Humility as the Ground of All Dialogue


Defense of the faith and witness require a certain attitude with humility at the very center.  Humility, not a pagan virtue, is eminently Christian.  In I Peter, a letter that has been the inspiration for this blog, humility is mentioned near the end where the apostle counsels the members of the flock to show humility toward one another; for, God opposes the proud.  He quotes a passage from Proverbs 3: 34 used also by James in his epistle.  Not only is one of the flock to humble himself toward others in the community, but also before God.  It is to the humble, not the proud, that God gives his grace.

Peter advises humility among members of the community.  Does this mean that humility doesn’t apply outside the community?  No, humility is not an occasional virtue.  It is for all circumstances.  It is to be carried from the life of the church to the world where we may be called to defend the faith.

Humility is an essential virtue for the defense of the faith.  If one is going to show gentleness and respect, one must be humble.  Pride will not work; for, pride doesn’t lead to gentleness and respect for others.  It is a very clamorous vice.

Humility’s foundation is in Christ Himself, who in Matthew 11 describes Himself as humble.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11: 29 ESV)  In biblical thought the heart represents the center of the personality–intellect, emotions, will.  We use the word in English to indicate various dispositions of a person–coldhearted, warmhearted, heartless, disheartened, halfhearted, hardhearted, heartbroken, kindhearted, downhearted, etc.  Jesus is “lowly of heart,” which means He is humble.

The hymn, located in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, tells of Christ humbling Himself by coming among us as a servant.  The hymn is found in the context of Paul’s exhorting the Christian church at Philippi to be “of the same mind. having the same love, being of full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2: 2 ESV).  He goes on to write, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit , but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2: 3 ESV)  Christ, though in the form of God, did not account Himself as having equality with God.  He came to us as a servant, obedient unto death.  God has exalted Him–the Lord whose name is above every name.

The believer is also to be humble.  Jesus says that those who humble themselves shall be exalted in what is called eschatological reversal.  Eschatological comes from a Greek word that pertains to the end time when Jesus returns.  Those who are humble God will exalt when the End comes.

Christ regards children as models of humility (Matthew 18: 4).  They typically make no pretensions of superiority to others including the case of religious pride that involves self-righteousness as we find in the story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke.

In the story found in the Gospel of Luke a tax collector and Pharisee come to the temple to pray.  Our narrator, Saint Luke, comments at the beginning, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” (Luke 18: 1 ESV)  Before God the Pharisee brags that he is not like others such as the tax collector who sins gravely.  He also fulfills his religious obligations. On the other hand, the tax collector cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”  (Luke 18: 13b ESV)  Jesus comments that the tax collector went home justified, but not the Pharisee.  The text ends with a key saying in the Synoptic Gospels, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 14 ESV)

Humility is an essential Christian virtue and is vital in our defense of the faith and witness to others.  Pride alienates, turns people away, acts with an attitude of superiority, causes division in the community, sets a bad example, and is neither gentle nor respectful.

One could criticize the way of humility by saying that it invites others to treat the humble one with contempt and disrespect.  Such may be so; but, the humble one does not return a weak response, but a wholly effective one. Turning the other cheek is not a sign of weakness, but of courage and commitment to the right. Jesus was not a coward at the cross. All that one needs to do is look at Jesus the gentle one in the gospels.  His humility does not in any way exclude strength, integrity, courage, or any other virtue essential for Christian living.  Humility can only contribute to the other virtues.  Paul lists seven gifts of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;”  (Galatians 22: 5 ESV)  Humility compromises none of them, but is a factor in every one of them.


Michael G. Tavella

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

February 23, 2024



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