Foundation of Godly Character
We hear a lot about love in church because it’s an important character trait for us to develop. “Agape” is the word the New Testament uses for the godly type of love, a love that motivates us to serve others, even sacrifice ourselves in doing so. The strong emphasis on agape love doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most important godly trait, however. I suggest we can’t practice agape until we develop something else: humility.
As we saw in another post, humility causes us to consider ourselves relatively unimportant compared to others. It prevents us from using our abilities primarily for personal satisfaction. Agape considers others’ welfare, needs, interests and desires more important than our own; it makes others’ well-being a personal priority and figuratively lifts them up. Humility, on the other hand, causes us to view ourselves as less important; not without value, but less important than others.
We live in a culture in which people are derogatory about others and are skilled at put-downs. You know why we do this? Because making others look bad makes us feel better about ourselves. That’s an expression of self-centeredness, which is the most fundamental sin.
The apostle Paul wrote that we must be completely humble and gentle and bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2). James wrote, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Jas 3:13).
God expects us to humble ourselves. As we try to do that, we discover how self-centered we really are and how totally incapable we are of doing what he commanded. That’s how it should be, because we’re to put our hope in God, not our own efforts. So we must be faithful and persevere in our efforts to renew our minds and change the way we think, then anticipate the power of God in us doing the actual work. Only God can change us, but he requires our cooperation.
I suggest humility is the basis for agape and is the predominant trait of godly character. We can’t practice genuine agape until we’ve made progress developing humility. Humility causes us to consider ourselves relatively unimportant compared to others, which then makes it possible to consider others’ needs, interests and desires more important than our own.