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False humility is not a new phenomenon. The “humblebrag” predates social media, which has provided opportunities to spread its wings. The braggart offers a self-deprecating comment that draws attention to the very qualities he pretends to downplay. False humility fishes for compliments by loudly denying any grace or gift in oneself, waiting for some sentimental soul to gush, “Oh no, you’re wonderful.” Sometimes there is a kind of sincerity behind that faked denial—a despairing sense of worthlessness that the quick fix of human praise never quite assuages.

Religion offers rich pickings for the falsely humble. Christ identifies various forms. He urges people not to do charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them (Matt. 6:1). The aim would be not really to bring a blessing to others but to draw attention to oneself. There is also a good chance that when they put their gifts into the treasury in Luke 21:1–2, the rich made sure that they had plenty of small change that gave a helpfully public rattle as they paraded their generosity.

In similar fashion, some “love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5). They want their spiritual credentials to be seen, appreciated, and even applauded.

Perhaps more blatant is the Pharisee who stood and prayed with himself, thanking God that he was not like other men (Luke 18:11)—as if the God of heaven Himself would be prompted to offer His creature a round of applause for his excellence. Our prayers can echo the same arrogance.

Do you have an itch to be known for your good deeds? Do you resent your spiritual labors being overlooked? Do you let it be known just what you are doing for King Jesus? Do you express public gratitude for your wonderful opportunities to serve? Do you loudly wish that you could do more in the kingdom? Do you put yourself down so that others might quickly lift you up? This is the kind of pride that we easily tolerate in ourselves and in the church.

True modesty has no need to pretend and no wish to draw attention to itself. Paul calls every Christian “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3, NKJV). It is not humble to deny that Christ has given you graces and gifts to serve in His body. In Philippians 2, we are urged to do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind to let each esteem others better than himself. We must look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3–5). Do I have the mind of Christ? Can I serve silently, cheerfully, and secretly, content for others to be lifted up and for God alone to see me?

False Guilt


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From the May 2023 Issue
May 2023 Issue