Why Be Clothed With Humility?
THE American author Edgar Allan Poe had just finished reading his new story to some friends. They jokingly said that he had used the hero’s name too often. How did Poe react? One friend recalled: “His proud spirit would not stand such open rebuke, so in a fit of anger, before his friends could prevent him, he had flung every sheet into a blazing fire.” Lost was a story “intensely amusing, entirely free from his usual . . . gloom.” Humility might have saved it.
Though pride makes people do unwise things, it is rampant in the world. But Jehovah’s servants are to be different. They must wear the well-designed garment of humility.
What Is Humility?
The apostle Paul alluded to the beautiful Christian garment of humility when he wrote to fellow believers in the ancient city of Colossae. He urged: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.”—Colossians 3:12.
Yes, humility is “lowliness of mind.” It is “humbleness of mind; lack of pride; meekness.” A humble person is “modest in spirit; not proud.” He is “deeply or courteously respectful.” (The World Book Dictionary, Volume I, page 1030) Humility is not cowardice or weakness. Actually, pride reflects weakness, whereas displaying humility often calls for courage and strength.
In the Scriptures a Hebrew word rendered “humble yourself” literally means “stamp yourself down.” Thus, the wise writer of Proverbs counseled: “My son, . . . if you have been caught by the sayings of your mouth, . . . deliver yourself, for you have come into the palm of your fellowman: Go humble yourself [stamp yourself down] and storm your fellowman with importunities.” (Proverbs 6:1-3) That is, cast aside pride, acknowledge your error, set matters straight.
It Must Be Genuine
Not all people who seem humble have genuine humility. Some seemingly humble individuals may actually be proud and will stop at nothing to get their own way. Then there are those who use the cloak of false humility to impress others. For instance, the apostle Paul encountered some who displayed “mock humility,” and he indicated that anyone doing this was actually “puffed up without proper cause by his fleshly frame of mind.” Such an individual wrongly thought that having God’s favor depended on whether he ate, drank, or touched certain things or observed religious days or not. True, he might have seemed pious and humble, but his false humility was worthless. (Colossians 2:18, 23) In fact, it led him to think that the prize of life was awarded to those who renounced material things. It also spawned a subtle form of materialism because ascetic prohibitions focused attention on material things that he professed to despise.
On the other hand, genuine humility restrains a person from manifesting self-importance in dress, grooming, and life-style. (1 John 2:15-17) An individual clothed with the garment of humility does not draw undue attention to himself or his abilities. Rather, humility helps him to treat others in a considerate manner and to see himself as God sees him. And how is that?
When the prophet Samuel was about to anoint a new king for the nation of Israel, he thought that Jesse’s son Eliab was Jehovah’s choice. But God told Samuel: “Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” Seven of Jesse’s sons were rejected. God’s choice was David, who proved to be a man of faithfulness and humility.—1 Samuel 13:14; 16:4-13.
The garment of humility safeguards us from becoming proud, presumptuous—and disapproved by God. He “opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (James 4:6) His view is shown in the psalmist’s words: “Jehovah is high, and yet the humble one he sees; but the lofty one he knows only from a distance.” (Psalm 138:6; 1 Peter 5:5, 6) What God expects of his servants is evident from this question, posed at Micah 6:8: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”
Displayed by God and Christ
No wonder Jehovah expects us to show humility! It is one of his own qualities. After God delivered him from his foes, David sang: “You [Jehovah] will give me your shield of salvation, . . . and your own humility will make me great.” (Psalm 18:35; 2 Samuel 22:1, 36) Though Jehovah is in the highest heavens, “he is condescending to look on heaven and earth, raising up the lowly one from the very dust; he exalts the poor one from the ashpit itself, to make him sit with nobles.” (Psalm 113:5-8) God shows humility by exercising mercy toward sinful mankind. His dealing with sinners and giving his Son as a sacrifice for sins are expressions of his humility, love, and other qualities.—Romans 5:8; 8:20, 21.
Jesus Christ, who was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” set the greatest human example of humility. (Matthew 11:29) He told his disciples: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) That was not mere rhetoric. On the evening before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles, performing a service customarily rendered by slaves. (John 13:2-5, 12-17) Jesus served God humbly before coming to the earth and has manifested humility since his resurrection to an exalted position in heaven. So Paul admonished fellow believers to ‘consider others superior to them’ and have the humble attitude of Jesus Christ.—Philippians 2:3, 5-11.
Since God and Christ display humility, those desiring divine approval must manifest this quality. If we have been haughty at times, it would be wise to humble ourselves and pray for God’s forgiveness. (Compare 2 Chronicles 32:24-26.) And instead of having grandiose ideas about ourselves, we need to apply Paul’s counsel: “Do not be minding lofty things, but be led along with the lowly things.” (Romans 12:16) How, though, can humility benefit us and others?
Benefits of Humility
One benefit of humility is that it restrains us from bragging about ourselves. We thus spare others annoyance and avoid personal embarrassment if they are not enthralled by our achievements. We should boast in Jehovah, not in ourselves.—1 Corinthians 1:31.
Humility helps us to obtain divine guidance. Jehovah sent an angel to Daniel with a vision because that prophet humbled himself before God when searching for guidance and understanding. (Daniel 10:12) When Ezra was about to lead Jehovah’s people out of Babylon with much gold and silver for beautifying the temple in Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast so that they could humble themselves before God. The result? Jehovah protected them from enemy assault during the dangerous trip. (Ezra 8:1-14, 21-32) Like Daniel and Ezra, let us display humility and seek Jehovah’s guidance instead of trying to fulfill God-given duties in our own wisdom and might.
If we are clothed with the garment of humility, we will respect others. For example, children possessing humility respect and obey their parents. Humble Christians also respect their fellow believers of other nationalities, races, and backgrounds, for humility makes us impartial.—Acts 10:34, 35; 17:26.
Humility promotes love and peace. A humble person does not fight fellow believers in an effort to establish his supposed rights. Paul only did things that were upbuilding and would not trouble a brother’s conscience. (Romans 14:19-21; 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; 10:23-33) Humility also helps us to promote love and peace by forgiving others for their sins against us. (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21, 22) It moves us to go to an offended person, admit our error, ask his forgiveness, and do what we can to rectify any wrong we may have done. (Matthew 5:23, 24; Luke 19:8) If an offended individual approaches us, humility prompts us to settle matters peaceably in a spirit of love.—Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3.
Salvation depends on displaying humility. For example, concerning God, it is said: “The humble people you will save; but your eyes are against the haughty ones, that you may bring them low.” (2 Samuel 22:28) When the King Jesus Christ ‘rides in the cause of truth, humility, and righteousness,’ he will save those humbling themselves before him and his Father. (Psalm 45:4) Those showing humility can find comfort in the words: “Seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.”—Zephaniah 2:3.
Humility and God’s Organization
Humility leads God’s people to appreciate his organization and to stay with it as integrity keepers. (Compare John 6:66-69.) If we are not given a service privilege we had hoped to receive, humility helps us to cooperate with those shouldering responsibility within the congregation. And our humble cooperation sets a good example.
On the other hand, humility keeps us from displaying vanity in connection with our privileges of service among Jehovah’s people. It prevents us from seeking praise for work we have been privileged to do in God’s organization. Moreover, if we are serving as elders, humility helps us to treat God’s flock with tenderness.—Acts 20:28, 29; 1 Peter 3:8.
Humility and Discipline
The garment of humility helps us to accept discipline. Humble people are not like Judah’s King Uzziah, whose heart became so haughty that he usurped priestly duties. He ‘acted unfaithfully against Jehovah and came into the temple to burn incense upon the altar of incense.’ When Uzziah became enraged at the priests for correcting him, he was stricken with leprosy. What a price to pay for lack of humility! (2 Chronicles 26:16-21; Proverbs 16:18) Never be like Uzziah and let pride prevent you from accepting discipline from God through His Word and organization.
In this regard Paul told anointed Hebrew Christians: “You have entirely forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’ . . . True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:5-11) Remember, too, that “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Proverbs 6:23.
Remain Clothed With Humility
How important it is that Christians always wear the garment of humility! It moves us to persevere as Kingdom proclaimers, humbly witnessing from house to house in search of those “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” (Acts 13:48; 20:20) Indeed, humility helps us to keep on obeying God in every respect, though proud opposers hate our righteous course.—Psalm 34:21.
Because humility moves us to ‘trust in Jehovah with all our heart,’ he makes our paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) In fact, only if we are clothed with this fine quality can we truly walk with God and enjoy his approval and blessing. As the disciple James wrote: “Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10) Let us therefore be clothed with humility, that beautiful garment styled by Jehovah God.