Humility.

Humility is an obvious fruit of the Spirit, ’cause it’s a form of self-control. It’s when we resist the temptation to claim status, prerogatives, or power over other people. Before we say or do anything, we think about how our actions and words affect others. We unselfishly take them into consideration. We submit.

Humility isn’t about claiming we’re all on the same level. Because we’re not. I am smarter, more handsome, and wealthier than other people. I have connections others don’t; I have a better job than others do; I’m white, which means I’m gonna suffer from racism way, way less than nonwhites. Claiming or pretending I don’t have these advantages isn’t humility; it’s hypocrisy. Especially when it’s in my power to use these advantages to help others. Maybe not to the level Esther did, Es 4.13-14 but it is why God has people in positions of privilege: So we can help.

Popular culture defines humility as demeaning, embarrassing, or dishonoring ourselves. And yeah, sometimes humility involves those things. It can be embarrassing to admit our failings. But once we start, we break that fear pretty quickly. Plus, notice all the stand-up comedians who make a really good living at it.

But properly, humility is when we don’t lord our advantages over others. Or lord over anyone. We Christians are meant to love and serve one another. We have no business closing ourselves off, or hiding behind gatekeepers, secretaries, “armor-bearers,” or other functionaries who keep everyone “unimportant” away. Way too many bishops and pastors get that way, and are obviously not humble. Contrast that with our Lord, who angrily told his students to stop keeping the kids away.

Matthew 19.13-15 KJV
13 Then were there brought unto [Jesus] little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

“Suffer” as in “put up with,” not “make them suffer.” Y’all need to get up to speed on King James Version vocabulary.

Still: Jesus is an infinitely important guy, but he makes time to meet with people, and bless ’em with any resources he has. So should we.

Humble like Jesus.

Matthew 11.29 KJV
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Christ Jesus is our best example of how to exhibit the Sprit’s fruit: He has infinite resources he can tap, but doesn’t bother to tap them for himself. He taps them for us. He wouldn’t turn rocks to bread to feed himself, but he would generate bread to feed groups of thousands. He could’ve drawn from thousands of angels to rescue him from crucifixion, but didn’t; he’s gonna use those angels when he conquers the world to save it. He’s not about exalting himself, but helping us.

Paul described him as the perfect example of the humility we oughta demonstrate as Christians.

Philippians 2.1-5 KJV
1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

I’m gonna switch now to the ISV ’cause I like its poetry better.

Philippians 2.6-11 KJV
6 In God’s own form existed he,
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
7 Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did he possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form he chose to be,
8 and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
9 Now lifted up by God to heaven,
a name above all others given,
this matchless name possessing.
10 And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall,
wherever they’re residing.
11 Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus [Christ] is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

The LORD’s cosmic almightiness made it feel to us like he was too far removed to be sympathetic or helpful. So he removed all that, and came down to our level. It doesn’t matter that he’s perfect or greater or wiser or in every way our superior: He wants a relationship with us, and doesn’t want any of his abilities, any of his otherness, to get in the way of that relationship. So he put ’em aside.

That’s how we need to be. If there’s anything whatsoever about our rank, status, ability, wealth, anything which makes it so we can’t love our neighbors and be Jesus to them, it has to go. We have no business excusing those things—“You need to get over your hangups,” or “That’s your problem, not mine,” or worse, “You first have to meet my standards before I can do anything for you.” If that were true of God, who’s getting saved?—we’re all so nasty we’d drive him away. But humility works hand-in-hand with grace, and puts it on us to remove those roadblocks. We’re to be humble. Not they; they can learn humility later.

And this behavior isn’t just limited to pagans and newbies. We’re to be humble with fellow Christians too. Really with everyone. Same as Jesus is with everyone.

Pride.

Pride is often described as the opposite of humility. And since I studied and taught logic, of course I’m gonna object to this definition: The proper opposite of humility is non-humility. Humility means overcoming the barriers between people of privilege and everyone else; non-humility means keeping those barriers up, for whatever reason. Sometimes that reason is pride. More often it’s just comfort and apathy: We don’t love our neighbors that much.

Sometimes pride is a good thing. Taking pride in your achievements, or pride in others: That’s not wrong! I’m proud of various things I achieved, and proud of family members, friends, my country, and others who did great things. Paul was proud of the churches who followed God wholeheartedly 2Co 7.4, 1Th 2.20 No doubt God is proud of us when we do his will, just as when he bragged about Job. Jb 1.8

But the reason the scriptures so often condemn pride, is because we humans take pride in stupid things. Like pride in the wrong people. Pride in wealth—especially wealth we inherited, and did nothing to earn, grow, or merit. Pride in conforming to the patterns of Christian culture. Or pride in bucking the culture and alienating people, including people who want to love us.

We take pride in our social status, the illusion of respectability or propriety, in our “honor.” We take pride in ’em for all the wrong reasons: They’re expensive, mighty, pretty, big, or put fear into people, or impress shallow fools. We never consider whether these attributes are any good. This is the sort of misdirected pride God always opposes. 1Pe 5.5 And because it divides people, it goes against humility.

I might be proud of my wisdom. (I shouldn’t be, since it’s a gift of God and he’ll grant it to anyone.) But if I’m so proud of my wisdom I refuse to listen to any other wise people, I’m certainly not humble. If I’m so proud of my knowledge and intellect, I figure I can’t be taught by anyone else, that’s not humility. If I’m so proud of my orthodoxy, I’m the only one right, and everyone else is wrong—when in fact we’re all wrong—that’s not humility either. And of course when Christians act like jerks towards pagans or one another, we’ve clearly embraced misdirected pride instead of humility—and are too dense to notice we’ve embraced behavior Jesus condemns.

If my hangups get in the way of any relationships whatsoever, it means I’m at fault. Maybe my pride’s in the way. Maybe I’m just a jerk. But my accomplishments, abilities, and orthodoxy don’t save me, don’t make me any less of a sinner than anyone else, and don’t give me a reason to act superior to anyone. If I expect to be great in God’s kingdom, I have to be humble. I have to be a little kid, Mt 18.1-4 who recognizes I always have more to learn, and always have others to obey. For even the Son of Man didn’t come to be great, but to serve everyone else, and surrender his life for them. Mt 20.28 That’s why Jesus accepts all who come to him. All. He’s never too important, too prideful.

Don’t hide your ability. But don’t be hindered by it.

Fake humility means we degrade ourselves. True humility doesn’t even consider it degrading to put ourselves on the same level, or even a lower level, as others. Because it doesn’t matter what level we assume: We know who we are.

Jesus knows who he is. Yet he comes down to our level all the time. And he can truthfully and honestly tell everyone he’s humble, Mt 11.29 for he most definitely is. Yet this humble man can still accept people’s praise and worship, call himself the Son of Man, and describe himself as equal to God. There’s nothing prideful, or not humble, about admitting who he really is.

Whereas fake humility says there’s everything prideful about admitting our strengths. Fr’instance: Years ago I casually told my students I’m a genius. ’Cause I am. I’ve been tested. My ability to remember stuff and figure things out (which I consider kinda ordinary, and sometimes have to be reminded it’s way better than average) still startles people. Anyway some of my students responded, “You can’t call yourself humble, then turn round and call yourself a genius.”

I pointed out, “So what am I supposed to do? Hide it? Lie about it? When somebody asks, ‘Are you a genius?’ I’m to answer, ‘Not really’? If someone asked Jesus, ‘Are you Messiah?’ was he supposed to lie?”

Like I said about fake humility: It demands we lie. It doesn’t demand we come down to everyone else’s level; it demands we pretend we’re already, naturally on that level, and have always been there. It demands we fake equality—even though God made us unique, not equal. It takes a generation of kids, whom we’ve rightly told, “God made you special,” and tells ’em to now pretend they’re not special.

We’re not all the same. Everybody knows we’re not all the same. We’re not fooling ourselves, and we’re certainly not fooling others. But now we have to put on a big phony show about all being the same. Quite often, this act is interpreted as mockery—because some of us admittedly are mocking it, ’cause we can’t keep a straight face through all the foolish pretense. Anyway it’s hardly gonna help us develop healthy relationships with one another.

True humility isn’t lying to people, and telling them, “No no; I’m not better than you; we’re all alike. Really.” It’s admitting, “We’re different. We’re not the same. But that’s okay. These differences shouldn’t stop us from talking with one another. Now let’s talk. How can I help you?”

The only way we’re gonna bridge the gaps in our society, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in everywhere, is we gotta drop the pretense and hypocrisy, come together on a common level, and have a conversation. We won’t agree on everything. But we’ll get a lot farther than when we pretend we’re here to have a conversation… but turn it into a lecture, tell them why they’re wrong, ignore how we’re wrong, and refuse to hear otherwise.

We have to be humble, as Jesus is humble. We have to be like Jesus.