Whoever wants to become great must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave—these are the words of Jesus to his disciples (see Matthew 20:26-27).
Our Savior and Lord not only said this, He lived it. He washed the feet of his disciples—even the one who would betray Him. Afterwards, He said to them all, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
The image of Jesus at the feet of His disciples sets a powerful counter-cultural precedent for us.
Humility is knowing who God is and who you are in relationship to Him and others. Humility involves having a correct view of yourself, others, and God. It means being aware of who you are in Christ and living accordingly.
In 1 Peter 5:1-7, Peter discusses how humility should be evident in leaders, young people, congregations, and finally within our own personal lives. The key to this passage is found in verse 5: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” This is the foundation stone upon which the whole passage is built.
If you are in a leadership position in any area of your life, humility means modeling this posture to those under your leadership. You must clothe yourself with humility because the people under you are looking up to you, imitating you. Peter addresses leaders first for this reason, because just as sheep follow their shepherd, so people will follow your example if you are in a position of influence.
If you are young, humility means submitting to your elders. When our leaders submit to the authority of the Word of God, it is a delight to submit to their leadership—regardless of our age. But if we fail to submit to our spiritual authority when we are young, sooner or later it will catch up with us. After all, we are not meant to live without accountability. In contrast, when we love, honor, and respect our elders as we mature, we will likely grow to be adults who love, honor, and respect God and His Word.
For all of us, humility means exercising meekness towards the people God has placed in our lives—even those we feel don’t deserve it. In our relationships with one another, we are to have the mindset as Christ—who came not to be served but to serve. We are to exercise humility toward those in our churches, small groups, families, and neighborhoods. When we count others as more significant than ourselves and serve one another in this way, the church functions as God designed.
Ultimately, humility means surrendering control to God. To live as if you are in control breeds anxiety. But as you humbly recognize that God is in control and you are not, you will have peace as you walk with Him—regardless of your circumstances. How freeing!
Christ is our ultimate example of humility, “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” (Philippians 2:6-7). The God of the universe came not with a scepter but with a towel. He washed the dusty, calloused feet of his disciples—one of them His enemy. And if the King of heaven can serve in such a way, so can we.
The Holy Spirit is within us, working humility in our hearts so that we might live like Christ. With His help, we can practice humility. We can be realistic about our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and hang-ups. At the same time, we can be realistic about the greatness of our God. If we follow Him, He promises that we “will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4b). The earthly treasures of this life will certainly perish, but the reward that Jesus has for His humble, faithful servants never will.