Why humility is at the heart of Christianity

Can you be truly humble, and know it?

That's a tough one. If you know you're humble, you'll be quite proud of yourself because humility is hard. But if you're proud, you aren't humble.

So does it mean that only people who don't think about being humble are truly humble? In that case, what's the point in talking about it in the Bible – or writing about it on Christian Today?

That way madness lies. But after we've had fun playing word games (which is all they are), maybe we can think a bit harder about what humility is and why it's so important.

Because it is. Paul says in Ephesians 4:2: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." In Philippians 2:3 he says: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." There are dozens more Bible verses about the virtue of being humble. And even Jesus Christ "humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). 

Humility is a core Christian value. It is key to how Christians relate to each other. It's the foundation for a healthy church life. It reflects our deepest understanding of what God has done for us. Here's how it works:

1. It means not thinking much about ourselves

There's a difference between a healthy self-awareness and a damaging focus on our own interior lives. Being humble means losing our obsession with our own feelings, needs and desires and shifting our focus on to other people. It doesn't mean that what's going on in our own minds and hearts isn't important, but we don't have the starring roles in our own lives.

2. It means recognising people as children of God

The world values people according to their achievements. We even talk about what someone is 'worth', meaning how much money they have. But for Christians, someone's worth is based on their createdness. They are made in the image of God. Church life isn't always easy. People irritate us for all sorts of reasons. But the person who bores us or whose views or conduct infuriate us is a child of God, deserving our absolute patience and respect.

3. It means holding lightly to our own sense of self-worth

Humble people don't mind if they lose an argument or have a vote go against them in a meeting, because they're secure in the love of God. The sign of an insecure person is that they have to be right. They're bolstered by other people's approval or agreement. It worries and hurts them when they don't get it. But humble people don't need other people's approval. It doesn't mean they won't fight for what they believe, but they can be generous to their opponents.

4. It means not taking success seriously

Success can come in different forms. For some people it's worldly success, with good jobs and large salaries. For others it's the respect of their peers, or a happy family life, or a valued role at church. But humble people know that these are blessings from God, not entitlements. We have them because we've been given them, not because we deserve them. It doesn't say anything about who we are in the eyes of God.

5. It means maintaining a relationship with God

CS Lewis wrote: "A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you." Humble people don't look down, they look up, and what they see of the vast love of God for his creation conditions how they see everyone else.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods