The second point is that “before the Lord” means having the Lord in mind as we go about daily life. King David was hardly a consistent paragon of virtue, yet he testified, “I have set the Lord always before me” (Ps. 16:8). If we truly did this, it would revolutionize our lives at home, at work, at leisure, and in our church-based relationships, and it would have a profound effect on what we read, watch, think, and say.
The Bible’s promise that “he will exalt you” makes nonsense of our own pathetic appetite for appreciation, and it tells us that true humility is the key to receiving God’s favor: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Prov. 29:23). As G. Campbell Morgan neatly put it, “All God’s thrones are reached by going downstairs.”
A major area of life in which false humility can mask pride is in the exercise of our spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul easily deflated “puffed-up” members of the early Corinthian church by asking two questions: “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). As Matthew Henry pointed out, “A sinner snatched from destruction by sovereign grace alone must be very absurd and inconsistent if proud of the free gifts of God.” It should only take a moment to see that answering Paul’s questions would be a great antidote to arrogance and a great help to humility. Pride of performance can often be hidden by a show of humility, a cloak deliberately designed to help others value our virtues. We repeat pious platitudes about giving God the glory but are not averse to receiving at least some of the praise. Yet true humility is fundamental to God-honoring ministry. Great men never think they are great, and small men never think they are small. A truly humble person is more jealous for God’s honor than his own.
One key pointer to genuine humility is this: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Jesus laid aside heaven’s glories, took on all the perils and pressures of humanity, and allowed Himself to be crucified. In all of this, He humbled Himself so that others might be exalted. As Alec Motyer pointed out, “He recognized no limit to the extent to which his obedience in self-humbling must go.” Of course, the vicarious element in His sacrifice was unique, yet His followers are called to cultivate the mind that drove it on. True humility does not come by smugly ticking boxes but by inwardly cultivating the self-humbling mind that seeks only to serve others without either recognition or reward. Preaching recently in a church in Athens, I was struck by a notice in the minister’s office that displayed the words of the missionary Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” In Matthew 25, Jesus taught that on the day of judgment, those welcomed into heaven will not even remember every time they had faithfully served the Lord.
Our Savior was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29); true humility earnestly seeks to follow the example of the One who is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).