Good humility is something that is respected in our world today. When one is humble, they are seen as being down to earth. People who are humble tend to be less materialistic and focus on the things that they have. It’s not wanting to have more in life but wanting to enjoy what they have in life more. They tend to think of others more and themselves less. And in this, good humility is something that is to be honored and striven (or is it strived…is that a word?) for.
Then there’s harmful humility. Harmful humility is where one thinks of others not because they truly care but because it’s been hammered into them that they shouldn’t think of themselves at all. It’s been hammered in that to think of yourself as anything good is a bad thing. Not just that, but if you even toot your own horn just a little bit, that’s being prideful and thinking of yourself more than you ought to.
And there’s the rub. Harmful humility is usually backed up by the Bible, especially from Romans
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Romans 12:3
Well, it’s biblical then, right? So why is it harmful?
It’s harmful because it’s misused and misinterpreted. It’s one of those passages that gets tossed around at people out of context and in doing so harms others. It creates a life time of beating oneself up for the very purpose of trying to be humble when in reality all you’re doing is hurting yourself and not enjoying what you’ve been given.
Here’s the thing–when we think of ourselves as lowly, we then act lowly. When we think of ourselves as bad if we toot our own horn once in a while then we lack respect for ourselves and our accomplishments. Not just that, but then you begin to think that if you even talk about something good you’ve done, then others will think you’re being all high and mighty and “I’m better than thou”ish and might try to knock you down a peg. Seriously. I’ve seen it. It’s true. This is harmful humility.
The problem is, is that Romans 12:3 and onward isn’t about being humble per se. It’s about serving the church through your gifts.
The full passage is this:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3
Paul then goes on to talk about spiritual gifts and how they are used in the church. For those who call on the name of Jesus Christ, we are all one body and are given gifts to help serve one another and to serve in the church. We serve God through our gifts. It’s not about being lowly and beating yourself up for things you did or didn’t do. It’s about serving in gratitude through what God has already given you.
Paul says that we each have our own functions in the church. We each play a part in the church. And we should do so in gratitude for what Jesus has done. It’s about the diversity in the church itself not about being a lowly person with a bad self image.
Too many times we think humility is having a lower self image. It’s as if we might think of ourselves as lesser people not deserving of things then we might be more humble. Nope. Not it at all.
Paul further says that this must be done out of love. When we love sincerely with the love of Christ, we serve humbling in love. When we put ourselves down in order to make someone else look good or think that if we act in a certain way people might try to knock us down a peg or two, then we’re not living a sincere love. We serve humbly by loving others. We serve humbly by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And harmful humility forces us to not love ourselves as God loves us in Christ. How can we truly serve with sincere love if we don’t love ourselves in that way. It leads to harmful service as much as harmful humility.
Instead find ways to love graciously and sincerely. Find ways to live out the gifts that God has given you. Then true humility will find its way into your every day living. True humility will be lived through true sincere loving service to others using what God has given you to do so. Serve others in love and humility will be a produced by the Holy Spirit working through you.