I Corinthians 13:4-5 reminds us that: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…”

I believe that humility is the secret sauce of successful family (and really, all) relationships. Being humble sets the direction of a relationship on the right course. It’s, “you before me.” The dictionary says that humility is “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” I like what these people have said about humility:

  • Earnest Hemmingway: There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.
  • Epictetus: If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: A great man is always willing to be little.
  • Albert Einstein: A true genius admits he/she knows nothing.

And of course the Bible has much to say about the importance of humility. Take a look at just a few of the verses:

  • Matthew 18:4: Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • I Peter 5:6: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
  • Colossians 3:12: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
  • Ephesians 4:2: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
  • Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

When thinking of incredible examples of humility, many would think of Mother Teresa. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, which included 4,500 nuns in 133 countries. Together they gave their lives to care for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. They ran soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, orphanages, and schools. All of its members take vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and “to give wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” Mother Teresa offered the following as “a few ways we can practice humility”:

  • To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
  • To mind one’s own business.
  • Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
  • To avoid curiosity.
  • To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
  • To pass over the mistakes of others.
  • To accept insults and injuries.
  • To accept being slighted, forgotten, and disliked.
  • To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one’s own dignity.

Of course, the greatest example of humility is Jesus. In my Bible, Philippians 2:1-11 has the header: Imitating Christ’s Humility. Notice these words:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

As I read Philippians 2:1-11 I see several Christlike characteristics that I need to aspire to in my life. Here are 3:

1. AIM TO ALWAYS BE LIKE JESUS | Philippians 2:1-2, 5
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

For many, being like Jesus has become cliché, but for the devoted disciple of Jesus it is what Christianity is all about. We receive His salvation and then we aim to live the rest of our lives to be like Him and to relate to others, like He would have us. Notice it says here that we need to BE like Jesus in these specific ways:

  • Same mindset
  • Same compassion
  • Same tenderness
  • Same love
  • Same Spirit

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. At the top of the left column write PRIDE and at the top of the right column write HUMILITY. Now make a list of descriptions and examples under each. Are you more prideful or more humble? I like these quotes on humility:

  • Madeleine L’Engle: “Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”
  • Thomas Moore: “Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.”

2. AIM TO NEVER BE SELFISH | Philippians 2:3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”

Notice it says “nothing.” Aim to NEVER be selfish. Wow! That is a high bar. The immortal coach Vince Lombardi once told his championship football team: “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.” Football is not as important as your marriage or family, yet why do we devote less to that which is more important? You see, we don’t fail in our relationships not because we aim too high…we fail because we aim too low. And we can do better with God’s help.

Here’s the point: While we pursue progress toward the goal of never being selfish, may we not give ourselves a pass and say, “I’m not perfect” so I can scream at my wife, never forgive my parents, be impatient with my kids… After all, I’m busy and stressed. The Bible does not give me that license. It does not say, “be selfish when you are stressed; be conceited and arrogant and more concerned about yourself than others when you are stressed.” No, that is how we reason. That is how we re-write the Bible. I cannot give myself a pass and you cannot give yourself a pass. And when we blow it, we need to fall on our knees before God and ask Him to forgive and help us. And we need to remember to ask others to forgive us as well.

As recipients of God’s love, we must allow the love of Jesus to flourish in us and flow through us. I Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…”. Andrew Murray said, “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” Let’s die to pride and live to be humble. This is how we bless others around us. Humility allows us to become all that I Corinthians 13 asks of us. Pride turns I Corinthians 13 upside down and ruins relationships. Aim to be humble. Aim to never be selfish.

3. AIM TO ALWAYS PUT OTHERS FIRST | Philippians 2:3-4
“…Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Notice it says here that we need to put the interest of others above our own interests. We usually do this backward. Do you consistently put others first? How about in your family? And in other relationships? This is the call of Christ upon our lives. This is the Lord’s ideal for you and me.

CS Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility does not mean we are insignificant and unimportant. It just means we have matured to a place where we know it is not about us. We have grown and matured to a place where we know that we are here to serve and bless others. Pride is immature. Humility is mature. Humility is thinking more of others; more of what’s in their best interest.

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, helped popularize a concept in his book on Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and emphatically.” (Some say it is the key to both personal and professional success…I say it is a big key to family success and something taught first in Philippians 2:1-11.) According to Goleman, there are 5 key EI elements:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

The point is, many folks lack emotional awareness. They are essentially unaware of others because they are so deeply aware of themselves and it is hurting their relationships and those around them. Humility and EI say “I’m not preoccupied with me. I’m focused on you. I’m aware of you. I care about you. You come first. I come second. Always.” Madeleine L’Engle once said, “One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.” To be aware and to be humble means that I’m primarily aware of you; your needs, interests, desires, and concerns.

So ask yourself these important questions today:

  • What steps can I take to grow stronger in humility?
  • In what ways or areas of my life do I display the most selfishness?
  • How can I become more humble in my most important relationships this week?

Take a moment right now and pray this prayer from John 3:30, “Lord, You must become greater, and I must become less.