The Primacy Of Humility

Have a close look at Romans chapter 12 and I think you will agree that one trait stands out from the crowd. Emerging from a substantial list of imperatives is the call for followers of Jesus to be marked by humility.

I wonder if that surprises you. Perhaps you were expecting love to be the dominant trait. Or maybe you expected kindness, or forgiveness, to be our primary trait.

Could it be that the reason Paul emphasizes humility is because our level of humility determines our capacity to excel with these other traits?

We can actually test this hypothesis with a simple question: If I struggle with pride and self-centredness, will this impair my ability to love others?

If that’s true—if selfishness hampers love, if pride hinders peace, if self-centredness stunts my generosity, then you would expect the remedy to lie with humility, wouldn’t you?

Paul begins his emphasis on humility in 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

It is important to avoid the temptation of regarding yourself according to the opinion of others. Inevitably, some will think too highly of us while others will think too little of us. Paul wants our self-evaluation to happen within the context our our relationship with God. There we will find a necessary balance. We’ll celebrate that we are children of the King, but children by grace. We’ll rejoice in being forgiven, but we’ll remember that this standing was not something we earned.

In 12:5, Paul arrests our tendency to pursue our own personal preferences when he declares that “each member belongs to all the others.” We have an obligation to one another that can only be met within an environment marked by humility. Paul says something quite similar in 12:10 when he writes, “Honour one another above yourselves.

Notice that Paul does not simply say, “Honour one another.” He doesn’t simply give an imperative for mutual respect. No, he takes this to another level: “Honour one another above yourselves.

Imagine how progress in this regard would help to transform marriages, churches, and communities. Think about it—how does conflict survive if I care more about what you need than what I need?

Paul closes out this section with even more explicit instruction on humility: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16).

It should go without saying that Paul’s statement relates to worldly standards. God does not look at some as though they were in a high position and others as though they were in a low position. It is the world which distinguishes between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

You could even summarize Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 by saying:

“Don’t be like the world. Be like Jesus.”

“Don’t be governed by societal standards. Be governed by biblical standards.”

As a young boy, I was obsessed with being in first place. I wanted to win every race and every competition. I wanted to be first in line for everything.

I’m trying to grow out of that remembering the words of Jesus, “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).

By every appearance, my capacity for kindness, my capacity for generosity, my capacity for love is determined by my ability to “be the very last, and the servant of all“.

Humility is not some secondary trait for the follower of Jesus. Humility is of massive importance for our advancement in Christ-likeness. To this end I urge you to pursue last place.

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“Be Humble”, based on Romans 12, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, September 18, 2011.

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