by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
“He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. . . . and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” (John 13:4-5)
The Greek word usually translated humility occurs seven times in the New Testament, implying self-abasement and suggesting a meekness of spirit. In Greek literature, it was used to describe a slave’s demeaning of himself before his master—an outward prostration, not an inward character trait.
The idea that a master would set aside his status and voluntarily become a slave was probably incomprehensible to the world of Jesus’ day. Yet, we are enjoined to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who . . . took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). He defined humility by His actions, as in our text, and now we are to voluntarily take up His attitude and “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith [we] are called, With all lowliness [humility] and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Christian humility surpasses all other virtues. Expressing itself as more than acting in a humble fashion, it consists of an inward habit of self-abasement, showing consideration to all others.
This characteristic in God’s eyes is seen as one of great value. “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). JDM