Why is Humility Important?2
Thus far we’ve looked at the meaning of pride and humility. But we now turn to the question: What difference does it make? Is it really that important? Continue reading . . .
Thus far we’ve looked at the meaning of pride and humility. But we now turn to the question: What difference does it make? Is it really that important?
(1) Clothe yourselves with humility because “God opposes the proud” (v. 5b).
Consider this statement in Isaiah 57:15 –
“For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
This passage is simultaneously one of the most encouraging verses and one of the most terrifying. This verse is good news to some and terrifying to others. Here is why.
Who is this God of whom Isaiah speaks? What is he like? He is exalted! Transcendent! Eternal! Holy! Where does he live? In a high and holy place. But he also lives with the contrite and lowly of spirit, in other words, with the humble. The humble heart is God’s home. He dwells with, blesses, speaks to, heals, encourages, upholds, and grants power to the humble of heart. That is why this is one of the most encouraging verses in all of Scripture.
But it is also one of the most terrifying verses in all of Scripture. For if God dwells with the humble, he departs from the proud. If God draws near to the lowly in spirit, he withdraws from the haughty and arrogant. If he blesses those who go low, his disfavor rests on those who lift themselves up. God will have nothing to do with proud, self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-promoting, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing men and women. If he is present and intimate with the humble, he is absent from the proud. Try to envision your most powerful enemies, the most aggressive opposition you’ve faced, the most imposing obstacles you’ve had to confront . . . they are nothing in comparison with the infinite energy and power of God! You do not want God to be in opposition to you.
If that isn’t clear enough, listen to the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 16:5 – “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly he will not be unpunished.” We have no greater enemy than pride. It is the mortal enemy of our souls. It will deafen our ears to the voice of God. It will harden our hearts to his loving presence. If we coddle it, toy with it, nourish it, it will eat us alive. It is the mortal enemy of all that God promises to us in his word. The sure and certain way to go down in God’s eyes is to go up in your own.
(2) Clothe yourselves with humility because God “gives grace to the humble” (v. 5c).
God gives grace to the humble. Now, this is not the grace that saves. If you are truly humble, you’ve already received that. But many times in the NT the “grace” of God refers to the sanctifying and empowering presence of the Spirit. This grace is his special kindness, his extraordinary blessing, his unique empowerment and enabling presence.
But don’t think that humility earns grace or merits its bestowal. Humility is the confession of weakness and emptiness that receives grace. God gives grace to the humble because they are so empty of themselves they can more readily receive it and be trusted with it than can the proud who are full of themselves.
(3) “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the appropriate time he may exalt you” (v. 6).
That’s the point of the phrase: “If you want to get high, go low!” By “get high”, of course, I don’t mean on alcohol or drugs. I’m talking about spiritual elevation. I’m talking about what will happen on the day of final judgment when the humble will be rewarded and the proud will be put down.
Humility can be very costly in the present. Humility requires that you openly and honestly acknowledge your mistakes, your shortcomings, and your sins. It means being willing to do tasks that others regard as beneath them. It means serving without expectation of acknowledgment or praise or reward or even being noticed. It means living in such a way that you are always exposed to the possibility of being looked down upon. As someone has said, in all its forms “the truly humble person always runs the risk of losing face.”
So why do it? What possible reason or motive do I have for cultivating humility? The answer is here: God will exalt you! You will receive praise and reward from the only One who matters!
(4) “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”, rather than be filled with anxiety, because he will use his power to care for you (v. 7).
I hope you’re still with me, because we need to look closely at this verse.
Some translations end v. 6 with a period. They treat v. 7 as if it were an independent statement, standing on its own. But it isn’t. It is actually a subordinate clause. V. 7 continues the thought of v. 6 by telling us how we are to humble ourselves. “Humble yourselves . . . by casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” It’s not “humble yourselves” and “cast your anxieties on him.” It is “humble yourselves by casting your anxieties on him.”
“Be compassionate by feeding the hungry,” or “Be generous by giving sacrificially” or “Be hospitable by inviting someone over for Thanksgiving dinner.” So too, here: “Be humble by casting all your anxieties and worries upon God.”
So Peter is saying: Humble yourself by turning over to the God who cares for you all your worries and anxieties. Not to give them over to him is to be prideful and arrogant. It is to say that you believe you can do what God can’t. It is to say that you believe that you care more for yourself and your situation than God does. It is to deny his power and his passion. It is to say, “God, I’m better at handling this situation than you are. I know it better than you do. I can see all its complexities and its eventual outcome better than you can. I have the wisdom and skill and resources to resolve my problems in a way that you don’t.”
Humility, on the other hand, is saying: “God, I can’t do this on my own. I can’t do it at all. I can’t see my way out of this mess. I can’t understand why it happened or how to make it go away. I can’t control all the people who are involved. I can’t make them do what needs to be done. Only you can. Only you are wise and good and powerful and you really do care about my life.”
In his sermon on this passage John Piper drives home the point that God cares for you and me. He cares deeply about what is troubling your soul and creating anxiety. It matters to him! He cares about how you are feeling in every circumstance. He cares about how it affects your physical and emotional health. He cares about what you think and say in response to the situation. He cares about how sad it makes you. He cares about the way it is damaging relationships and causing you heartache. He cares about the way it is affecting your ability to get up in the morning and go to work. He cares about your inability to sleep at night because the anxieties are eating away at your soul. He cares about how it is hindering your spiritual growth. He cares about every tear you cry and every word you speak and every prayer you’ve prayed. It matters to him! It deeply touches his heart that yours is breaking. He cares for you. He cares so much that he asks you to relinquish your control over the situation.
Acknowledge your pride. Admit you have tried to do what only God can do. Confess your failure to trust God to be good enough and powerful enough to be worthy of taking over. Promise to him that every time the issue comes up or pops into your mind you will immediately stop and say, “Lord, this is your problem. You said you would deal with it. You said that I should act and think in such a way that the burden is lifted off me and placed on you.”
The point is that casting your anxiety on God is to humble yourself. Casting your anxiety on God is not simply a separate thing that you do after you humble yourself. Trusting God is the essence of humility!
Of course, none of this makes sense unless God is both powerful and loving. Hence the reference to his “mighty hand” and his “caring” for us. Why entrust yourself to someone who lacks the power to help or assist? Why entrust yourself to someone who doesn’t care or is indifferent or cold-hearted? Why trust someone, even yourself, who is impotent?
So how do I actually cast my anxieties on him? What do I do to make this happen? The first thing is that you begin by trusting his promise that he cares for you! Cast all your anxieties upon him BECAUSE he cares for you! Believe that he cares. Trust his love. Lay hold of his promise and remind yourself every moment of every day that he really and truly is good and will uphold and sustain you through the worst of circumstances.
Can you believe that today? Can you take hold in your heart of the truth that his mighty hand is over you to cover, not to crush; to provide, not to pressure; to give, not to get?
You have heard me say before that God loves to glorify himself by serving you. You don’t glorify God by pretending to serve him as if he were needy. He is the benefactor and you are the beneficiary. He is philanthropist and you are the poor and needy beggar. "From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).
When God bears the burden, he gets the glory. When God supplies the strength, he is praised. When God carries the worries, he is exalted. Wow! What a God who would gladly do this for people like us!
When it says that he cares, it means he will not stand at a distance and simply let circumstances unfold apart from his loving influence. It means he will act. He will work. Not always the way we would. He's God and sees the end from the beginning in a way we can’t. But what it does mean is that we can rest assured that, as Paul said in Romans 8:28, he will “work all things together for good for those who love him and are the called according to his purpose.”
The first thing, then, that you can do to cast your anxieties on God is to believe him when he says he cares for you and to trust him to do so. The second practical way of casting your anxieties on God is to pray. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Casting your anxieties on God means trusting the promise that he cares for you and has the power and the wisdom to put that care to work in the most glorious way and praying regularly for him to do the very thing he has promised!
[Throughout this series of articles I’ve been recommending a sermon from John Piper, entitled, “Are You Humble Enough to be Care-Free?” (www.desiringgod.org, November 20, 1994). I’ve learned much from it.]