“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b)
Humility is an essential virtue of Christianity, though it is often misunderstood. Some see humility as weakness, an inability or unwillingness to assert oneself; therefore, it is an obstacle to success and personal growth. Some cannot separate the word ‘humility’ from ‘humiliation’, something we’ve all experienced (mostly in middle school) and are not eager to revisit. Still others may put humility in the category of ‘noble qualities I don’t want to cultivate if I don’t have to’. Longsuffering, self-denial, submission, come to mind as other examples of these.
Humility never comes naturally to the sinner. Pride does. Pride has a ‘me first’ attitude; it thinks too highly of yourself, your accomplishments, your importance, your abilities, etc. Because you are so important (in your own mind), you come to believe that everyone ought to think of you that way. In fact, how dare anyone not see, understand, and respond to your superiority. How dare that person interrupt you when you were about to say something important (because everything you say is important). How dare your children not eagerly obey you right away. How dare the grocery cashier not speed things up–don’t they know your time is valuable? A prideful mindset naturally sets you over others. Those around you must be demoted, if you are to increase.
Humility inverts that thinking. It doesn’t underestimate or pretend to be lesser; it thinks rightly of yourself. The difference between pride and humility reveals the standard of measurement you use. Pride measures you against other people. Humility measures you against Christ. While you may find your excellencies elevate you over your neighbors and enemies or excuse your faults when compared to theirs, measure yourself against Christ and you’ll soon realize how foolish pride is. Christ is the standard–none of us measure up. This isn’t meant to lead to despair; it’s meant to be a reality check. Humility is summarized well in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Humility is first about elevating Christ. Humbling yourself comes more naturally and isn’t such a struggle when Christ is at the center of your thinking.
Christ is also our example of humility. “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus…,” Paul tells us in Philippians 2. After calling Christians to humbly consider the needs of others over ourselves, he points to Christ as the exemplar. Christ existed in the form of God, and yet took on human flesh, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, according to the will of the Father, all to save sinful wretches like us. The Son of God was not forced into humbleness because he wasn’t good enough or was somehow lesser than us. Instead, he willingly put on humility and lowered himself in order to save us. He teaches his church how to respond to one another.
1 Peter 5:5 says that we all should clothe ourselves with humility. Paul says something similar in Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”The picture here of ‘putting on’ a quality such as humility is helpful in a few ways.
One, humility is not something you have to wait to rise up naturally in your heart before you put it into practice. You need not wait to feel humble to act like it. This in no way means we should practice false humility, which is just pride in disguise. Rather, by God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, begin walking in obedience and practice being humble. You may fail often during the day as prideful thoughts and attitudes rise to the surface. But quickly remind yourself of the work and example of Christ to give you help. Humility is something to practice now and not wait for it to feel natural to do so. Remember, humility is also a command.
Two, what does clothing do? It covers up our nakedness, our defects, and our shame. Not to be crude, but that is its original and continuing purpose after the fall into sin (Genesis 2:25; 3:7,21). Prideful attitudes and actions reveal our sinfulness to all. A prideful person is quickly identified by everyone else around him as a fool; he alone, blinded by his pride, is too foolish to recognize it. To clothe oneself with humility serves to cover many of our sins and defects. It is a kind of protective cape that keeps our sins from infecting the world and the church so much. Pride sets our personal sin loose on all those around us. Just as love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8), so does humility in a similar way. By this I mean that clothing yourself with humility will keep you from the many sins of selfishness that would otherwise crop up, and would especially damage the church. Practiced humility guards powerfully against evil; produces much good; it is not a passive and weak virtue.
Lastly, you clothe yourself everyday. It is, hopefully, the first thing you do before you interact with anyone. In the same way, you should clothe yourself everyday with humility as part of your normal routine. I encourage you to try it. Tomorrow morning when you are getting ready, try praying something like this: “God help me, by your grace and Spirit, to be humble in my thinking, speaking, and living today. Christ must increase, and I must decrease. May I be like Christ in considering the needs of others and not just my own, especially in the household of faith.”
Go put on humility today. See how it affects your life and the lives of those around you.