Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy ( Psalm 113:4-9 ; 138:6-7 ); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross ( Matt 11:29 ; Acts 8:32-33 ; Php 2:5-8 ). The dual usage of "meek" (Gk. praus [prau?"]) and "humble (tapeinos [tapeinov"] "low") in heart" in Matthew 11:29 emphasizes Christ's humility before humankind, whom he came to serve ( Matt 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ) and his submission before God. Humility and meekness are often inseparable ( 2 Col 10:1 ; Eph 4:2 ; Col 3:12 ).
As a sign of genuine religion ( Mic 6:8 ) humility is necessary to enter God's kingdom ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ) or to be great in it ( Matt 20:26-27 ; Mark 10:43-44 ). As the absence of self ( Matt 10:38-39 ; Luke 9:23-25 ), it is a bankruptcy of spirit ( Matt 5:3 ) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God's righteousness for salvation ( Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:15-17 ). It may involve praying ( 2 Chron 7:14 ; Dan 6:10 ; 9:3-20 ), fasting ( Lev 16:29-32 ; 23:27-32 ; Ezra 8:21 Ezra 8:23 ; Psalm 35:13 ; Daniel 10:1-3 Daniel 10:12 ), and falling prostrate ( Ezek 1:28 ; Dan 6:10 ; Rev 1:12-17 ) before the Lord. Since the Lord denounces hypocritical worship ( Isa 58:3-7 ; Matthew 6:5-8 Matthew 6:16-18 ) and false humility ( Colossians 2:18 Colossians 2:23 ), a person's heart must match his or her posture ( Isa 57:15 ; Luke 18:9-14 ; cf. Isa 6:5 ; Matt 11:29 ).
Humility is the prerequisite for honor ( Prov 15:33 ; 18:12 ; 22:4 ; 29:23 ) and physical blessing ( Psalm 37:11 ; Matt 5:5 ). Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord ( Psalms 25:9 Psalms 25:12-14 ; Prov 15:33 ), it may provide the key to wealth and life ( Prov 22:4 ); but even when blessings are postponed, a humble spirit is necessary ( Prov 16:18-19 ; cf. Romans 12:14 Romans 12:16-17 ). It is the gateway to eternal life ( Matt 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ), not necessarily physical reward (5:10-12).
God gives grace to the humble (or afflicted) but resists the proud ( Prov 3:34 ; James 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ). Regardless of social or moral position ( Luke 1:48 Luke 1:52-54 ; cf. Psalm 51:16-17 ), God often delivers people who humble themselves before him whether righteous kings ( 2 Chron 32:24-26 ; 34:26-28 ), wicked rulers ( 1 Kings 21:27-29 ; 2 Chron 33:12-13 ), or commoners ( 2 Ch 30:8-11 ).
The Lord exalts the humble ( Matt 23:12 ; Luke 1:52 ; 14:11 ; 18:14 ; James 4:10 ) in his proper timing ( 1 Peter 5:6 ). A person must not claim honor for self ( Prov 25:6-7 ; Luke 14:7-11 ) but have an unassuming attitude ( Rom 12:3 ). Jesus' teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant ( John 13:1-16 ), even unto death ( Isa 53:7-8 ; Acts 8:32-33 ) in obedience to the Father ( Php 2:5-8 ), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11).
The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom ( Prov 11:2 ). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite ( Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:5 ) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart ( Isa 57:15 ; 2 Cor 7:6 ).
The Christian ought to emulate Christ's example ( Matt 11:28-30 ; 2 Col 10:1 ) of meekness and humility. Humility is the foremost test of a truly great person or leader ( Luke 22:24-27 ). Paul's teachings and life ( Acts 20:18-21 ) emphasize and elucidate Christian humility. Recognizing he was the chief sinner ( 1 Tim 1:15 ) and the least saint and apostle ( 1 Cor 15:9 ; Eph 3:8 ) he gloried in the grace of God ( 1 Cor 15:10 ; cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10 ) and in the cross of Christ ( Gal 6:14 ; cf. 1 Cor 1:18-2:5 ) rather than self-righteousness ( Php 3:3-9 ).
Greg W. Parsons
Bibliography. J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self: Apostolic Teaching for Personal Wholeness; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 2:256-64; F. S. Fitzsimmons, New Bible Dictionary, p. 500; R. E. O. White, EDT, p. 537.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Humility'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".