A few years ago, when I was working for a different organization, a colleague asked me for the email of a vendor we’d been working with. At the time, I’d been having difficulty getting said vendor to respond to my own messages, so in my return message to my colleague, I said something to effect of: “Good luck with getting in touch with him. He takes forever to respond.” I hit send and went about my business.
A few minutes later, the color drained from my face when I got a response to my email—not from my colleague but from the vendor I’d been talking about. It seems that in my search for the vendor’s email address, I’d inadvertently sent my message to him instead of the colleague I’d meant to share it with. Of course, I profusely apologized to the vendor for my mistake, and thankfully, he was understanding, perhaps because what I’d said about his response time wasn’t untrue. Needless to say, this was a humbling moment for me professionally; I’d made a mistake which could have cost me a relationship. I also learned a valuable lesson about patience and proofreading emails before sending.
It’s no surprise that the word humble comes from the same Latin root, humilitas, which means “to be brought to a low place.” This can be done one of two ways: either voluntarily through our own actions and disposition, or through circumstances we experience. Humility is mentioned repeatedly throughout Scripture. The apostle Paul reminds us to be “humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2), while James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). And when Jesus visits a Pharisee’s house, He tells those proud men a parable about choosing seats at a wedding feast. The moral of the story is this: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Why is it so important for us to be humble? What’s the benefit of lowering ourselves? Christ was the greatest among us, yet He was also the most humble of all (Philippians 2:8). Why is humility the model Jesus set for us to follow? Because when you love others more than yourself, it makes for a better community. Acting selfishly benefits only yourself, but acting selflessly benefits everyone around you (v.3). When you lower yourself, you lift up everyone around you.
When we focus more on other people, we also gain a perspective of empathy. Being humble opens our eyes to the needs and cares of those around us. God calls us to live in community with one another and support our fellow man. That’s much easier to do when we’re not distracted by our own ego.
It’s been said that “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” That statement has been attributed to several different Christian thinkers, including C.S. Lewis. Regardless, I imagine that whoever first said those words wouldn’t mind sharing credit—they no doubt understand the point of being humble.
Written by Robert Carnes