The Humility of God

This program will deal with one of the most neglected things we know about God — His humility. In human society, fame, strength, personality, creativity, influence and the like produce pride in those who have them. God’s majesty and power eclipses anything similar found in humans, yet God is humble. He is sensitive to our weakness so nurtures and nourishes, protects and provides for us. Ron Hughes, the president of FBH International and Viji Roberts, a member of our board of directors, will explore this aspect of God that we seldom think about.

RON: One of the challenges in talking about humility is found in merely defining the word. Viji, I’m glad you’re with me to help sort that out.

VIJI: I am not sure if I am equally glad Ron; and that’s because I am no expert on humility. I certainly agree though that this topic is challenging especially since we will be studying the humility of God.

You see humility is largely tied up with how we see ourselves in comparison with others. Humility comes much more naturally, if we think of others as having a higher status than us. Now, the question is how does that work with God?

RON: That depends on our understanding of humility. We usually see humility as the opposite of pride. Humility is courteous and respectful. It asks rather than makes demands. It prefers collaboration to competition.

Speaking of humility, there is one thing that, for our purposes, we want to avoid. We must not confuse humility with inferiority or martyr complex. In fact as C.S. Lewis, wrote in Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Every so often, I bump into people who think that because we are fallen, sinful creatures, we are as low as we can go. We are spiritually dead. We are worthless. I understand what they are trying to convey, but they fail to make the important distinction between being “unworthy” and being “worthless”. While it is certain that, spiritually, we are altogether “unworthy,” we are never “worthless.” God made us in His image and sent His Son to die for us — the just for the unjust, the worthy for the unworthy. While we are immeasurably lower than God, we are not worthless.

VIJI: That’s so true. Also, we must not confuse “humility” with “false modesty.” In Romans chapter12 and verse #3, Paul exhorts us to “think soberly”—that is to have an accurate assessment of ourselves, including our strengths and weaknesses. Pride and false humility are both unbiblical. Pride, because we are not as great as we often think we are; and false humility, because we these have these natural talents, acquired skills and spiritual gifts that God can use, but we don’t let Him. False humility says, “I am so humble God cannot use me”—there is a Greek word for that kind of thinking, “baloney”.

RON: So far we’ve been talking about humility as it relates to people. When we think about it in relation to God, things are a little different. God has no illusions about who He is. He is not proud because He doesn’t think better of Himself than He really is. He does not exhibit false humility because He’s not looking to boost His self-esteem.

Because God knows His strengths and perfections entirely, He can afford to be humble. He has nothing to prove to Himself or anybody else. He doesn’t need to bully people or throw His weight around capriciously. That would, in fact, be entirely out of character for Him. VIJI: And some might confuse God’s commands to worship Him as arrogance or pride. And we might get that impression because we all know people who act like that and we’re disgusted by it. The catch is that God is every bit as great as He reveals Himself to be.

Look at ourselves, we are designed to enjoy beauty, value, and worth; and appreciate the good things in life. The highest of all these being God Himself, and therefore it is a privilege for us that He offers Himself as the only One worthy of our worship. To worship anything or anyone else in the place of God, I would say reveals the depravity of sin in us.

RON: That’s right, Viji. All humans have a drive to worship. God put it there as an intrinsic part of our make up. We see it in a wide range of cultures everyone worships someone or something. In less-sophisticated societies, people often make material representations of their deities. In more-developed ones, we look to abstracts more, without the need to give them a physical form in wood, stone, or metal. VIJI: We do this often without realizing, don’t we? We are naturally moved to “worship” things, which do something for us. Things that:

• gives our lives meaning

• gives us our identity

• helps us connect with something bigger than ourselves

• offers hope of ultimate justice We either look inwards or outward to connect to that something which is greater than us. That is the essence of worship.

RON: We’re speaking from a particular cultural bias here, so while those are the motivations for worship, the things that are worshipped may well be different in different societies. Viji, what are some of the gods worshipped in our western culture? VIJI: I believe worship of self, or self-worship is a big thing. We put ourselves — our comfort, our pleasure, our amusement and so on, at the top of the pyramid. We then go about living our lives in service to that one thing to which we have given the highest priority.

Ironically, we end up serving the things that we thought would serve us. These could be: food, drink, money, sex, possessions, drugs, music, sport, intellect, church (you’d be surprised- serving in a church can sometimes become more important than God Himself), family, hobbies, kids or some other person in our lives. I could go on with the list but I won’t. You get the picture?

RON: Sure, the Bible makes it clear that to worship anything less than God is to “exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever”. We read that in Romans 1:25.

So we’ve clearly established that humans have a drive to worship built into their make-up and that only God is worthy of that worship. Now, let us see how this aligns with what the Bible teaches about the humility of God. This connection is important in that the humility of God does not in any way dilute the fact that He is the only one worthy of worship. Let us look at some verses:

In Matthew 11:29 speaking of Himself, Jesus declared: “I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Philippians 2:5-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

John 10:30 records that in His divinity, Jesus was equal to the Father— He said: “I and My Father are one’. Yet in John 14:28, we learn that in His humanity, Jesus was subordinate to the Father—He said: “the Father is greater than I.”

VIJI: These verses all relate to the Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation – that is when He was here among us on the earth in His humanity. This is where we see the humility of God most clearly modelled for us.

During His time on earth, Jesus never got caught up in trying to raise His own status. In fact on one occasion, we read, He withdrew from the adoring crowds because they wanted to make Him king.

Instead, we read that He was concerned with the least in His society –the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the so called sinners that is. He showed love to the weak –the children and the beggars. He touched the untouchables– the lepers, who did not experience human touch even by their spouses. He did the jobs no one else wanted to do – He washed His disciples’ feet.

You see, Jesus never engaged in self-promotion. In Him, we come face-to-face with this virtue of the humility of God.

RON: While this may seem to be out of line with what we know of God, especially as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament, it’s not. Listen to these words of the prophet Isaiah 57:15

“For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Here we are reminded of God’s greatness. He is called the High and Lofty One. He lives forever. His name is holy. Yet, at the same time, we see His humility. As well as living in the high and holy place, he also lives with the contrite and lowly — in other words, the repentant and humble. But as in other cases, God doesn’t just come to us where we are — in our sin — and leave us there. He comes with the purpose of reviving or renewing the spirit of the humble, and the heart of the repentant. God’s love is always like this. It always seeks to lift us up, to make us more holy. VIJI: There is this aspect of His humility that allows us to enjoy love. The best passage to turn to in this regard is 1 Corinthians 13. Here we find a description of the kind of love God has for us and desires us to have with each other.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

VIJI: We see two things in this passage. One, we see what God’s love is like, and second, we see what He Himself, is like. He is patient and kind. He isn’t proud, or rude. He doesn’t get angry easily and doesn’t hold grudges. God rejoices with the truth. He consistently protects and perseveres with us. He never lets us down. Is that exciting or what?

RON: It sure is and all of the evidence points to humility in God that many fail to see. Once again, they are victims of the stereotyping which is so often used to keep people from investigating what God is really like and getting to know Him. If you’ve never considered this aspect of God’s personality or nature, doing so will enrich your life considerably.

However, there is something more than gaining more information about God, or deepening our appreciation of Him. Everything we know about Him has implications for His children. That’s because God’s clear purpose is to fill us with His Spirit so that we become like Him. By that I’m not suggesting that we will all become little cookie cutter replicas of God, rather pointing out that we should cooperate with God in becoming the unique version of ourselves that He intends for us to be.

In the context of our thinking today, that means that since our God is humble, we ought to be humble. VIJI: First, we can see the life of our Lord Jesus Christ as a clear example.

1 Peter 2:21-23 “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

VIJI: Secondly, we recognize that all that we have and are is a gift of God’s grace.

1 Corinthians 4:7 “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

RON: Lastly, it is a good reminder that humility keeps us from asserting our dominance. Through the force of our personality we may get people to agree with us propositionally, but people are not “argued into the Kingdom,” but they are “loved in.” We are not called to win debates, but to win people.

It is easy to slip into an aggressive tone when we argue, and that is not a mark of godly humility. We don’t see this in Jesus, not even when he was pointing out an error. Once you’ve accepted Him as your Lord and Saviour, work with His Spirit as you become like Him! And that brothers and sisters requires a good dose of daily humility.