‘Clothe Yourselves With Lowliness of Mind’
THE man came from a prominent city. He enjoyed the status of having been born a Roman citizen and likely was from a distinguished family. That man, Saul, had received some of the best education available in the first century C.E. He spoke at least two languages and belonged to a well-known Jewish religious group—the Pharisees.
Saul must have learned to look down on the common people and to be proud of his own righteousness. (Luke 18:11, 12; Acts 26:5) Saul’s fellow Pharisees assumed an air of superiority and loved prominence and flattering titles. (Matthew 23:6, 7; Luke 11:43) Associating with such people probably made Saul arrogant. We know that he was a zealous persecutor of Christians. Years later, as the apostle Paul, he called his younger self “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man.”—1 Timothy 1:13.
Yes, Saul became a Christian, the apostle Paul, and his personality changed completely. As a Christian apostle, he humbly declared that he was “a man less than the least of all holy ones.” (Ephesians 3:8) He was a successful evangelizer, but he did not take any credit for this. Rather, he gave all honor to God. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 2 Corinthians 11:7) It was Paul who admonished fellow Christians: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.”—Colossians 3:12.
Does that advice apply in our 21st century? Does it pay to be humble? Can humility really be a sign of strength?
Is the Almighty Creator Humble?
Any discussion of humility has to take into account God’s viewpoint. Why? Because he is our Sovereign and our Creator. In contrast with him, we have to recognize our own limitations. We are dependent on him. “As for the Almighty, we have not found him out; he is exalted in power,” said an ancient wise man named Elihu. (Job 37:23) Why, just contemplating the vast universe around us is a humbling experience! “Raise your eyes high up and see,” invites the prophet Isaiah. “Who has created these things? It is the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name. Due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing.”—Isaiah 40:26.
Along with being almighty, Jehovah God is humble. King David prayed to him: “You will give me your shield of salvation, and it is your humility that makes me great.” (2 Samuel 22:36) God is humble in the sense that he shows concern for lowly humans who try to please him, extending mercy to them. From the heavens Jehovah reaches down, as it were, in order to deal kindly with God-fearing ones.—Psalm 113:5-7.
Further, Jehovah values humility in his servants. The apostle Peter wrote: “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (1 Peter 5:5) Regarding God’s view of pride, a Bible writer observed: “Everyone that is proud in heart is something detestable to Jehovah.” (Proverbs 16:5) How, though, can humility be a sign of strength?
What Humility Is Not
Humility is not the same as humiliation. In some ancient cultures, a typical humble person was a slave—a servile, miserable, pitiful individual. In contrast, the Bible stresses that lowliness of mind leads to honor. For instance, the wise man wrote: “The result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.” (Proverbs 22:4) And at Psalm 138:6, we read: “Jehovah is high, and yet the humble one he sees; but the lofty one he knows only from a distance.”
To be humble does not mean that one has no abilities or achievements. For example, Jesus Christ never claimed that he was not Jehovah’s only-begotten Son, and he never pretended that his ministry on earth was not significant. (Mark 14:61, 62; John 6:51) Yet, Jesus showed humility by giving credit for his works to his Father and by using his power to serve and assist others rather than to dominate and oppress them.
A Sign of Strength
Unquestionably, Jesus Christ became known to his contemporaries “through powerful works.” (Acts 2:22) Yet, in the eyes of some, he was “the lowliest one of mankind.” (Daniel 4:17) Not only did he live an unassuming life but he also repeatedly taught the value of humility. (Luke 9:48; John 13:2-16) However, his humility did not make him weak. He was fearless as he defended his Father’s name and accomplished his ministry. (Philippians 2:6-8) In the Bible, Jesus is depicted as a courageous lion. (Revelation 5:5) Jesus’ example shows that humility is compatible with moral fortitude and strength of character.
As we strive to cultivate genuine humility, we realize that it takes real effort to make lowliness of mind a way of life. It involves always submitting to God’s will instead of following the way of least resistance or succumbing to fleshly inclinations. Developing humility requires moral strength, for we need to push aside personal interests in order to serve Jehovah and the interests of others selflessly.
The Benefits of Humility
Humility involves freedom from pride or conceit. The Scriptures use the expression “lowliness of mind” to describe it. (Ephesians 4:2) A humble mind-set results from a realistic assessment of ourselves—our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures. Paul gave fine counsel in this regard when he wrote: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” (Romans 12:3) Any who follow that counsel are showing humility.
Humility is also manifested when we sincerely place the interests of others above our own. Under inspiration, Paul admonished Christians: “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) This was in harmony with Jesus’ command to his followers: “The greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”—Matthew 23:11, 12.
Yes, lowliness of mind leads to exaltation in God’s eyes. The disciple James emphasized that point when he wrote: “Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10) Who would not want to be exalted by God?
Lack of humility has caused much confusion and strife between groups of people and between individuals. On the other hand, being humble yields positive results. We can enjoy the warmth of God’s approval. (Micah 6:8) We can enjoy peace of mind because a humble individual is more likely to be happy and content than a haughty person. (Psalm 101:5) Our dealings with family, friends, colleagues, and others will be smoother and more pleasant. Humble ones avoid becoming disagreeable and demanding, behavior that can easily lead to anger, estrangement, resentment, and bitterness.—James 3:14-16.
Yes, cultivating lowliness of mind is a fine way to maintain good relations with others. It can assist us in facing up to the challenges of a selfish, competitive world. With God’s help, the apostle Paul was able to overcome the arrogance and pride that he formerly had. Similarly, we do well to curb any inclination toward haughtiness or toward thinking that we are better than others. “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling,” warns the Bible. (Proverbs 16:18) Following the example and the advice of Paul, we will see the wisdom of ‘clothing ourselves with lowliness of mind.’—Colossians 3:12.
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Paul was able to overcome arrogance and pride
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Having lowliness of mind helps us to maintain good relations with others
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Anglo-Australian Observatory/David Malin Images