“I have said a great deal elsewhere, daughters, about the harm which comes to us through our not properly understanding this matter of humility and self-knowledge . . . it is a matter of the greatest importance to us.” (Teresa of Avila: First Mansions, Chapter Two)
“And during supper Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off is outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. . . . and began to wash the disciples feet.” (John 13.3-5)
While we should have a humble response to our sins, humility is not about our sins. Humility is a virtue rooted in self-knowledge; it is the central character trait of the Christian. Two bible passages linking humility and self-knowledge are John 13 and Philippians 2.
John 13: Self-knowledge and Humiliation (Humility)
In John 13 Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. This act foreshadowed the cross and demonstrated service to others. Today we celebrate the virtue of the foot washing and the cross, but in Jesus’ time both were seen as humiliation. When Jesus embraced the humiliation of foot washing and the cross he did this from the strength of “self-knowledge” — knowing all things were in his hands and he had come from God.
Philippians 2: Self-knowledge and Restraint
In Philippians 2, it says, Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” He “emptied himself” and “humbled himself” and became “obedient to the point of death — even death on the cross.” Instead of trying to control through power, Jesus took powerful action. His restraint in exercising power (humility) began with the self-knowledge of his “equality with God”.
Two things we can do to learn humility:
1) Eliminate defensiveness (i.e. the constant need to defend and explain ourselves). The non-defensive life is difficult to master and means accepting “humiliations”. We can weep over our sins or raise our hands in worship, but if we cannot eliminate defensive reactions within our own family or workplace we have not learned humility.
2) Quit trying to control people and outcomes. Instead of trying to control through power, take powerful action. This requires self-knowledge. The defensive and insecure are unable to execute this consistently.
Humility and restraint come from inner strength rooted in self-knowledge. Defensive responses and the need to control are indicators someone does not understand themselves. When we have “self-knowledge” we become humble and capable of powerful action and powerful inaction.
Self-knowledge – Part I (click here)
Self-knowledge – Part III (click here)
Self-knowledge – Part IV (click here)
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