I recently preached a sermon about humility at our congregation. More than one person has now told me that something specific I said was helpful for them.
What I said was simple: Humility is not thinking poorly of yourself. Real humility is thinking accurately about yourself.
See, most of us have the perception of being greater than we are. Numerous surveys indicate that the vast majority of people think they are above average. They have above average intelligence. They are above average in kindness. They are better than average drivers. On and on.
But, obviously, the majority of people cannot be above average, right?
Yet, that’s our perception. It’s what we think. We tend to think we’re better than we are.
So if that’s true, then the obvious answer is to think lowly of ourselves. And, although that might be good for many of us, that’s not really the answer.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)
The real answer is to think accurately about ourselves. Not too highly, but also not too lowly. Accurately.
The Apostle Paul, writing to Titus, said, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…” (Titus 1:1-3)
If you don’t know Paul – or anything about Paul – this could sound haughty.
First, he calls himself an apostle. But then he goes on to say “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” In other words, he’s not just an apostle, he’s an apostle for your sake. He’s going to help you in your faith. Doesn’t that sound at least a bit … arrogant?
And then he goes on to say that the hope of eternal life manifested through his preaching is something he was entrusted with by God.
Again, if you don’t know Paul or anything about Paul, this could sound like, “I’m God’s great man of faith and power. I got something goin’ on here.”
But Paul isn’t being haughty and arrogant. He’s thinking accurately about himself. He knows what God has called and gifted him to do. He knows who he is in Christ.
See, if Paul denies those things – if he would say, “Don’t really think of me as an apostle, or that my preaching is going to make a difference in your life, or even that God entrusted me with the gift of preaching” – if he did that, that wouldn’t be humility. That would be lying. That would be an inaccurate assessment of how the Lord has called and wired and gifted him.
True humility is not thinking lowly of yourself. It’s thinking accurately about yourself.
(I should add that getting outside help with that is a REALLY good idea. Otherwise, we tend to think we’re far better than we are. Others who know us well can often give us a more accurate assessment than we can recognize on our own.)