When my son was in high school, he and some of his friends played “The Game.” The way you lost the game was if you thought of it, and you were then required to announce, either in speaking or writing, that you had “lost The Game.”
Around that time, my family (my son, daughter, wife, and I) were discussing humility. One of us (probably my son) compared it to The Game. In other words, if you think about humility in relation to yourself, you have “lost The Game.” For example, if you think–or worse, if you say–“I’m a humble person,” you are not being humble in that moment.
In the last two years, I have heard several sermons related to the topic of humility. However, I think what’s been missing is trying to show what it looks like. Perhaps that’s because humility really is like The Game; once you think you have it, you don’t, so you’ve “lost.” On the other hand, I think that instinctively, we know humility when we see it in another person, even if we can’t describe it. We also know pride when we see it, and I freely confess that this has long been my biggest sin problem.
In the Bible, the book of Proverbs is full of practical advice, and there are two specific verses that have long been very helpful to me in regard to humility. The first one is Proverbs 27:2, which says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” When I am tempted to say something praiseworthy about myself, this verse helps keep me in check. A companion verse is the second part of Proverbs 27:21, which says, “Man is tested by the praise he receives.” In other words, how do I react to words of praise from others? Do I pat myself on the back, or do I somehow give glory to the Lord, Who has made me the kind of person I am in the first place? Hopefully, I do the latter much more than the former, but how? The way that I have done it is to thank the Lord, usually in my heart but not out loud. For example, throughout my 32 years of teaching, I received many compliments from my ESL students, sometimes in writing, sometimes in speaking. If I had said, “Thank You, Lord!” they probably wouldn’t have even understood it, and if they had, it probably wouldn’t have sounded genuine; I believe the perceived lack of genuineness applies to anyone else I might say it to, as well. That’s why I simply just thank the person with my words and thank the Lord in my heart. When appropriate, I also give credit to other people.
There are other examples of pride and humility that come to mind. For example, when I was a graduate student (a long time ago!), I had a professor who invited me to his home. While I enjoyed my time talking with him and his family, I didn’t enjoy his showing off and boasting about various things in his home. Or how about a person who boasts about his/her education? I’m sure you can think of other examples as well.
Matthew 25:31-46 is the passage about the sheep (believers) and goats (unbelievers). The Lord Jesus Christ has very affirming things to say to the sheep but condemning things to say to the goats. One thing that used to puzzle me was when the righteous (the sheep) in verses 37-39 respond to the Lord’s affirming words: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” It’s almost as if the Lord’s people don’t even realize how much they had done for people in need. I think that’s the point; when we are living in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, we do good to those around us without even necessarily being aware of it. That’s the kind of man I want to be.