Humility Before Love
Summary: The two most important godly character traits for us to develop are humility and agape (love), in that order.
Self-centeredness is humanity’s biggest problem, whether it takes the form of pride or a poor self-image. Self-centeredness was the root of all sin and it still is today. It motivated Satan to exalt himself (Isa 14:13-14) and Adam and Eve to eat fruit God clearly told them not to eat (Gen 3:6).
If you examine any sin, ultimately you’ll find it’s motivated by self-centeredness. A person sins because he believes the sinful act will benefit him, make him feel better about himself, or accomplish something he wants.
The antidote to self-centeredness also is its opposite: humility. Humility is not self-hatred or a poor self-image. Rather, it’s an appropriate assessment of our God-given attributes and abilities.
Jesus said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4). A humble person isn’t preoccupied with himself, so he focuses less on his own needs, interests, thoughts, feelings and desires. That kind of person is the greatest in God’s kingdom, which makes humility the most important character trait for us to develop; even more important than love.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we should do “nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Php 2:3). Humility causes us to consider ourselves relatively unimportant compared to others.
How can we develop humility? We’re to “clothe” ourselves with humility toward one another (Col 3:12; 1 Pet 5:5). To clothe oneself is to put on something that’s not an inherent part of you; to enter or assume a certain condition. It’s something we consciously choose to do, not something God does for us or that happens automatically.
The New Testament Greek word for the highest form of love is agape. Agape causes us to consider others’ welfare, needs, interests and desires more important than our own. It motivates us to act for other people’s benefit, regardless of personal impact. It might even result in personal sacrifice for someone else’s good.
Agape is not proud, therefore it requires humility (1 Co 13:4). Humility forces us to step down from our pedestal of self-importance, which we must do before we can elevate others in love.
We cannot love God appropriately without first developing humility. Otherwise, self-centeredness causes us to “love” God for what he does for us. I suspect this is how many, if not most Christians love him.
How does our love for God affect our thinking? We become preoccupied with him, his nature and what he’s doing, instead of ourselves (see Mt 6:33). It might be necessary to choose to think about him throughout the day, not just when we realize we need his help.
What we often call the “golden rule” states we should do to others what we would have them do to us (Mt 7:12). This clearly requires agape. But we can’t stop there, because Jesus said we should even express agape for our enemies; that is, those who hate us or are hostile toward us (Mt 5:44). Hold on, because he set an even higher standard for the way we treat other believers. We must love them the same way Jesus loved us (Jn 13:34; 15:12). That requires a willingness to do whatever is necessary to help other Christians; even make the ultimate sacrifice.
Self-centeredness at least limits our ability to love others. More likely, we “love” them for what they do for us and how they make us feel. In reality, that’s love for ourselves, not for them. This is a primary reason marriages fail. Each person initially “loves” what the other does for them, but then “fall out of love” when their spouse stops making them happy. True humility would solve those problems.
Repentance – changing the way we think – is absolutely essential to developing humility and authentic agape love for others. Here’s a statement that might be helpful: “I choose to see God’s image in every human being and stop viewing people from a worldly perspective.” Or whenever you see someone acting in worldly manner, consider thinking to yourself: “That person is God’s image and likeness, and God loved them so much he sent his Son to die for their sin; they just don’t know it.”
The two most important godly character traits for us to develop are humility and love, in that order. As we learn to trust God our Father, we can reject our self-centeredness with confidence that in pure agape, he will focus on our well-being, including our needs, interests and appropriate desires.