Our modern culture is really missing the boat about a very important Christian concept. We have decided that humility is a bad thing. Even though the Bible implores believers to be humble, our society has mistakenly defined the word humble to mean the same as humiliation.
No one enjoys being humiliated. I’m sure every one of us can think back to a humiliating moment in our lives. When it comes to embarrassing situations, I know I can quickly think of one or two or twenty. Maybe we got caught doing something really bad, and as a result, our parents or teachers were very angry and disappointed. Maybe we misunderstood a situation and then said something completely inappropriate and very embarrassing. Maybe we flunked out of school, or dropped a routine fly ball to lose a game, or had one drink too many at the office Christmas party and threw up on the CEO’s expensive new shoes. (Or threw up on the CEO’s expensive new wife.)
Whatever our personal moment(s) of humiliation might be, one thing is certain: even decades later, the emotional pain and feelings of embarrassment are still vivid in our minds. We do not ever want to experience those feelings again. An aspect of wisdom and maturity that comes with the aging process is simply knowing how to avoid humiliating situations.
So, if the definition of the word humble is the same as humiliation, then of course we do not consider it a good thing.
On top of this misunderstanding, our culture also thinks that being humble is the same as having low self-esteem and no self-confidence. As most of us know, our society these days is obsessed with self-esteem. We are now the “everyone gets a trophy” culture, which, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t ask), actually reduces a person’s self-esteem. If a child never has to face failure or criticism while growing up, they’re in for a very rude awakening when they become adults. The business world is rife with examples of young college graduates who simply melt down the first time a supervisor points out that they are making some mistakes. In many cases, it’s the first time in their lives they’ve ever been criticized. OK, I’ll stop with the editorial opinion.
Anyway, being humiliated and having no self-esteem are bad things. However, that is not what the word humble actual means. Humble is simply the opposite of arrogance and pride. A humble person is not obsessed with comparing himself to other people and trying to be superior.
The best definition of humility was written by one of the most brilliant Christian writers of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis. He wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”
A humble person is not someone who is feeling an acute sense of embarrassment and shame, nor thinks of himself as worthless and unable to do anything right. A humble person doesn’t think about himself very much at all. He’s not constantly “blowing his own horn,” or angling to make sure everyone else notices how wonderful and successful he is. A humble person is just going about his business, trying to do the right thing and treat others with respect.
And without a doubt, a truly humble person does not get caught up in the insanely narcissistic world of social media. (OK, one more editorial comment: nothing has done more to crush humility than the “selfie.” Just sayin’.)
Humility is a very important Christian virtue. Ironically, when we focus on loving God and loving our neighbors, instead of focusing on ourselves all the time, we become happier and more self-confident. We often end up being more successful and have a lot more friends. Being humble should be a way of life for Christians.
OK, let’s close with a little joke about humility. Did you hear about the schoolboy who won a medal for being the most humble student in the class? But they took the medal away when he insisted on wearing it.