The Root of All Virtue

Humility gets a lot of lip service.

We’re taught how good and essential it is for great character. We praise others who show it, and deride those who don’t.

Yet when it comes to applying humility to our own lives, it suddenly loses its appeal.

Maybe part of the problem comes from confusion over what humility is. We might think humility involves self-abuse. It doesn’t. Self-abuse destroys your soul; humility grows it. Self-abuse keeps you focused on degrading yourself; humility gets you focused on serving others. As Rick Warren puts it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Or maybe, despite all the good talk, we underestimate humility’s value. It is, after all, such a quiet, unassuming virtue. Is it really that necessary? Is it truly worth all the sacrifices involved – all the self-gratifying words left unsaid, the pity parties canceled, the right to savor special attention and expect ease, forfeited?

I’d say the answer is yes. For one thing, God’s Word clearly commands humility. And God doesn’t command worthless things.

And for another, you’d be surprised how many other important qualities and experiences worth having hinge on this one attitude.

Let’s look at just a few of them:


In moments of trial or tension, I think just about anyone will assert that they just want peace.

Yet sometimes I think what we really mean is, “I just want everything to be the way I want it to be.”

That isn’t real peace. And if it’s the kind of peace you’re looking for, you’ll never find it – not even in eternity.

Because true peace, whether in relationships or within hearts, is based on God’s terms, not ours. Its survival isn’t dictated by present circumstances, past experiences, future worries, or differences between people seeking a truce.

Real peace meets hardship with a teachable spirit. Real peace is content in the face of scarcity and gracious in the face of opposition. It accepts that comfort isn’t always possible, that our faith is worth more than our lives, that souls are worth more than convenience, and that our own strategies and solutions aren’t always the best ones.

Real peace chooses to say, in all circumstances, “Not my will but God’s be done.” It requires us to seek God’s vision for our lives and relationships while laying aside our own preconceptions and preferences.

In other words, real peace only comes through humility.


Repentance – abandoning sin in order to do what’s right – is one of the keys to a healthy relationship with God. Sin separates us from God; repenting of it and asking for forgiveness through Christ restores us.

This process requires quite a bit of humility on our part. We have to acknowledge that our moral judgment is faulty and that our conduct is substandard. We have to admit that we’re wrong and God is right. Only then can we wholeheartedly renounce our sin and commit to seeking God’s best for our lives.

I recently heard pride defined as the preference for our own ways over God’s. We have to let go of such a mindset – i.e. humble ourselves – if we want to turn around and accept God’s good gift for us in Christ. We have to essentially “agree with God” if we want to truly connect with Him.


One of the classic pictures of humility is servanthood. Jesus Himself commanded His followers to serve one another rather than seek control or preferential treatment. He defined His own mission as one of service, a sacrificial quest to free humanity from sin.

Jesus also warned against hypocritical service done in hopes of earning favors or praise. Such “service” lacks the other-focus and missional attitude of Christlike humility, and becomes service done to self, for one’s own benefit.

By contrast, true, humble, Christlike service acts on others’ needs rather than our own desire for approval. Humility serves because someone needs serving and the server has what’s needed. It cares only that the job gets done, not who gets the credit.

And it sees the person served as a fellow human being, bearer of God’s image, as flawed and gifted and messy and loved as the server is – not as an object or project or debtor or dependent or potential devotee.

In this way, humility does everything “as something done for the Lord and not for people” (Colossians 3:23, CSB).


Strangely enough, the opposite of serving – accepting service – requires just as much humility as serving.

That’s because gratitude stems from humility. In order to experience gratitude, we must first admit that we lack something and need others’ help to get it.

In doing so, we realize we aren’t all-powerful, self-sufficient, or even simply more capable than the next person. We’re able to see grace for what it is – a gift we don’t deserve or can’t earn. We start looking outside ourselves and seeing the good in others and in God. We start looking at our fellow humans as equals and at God as our Sovereign Provider.

If, instead, we respond to gifts by dismissing them, or accepting them as a matter of course, we deny grace for what it is. We lose the spirit of humility that connects us with others and God in an ever-growing cycle of goodness and joy.

Yes, it takes humility to give. But it also takes humility to receive.

And when we can receive humbly, we can give back (or forward) humbly and richly.


We’ve heard it over and over: Love is more than a feeling. It’s a behavior pattern.

And one root of that pattern is an others-centered mindset – a.k.a. humility.

As Paul famously writes, “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, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIV)

In other words, love is humble.

Jesus’ own act of love for us hinged on an act of humility. As God, He had every right to distance Himself from fallen humanity, or simply annihilate us and start over.

Instead, He set aside His divine privileges, took on human form, was born as a baby, lived a human life among us, taught and befriended and healed, and then allowed His life to be taken in a slow, painful, unjust way – to offer us free, undeserved grace and save us from ourselves.

This is ultimate humility. This is what humility can do. And this is the ultimate reason we should pursue humility in our lives.

Because the One who loved us, the One who saved us, the One who serves us as Intercessor and Life-Giver forever, was humble. Even though He also was and is God of the universe.

Let’s follow His example.

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!

Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)

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