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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Humility


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Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy (Psalm 113:4-9 ; 138:6-7 ); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross (Matthew 11:29 ; Acts 8:32-33 ; Philippians 2:5-8 ). The dual usage of "meek" (Gk. praus [ Matthew 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ) and his submission before God. Humility and meekness are often inseparable (2Col 10:1; Ephesians 4:2 ; Colossians 3:12 ).

As a sign of genuine religion (Micah 6:8 ) humility is necessary to enter God's kingdom (Matthew 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ) or to be great in it (Matthew 20:26-27 ; Mark 10:43-44 ). As the absence of self (Matthew 10:38-39 ; Luke 9:23-25 ), it is a bankruptcy of spirit (Matthew 5:3 ) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God's righteousness for salvation (Luke 18:9-14,15-17 ). It may involve praying (2 Chronicles 7:14 ; Daniel 6:10 ; 9:3-20 ), fasting (Leviticus 16:29-32 ; 23:27-32 ; Ezra 8:21,23 ; Psalm 35:13 ; Daniel 10:1-3,12 ), and falling prostrate (Ezekiel 1:28 ; Daniel 6:10 ; Revelation 1:12-17 ) before the Lord. Since the Lord denounces hypocritical worship (Isaiah 58:3-7 ; Matthew 6:5-8,16-18 ) and false humility (Colossians 2:18,23 ), a person's heart must match his or her posture (Isaiah 57:15 ; Luke 18:9-14 ; cf. Isaiah 6:5 ; Matthew 11:29 ).

Humility is the prerequisite for honor (Proverbs 15:33 ; 18:12 ; 22:4 ; 29:23 ) and physical blessing (Psalm 37:11 ; Matthew 5:5 ). Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 25:9,12-14 ; Proverbs 15:33 ), it may provide the key to wealth and life (Proverbs 22:4 ); but even when blessings are postponed, a humble spirit is necessary (Proverbs 16:18-19 ; cf. Romans 12:14,16-17 ). It is the gateway to eternal life (Matthew 5:3 ; 18:1-4 ), not necessarily physical reward (5:10-12).

God gives grace to the humble (or afflicted) but resists the proud (Proverbs 3:34 ; James 4:6 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ). Regardless of social or moral position (Luke 1:48,52-54 ; cf. Psalm 51:16-17 ), God often delivers people who humble themselves before him— whether righteous kings (2 Chronicles 32:24-26 ; 34:26-28 ), wicked rulers (1 Kings 21:27-29 ; 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 ), or commoners (2 Chronicles 30:8-11 ).

The Lord exalts the humble (Matthew 23:12 ; Luke 1:52 ; 14:11 ; 18:14 ; James 4:10 ) in his proper timing (1 Peter 5:6 ). A person must not claim honor for self (Proverbs 25:6-7 ; Luke 14:7-11 ) but have an unassuming attitude (Romans 12:3 ). Jesus' teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant (John 13:1-16 ), even unto death (Isaiah 53:7-8 ; Acts 8:32-33 ) in obedience to the Father (Philippians 2:5-8 ), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11).

The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom (Proverbs 11:2 ). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite (Isaiah 66:2,5 ) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart (Isaiah 57:15 ; 2 Corinthians 7:6 ).

The Christian ought to emulate Christ's example (Matthew 11:28-30 ; 2Col 10:1) of meekness and humility. Humility is the foremost test of a truly great person or leader (Luke 22:24-27 ). Paul's teachings and life (Acts 20:18-21 ) emphasize and elucidate Christian humility. Recognizing he was the chief sinner (1 Timothy 1:15 ) and the least saint and apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9 ; Ephesians 3:8 ) he gloried in the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10 ; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ) and in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14 ; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 ) rather than self-righteousness (Philippians 3:3-9 ).

Greg W. Parsons

Bibliography . J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self: Apostolic Teaching for Personal Wholeness ; H.-H. Esser, NIDNTT, 2:256-64; F. S. Fitzsimmons, New Bible Dictionary, p. 500; R. E. O. White, EDT, p. 537.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Humility'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/h/humility.html. 1996.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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