Centuries ago, a Roman general or emperor, parading through the throng of cheering crowds at a great triumphal procession, would have a slave in the chariot with him, whose job it was to whisper in his ear, Remember, you too are mortal.
The ancients recognised—mostly—that it was dangerous to become too elated; you could become guilty of what they called hubris, arrogant pride. A bit like Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield who is always telling people, “I’m a very ‘umble person” while all the time secretly conniving for self-promotion.
I have often seen the little statement, The funny thing about humility is the second you think you’ve got it, you don’t. And I think it’s very true. We don’t talk very often today about humility—it has become almost a dirty word, linked to weakness. Humility is not about deprivation. Humility is about more, not less. A humble heart gives more, has more room, sees more good, and is more generous. And it’s a wonderful trait to see in other people. Humility is not false. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It doesn’t deny the truth about what is good.
Mahatmha Ghandi said in his book, “I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.” We’ve all heard that old joke about the person who wrote a book, put a full-page picture of himself on the cover, and titled it Humility and How I Obtained It. Sir Isaac Newton was a great student of the universe, a philosopher, and a mathematician, the genius who developed mathematics and formulas that are still used in astrophysics today. But Newton said of himself, “I’m like a child, playing by the seashore, picking up a pebble here and a pebble there while the ocean rolls in front of me.”
Benefits of Humility
Some research suggests that this lovely quality is good for us individually and for our relationships. For example, humble people handle stress more effectively and report higher levels of physical and mental wellbeing. They also show greater generosity, helpfulness, and gratitude—all things that can only serve to draw us closer to others.
Nelson Mandela said: “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, and humility.” No one wants to fail; everyone wants to succeed in life. And yet we learn far more from our failures than from successes and accomplishments. Let a young writer publish an early book and receive great acclaim and he/she automatically thinks of themselves as a great author. However, if the aspiring writer receives a series of rejection slips that drive him to work at his craft and perfect his manuscript, he can become far more than otherwise. There is great power in humble people—they have learned so much.
In the Roman Empire, humility was a dirty word. Strength and brutality was admired. But then Jesus came and taught that humility is a better quality than pride or arrogance. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 – CEV). Even Jesus had to humble himself. It takes humility to walk in obedience. Without humility, Jesus could have thought, I’m the Son of God. I don’t have to put up with the way people treat me. I’m not going to the cross. It was humility that caused him to not retaliate against those who did him wrong. Because of his humility, he could spend his life serving others when he had every right to be served. Because of his humility, he could hang on the cross and say, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Paul said, “Don’t be jealous or proud but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 – CEV) . And that becomes a stumbling block to many today who feel ‘might is right’.
John Trapp was a great Puritan who made the statement, “Those who know God will be humble. Those who know themselves cannot be proud.” Let’s think about that.
C.S. Lewis wrote these interesting words: “A proud person is always looking down on things and people. And of course, if you are always looking down, you cannot see someone who is above you”. God is the One who knows all about you, and knows your heart. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.