Gordon Fee on Humility

In his commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in explaining the phrases within verse 3, he writes regarding humility:

In further application of vv. 6-11, especially v.8, Paul here contrasts “selfish ambition and rivalry” with, “in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  “Humility” is a uniquely Christian virtue, which, as with the message of a crucified Messiah, stands in utter contradiction to the values of the Greco-Roman world, who generally considered not a virtue, but a shortcoming.  Here Paul’s roots are in the OT – and in Christ.  In the OT the term indicates “lowliness” in the sense of “creatureliness,” and the truly humble show so by resting their case with God rather than trusting their own strength and machinations. 

Here is where the application comes, where we need to understand how humility works:

Humility is thus not to be confused with false modesty, or with that kind of abject servility that only repulses, wherein the “humble one” by obsequiosness gains more self-serving attention than he or she could do otherwise.  Rather, it has to do with a proper estimation of oneself, the stance of the creature before the Creator, utterly dependant and trusting.  Here one is well aware both of one’s weaknesses and of one’s glory (we are in his image, after all), but makes neither too much nor too little of either.  True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but rather, as further defined by Paul in v. 4, “looks not to one’s own concerns but to those of others”  (187-188).   

So, real humility is simply realizing that there is a God of the Universe who is in control of all things, and you are not him.  He alone is the Creator, you are the creature, so live accordingly.   Pride, the opposite of humility, tries to convince the fool that he or she is the creator who can tell the Creator what to do and how to do it or that he or she doesn’t need the Creator and that he can handle things on his or her own.  Humility in contrast then submits to the Creator and lets him guide his or her life.  He or she seeks only to serve the Creator and his creation, thereby serves not one’s own concerns but to those of others. 

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