The world is becoming more and more sophisticated in its problem solving capacity. Knowledge is expanding at a rate where it is almost impossible to keep up with the latest breakthroughs.  It is expected that in ten years time, every word ever written will be available on the internet, at everyone’s disposal in seconds!  It is now possible to take apart a human being at a molecular level and closely examine each part for flaws or outright failures.  This is quite an achievement. Something to be proud of.  Who could have imagined this a hundred years ago?

But in the presence of the One who designed it all, we have only a little knowledge. And a little knowledge, as the saying goes, can be a dangerous thing.

Of course, those who don’t acknowledge the Designer think they are pretty good.  A hundred years ago, scientists thought they had just about discovered everything there was to know.  And look what we’ve found out since!  Einstein believed in an ordered and elegantly designed universe, where everything was predictable through formulas.  When his successors discovered quantum mechanics and the unpredictability of sub-atomic behaviour, he couldn’t come to terms with it and fought till his dying day to disprove these latest breakthroughs.  Ironically, quantum theory was only discovered through Einstein’s own formulas.  And quantum theory led to the development of the microchip.  The human heart beats with pride when it beholds the advancements we’ve made.  ‘Who needs God?’ we ask ourselves. Surely we could have designed the universe better?

And now we’ve set about analyzing the chemical processes that regulate human behaviour. And we think we have most of the answers.  Unacceptable behaviour is the result of a mismatch in either nature or nurture, or both.  So the answers to the first, we think, lie in the administration of corrective chemicals.  The answers regarding the latter, we think, lie in psychological remedies, correcting negative factors in our upbringing believed to have produced low self esteem, psychopathic thinking patterns and anti-social attitudes. Isn’t it great we know so much?

Even the church has jumped on the bandwagon, counseling to build up self-esteem, encouraging the setting of healthy ‘boundaries’, focusing on self as the centre of our existence, promoting self-achievement as a primary goal of life. ‘How can we love others as ourselves, if we don’t love ourselves to start off with?’ the pastor asks the congregation.

Please don’t think I am rubbishing every good effort to bring the lost before God’s throne or every attempt to help them by applying secular methods to improve their lives. Neither am I suggesting we should have low self-esteem or cease trying to succeed in life. I am not encouraging feelings of worthlessness, being unvalued or unappreciated. However, by making self the focus of our corrective action, we may just be treating the symptoms rather than the disease. We may just have the donkey by the tail.

Leslie Vernick, in her wonderful exposé, ‘How to find Selfless Joy in a me-first world,’ suggests that it is possible that “our difficulties in life occur, not because we don’t think highly enough of ourselves, but because we think too highly and too much of ourselves. Our problems in life usually don’t stem from loving ourselves too little, but from loving others and God too little and ourselves too much.”

There is a biblical principle that is largely overlooked in all our efforts to correct the psychological and behavioural problems typical of today. Jesus articulated it like this:


".. whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

And Paul stated it in these terms:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;” 
(1 Corinthians 9: 19)


And so I am forced to question man’s wisdom once more. Is our approach to fixing behavioural problems based on ‘a little knowledge’?  Is there much more that the Designer knows and we don’t? Worse, how much of what He knows has He already revealed to us, but we have chosen to ignore?  What both Jesus and Paul were referring to sounds to me like humility and submission. 

Jesus called Himself “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).  Lowly in heart means humble.  The NASB translates it as that. This scripture probably led to the line, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  Is this an accurate description of our Lord?  

Is submission to one another possible in the absence of humility?  Can you take up your cross and still not be humble?  Is humility an essential factor in quality of life? What does it mean to be humble?  Does it mean becoming a doormat for others and letting them walk all over you?  Is humility a face you present to the world or something you feel in your heart?  

So many questions. This essay tries to find some of the answers. 


There certainly are lots of scriptural instructions for believers to be humble.  It even seems to be a spiritual principle of sorts, directly contravening any human tendency or way of thinking:


"Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew18:2)

“Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought” (Romans 12:3) 

“Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”(Romans 12:16) 

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6) 

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”(James 4:10) 

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." (1 Peter 5:5-6)

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;” (Colossians 3:12)  

“… in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,” (2 Timothy 2:25)

“… to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” (Titus 3:2)


My dictionary defines humble, (in the sense of a character trait), as “modest, meek, without pride”.  Britannica’s Merriam-Websters focuses on what it is not: “not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive.” 

Jesus has never struck me as meek or mild. He recognised His own status as the Son of God.  He stood up to the Pharisees, never giving an inch to their hypocrisy.  He called them names.  He doggedly walked all over the Holy Land to promote His calling. He was moved to righteous anger when He saw money-changers in the Temple.  He was willing to die for His cause.  He addressed thousands of people at a time, without so much as a microphone. He was absolutely convinced He was right. This is not exactly the behaviour of an introvert or someone who has a fear of public speaking.  Neither is it being quietly deferential, like maybe the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, or a monk in seclusion.

Jesus was humble, but it was more likely in the sense of what He was not.  He was assertive. He was not meek, as I understand the meaning.  He was not arrogant, although the Pharisees and scribes probably took Him to be extremely so. He certainly wasn’t haughty or status conscious.  He mixed with the poor and the outcasts.  

As far as pride is concerned, I always believed there were two kinds of pride. One good and one bad.  Good pride relates to wanting to do your utmost to produce the best outcome for your efforts. Often these efforts are to benefit someone other than yourself. Bad pride is the kind that makes you feel superior to everyone else and draws attention to yourself. It makes you averse to admitting a mistake and prompts you to tell lies to cover them up. What I always perceived from reading about Jesus in the Bible, is that Jesus was proud of His mission in the good sense.  He wasn’t proud in the negative sense.  But I am now forced to reconsider my position.

What was particularly fascinating to me during my research for this essay, is that I was unable to find a Greek or Hebrew word in the Bible that expressed ‘good’ pride.  This led me to think that maybe the concept of good pride is a modern invention, another subterfuge by Satan, to deceive the world that pride can be good.  Possibly a better word for negative pride is ‘conceit’.  Maybe there ought to be better word to express good pride. (Possibly that word is ‘passion’.) There are at least three Greek roots translated as pride or proud in the NT, all of them negative.  There are loads more in the OT Hebrew, all negative.

All my senses tell me that when the Bible condemns pride, the subject matter is conceit, arrogance, hypocrisy, self-sufficiency and self-importance. The type of pride that makes us perform in order to receive acknowledgement from men and be elevated above others. The type of pride that comes before the fall.  Any pride which is motivated by the intention to draw attention to ourselves, is condemned by God:


“… for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)

If I were writing this essay in order to get you, my reader, to think highly of me, then my motivation is wrong. Pride will have crept in and the good intention will have been lost in the process.


Sometimes, especially where religious practices are concerned, pride is expressed in false humility. The Pharisees were renowned for it.  It has a tendency to creep into any place where religious people meet:


“Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” (Colossians 2:18)

“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)

Some Colossians had adopted weird religious practices to replace the real thing Paul had delivered.  These religious practices were all to do with men and their perceptions, rather than with God and His expectations.  Ring a bell?

Considering all this, I think the humility the Bible advocates, is the type that neutralises negative pride.  It prevents self-exaltation.  But does that leave room for the existence of a positive kind of pride, the type that makes you try harder, give more of yourself, and instils certainty about where you are going and why you are doing it?  Maybe it is semantics.  There certainly is nothing wrong with trying hard, giving more or being sure of your salvation. What is at stake is the heart motivation, which God can discern, explaining why you are doing whatever it is.

Again, taking myself as an example, it is an effort to get stuck in and produce this essay. There is a lot of research to do, a lot of reading, a lot of prayer and a lot of mulling about.  I am not interested in writing anything other than the honest truth as hopefully revealed to me by Jesus.  I have often misheard Him.  I still make many mistakes.  But am I doing it to get acknowledgement from you?  Do I seek to be admired by men?   Am I secretly hoping you will say, “Oh, what wonderful insight Albert’s got”?   Or am I simply wanting to share the real Gospel message, as brought to us by Jesus Himself?


The old maxim, WWJD (What would Jesus do?) still is very valid.  He was the example for us to emulate. So here we are, wanting to become humble the way Jesus was humble.  In finding out how to do this, we have to consider several scriptural principles, including submission to one another, servanthood, and dying to self. 

As typical human beings we tend to do things backwards.  We treat the symptoms rather than the cause. We address the obvious rather than the underlying. We rarely consider whether our relationships and effectiveness in community might be improved if we adopted the approach Jesus recommends, because, to our way of thinking, His way doesn’t make sense.  What if we forgot about self-esteem as a primary focus and concentrated on becoming a servant for the good of others? Would our marriage, relationship with our children, and relationships in general improve? Would we draw closer to God through it, and become more useful vessels in ministering to others?  Or would others take advantage of our submission and start using us? In the end, does it really matter? Who is going to suffer if we are simply obedient to God? Isn’t obedience paramount?

Gary Thomas writes in ‘The Glorious Pursuit’, “Humility is not a positive or negative view of self as much as it is a forgetfulness of self.” Leslie Vernick puts it this way: “… humility is an accurate assessment of who we are and a heartfelt acknowledgement that anything good in us is a result of God’s goodness in us.”

Submission to one another
There is a battle of wills going on. Even as children become aware of their existence, the battle begins.  We want things our way! Tantrums are readily available! By our very fallen nature, we are programmed to be selfish.  Our instant reaction to anything happening is: “How will this affect me”, or “What will I get out of this?”  Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit, not so much by the fact that it looked nice, but by the suggestion it would make them like God, and therefore independent of Him, no longer subject to His will. Ever since, we share their corruption.

Now throw a whole lot of Christians into a room together, all of them programmed to want their own way, and we have a recipe for chaos. We address the problem, not by applying the principles Jesus suggested, but by segregating into groups that think alike.  And the more sophisticated the world gets, the more groups that are formed.

Jesus suggested, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  Poor in spirit goes against the grain of what most Christians believe.  Spiritual is good, they think.  Fleshly is bad. But if you are poor in your human spirit, it becomes that much easier to allow the Holy Spirit to take over. And it is when the Holy Spirit takes over, Christ lives through us.  If all the Christians in that fateful room were wholly surrendered to the Holy Spirit, there would be no disunity, no need to segregate, no conflicts and no selfish agendas.

We could pretend, for the sake of the Gospel and the congregation, to be submissive, and we do. But it is only an act. How long can we keep up an act?  We also pretend to be righteous, and ‘spiritual’, and selfless.  Most of the time, this is sheer hypocrisy.


"… whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28)

Jesus knew exactly how to solve the problem of human relationships.  He had insight into the way we have been designed: – to have God Himself living inside of us, motivating us, transforming us and becoming One with us. Only the submission-to-one-another which is sourced in the Holy Spirit can bring true peace.

In practical application, submission to one another only works if all of the members of a group have the same good heart intention. Just as the New Commandment to love one another can only be obeyed when the love is mutual, so submission to one another only works if the submission is mutual.  Yet the decision to submit can only be made by one person – you.  And you cannot make that decision without first becoming humble.

Does humility mean that you become a doormat for others to wipe their feet on? We only have to look to the example Jesus gave us. I don’t think He turned Himself into a doormat.  To Him, humility meant surrendering His will, His agendas, His goals in life. He merely deferred to the Father’s will in all circumstances, which in turn gave Him the discernment and wisdom to make right decisions. It removed His self-consciousness.  In the end, He went all the way in humbling Himself, by giving His life for us.

Does it mean we let people use us, even when we recognise they are taking advantage of our submission? Again, when we are so close to God that we hear His voice clearly, it wouldn’t matter if they are using us.  Sometimes it is better to be used by some, if it means those truly in need get the ministry they need. And sometimes the Lord has a way of working through our submission, to do a work in the users. 

(We do have a long way to go, don’t we?) 

What Jesus suggested, about the kind of leadership that should be displayed in His church, makes us cringe. We think it can only be a recipe for disaster. How would we decide anything at all, if the leaders don’t take a forceful stand? Nothing would ever be achieved without strong leaders. Most of the people are just followers, they reason. They probably don’t have an opinion, and if they do, it is probably ill-informed. They need someone to tell them what to do!

Someone probably should tell them what to do, but I don’t think that should be our ‘leaders’, because they’ve lost touch with the vital principle Jesus revealed – servant leadership in His church. The poor ‘misguided’ followers should get into direct consultation with Jesus, and let Him tell them what to do.  

It will require the acquisition of a huge dose of transforming humility, for our leaders to become servants and our ‘head honchos’ to become slaves to all. 

Dying to self
My essay entitled “Crucifixion” deals in depth with this matter. For the purpose of this essay, we need to be clear that dying to self is the crucial factor in living the way Jesus intended us to live:


"… he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Dying to self, means no longer living for ourselves. It means we no longer have our own needs in focus.  It means we no longer think about what we want or how we can improve our lot.  Instead, we allow Jesus to live through us and find, remarkably, that it is the way God designed for us to live.  When we pursue our own happiness as the primary goal in life, we are never fulfilled, every joy is fleeting, every moment of happiness lapses.  And then we need more moments, more things, more compliments, more joyful happenings. When we die to self, we allow Him to take over, and suddenly life gains a meaning that always escaped us, and His joy becomes ours for keeps.

Dying to self is the only mechanism that makes true mutual submission and servanthood possible.


From the moment we enter this world, we are aware of our own needs.  At first they are only simple needs, an irritated bottom or a hunger for food.  We learn to scream to get our needs met. As we grow up, we become aware of a multitude of different hungers, aching to be met. Maybe we no longer vocalise a scream, but the thinking pattern has been set: - our own hungers are the most important and pressing thing in the world; they scream in silence. Self-love makes us believe these hungers should be attended to, before we do anything else.

I now know there is no such thing as ‘good’ pride. All pride stands between me and God. All pride is self-serving. All pride comes before the fall. Pride is self-love.

It is pride that is the essential factor separating us from God, because it is pride that makes us want self-sufficiency in preference to God-dependence. It is pride that fills us with self-confidence rather than God-confidence. And it is pride that places self right in the middle of the universe, controlling every motivation and agenda we might have.  Pride fills us with an inflated image of our own importance; it wallows in the false perception of how jolly capable we are.  Even ‘good’ pride strives for recognition.

Humility, the total opposite of pride, the accurate assessment of our own unworthiness, our need for salvation, our utter corruption and undeserving state, is the essential condition that actually brings us into His presence.  When we recognise how utterly unsuitable we are to spend eternity with God, that is when we become acceptable to Him. Because that is when all pretences fall away, total honesty emerges and our relationship with our Maker turns totally transparent. It is only then that the process of true conversion can begin.

Dying to self is the only way to enter into the life God has designed us to live, a life where His own Spirit is the source of our every thought, word and deed. Dying to self is the sacrifice necessary to make meaningful the heart attitudes of submission-to-one-another and servant leadership.  The first step towards dying to self is the recognition of your own wretchedness and need for God.  That assessment will lead to a humility that allows the Holy Spirit access to your heart, to begin His transforming work.  The surrender to His transformation calls for a leap of faith every step of the way, each time trusting Him to keep His promises. At stake are not the good works we do, but the good He does through us.

And the irony of it all is that, when we finally decide to do it God’s way, He fills us up with a lasting sense of significance, fulfilment, joy and happiness.

We struggle with the concept of laying down our lives. Why should we take up our cross and be crucified with Him? Why, why, why? “I don’t want to die!” we scream.  It is too much to ask!  It’s not fair!  It’s not right! What about me?!  There are so many personal ambitions I still want to fulfil before I take that drastic step!

Pride raises its ugly head and decides that God’s way is not one we could possibly contemplate. But a soft voice reminds us, whispering in our ear: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Humility allows us to see an accurate picture of who we really are, without Him. We are nothing, wretched, degenerate, depraved, insignificant, so small in the context of His expanse that it is an utter miracle that He is even aware of our existence. Yet He loves us individually, and even knows how many hairs are left on our heads!

And then, with the most shocking of revelations, we suddenly can see clearly the biggest obstacle in our Christian journey, the god before Him that has been crippling our spiritual growth.  It has been hindering His expression through us, preventing the world from seeing Him.  Like Narcissus, we have been looking in a mirror and admiring what we see. And even if we don’t like what we see, the image is still the most important image in the universe, desperately seeking approval and recognition.  

We ourselves have become that god before Him! 

We have committed the ultimate in transgression! We have worshipped self, made ourselves the centre of the universe, presumed to have the wisdom to determine our own destiny, placed our own needs first. We have become our own idol, and it must be cut down.  We have tried to usurp His throne.  Our human spirit occupies the place earmarked for Him. Suddenly we understand why we need to be crucified with Christ: -


Let us all pray for the gift of humility.  He has made us His Temple!  Let us repent our desecration of His throne and beg Him to forgive us! Ask Him to show us howto make humility a reality in our daily walk with Him, and how to appropriate it, so His will may prevail forever in our hearts.