Defining Humility

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Last week I wrote about confidence. I hope you stood a little taller and walked with more strength. I hope you spoke with a little more authority and assurance. I hope you found a little more peace deep in your heart.

Now I want to write about humility.

First, confidence and humility are not opposites. It is quite possible to be confident in who you are and even in the work you do while being humble. When you recognize that your skill came partly from the influence of others, you can acknowledge that as you do well. When you remember that there are others who have greater skill than yours and you can learn from them, you give them honor. Humility is knowing where you stand.

The narcissist chafes under the superior skills of others. Nor does he like to recognize the contributions of others in his success. His confidence is often present, but he hates true humility. He wants everyone to think that he stands higher than he really does.

Second, there is such a thing as false humility. Even the Bible refers to that. Narcissists and legalists love to appear humble. More humble than others, in fact. Uriah Heep (from David Copperfield by Dickens) found his humility to be a source of pride. When the narcissist deprecates herself, telling others that her work isn’t good enough, she expects you to lift her up and tell her that her work is superior. In other words, her humility is a prompt for your statements of adoration and praise.

Third, there is an important distinction between humility and humiliation. We are called to humility, to know that all we have is a gift from the Lord, often through others. Pride is a problem of the flesh that can lead to trouble in our lives and hurt others. Humility will lead us to look to the Lord with our needs and desires because we remember that we need Him. Humility is good.

Humiliation is a tool both narcissists and legalists use to bring others under control. People who have been humiliated have been broken. They have been shamed and exposed. In some churches, the old practice of shunning (treating believers like outcasts) was an attempt at humiliation. Today that practice has been replaced by gossip and public rebukes. People who disagree or who fail to maintain the standard might be singled out to receive harsh discipline by shaming.

God is not in the business of humiliation.

The message of the church, to be consistent with the message of the Lord, should always be one of welcome and reconciliation. Sometimes the struggles of life bring humiliation and brokenness. Sometimes that’s what it takes for people to know they need the Lord. But always the message from us should be restoration and love.

The legalist church appears to believe that humiliation is what keeps people in line. They “inspire” obedience to their standards by humiliating those who do not conform. That’s not of the Lord.

The narcissist believes that he/she maintains superior status when others are brought down. The more the person is brought down and broken—humiliated—the more lasting the narcissist’s superiority will be. A spouse, a parent, a friend, even a boss who continually degrades a victim is trying to lay a burden from which it is hard to escape.

Finally, it is not a precarious line between being humble and being humiliated. I know that some people have never learned the difference. I know that some feel humiliated every time they acknowledge failure or weakness. But knowing who you are is the key. Accepting who you are allows you to stand when someone tries to humiliate you, and it allows you to bow humbly to those who contribute to your life.

This is why I teach so strongly and consistently that you are greatly loved. Those who come to Jesus are welcome and accepted. He has washed away all shame and condemnation. You will never be humiliated by Him, and those who try to humiliate you are doing wrong. Instead, you bow before the One who loves you and who gives you all you need.


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2 responses to “Defining Humility

  1. This is great teaching. Thank you, Pastor Dave.

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