Humility is one of those doctrines where almost all Bible teachers and Christians have a reasonably good idea of what it means. They know that it is wrong to exalt self, or engage in mere self promotion, or seek the praise of man. They appreciate the minimization of self and seek to cultivate this precious commodity in their lives with the help of God.
But occasionally they find themselves in a quandary when the demands for humility that others place on them seem inappropriate. Perhaps they face demands to submit to authority where that submission involves serious compromise or error. Or demands to conform where the conformity involves a departure from Scripture. Or demands to keep quiet in circumstances that merit shouting from the housetops.
So what do you do when men hound you to sit in their designated humble box and sitting in that box doesn’t seem right? Do you flush your brain and conscience down the potty in a display of humility that leaves you feeling like a lickspittle? Do you refuse to climb into the box and bear the reproach of being a proud man who promotes divisiveness and selfishness?
Who is right in these situations? Those who make the demands for humility? Or those who refuse to cave in to such demands?
There is no way to objectively answer this question unless we first objectively define humility. Right here is where error finds its entry. Any understanding of humility which is man-focused is wrong in principle and can only be right incidentally. Humility is not submitting to other humans. Humility is submission to God. While this may involve submission to man, there are times when it must studiously and conscientiously refuse to submit to man. The path of humility for Noah and Martin Luther was a path of rejecting all religious authority around them.
But defining humility as submission doesn’t really address its essence. It isn’t mere submission or conformity. Humility involves a deep appreciation of the revelation of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). It values this revelation over all other considerations. The humble person wants his mind to reflect the revealed mind of God, not the mind of man. He wants his heart and life to reflect the character of God, not traits that the world or the worldly church admires. He wants his practice to reflect the holiness, discernment, truth, and doctrine that God aims for, not the paltry or tainted versions that prevail in Christiandom. In short, the humble person wants to reflect the beauties of Christ.
Now once we see humility as a deep desire to reflect the beauties of Christ, then we have a ready solution for those painful situations when men make man-centered demands upon us for humility, demands which boil down to us reflecting them. It is never right to diminish our reflection of Christ to please men. If submitting to the demands of men — no matter how godly or devoted they seem — puts us on or keeps us on the path of reflecting less of his truth, less of his teaching, less of his mind, less of his heart, less of his priorities, less of his character, then we have no business submitting to them. We must steadfastly refuse to climb into their humble box.
Brethren, let not your hearts be troubled in this matter. The true test of humility is not flushing your brain and conscience down the potty. It is not setting self aside in a display of pretentious humility that leaves you feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. It is not letting others dictate to you how you should live, think, and serve God.
The true test of humility is conformity to all the beauties of Christ—his character, teachings, gospel, etc. And since these beauties are presented to us in the word of God, it is perfectly legitimate to say that the true test of humility is conformity to the word of God in these matters.
In conclusion, don’t let men bully you into displaying less of the beauties of Christ on the plea of humility. Don’t allow man’s distortions of humility to undermine true humility. Go display Jesus in your life, your ministry, and your doctrine, and let God deal with those who are offended with you because you won’t sit in their humble box.
“Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.”
Lee W. Brainard