There is a humility that God hates. Let’s get to know a man who embodies this loathsome humility. See how he lives day-to-day.
First, let’s notice how much he talks about humility. It’s a preferred adverb. In conversation, this man often says “I humbly submit” or “I humbly think” or “I humbly wonder.” Note the self-righteous use of language. Subtly, this man has seized the moral high ground. He has put his coworker, his friend, his family member on notice: “Because I speak from a place of humility, I speak with superior authority, excellence, and wisdom.” Notice also how he prefaces self-promotion with phrases like “I don’t mean to brag” or “I was surprised as anyone when I” or “I’m a humble guy, so don’t take this the wrong way.” In nearly every sentence from this humility touting man, he uses the personal pronoun “I.” Also, he is humbly confident that he has a lot to contribute to the conversation, so why would he hold back? It would be a disservice to the audience he’s always looking to grow, whether online or in person. In conversations with him, questions are rare. If they do come, they come at the beginning as a set-up, an introduction, a chance for the other participants to feel included once both are in the throes of whatever topic the humble man chooses.
Now let’s move to the man’s eyes when he enters a crowded room. They search for the rich, the well-connected, the beautiful, the intelligent, the humorous. They sweep past the loner, the ill-fitted, the socially awkward (see James 2:1-9). Because this man wants proximity to power, not power itself, he does not see himself as proud. In all humility, he believes he can benefit from those above him on the social strata and has nothing to glean from the crowd beneath him. To this man, titles matter. They bestow purpose, dignity, and authority. And as long as someone is talking about his title, and not his talents, then he is humble. If the position, not the individual occupying that position, is being praised or promoted, then the individual retains his humility. This bifurcation of job title and individual exempts the one occupying such a prestigious job from Jesus’s command that “the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11).
No portrait of this man would be complete without a description of his work ethic. It’s relentless. Ten-hour workdays are days off. Fifteen hours on the job is the norm, even if such long days are not required by the employer. This humble man works hard because he does not believe he is naturally gifted. He humbly believes he must compensate for his weaknesses. He does that through sheer force of will. Of course, undergirding this is a desperation to be noticed. To be great. So a humble distrust of his own ability drives him to work hard because he wants that greatness. He longs for his life to count, so he believes it will only count if every moment is accounted for. There is a lack of trust in the man’s schedule. He refuses to delegate, scared that a subordinate will not accomplish his will in his way. He is terrified of failure. This humble, workaholic’s favorite passage is Proverbs 6:10: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.” But he hasn’t yet imbibed Psalm 127:2: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” This is the “pull yourself by your bootstraps” kind of humility, not the version that says “God sovereignly rules over every aspect of creation, including my work, and he will decide the amount of my success.” There is a God-glorifying humility that sleeps eight hours a night, and doesn’t work on weekends, especially the Lord’s day. But there’s another form of humility—an insidious kind—that says “I’m not talented enough to take time off.” No one is so important. No one is that necessary. This humble man has forgotten that glorious fact.
Finally, this humility shows up in this man’s view of himself. He is savagely self-critical. If he is angry, he is angry with himself. He beats himself up after mistakes and he criticizes himself for shortcomings. This is a form of humility that revels in its inadequacy. It is the humility C.S. Lewis warned against—that of a man “most people call ‘humble’ nowadays…a sort of greasy smarmy person who is always telling you that.”
Now that we’ve met our “man of humility,” let’s consider his future. It is not promising. His constant references to himself—to his humility—will keep him from deep, intimate relationships where he knows another person. There will be no “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24) because none can stick close to one with this kind of humility. Later in life, he will find himself more and more alone, until those by his deathbed will be few, and those at his memorial service will hardly know the man they are remembering. He will find disappointment in his career, even if he is successful in the world’s eyes. One who doesn’t desire power—but only to be near it—will never have enough proximity. One who wants influence, wants to fill a bottomless pit. And if our humble man—so unsure of his talents, and so obsessive about his work ethic—is able to retain a family while not seeing them, he will, more than likely, not live to enjoy them. The lack of sleep, the food on the go, the stress of the job, the neglecting of God’s good gifts in those areas, will break his body down prematurely. His heart will fail earlier than it should, and he will not live to see that “wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding” (Job 12:12). It’s as if God is resisting this man (see 1 Pet 5:5).
Thankfully, there is still time. Our man is young (as many with this humility are). There is abundant wisdom in God’s Word. God may loathe this man now, but His grace is available. True humility is still possible. And God loves nothing more than a humble, contrite sinner. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). True humility truly repents. It turns from self to the Savior. One with true humility sees pride as John Bunyan did when he said, “The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin to damn the whole world!” And the kind of humility God loves sees no difference between himself and the lowest of the low. He also sees no need to work constantly. He revels in rest, in play, in the wonders of God’s creation, in the family and friends God has graciously provided. He understands the wisdom of Solomon: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward” (Eccl 5:18). That is true humility. The kind God loves.