Our small group had what I’ll call a Kumbaya pow-wow last week. We went around in a circle speaking words of encouragement to each other. It was an exercise designed to build us up, but it felt awkward. This awkwardness was more of a symptom of the condition of my heart than anything anyone said. Still, I found it easy to sincerely appreciate and compliment my group members. It wasn’t until it came time for me to receive words of encouragement that I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I couldn’t really put my finger on why I felt this way. As I began searching scripture to answer that question, a faulty assumption I carried was slowly revealed to me. The assumption was that if I had accepted, and heaven forbid, even agreed with such compliments, I would become puffed up and lack humility. This incomplete view of humility was missing a God-centered, biblical lens.
True humility doesn’t cause us to think less of ourselves. Instead, it seeks to regard others as more important than ourselves. It causes
us to look out for the interest of others. This definition of humility can be found in Philippians 2:3-4. It says “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.“ (NASB)
There are two aspects to this definition of humility. The first part deals with actions we take in order to be humble, and the second part deals with how we ought to think or feel in regard to humility. Paul might have intentionally put this call to action first, since taking action is much simpler than subduing our thoughts or feelings. I say this because actions intrinsically don’t require our feelings or sincerity. Under duress or even great temptation, we can be compelled to take action against our will. You know what I’m saying. Just ask anyone on a diet, fighting the temptation to stop by their favorite fast food drive-thru. Philippians reveals that our desire for humility compels us to act selflessly (maybe sometimes against our will), and give glory to God.
So the text tells us to act selflessly, but you might be asking “where in Philippians does it mention giving glory to God in order to be humble?” If you look up “empty conceit” in the original Greek, you’ll find the word kenodoxia. Strong’s Greek dictionary defines kenodoxia as empty or vain glorying. We can infer that any glorying not unto God can be construed as empty or vain. Perhaps a great modern day translation of the first commandment could read “be humble.”
Now how do we cultivate the second aspect of this verse in our lives–the thought or feeling behind the action? Over time, the practice of serving others and giving glory to God, will cause our hearts and minds to be subdued to such action. We’ll eventually find ourselves in the acknowledgement that every member of the body is important to God and fully loved by Him. It will also become apparent that others possess God-given gifts and skills that we do not. When we have a greater understanding of where we stand in the endowment of such gifts, it becomes easier to receive and liberally give out words of appreciation and encouragement. Slowly that awkwardness I felt in the Kumbaya circle, will turn into feelings of appreciation and love.