Bob Tamasy: Humility, The Virtue That Undergirds The Rest

  • Thursday, February 22, 2024
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Of the many virtues we find in the Bible, which is most significant? Love? Holiness? Generosity? Integrity? Selflessness? In Galatians 5:22-23 we find one short list of possibilities: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” But which of all the virtues is most important?

We could find strong biblical support for each possibility, including the ones cited above. However, I would suggest another: Humility.

Why? First, before looking at what the Scriptures say specifically about humility – or being humble – let’s consider how C.S. Lewis responded when asked a different but related question: “What is the great sin? What sin is worse than any other?” His answer was:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others… the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through pride that the Devil became the Devil: Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

For more on why Lewis singled out pride, read chapter 8, “The Great Sin,” in his book, Mere Christianity. My thought is that if pride indeed is the greatest sin – and I’m inclined to agree – then the greatest virtue might be its antithesis, humility. One definition of humility is, “the practice of meekness, obedience to God, respect of self and others, submissiveness…putting others’ needs before their own, sacrificing for the love of others.”

Think about it: To love others as the Bible teaches, unconditionally and even sacrificially, requires humility; willingly putting others ahead of ourselves. To be patient with others often requires setting our schedules, agendas and desires aside. To be genuinely kind toward others may mean putting their needs ahead of our own. Basically, it’s just the opposite of the “it’s all about me,” “Look out for No. 1!” perspective being promoted by today’s society.

Sorry to remind you, but we’re in another national election year, with many major political offices at stake, not the least of which being President of the United States. We’ll have to endure a bombardment of political messages created to exalt their respective candidates who will “approve this ad.” Pride – and its perpetual companion, ego – will be on full display: “I’m the best…my opponent is the worst!”

We won’t see much humility being exhibited during the coming campaign season, yet as Lewis observed, “there is no fault which makes a man more unpopular” than pride. Conversely, there’s something endearing about its counterpart, humility. When an accomplished individual, regardless of their area of expertise, deflects praise and directs credit elsewhere, whether to God, family, teammates, coworkers or whomever, it tends to warm our hearts, doesn’t it?

In the Scriptures we find dozens of passages that deal with the virtues of humility. Proverbs 11:2, for example, makes note of both the “great sin” and perhaps, the greatest virtue: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” In Proverbs 18:12 we find the same idea: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”

“Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life,” Proverbs 22:4 tells us. Another verse that has spoken strongly to me is Proverbs 27:21, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold; but a man is tested by the praise he receives.” When we’re being commended for work well-done, do we risk breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back, or do we give honor and glory to God for giving us the capability for what we’ve achieved?

Another reason I consider humility among the greatest of all biblical virtues is because of the example set by the Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus offered a truth that might have caught them off guard when He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). They didn’t understand at the time, but He was referring to His impending crucifixion, willingly giving His life to atone for our sins.

In the New Testament book of Philippians we’re given a wonderful description of humility:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

There’s no greater demonstration of humility than that. In our humanness, it’s easier to be prideful and egocentric. But following Christ’s example and empowered by His Spirit, our desire should be to heed the apostle Paul’s exhortation: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

We’re not likely to see much of this through the coming months of electoral puffing and pontificating, on the athletic fields, or in the media. But if we’re followers of Jesus, to think and act with humility is indeed part of “the calling [we] have received.”

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is btamasy@comcast.net.

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