Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; Philippians 2:3
Humility – Aristotle established the spirit of our age with his declaration that whatever prevents the development of virtue makes a person tapeinos (humble). Just read that once more. Aristotle is arguing that humility works against human development. If we want to become someone, we need to get rid of tapeinophrosune (humility). No wonder the gospel was cultural revolution. It literally turned the world upside-down. No educated Greek would ever imagine that God wanted people to become servants, slaves and lowly of heart. By the way, neither do any of the icons of our contemporary culture. We are the tail end of the Greek civilization, and the worldview hasn’t changed. The world wants its day on the stage. Fame and fortune are the most sought-after goals of the population. The media saturates us with fame and fortune addiction. If Christians are going to be salt and light, they will need to take large daily doses of humility.
It’s important to note that the LXX (the Septuagint – Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture completed about 200 BC) uses the word tapeinos and related derivatives more often than the Greek literature itself. Hundreds of times we find a Hebrew word translated by tapeinos or a related word. Humility is at the very core of Hebrew thought while it is barely at the edge of Greek thinking. If you really want an instant assessment of the difference between someone with a Greek-based worldview and someone with a Hebrew-based worldview, just ask yourself if tapeinophrosune (humility) is visibly present. I said “visibly” because in Hebrew thought humility is not so much a state of mind as it is action. Humility shows itself in the way we behave. Claims of humility mean nothing unless there is visible demonstration.
Why is there such a disparity between the Greeks and the Hebrews on this characteristic? It’s simple – and perhaps a bit surprising. The Greeks believed that the goal of humanity was freedom. Therefore, they despised anything that seemed to restrict freedom. Since humility was associated with subjection, being made lowly and under authority, they rejected it. So does the culture of this age. Freedom for the Greeks, and for this age, means individual self-will. Whatever restricts my freedom is abhorrent. To put myself voluntarily under bondage to another is unthinkable. This same revulsion is part of the post-modern culture and is one of the reasons why a return to Torah-obedience is so often rejected. Even Christians refuse to accept the place of Torah-obedience, not because they are sinful but because they are really a product of the post-modern world. They truly believe that freedom means making up my own mind about my life.
The Bible, on the other hand, places all humanity under God. He is King of the Universe. We are His subjects. Therefore, humility before God sets us in proper relationship to Him. This reversal of worldly values is to be a consistent, demonstrable characteristic of a follower of the Way. It is almost an oxymoron of Christian existence. We are to be active proponents of humility. The only reason this isn’t self-contradictory is that our humility is not a personal showcase but rather a quality recognized by others. In God’s upside-down Kingdom, the humble are hidden until someone else notices their display of God’s character. The heroes of humility never wear “notice-me” name badges.
Topical Index: humility, tapeinos, tapeinophrosune, post-modern, Philippians 2:3