The Foundation of Godly Character
(Reading time: 1.9 minutes. All scripture quotations are from the NIV 1984 Bible.)
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 at least begin developing something else: humility.
As we saw in another article, humility causes us to consider ourselves relatively unimportant compared to others. It prevents us from using our abilities mainly for personal satisfaction. Agape considers others’ welfare, needs, interests and desires more important than our own; it makes others’ well-being a personal priority. Humility facilitates agape by causing us to consider ourselves less important; not without value, but less important than others.
We live in a culture in which people are derogatory and skilled at degrading others. Why do we treat people this way? Because making others look bad makes us feel better about ourselves. That’s an expression of self-centeredness, the most fundamental sin.
The apostle Paul wrote that we must be completely humble and gentle, and bear with each other 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” (James 3:13).
God expects us to humble ourselves. As we learn to do that, we discover how self-centered we are and how incapable we are of doing what he commanded. That’s important, 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 God’s power in us changing our nature. 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. Again, we can’t practice genuine agape until we’ve made progress developing humility. Humility causes us to consider ourselves relatively unimportant, which then makes it possible to consider others’ needs, interests and desires more important than our own.