We live in a culture of pride. We take self-definition, self-fulfilment, and self-assertion for granted. The Bible is kind and honest enough to warn us that this proud self-focus is actually deeply destructive – it insults God and alienates us from each other. But worst of all, this self-aggrandising pride is completely opposite to Jesus. Ironically, the path to true confidence is to trust Jesus in his humility. “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). We surveyed all this in the first four posts of this series.
The humble Jesus invites us to the adventure of ruling with him, and like him. Jesus is not like earthly rulers. He doesn’t oppress us. When we bow down to him, he doesn’t put his foot on our neck and humiliate us. He gives us back our crown. And then he invites us to rule like him- in humility, using our resources to serve others.
Humility in marriage
It takes humility to build a good marriage. Pride says: “I’ll love you as long as it’s good for me – as long as you make me happy, fulfil my sexual needs, or whatever. But when it stops being good for me, I have to be true to myself. And if that means abandoning you, well, I’m really sorry, but I come before you”. This is why people don’t even bother getting married anymore. Why bother? Just live together for as long as it’s good for both of you. And when it stops being good, move out.
Yet, humility says: marriage is built on a whole lifetime of caring for the other person, of putting their needs before yours, and trusting the other person to care for you, putting your needs before theirs. Sticking through with that person, even when it’s not convenient or satisfying.A quick disclaimer in light of recent discussions about domestic violence: I am NOT here saying that a wife should quietly submit to emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. First of all – I’m not addressing only wives. This call to mutual service applies to both wives and husbands. One aspect of a healthy marriage is caring for your partner even when they do not gratify your immediate desires. Being dissatisfied is not the same as being abused. We need to be able to tell the difference between them, and respond rightly to each. These are some of the ways that marriage can be a small glimpse of that grander relationship of Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32) – mutual love, mutual trust, and faithfulness.
Humility as a parent
It takes humility to be a good parent. Children can sometimes be demanding, ungrateful, and really, really cruel – to each other, and to you. Pride says: become bitter and resentful. “I slave for you day in and day out, working to earn money, keeping the house clean and tidy, cooking your food – and you don’t even have the courtesy to pick up your towel from the bathroom floor?” But do you hear how self-focused all that is? I slave – I keep the house – I cook – I deserve. That’s pride.
Humility says: speak kindly to your children. Don’t be ashamed to discipline them. It’s good for children to learn gratitude, patience, kindness, and all the other fruits of the Spirit. But when you speak to them, don’t do it with a mindset of “I want you to behave so that I have a peaceful life”. Speak to them with a mindset of “I want you to build a Godly, healthy character that will help you honour God, and live well, in the long run. I want you to learn how to control your emotions and speak kindly, with restraint and courtesy”. That different attitude will some across in the way you communicate to your children. They’ll sense it in your tone of voice and body language.
Pride can also make us anxious. Pride says we have to build our children’s future, or else we’re failures, with thoughts such as: “I have to be a model mum”, “I have to be the perfect dad”, “I have to send my children to a private school”, “I have to send them to music lessons”, or “I have to send them to sports”. It’s exhausting — I feel tired just writing it!
Instead, humility says: trust God. Do what you can for your children. It’s not sinful to give them opportunities to develop their abilities – academic, sporting, artistic, etc. But don’t feel pressured to keep up with everyone else. Praying for and with your children is more important than sports and music lessons. Reading the Bible with them is more important than tuition. It’s more important for them to know God as their heavenly Father, and Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, than have a successful career.
Humility as a child
Children – it takes humility to trust your parents because you have to trust that they know better than you. And that’s not normal! Remember, pride and sin put “I” in the middle. Pride says “my parents were born last millennium. They didn’t even have the internet back then. That means they’re obsolete. They can’t understand anything about my life. So the best thing they can do is feed me, give me money, and then get out of the way so I can enjoy life, because I know best”.
However, humility says – when your parents give you advice, or tell you off, listen to them. They’re saying it because they care about you. And they want to teach you how to live well in the long run. Being older than you doesn’t make them ignorant, therefore obsolete, or useless. It means they’ve experienced many of the hardships and opportunities can come with ordinary life. And that means they can give you advice about how to survive the hard times, and make the most of the opportunities. Listen to them.
Humility at work
The hardest place to be humble might be work. The culture of pride has infected employment and business dealings. In the past, we used to be able to rely on people giving others praise where it is due. We didn’t have to boast about our own achievements as we could trust someone else to see what we had done, and give us the praise we deserve.
However, this has changed and these days, we can’t expect others to praise us. Pride culture means everyone looks out for themselves. If they can take credit for our hard work, they will. They’ll advance themselves at our expense. So it’s not enough simply to do a really excellent job. We have to ‘boast’ – and show off to our superiors how excellent we are, or else someone else will credit. Even worse, they may even suggest that we’re no good, and push us out of our job, so that we end up jobless, penniless and useless.
However, there is also a real danger that people can take advantage of our humility. We might only ever get the rubbish projects at work. We might end up hanging with the losers at school.
Don’t be a doormat. Humility is not weakness. Jesus wasn’t weak, he was strong! He publicly challenged the proud religious leaders of his day! Demons trembled before him!
But humility does mean being counter-culturally honest and generous. It means giving credit to other people for their contribution to a work project, before claiming credit for what we have done. It means inconveniencing ourselves by staying back to help others in their work projects, because we know if they don’t make budget they’ll get in trouble.
Wouldn’t it be good if the Christians got the reputation at work, not of being weak walkovers, but of being honest, diligent, and generous – therefore reliable, trustworthy? It might even give us opportunities to talk about Jesus, and how his work of reconciling us to God is perfectly reliable – how we can put our “faith” in him.
But we don’t humbly serve others so that they praise us. Like Jesus, we humbly serve because we are confident of a greater glory, a greater praise, by a greater master. And that will be the topic of the last and summary post of this series.
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|1.||↑||A quick disclaimer in light of recent discussions about domestic violence: I am NOT here saying that a wife should quietly submit to emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. First of all – I’m not addressing only wives. This call to mutual service applies to both wives and husbands. One aspect of a healthy marriage is caring for your partner even when they do not gratify your immediate desires. Being dissatisfied is not the same as being abused. We need to be able to tell the difference between them, and respond rightly to each.|