. God develops humility through His kindnessPaul pointed out that the kindness of God in withholding judgment is intended to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). Repentance itself only develops where humility has first taken root. There is no repentance without seeing a need to repent, which requires a willingness to be corrected, and acknowledgment of inferiority to the opinion of another – namely God. The amazing thing about God’s kindness is through it God develops humility in us both now and in eternity. Now God’s kindness develops humility now as we see and acknowledge our sin. But in eternity, we will marvel at the kindness of God as we are better able to appreciate the kindness he has shown us in light of the new understanding of Him and the monstrosity of sin that we will undoubtedly have.
The amazing thing about God’s kindness is through it God develops humility in us both now and in eternity.