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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ediger

Cultivating Humility

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

Pride is one of those things we can easily see in the lives of others, but we have a hard time seeing it in our own lives. Yet, pride is a powerful desire behind many of our struggles. Pride is at work when we live for the approval of others, when we get defensive about criticism, or when our lives lack prayer. There are many other symptoms that we can trace back to pride.

So why is this? Why are we so easily driven by pride? The reasons are legion, but a couple that seem active in most lives are ignorance and familiarity. We are ignorant of God, who we are as sinners, and what Christ has done for us. And what we do know, we have grown familiar with. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

The verse we have memorized and have been meditating on is both a warning and a promise.

The warning: “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled…”

The promise: “…he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

It’s fascinating; it is the same words in both. The difference is in who is doing the action. You and I are the actors in the first half of each phrase. In the second half of each phrase, God is the actor. While His name is not mentioned, the passive voice points to God as the one who does the final humbling or exalting. Greek scholars call this the Divine Passive.

So, how do we heed the warning and embrace the promise? In other words, how do we cultivate humility in our lives? Scripture is our guide, and as we open its pages, we should begin in humble dependence by asking God to search our hearts. Then we should take time to:

  • Meditate on who God is as revealed in the Bible— God’s glory and majesty are on display in His word. Events like creation and the Exodus are a constant topic in the Psalms for a reason: they leave us in awe if we stop to consider the God behind them. One characteristic of God we see almost unendingly throughout the Old Testament is God’s lovingkindness or steadfast love. This rich word speaks to the faithfulness of God to His promises and His people. When read in the context of Israel’s frequent betrayal, the contrast heightens the intensity of this attribute.

Don’t rush through your reading of Scripture. Slow down and ask God to show you more of Himself in your reading.

  • Gain an accurate knowledge of our sinfulness— Sin soaks the storyline of Scripture from Genesis 3 through Revelation 20. It doesn’t take long for things like anger, jealousy, and murder to take their toll. As we read the accounts of Achan (Joshua 7), Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26), David (2 Samuel 11), Herod (Acts 12:20ff), and so many more, we see sin and, in particular, pride driving human behavior. In many ways, the Bible is one long account of man’s rebellion against God. Near the end of the apostle Paul’s life, he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15). One might expect him to say this shortly after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul didn’t become a greater sinner following his conversion. Instead, he gained a greater understanding of his sinfulness as time went on.

As we read our Bibles, we must remember our default is to have our defenses up about our actual condition. There are strong cultural messages that feed this erroneous way of acting. Ask God to expose your heart as you read. Remember, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

  • Meditate upon the person and work of Christ— While Scripture shares the long history of our rebellion, there is another overriding thread weaved alongside it: God’s promise of salvation. The promise of a Serpent Crusher comes quickly, though its fulfillment takes time. As we read Scripture, we see God’s grace drawing people to Himself and working out His promise of redemption through sinners. You can feel the people's expectations for their Messiah as you read the gospels. Consider Luke’s opening chapters and the personal accounts and reactions to God’s revelation of the coming Messiah. This is where we must work not to become familiar with events such as the incarnation, the life and ministry of Jesus, and his passion, where he endured hostility, suffering, and death at the hands of the people he came to rescue. Rather than familiarity, we should work to be humbled by the life and work of Christ. Read and reread passages like Isiah 52:13-53:12; Mark 14:1-15:47; Romans 3:9-30; and Philippians 2:1-11.

  • Seek to serve others—It is hard to read about the majesty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the sacrifice of Christ and boast about much of anything other than the cross of Christ. Because of this abundance, we don’t have to strive for our sake. Pride manifested in self-promotion loses its power and appeal at the foot of the cross. On this side of the cross, we have been freed from self-exaltation so that we might seek to serve others. We see in Jesus that he, who had every right and claim to be served, didn’t come to be served but came to serve. How much more so for us? The New Testament is full of “one another” commands. To name a few, consider these: love one another (Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8; et al.); care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25); bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2); be patient with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13); be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32); forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).

Serving others is a concrete way to cultivate humility because it is rooted in looking past ourselves to the needs of others. Paul spells this out in Philippians 2:3–4, saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Don’t grow weary. Pride is a cruel taskmaster. Humility, on the other hand, is a catalyst for joy. Combat pride by cultivating humility through a deeper understanding of who God is, your sinfulness, Christ’s work in redeeming you, and seeking to serve others. In your fight against pride here is a helpful list of verses on humility.

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