We’ve got humility all wrong

As the world’s foremost leader on humility, I feel obligated to drop some knowledge on you.

Kidding, but I actually have been thinking of humility a lot lately. It’s a tricky thing, this concept of humility. You know it when you see it, but it’s also clear when it’s lacking or misplaced. I’m not a fan of our current way of thinking about humility because it can sabotage power and confidence (which isn’t Biblical in the right context), and becomes more about the person than their position. I’ll explain, but here’s what I’d like to do first. I’d like to propose a new definition of humility, as well as a construct for helping us think about it. Ok? Here we go.

Humility = A proper understanding of the source and purpose of power — of where power comes from and what power is for.

In this definition, I’m using “power” to mean any measure of skill, gifting, talent, ability, passion, faith and influence an individual has been given. We know that God distributes a measure of faith (Rom 12:3) and giftings (1 Cor 12)to each person as He sees fit. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” So to summarize, everyone has a measure of faith and gifts, and they are to be used for the common good (i.e., within community).

It’s important to recongize that humility is NOT a denying of our power, authority, passions or giftings. This is a relatively easy one. We call it “false humility” and it’s super annoying.

However, humility is also NOT a minimizing of power. This is a critical distinction. True humility acknowledges it’s power, but manifests that power within the context of community (verses the individual). Humor me for one second with a few simple questions:

Is Jesus our best example of humility? Yes

Did Jesus say He was God? Yes

So, clearly humility is not a denying, or minimizing of power. There are tons of verses that speak of Jesus’ power, but the one that comes to mind is where Jesus Himself says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). Again, humility is not a denying or minimizing of power. Paul is another example. In Corinthians, he comes right out and says, “I urge you to imitate me” and “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” At first glance, this doesn’t seem very humble. But even so, Paul acknowledges his authority.

So we have to take power out of the humility equation. Our problem is that we have, I think, simplified humility into a one dimentional model where everyone lands somewhere on the spectrum of humility to pride. But this is not how we should view humility. 

A better construct for humility might be more like this: 

Biblical humility is dependent upon the position you operate from and the purpose you operate for. Humility is where you operate FROM the Source and FOR community. This is also known as “the Kingdom of God”. In Matthew 12:25–28, Jesus explains, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus manifested His power, which He recognized was from the Spirit, and demonstrated it within community. Humility is about recognizing:

  1. I have been given power
  2. It is given by the Spirit of God
  3. It is for people

So let me explain this diagram. On the right, you have power displayed in community, but without recognizing the source of that power. Power without the recognizing the source is fine, I suppose. This is good works, charity, etc. Believers and non-believers alike use their talents and resources for good. And many times, God uses and honors this, bringing change in the lives of those that receive the resources. But more often than not, power, devoid of the Source is transactional, not transformational.

In the left circle, you have power without community. This is like the parable of the talents. You acknowledge the source of the gift, but it’s not sowed into community. It’s the city in a valley, not on a hill. It’s about the individual, not community.

Pride can be found on both extremes. It’s not sowing your gifts into community, and it’s also not recognizing the true Source of your gifts. This model is definitly more complex than the Humility/Pride spectrum, but I believe there is Biblical evidence to support this construct.

Phillipians 2:3–8

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Jesus was the best example of true humility. All power and authority was given to Him. He recognized that His power was given by the Spirit and He used that power in the context of community; healing the sick, teaching in the synagogue, giving water to the thirst, food to the hungry, raising the dead, and ultimately, going to the cross.

We need to become a people who identify and develop our gifting’s from the Spirit for display within our communities.

The world does not need a castrated Church, who operates without power and authority, following the commission of Jesus to “go into all the world and be nice to people.” No! That’s not what He said. Now, I’m not trying to put too much stock into miracles and signs and wonders. After all, Jesus chastised those cities that required miracles in order to believe. There is just as much power in giving water to the thirsty as there is in raising the dead. I just can’t get around the fact that signs and wonders are meant to be manifested through us within community as well.

Mark 16:15–18

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

John 14:12

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing,and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

How can we do “even greater things” if we don’t identify, embrace and encourage the gifts that God has given us? The world does not need nice, safe Christians. The world needs humble Christians, who recognize that they‘ve been given authority to be used within their communities. It’s your risk taking, empowered by faith, displayed in your communities, that the world is longing to see.

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