Is there a difference between being humble and being humiliated? Jim Halla
There is a great need for everyone, but especially the Christian, to develop a proper understanding of humiliation and humility. The two are often equated, which is incorrect – they are not synonymous. Rather humiliation refers to some experience or life event that is considered shameful and degrading depending on one’s standard. That definition alone misses the point of God’s sovereignty, for no event or situation just happens. Mankind is a chooser and responder by creational design. Every person responds in some manner to his circumstances and thus to God, the author and giver of life (Joshua 24:14-15; Proverbs 3:5-8; Matthew 6:33). The account of the Sanhedrin in the book of Acts give us an example of people who were humiliated, but refused to humble themselves. In Acts 5 and Acts 7, the apostles confront the Sanhedrin with the truth of Christ. In response to the apostles’ statement, the Sanhedrin were furious and committed murder in their hearts (5:33) and murdered Stephen (7:54-60). They refused to believe the truth about God and themselves and as a result failed to humble themselves. Arrogantly and ignorantly, self was on the throne. They failed to re-evaluate themselves.
Humility in Response to our Relationship to God
Humiliation occurs to a person. On the other hand, humility is a whole-person response to God and to others. It is a reflection and demonstration of one’s inner man — his heart (Proverbs 4:23).
The humble believer rightly evaluates himself, others, and God — and responds accordingly. For the believer, humility is the correct estimate of himself as small based on God’s word and biblical truth, which is the only correct standard (Philippians 2:3-5). Thoughts, desires, and actions are involved because man is a whole person. Humbling oneself requires God’s grace, both saving grace and sanctifying grace. Thus, an unbeliever can’t truly humble himself! Moreover, situations — humiliations — don’t humble a person. They are the context in which a person humbles himself or boasts in himself rather than in Christ (Proverbs 3:5-8; Galatians 6:14; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:6).
Consider the contrast of the two men who went up to the temple to pray: the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). Both men approached God with statements about themselves. The Pharisee, with eyes focused on himself, prayed assuming God heard and approved of his self-litany. The tax collector had a different view of himself and God. He remembered the Levitical system of sacrifice. He prayed for mercy, which was a direct reference to the mercy seat and atonement cover in the Holy of Holies. He was God-dependent, and as a result a humble man. He had a proper view of himself and God.
Imitate Christ’s Humility
Jesus voluntarily humbled Himself as the Godman the moment He left heaven and entered into a state of humiliation. He knew who He was (His origin and identity), His mission (His purpose), and His destiny. His mission was the Triune God’s mission. Threeness and Oneness resided in the Trinity, which was manifested in Christ’s coming as a humble man. His humiliation began when He left heaven. His focus was glorifying God by pleasing the Father through covenantal faithfulness. Jesus is the example par excellence of humility.
The fact that the glory of God and His fullness was hidden in Christ is in itself simply mind-boggling (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). The fact that Christ saves a hell-bound, miserable, rebellious people individually and corporately through humbling Himself all the way to cross and beyond is even more stupendous (Romans 5:6-10). Moreover, as equally stupendous, is the fact that fallen man, arrogant, ignorant, and rebellious, did not perish before Christ, but was and is transformed into a child of God by the work of the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:13-14). Lest we misunderstand, Jesus’ humility is part of a full-orbed program of covenantal faithfulness motivated by the desire to glorify and please the Triune God.
Unlike Christ, we don’t volunteer for our time of humiliation. Often, we are placed in unpleasant, humiliating conditions by God’s providence sometimes through no fault of our own (Job for instance). We may be removed from a position or relationship. We may be considered a trouble-deserving sinner by friends and foes alike. We may be stripped of possessions, power, position, family, friends, health, or all that has been dear to us.
A Humble Response
The question then becomes, ”How do we respond?”
First, be aware. Practically, living in a sin-cursed body in a sin-cursed world, every trial is a given. Trouble in various forms is to be expected. It was for Jesus and it is for everyone, believer and unbeliever (John 15:18-21; 16:31-33; Romans 5:12-14). Knowledge of these facts is hope-engendering because our God is a covenant-making and -keeping God whose yes is yes in Christ by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:20-22; 5:5). The Triune God is the God of hope who is always with and in His people (Romans 5:1-5; 15:4, 14; Hebrews 13:5-6).
Second, the believer (and only the believer) can properly evaluate himself in the situation. If there is sin on his part that led to the situation, he is to repent. If not, he is to use the situation for growth in Christlikeness. He asks: What is my goal in this situation?
Third, he looks beyond the situation to the God of the situation.
Fourth, he is comforted by the fact that God is always in the situation, up to something, and up to something good now and eternally.
Fifth, the believer is to always focus on these truths according to Psalm 119:9-11 so that he responds correctly to God’s providence:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
May we look to the example of Jesus, who never depended on His deity to escape, circumvent, or change God’s providence. He never demanded an explanation from God. His relationship with and knowledge of the unity and functionality of the Triune God motivated Him to humble Himself as a redemptive act to secure His people and the glory of the Triune God (John 6:37-44; 17:1-26).
How do you define humility and humiliation?
How do you apply Philippians 2:3-8 daily?
What have been the results?
Pastor Timothy J. Atkins
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Pastor, Teacher, Discipler, and Follower of Jesus.