Posted by: everynation | April 4, 2011


By Paul Barker

(Note: We are featuring a four-part series on the subject of Humility from Paul Barker’s blog in 2009. We hope you will find this meaningful and encouraging as you live to please and honor God.)

Sometimes it is helpful to look at what something is not first. That often brings clarity to what it is. The following is a list of things that humility is not.

  • Humility is not self-deprecation.

Self-deprecation is the tendency to undervalue oneself and one’s abilities. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language) It is ironic that sometimes people who speak the lowest about themselves might actually be the proudest.

“A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility.” (C.S. Lewis)

  • Humility is not shyness.

A humble person may be loud, assertive, and bold.

  • Humility is not humiliation.

The Greek philosophers despised humility because it implied inadequacy, lack of dignity, and worthlessness. This is not how the Bible defines humility. Jesus is the supreme example of humility, and He is completely adequate and of infinite dignity and worth. Biblical humility is not a belittling of oneself. (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

  • Humility is not a lack of ambition.

The Bible disapproves of selfish ambition – not ambition. Ambition is a “strong desire to achieve something”; it is a godly quality. Jesus appealed to His disciples’ ambition when He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you.” He did not rebuke James and John’s desire to sit at His right hand, only their means of attaining it. Paul also provided an example of godly ambition when said, “I labored even more than all of them.”

Then what is humility?

  • Humility is recognizing that everything we have and everything we are is the result of God’s grace.

Humility is the habitual frame of mind of a child of God who feels not only that he owes all his natural gifts to God, but also that he has been the object of undeserved redeeming love. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (I Corinthians 15:10)

  • Humility is acknowledging that we can do nothing of eternal benefit without God.

After the Lord told David that He would make his name great, give him rest from all his enemies, and establish the throne of his kingdom forever (II Samuel 7:9-17), David said to the Lord: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that You have brought me this far?” (II Samuel 7:18)

Jesus is our chief example of humility. He said, “By Myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30), “I do nothing on My own” (John 8:28), and “I did not speak of My own accord” (John 12:49). This gives an important insight into humility, in that it is a choice. For us, then, while it is true that we are nothing without God, it is also a choice we must make to live that way. Martin Luther once said, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” (Quoted in Edythe Draper, Quotations for the Christian World)

“The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing apart from the woodsman. He made the axe, He sharpened it, and He used it. The moment He throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. Oh that I may never lose sight of this.” (Samuel Brengle, Quoted in, J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 81)

  • Humility is properly estimating our self.

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)


Paul Barker is currently the Director of Leadership Development for Every Nation Ministries. He leads the team that produces the ENLI curriculum for North America and that trains vocational ministers to do university and high school ministry.


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