4 Min Read

PARSONS: That is probably one of the most important questions we can ask as Christians. I say that because I believe humility is a characteristic that is foundational and sums up all the Christian characteristics that we see in the Bible.

The fruit of the Spirit is defined in humility. When Paul tells us in Philippians 2 to look to Christ and His model, it’s all about humility. Too often we jump ahead to the kenosis passage, the kenotic hymn describing Jesus. While we need to focus on that, Paul begins with focusing on us and how we need to model our lives, our minds, and our hearts after Christ. The example in the kenosis passage in Philippians 2 is the humility of Christ.

I think humility is one of the most disregarded and forgotten characteristics in our day. The problem in talking about humility is that simply talking about it results in people thinking, “Well, that’s not very humble.” The reality of it is that I know I am not humble. In fact, I feel like I’m the most prideful, unhumble person around. Every day, I pray for humility.

This question is something that a lot of Christians don’t even ask. We need first to recognize that humility is something we ought to strive for, but the problem with humility is that once you say it, it vanishes, it disappears. Once you think you’ve attained humility or once you think you’ve arrived at it, it’s just the opposite. It’s like being wise in your own eyes. We never arrive at humility, and humility is not something that you can even really see in yourself; it’s something only others can see. In one sense, the more you grow in humility, the more you actually grow in your recognition of your own pride, so you don’t feel like you’re growing in humility.

We also often have a wrong view of humility. We have a view of humility being associated with someone who doesn’t say anything, who is never bold, who never speaks the truth, who is sort of a pushover, a nice guy who never takes a stand and doesn’t stand his ground. That’s not the picture of Christ. It’s not the picture of Paul, though Paul is not Christ, and Paul was sinful too. We need to understand, however, that Jesus stood His ground. Jesus was bold. Jesus was clear. Jesus spoke the truth. He got in people’s faces. He declared what they needed to hear. He chastised. He rebuked. And that’s what the Bible tells us to do.

Here is something a lot of people don’t understand, especially in the world: it takes a great deal of humility to rebuke, correct, and exhort. It takes a great deal of humility to come to a brother and say, “Brother, I love you and I’m worried about you, and I think you might be in sin and you don’t realize it.” That is hard and takes humility. Humility isn’t easy. Humility is not just saying nothing. In fact, I would say that is actually more pride than it is humility.

Real humility is not an act. You can’t playact it. As many have said over the years, humility is not just trying to think less of ourselves or saying: “Woe is me. I am not a good person. I’m awful.” Rather, humility is thinking of yourself less. It’s getting over yourself and trying to put others first.

When I find myself annoyed with someone, whether in a store because of the way they are acting or on the road because of the way they are driving, one of the things I try to do wherever I am is to look at people and say to myself: “In and of myself, I am no better than they are. I would be wandering and lost and wayward if it were not for God finding me, seeking me, and keeping me. I am no better than that person, no matter what I think of them.” I say that about people I disagree with. I say that about people I want to tend to despise. I say that about people I vote against. I have to remember that it’s only by the grace of God that I am what I am.

Humility is something that we have to constantly pursue, while also recognizing that we will never arrive. It’s not just about wanting humility; it is about the constant and diligent pursuit of humility and praying for humility. When someone asks you, “What can I pray for?” say: “Please pray for my humility. Pray for my family. Pray that God would keep me, that God would humble me, that God would give me wisdom, and that God would preserve me to the end.”

BINGHAM: The advice to pray for humility is interesting because it takes humility to pray for it. It’s the proud man who thinks he is okay. Prayer in and of itself is an act of humbling yourself before God, recognizing you are dependent and you need His help in life.

PARSONS: Exactly. Now, this might sound a little strange, but sometimes we can pridefully pray for humility. Sometimes we can know that humility is desirable and then pray for it with a motive of pride. I would say to my brothers and sisters in the faith that when you feel a motive in your heart that may not be completely pure and right, pray even for that. Say: “Lord, if my motives are not right in asking for this, please forgive even my motives. Forgive my motives that may not be right in praying for this.”

We don’t always understand our motives. We don’t always understand why we’re praying for what we’re praying for, and sometimes we have to pray that God would correct, change, and forgive us even for our motives that we don’t know are right.

This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with Burk Parsons and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.