Cultivating Humility

Because we’ve been discussing it in the Young Professionals connections class, I’ve recently been reading C. J. Manhaney’s brief but excellent Humility: True Greatness. As one would guess from the title, the book aims to help the reader cultivate humility, which happens to be no small thing. I say that because of the axiom found in both 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The simple but deeply important question is therefore whether I want to experience God’s opposition or his grace.

The answer is obvious, which leads Mahaney into writing several short chapters filled with guidance in developing humility. And while I won’t attempt to reproduced all of that even in summary form, I thought it might be beneficial to expand on at least one of his suggestions: studying the attributes of God.

Since pride is fundamentally our desire to take God’s place by assuming his authority and claiming his glory for ourselves, taking a good look at who God has actually revealed himself to be—and then asking ourselves how well we measure up—is an extremely healthy exercise. With that in mind, I wanted to draw attention to a few revealing passages, to which we could add many, many more.

First, consider Paul’s words in Acts 17:24-25: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Paul states clearly that God doesn’t need anything. He is completely self-sufficient and joyfully content in his existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Can you make a claim that’s even remotely like this? Ask yourself how you eat, get from place to place, or find joy, relaxation, and purpose. Take a moment to consider just how many people and circumstances you’re dependent on each day.

Next, the prophet Isaiah relates a vision of the Lord, describing him this way: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy , holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Isa. 6:1-3). What is Isaiah’s response to the holiness of the Lord?: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (v. 5). Isaiah rightly understood his own moral character as falling desperately short of God’s own. As he relates later in the book, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (64:6). Notice what Isaiah says: it’s not the thoughts and actions that we’re ashamed of that are judged to be polluted to the point of worthlessness, it’s our best efforts, our “righteous acts.” While God is completely good, righteous, faithful, and true, we clearly are not.*

* As an aside, the comparison of God’s holiness and our sinfulness makes it all the more amazing that he would send his own Son to die on our behalf. God truly loves the unlovely (see Eph. 2:1-5).

Finally, consider the following description of God from Job 26:6-13:
6 Death is naked before God;
Destruction lies uncovered.
7 He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
8 He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
9 He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it.
10 He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
for a boundary between light and darkness.
11 The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
12 By his power he churned up the sea;
by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
13 By his breath the skies became fair;
his hand pierced the gliding serpent.

Job then moves to his greater point: all of these incredible things—hanging the earth on nothing, setting the boundary between light and darkness, causing the pillars of heaven to tremble—offer only a small glimpse of God’s power: “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (v. 14). If the whisper of his power is sufficient to make us shake our heads in wonder and awe, what might the thunder do? And how do we stand in comparison?

Hopefully, these examples begin to demonstrate how God’s revelation of who he is can encourage the humility that paves the way for grace. This leads me to a final practical suggestion. When you read the Bible, it’s always a good idea to be asking yourself the following questions: (1) what does this tell me about God? and (2) how does this distinguish him from me?

And let the humbling continue.

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