In the first half of Ephesians 3 Paul tells us that he was being persecuted for his preaching. During his imprisonment Paul dwells on what he calls a “mystery,” which is that in Jesus, Jews and gentiles are now one people-- the Israel of God (Gal. 4; 6:16). This mystery, this aspect of the gospel humbles Paul in many ways, and it’s Paul’s humility in particular that caught my attention.
The verse I want to focus on is Eph. 3:8 where Paul says he’s “the very least of all the saints.” I found that he speaks of himself like this in a few places. In fact, if you note the dates these letters were written his view of himself only decreases over time. Here they are in chronological order: In 1 Cor. 15:9 he calls himself the “least of the apostles,” in Eph. 3:8 he says he is “the least of the saints,” and in 1 Tim. 1:16 he refers to himself as “the worst of sinners.” The longer Paul follows Jesus the more humble he becomes because his view of Jesus gets bigger as his view of himself get smaller.
One of my daughters took dance lessons for a while. Sadly, she inherited my general dance awkwardness as well as my lack of coordination. We cheered her on, of course, but the poor girl was always a few steps behind everyone else while executing the moves incorrectly. Somehow she was completely unaware of all of this. In fact, she thought she was “really good,” maybe even one of the best in the class. While we think this is cute, it is actually an immature form of pride.
Before we can understand the beauty of humility we have to understand the ugliness of pride. Pride is rooted in ignorance; an ignorance of who we really are, and who God really is. It is an inflated, self-important view of self that puts God and others in second place. There is nothing cute in pride. And you are proud. And so am I.
Do you bark at your kids when they don’t listen? This often comes from a feeling that we have been inconvenienced, not because they have disobeyed or are in danger. Do you get defensive when your words or actions are challenged? Do you vent about someone behind their back? All of these things stem from pride. Pride breeds envy, because we to want what “they” have (and we think we deserve it). It causes us to hate the thought of others believing that we aren’t as organized, neat, rich, disciplined, talented, put together, or godly as we want to be (or be thought of). Even worse, pride makes us most like Satan. Spurgeon calls pride the “first born son of hell.” God hates pride.
"The Lord detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished."
The opposite of pride is humility. But, humility is not beating ourselves up, thinking that we are losers without any value. True humility is thinking rightly about ourselves, as we really are before God. We are created in God’s image (and have dignity and value), we are sinners who justly deserve God’s judgment, yet in Jesus we are holy and blameless before him.
The humble are painfully aware of their ignorance and weakness which drives them into the arms of God for strength, and to the feet of Jesus for wisdom. The humble will be sensitive towards others and refrain from complaining. Like Paul, a humble woman will feel gratitude at the various jobs that God assigns her, and will feel awe that God would even bother with someone as sinful as herself.
So when Paul says that he is the least of the saints, he sees who he is: a saint, forgiven and immeasurably loved by God, but he also sees his frailty, his shortcomings, and his lowliness compared to the God he serves.
Before I offer a few ways we can grow in humility, consider the following “humble reminders”:
Humility reminds us to put ourselves under the complete authority of God. (James 4:10)
Humility reminds us how dependent on grace we are for all things. (James 1:21)
Humility reminds us how far from perfect we are. (Prov. 12:15)
Humility reminds us that we actually deserve judgement, but have found mercy. (Rom. 4:5)
So, how can we pursue and grow in humility? I’ll offer three simply habits:
We need to pray that God will open our eyes to where we struggle with pride, and give humble hearts. There is a difference between God humbling us (which is a form of discipline) and us humbling ourselves.
Humility won’t just happen. For example, check your heart and bite your tongue! Why do you want to say what you are about to say? Why are you doing what you are doing? Practice slowing down and evaluating your thoughts and actions, this is a sign of wisdom (James 1:19).
Becoming humble will require us to be very familiar with the depravity of man vs. the infinite perfection of God and the glory of Christ. But most importantly, we only learn humility as we know and pursue Jesus.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
(originally published at goodmorninggirls.org)