The Bible’s Viewpoint

Is Humility a Weakness or a Strength?

THE proud and assertive are often portrayed by the world as the people to imitate. The humble and meek tend to be seen as feeble, timid, or fawning. But is genuine humility really a weakness? And is pride actually a strength? What does the Bible say?

At the outset, it must be stated that the Bible speaks well of certain forms of pride. For example, Christians should be proud that Jehovah is their God and that he knows them. (Psalm 47:4; Jeremiah 9:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4) Parents can be proud of their children when these set a fine example in Christian conduct and courageously stand firm for true worship. (Proverbs 27:11) However, pride also has a dark side.

A Closer Look at Pride and Humility

One definition of pride is inordinate self-esteem. That kind of pride gives one an improper feeling of self-importance and superiority, perhaps because of beauty, race, rank, talents, or wealth. (James 4:13-16) The Bible speaks of men being “puffed up with pride.” (2 Timothy 3:4) In other words, they have an inflated opinion of themselves, one that is unjustified.

The humble, on the other hand, try to view themselves honestly and objectively, acknowledging their imperfections and their lowly position before God. (1 Peter 5:6) What is more, they recognize​—and even rejoice in—​the superior qualities they see in others. (Philippians 2:3) Hence, they do not become bitter with envy or consumed by jealousy. (Galatians 5:26) It stands to reason, therefore, that genuine humility fosters good relationships with others and contributes to emotional security and stability.

Consider the example of Jesus. Before coming to earth, he was a powerful spirit creature in heaven. And when on earth, he was a perfect, sinless man. (John 17:5; 1 Peter 2:21, 22) He had unmatched ability, intelligence, and knowledge. Yet, he never showed off but always remained humble. (Philippians 2:6) He even washed the feet of his apostles on one occasion; and he took a genuine interest in little children. (Luke 18:15, 16; John 13:4, 5) In fact, with a child at his side, Jesus said: “Whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one that is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 18:2-4) Yes, in the eyes of Jesus​—and of his Father—​true  greatness is borne of humility, not of pride.​—James 4:10.

Humility Is a Strength

Although a model of humility, Jesus was anything but a fawning or timid weakling. He courageously spoke the truth and had absolutely no fear of man. (Matthew 23:1-33; John 8:13, 44-47; 19:10, 11) Hence, he even earned the respect of some of his opposers. (Mark 12:13, 17; 15:5) But Jesus was never domineering. Rather, by humility, kindness, and love, he warmly appealed to people, thus winning hearts in a way that the proud never can. (Matthew 11:28-30; John 13:1; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15) Even today, millions loyally submit to Christ out of genuine love and deep respect for him.​—Revelation 7:9, 10.

God’s Word encourages humility because the lowly in heart readily accept counsel and are a delight to teach. (Luke 10:21; Colossians 3:10, 12) Like Apollos, an eloquent early Christian teacher, they are happy to adjust their viewpoint when presented with accurate new information. (Acts 18:24-26) And they are unafraid to ask questions, whereas the proud often refrain from doing so, for fear of having their ignorance exposed.

Note the example of a first-century Ethiopian eunuch, who was puzzled about a certain passage of Scripture. “Do you actually know what you are reading?” the Christian disciple Philip asked him. The Ethiopian replied: “Really, how could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?” What humility​—especially considering that the eunuch was likely a man of note in his homeland! Thanks to his humility, he received deep insight into the Scriptures.​—Acts 8:26-38.

The Ethiopian presents a sharp contrast to the Jewish scribes and Pharisees, who considered themselves the religious elite of their time. (Matthew 23:5-7) Instead of humbly listening to Jesus and his followers, they sneered at them and tried to find fault with them. Thus, their pride kept them in spiritual darkness.​—John 7:32, 47-49; Acts 5:29-33.

Are You Like Soft Clay or Hard Clay?

The Bible likens Jehovah to a potter and humans to clay. (Isaiah 64:8) Humility helps a person to be like soft clay in God’s hands, someone he can mold into a desirable vessel; whereas the haughty are like dry, hard clay that can only be crushed. An infamous example of the latter is the proud Pharaoh of ancient Egypt who defied Jehovah at the cost of his life. (Exodus 5:2; 9:17; Psalm 136:15) Pharaoh’s demise well illustrates the proverb: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”​—Proverbs 16:18.

The aforementioned does not imply that God’s people never struggle with pride. Jesus’ apostles, for example, often argued over who was the greatest among them. (Luke 22:24-27) Still, they were not consumed by pride but listened to Jesus and eventually changed their attitude.

“The result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life,” wrote Solomon. (Proverbs 22:4) What sound reasons we have for cultivating humility! Not only is it a strong and endearing quality but it also helps us to gain God’s favor and the reward of everlasting life.​—2 Samuel 22:28; James 4:10.

HAVE YOU WONDERED?

Are all forms of pride bad?​—2 Thessalonians 1:3, 4.

▪ How does humility promote learning?​—Acts 8:26-38.

▪ Do God’s servants need to cultivate humility?​—Luke 22:24-27.

▪ What future lies before the humble?​—Proverbs 22:4.

[Picture on page 20, 21]

Children were drawn to Jesus because he was a humble man