I remember a time in my younger days where a wiser, older gentleman was gracious enough to tell me that I was proud. At the time I was a new Christian, and frankly, I didn’t take the news well, which served to prove his point. Over the years, I’ve come to see the truth of his words more and more, but there is one thing I wish he had told me when he exposed my pride. The Bible provides motivations to pursue humility.
Motivations to pursue humilityDespite the reality that we will never be perfectly humble in this life, it is not a waste of time to pursue humility. The Bible provides us with several motivations to pursue humility. Here are a few.
1. Humility leads to honorWe tend to either shun honor or we pursue it as an end in its own right. Honor is not bad in itself, though we shouldn’t seek to honor ourselves (Prov 25:27, 27:2). In fact, honoring yourself is a path to difficult circumstances (Provides 11:2, 29:33, Luke 14:11). True honor comes to those who are humble (Prov 15.33, 18:12) because others exalt them (Prov 25:6-7). When we honor others, we do so because we see in that person something that we value. We see character traits that are admirable and worthy of attention. A humble person is worthy of attention because they don’t seek their own good but the good of others. Others benefit from a humble person, and they want others to benefit from knowing them too, so the humble person is exalted, but this exaltation benefits others and the reason is externally observable.
A humble person is worthy of attention because they don’t seek their own good but the good of others.
2. Humility leads to riches, honor, and life.The path to prosperity is not the acquisition of property and investments, but it is rejecting our own sufficiency and humbly submitting to all that the Lord commands. When we humbly submit to Him, He adds many things to us that we don’t deserve (Matt 6:33). A humble person doesn’t seek anything merely for their own pleasures. Instead, they are content with what they have because they know that what they have is the best thing that the Lord has for them at that time. Having the Lord, they don’t need more. Therefore, a humble person will consider themselves rich and honored regardless of their circumstances (Phil 4:11-13).
3. God hears and grants the desires of the humble.Have you ever wanted something and asked the Lord for it in prayer only to not receive what you wanted? I have. In my case, James 4:3 was true. My desire was rooted in my selfish pride. By contrast, in Psalm 10:17, the Psalmist tells us that God has heard the desire of the humble, and then in Psalm 37:4 we are told to delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. The humble are content with very little, desiring the Lord Himself and an upright life above all else. They desire to please the Lord, and God grants their simple desire for righteousness and justice (Ps 25:9, Matt 5:6). There is great richness in righteousness.
4. Humility results in wisdom.Proverbs 11:2 says that while dishonor follows pride, wisdom is with the humble. Why is this? Because wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov 1:7, 9:10). The Hebrew wording of Prov 22:4 suggests that the author may consider humility and the fear of the Lord to be the same thing,1 in which case, there is a direct connection between how we submit to the Lord and our humility, indicating in turn that wisdom flows from hearing, doing and understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word. By contrast, one who rejects the fear of the Lord despises wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).
If we know the Lord, growing in humility is an attractive pursuit.
5. Humility results in joy and gladness.When we are humble, the salvation of the Lord is a source of Joy. The Psalmist expressed his pain, then recalled the Lord’s salvation (Ps 69:25), and resolved to praise the Lord (26), which pleased the Lord (27) and led to rejoicing among the humble. Ultimately, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:9-10), and this makes the heart of the humble rejoice!
How our motivations test usSo the pursuit of humility results in honor, riches, life, contentment, wisdom, and joy. This almost sounds like a dream life. But is it really that simple? Let me ask you this: When you read through these things, do they sound attractive? They should. However, it could be that these things don’t excite you in this context. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Why can’t I just have those things without having to pursue humility?“ If we’re thinking this, we’re thinking we have to give up something in order to get what we really want. The attractiveness of these things reveals our heart. Since the world is informing our beliefs and values, it is possible that simple things like wisdom, joy, and honor have lost their brilliance. Our world values riches, but not in the same way the word of God does. In scripture, riches are frequently associated with character and specifically with trusting in the Lord (e.g. Ps 121:1-3). By contrast, our society rejects the Lord and trusts in wealth instead. Trusting in wealth is repeatedly regarded negatively by the authors of scripture (e.g. Ps 49:5-6). The more our beliefs and values are informed by the word of God, the more we will regard wisdom, joy, and honor as things of value, and the more they will motivate us because we are seeing the Lord as more glorious. Ultimately these values reflect the character of God.
Which God is most attractive?Therefore, if God Himself is not attractive, then these things will not seem valuable either because what we really want is not the Lord, but an autonomous, independent and self-sufficient life. We don’t want God because we want to be God. In this case, these things seem to us to be a way to fulfill our desire for self-exaltation. Therefore we have to give up the desire to be God in order to get them. We have to give to get. Is the price of giving up being God worth what we get in return?
We don’t want God because we want to be God.When we want things, the Lord doesn’t seem very attractive. But if we desire the Lord more than any thing or group of things, then these incentives seem to be rich to us, because even though they are all attractive, they add to the beauty of the thing we are pursuing. They become icing on the cake or a bonus on the return we expected. They are simply good things added to what we desire most. All of this means that the test for us is whether these incentives are attractive to us or whether it sounds like I have to give something to get what I really want. If we know the Lord, growing in humility is an attractive pursuit. In this case, these incentives make the pursuit of humility even more attractive and worthwhile.
Our fickle desiresIs the Lord Himself more desirable to you than these incentives? Is humility attractive to you? Do these incentives seem like icing on the cake or do they seem to be a give to get? Don’t settle for an answer right now. You are currently reading Christian writing. When we read Christian writers, we can feel good in that moment and then go away and forget what we read. But what about when you stop reading and go about your work? Do you still desire humility and God’s character qualities in your life beyond riches, honor, wealth, and happiness?
If we are going to pursue humility, humility itself has to be attractive, not just its incentives.Our hearts are fickle. Our hearts change like the flip of a coin. If we are going to pursue humility, humility itself has to be attractive, not just its incentives. The incentives need to motivate us to pursue humility, not just motivate us to pursue the incentives. Yes, we must want, to hear the Lord honor us by saying, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt 25:21). Yes, we must want contentment in Christ alone. Yes, we must desire wisdom and we must value and pursue joy. Yes, we must want whatever wealth the Lord gives. But most of all, we must want humility for its own sake. We must want humility because it reflects the character of God who is patient and kind in the face of outrageous rebellion. We must want humility because we are His creatures and we are the outrageous rebels who have experienced that kindness.
Pursuing humility and enjoying its resultsHumility is a pursuit that is richly tied to our knowledge of and affections for the Lord. If we desire the Lord, we will desire humility and we will desire the incentives for humility noted above. But we will desire these incentives as secondary results, as the cream on top, and not as the primary goal. If I had also been told that the pursuit of humility results in honor, riches, life, contentment, wisdom, and joy, I may have been more motivated to pursue it. In the years that passed, these became great motivations to pursue humility. I hope they do for you too. Do these incentives make humility even more attractive to you?
- See Crawford Howell Toy. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs. International Critical Commentary. (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 414-415. ↩