What does humility mean? What does it take to be humble? Humility is defined as the “quality, condition or state of being humble” (Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster). It’s further defined as “being a feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others.” I suppose these definitions are “technically” correct; however, I believe they are incomplete.
We’ve seen leaders that hold the attitude or belief that “people are our most valued resource” only to discover that those they lead are underpaid, abused or otherwise exploited or that the environments they lead are toxic, punitive and dismissive. Humility isn’t just about combatting attitudes and feelings, like pride and arrogance, it requires action. Throughout the Bible, humility is coupled with action (Mark 9:35, Mark 10:45, 1 Peter 4:10). Humility is always linked to service. It governs not just how to think but also how to act towards ourselves and others. Ephesians 5:21 (NLV) tells us:
“Be willing to help and care for each other because of Christ. By doing this, you honor Christ.”
Humility calls us to submit to God and each other; yet many would resist this concept fearing dominance or exploitation. In “What Does it Mean to Submit to One Another” , we’re told:
“we don’t tend to speak of submission or subordination very much in common speech today, the use of the verb “submit” can seem odd, antique, or unsettling. We might not understand what it means to submit to someone, not to mention how to submit to one another. Or we might recoil from the notion of submission, fearing that it leads to unhealthy domination or even violence in relationships.”
The authors explain “practically speaking, submitting to someone is basically the same as following the leadership of that person.” Doesn’t this sound familiar? When we submit to Jesus, we strive to lead like Jesus.
Humility leads to humor, the third quality of the mind. Jesus was passionate about His mission, and He loved fun. He attended parties and, at least once, turned water into wine. Knowing the wine was water just a minute ago, I imagine He chuckle when He heard:
“Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” – John 2:10 NASB
Humor and humility share their roots in the Greek word “humus” (of the earth). In fact, the term down-to-earth means one who is practical, reasonable, and friendly. Can you think of any person that was a more “down-to-earth” than Jesus? He literally came down from heaven to be among us. Jesus loved humor, primarily using irony consider:
“He said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He said some people are more concerned over the speck in their brother’s eye than the plank in their own” (NAE, 2013).
But humor has two sides. It’s almost a common practice at work, home, political rallies and even some churches to draw attention and laughter by vilifying or putting others down. The humor and words that we chose shouldn’t be used arrogantly or pridefully to tear others down but instead to lift them up (Ephesians 4:29, GW). In a masterful article, Humor and Humility, author Trevin Wax reminds us:
“When we go the way of pride, we usually leave humor behind. Or, we may maintain a sense of humor, but it’s sarcastic and biting, focused on maligning others.” Wax further states “when we take the talents, God has given us to glorify Him with, and instead glorify ourselves, we are blaspheming.”
Wax reviews the book, Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan (D. Wilber), showing how Reagan’s humility and humor got him, and others, through a time of personal crisis. Wax states, citing examples from the book:
“Even more impressive than Reagan’s sense of humor was his modesty. As the doctors hovered over him, discussing his precarious situation, the president politely interrupted: “I don’t mean to trouble you, but I am still having a hard time breathing.”
Later, “when he was unable to speak because of his breathing tube, he scribbled lines on paper for the nurses: “Could we rewrite this scene beginning about the time I left the hotel?”
Perhaps, Terry Lindvall, author of Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis, describes it best:
Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego…. Only the truly humble belong to this kingdom of divine laughter…Humor and humility should keep good company. Self-deprecating humor can be a healthy reminder that we are not the center of the universe, that humility is our proper posture before our fellow humans as well as before almighty God…
Challenge: Take a critical look at the role that humility and humor play in your work, home and social life. How does it support or hinder your efforts to lead like Jesus? Drop us a line to let us know. Next month we’ll consider “acceptance”, the final quality of the mind.