Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Biblical Definition of Humility

Humility is defined as not being proud or haughty, not arrogant, or assertive. The Bible states that humility is critical and necessary for godliness. As Christians, we are called to be humble followers of Christ. We are also called to trust in the wisdom and salvation of God. Biblical humility is based on God. God the Father descends to help the poor and afflicted. The incarnate Son manifests Himself in humility from birth until His crucifixion.

(Matthew 11:29)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Humility and meekness are also interrelated. These are righteous traits necessary for serving the will of God.

(Micah 6:8) – “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Humility is necessary to enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:3; 18:1-4). Humility is also the prerequisite for honor (Proverbs 15:33; 18:12; 22:4; 29:23) and a physical blessing (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5). It is the gateway to eternal life (Matthew 5:3; 18:1-4), not physical rewards (Matthew 5:10-12).

(Proverbs 3:5) – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;”

Proverbs gives us a summation of the biblical meaning of humility. To be humble, we must have faith that God will lead us in the best way to live and guide our paths to avoid temptation. It takes complete trust in the Lord. Anything less and we deceive ourselves with vanity or lust.

(Proverbs 22:4) – “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.”

To be humble consists of trusting God and following His will. It also takes fear. There are consequences for neglecting God’s commands of truth, love, work ethic, mercy, and more. Humility is recognizing the magnificent power of God. Humility is accepting God’s condemnation upon us if we do not aim our life’s purpose toward God’s righteousness.

(2 Chronicles 7:14) – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Solomon recognized this warning as a restatement of the warning in Deuteronomy 28. God had entered a covenant with Israel. He promised to take care of them and allow them to prosper as long as they obeyed Him. God also promised to bring curses upon them if they failed to obey. The covenant relationship established a direct link between their obedience and their prosperity. It also linked their disobedience to their hardships. In 2 Chronicles 7, God is reminding Solomon of the previous agreement. If Israel obeys, they will be blessed. If they disobey, they will be judged. The judgment is meant to bring Israel to repentance. God is reassuring Solomon that, if they are humble, pray, and repent, then God will keep them from His judgment.

When Christians humble themselves, pray, seek God, and repent, God heals. The healing can include the physical land, the morality of the citizenry, the economy, and even political leadership. Whether God will fix our country is up to God. It is never wrong, however, to confess our sins and pray. It is our duty as believers to continuously confess and repent of our sins. Why? So we are not hindered in any way (Hebrews 12:1). We are to continuously pray for our nation and those who lead it (1 Timothy 2:1–2). As believers, we must live holy lives, seek God, pray, and share the gospel. We should be confident in the knowledge that all who believe will be saved.

Example of Biblical Humility

As Christians, we believe that Moses is the father of all the prophets before and after him. All the prophets after Moses were beneath him in stature. He was chosen above all mankind to achieve a greater knowledge of God than anyone before him or after him. Moses reached a level of communication with God that surpassed all other human attainments. There was no barrier between himself and God that he was not able to penetrate. There was no physical limitation that hindered his communications with God. He had no imperfection large or small that impeded him. To achieve this level of communication, Moses gave up his sensual and imaginative faculties. His human desires and worldly motivations ceased. Moses was left to rely on his pure intellect. We look to Moses and how he communicated with God with awe. Even the angels had no closer relationship with God.

Our Christian faith asks us to believe that other than Jesus Himself, Moses was the greatest person to ever live or will ever live. What enabled and empowered Moses to actualize his human potential more than anyone else? How did he achieve this unparalleled level before God that can never be and will never be replicated?

(Numbers 12:3) – “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

The answer can be found in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, written by Moses. In it, he describes himself as humbler than any other person. Moses’ modesty and unpretentiousness allowed him to see himself as a servant of God. Moses saw his goals as improving the world and being of service to others. He had no ulterior motive of elevating himself or increasing his name recognition or his net worth. His pure intent was the way he lived his life. When he combined his humility with his skills, it made him the perfect choice for God to communicate through. That is why we look to Moses as our Biblical example of humility. God chose not only to talk to Moses but to appear in his presence. God even wrote down His advice on stone. Today, we would compare this with someone who not only had God’s cell phone number, but also His private email address.

Humility for Moses did not mean denying his unique talents, abilities, and opportunities. It meant recognizing that they were gifts and blessings from God. He was obligated rather than entitled. His gifts and talents created expectations, rather than fame and notoriety. Moses understood that whatever gifts he had were on loan. They were borrowed but never owned by him. The same is true for us. What makes us unique, our gifts and talents are on loan from God. They can be taken from us at any moment.

Moses had an unbelievable life. He was a prince, shepherd, prophet, liberator, chieftain, military leader, and judge. In our world today, someone with such greatness is hardly ever called humble. What then made Moses different? Moses had confidence. He was not a pacifist. Moses killed an Egyptian, challenged Pharaoh, and crushed a rebellion. He killed by sword 10,000 of his people after the golden calf incident. Moses spoke face-to-face with God. He broke the first set of inscribed tablets from God, argued with, and challenged God. This passage from Proverbs gives us an insight into the meaning of humility (See Proverbs 22:4).

According to the Biblical and Jewish traditions, humility is based on an awareness of oneself that comes about because of our awareness of God. In other words, it comes from our perception of an intelligent power in and beyond the universe. This power transcends human comprehension and inspires awe and wonder, gratitude, generosity, and love. It comes from God! Our Bible condemns arrogance and close-mindedness, the opposite of humility. But don’t expect to get a free pass for being humble. In a remarkable passage (Numbers 20:1-11), Moses is told to draw water from a rock for the second time. Before, he was told to strike the rock, but here he speaks to the rock. Instead, he calls the Israelites “rebels,” which they were, and strikes the rock twice. While the rock gushes water for all, God tells Moses and the accompanying Aaron why they cannot enter the land:

(Numbers 20:12) – “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’”

There is a lot of theological speculation about the actual sin that Moses committed. He did get water from the rock. He tried twice. He took credit for getting the water. The Bible only tells us that Moses had not believed in God. His disobedience was not in what he did but in his attitude. Even though Moses was the humblest person that had lived, had spoken with God, and even received instructions from God in writing, he was not permitted to enter the promised land.

What does this tell us? Following rules cannot guarantee blessings from God. Even the best of us are sinners. Despite repeated attempts by Moses to change God’s mind, he died on the mountain, seeing but never entering Israel’s the promised land. It is faith, and not law-keeping, that makes us right with God. The Old Testament teaches the same justification by faith, as the Apostle Paul taught us in Romans chapter 4.

Ideas to Explore

The following information was taken from the Billy Graham website. It offers a framework for discussion on how to define and practice biblical humility. Please go to the original link and explore the additional resources available. Practice makes perfect. Have a working session on building humble disciples.

  • Routinely confess your sin to God (Luke 18:9-14)
  • Acknowledge your sin to others (James 3:2, James 5:16)
  • Be patient with those who have wronged you (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  • Receive correction and feedback from others graciously (Proverbs 10:17, 12:1)
  • Accept a lowly place (Proverbs 25:6,7)
  • Purposely associate with people of lower state than you (Luke 7:36-39)
  • Choose to serve others (Philippians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 4:5, Matthew 23:11)
  • Be quick to forgive (Matthew 18: 21-35)
  • Cultivate a grateful heart (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Purpose to speak well of others (Ephesians 4:31-32)
  • Treat pride as a condition that always necessitates embracing the cross (Luke 9:23)

Example of Historical Humility

In the war for America’s independence, the life of a common soldier was a rough one. Soldiers served short periods in state militias or longer periods in the Continental Army, raised by Congress. About two hundred thousand men enlisted for one period or another. Militias supplied the greatest number of soldiers. They were comprised of farmers, artisans, and some professionals. All faced war’s hardships of severe food shortages, discomfort, low morale, and danger. As a result, the Continental Congress recruited both the young and old. Those with fewer resources, such as apprentices or laborers, the poor, were attracted to the American Revolution. Pay and a promise of land was the typical incentive. While some enlisted others were drafted. The more affluent hired paid substitutes. What makes the story of Joseph Plumb Martin unique is that his education and writing skills allowed him to keep a journal throughout his wartime activities. Later, after the war ended, he wrote a colorful portrayal of the life of a common soldier, “A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier.” Because Martin was just an ordinary soldier with no political aspirations other than to survive, his narrative has become one of the most referenced documents on the life of a common soldier in the American Revolution.

Joseph Plumb Martin was born in Becket, Massachusetts on November 21, 1760, to the Reverend Ebenezer Martin and Susannah Plumb. At the age of seven, he was sent to live with his grandparents in Milford, Connecticut. Because his family was well-to-do (His father studied at Yale), Martin was able to receive a well-rounded education, including reading and writing. When he was 15, in 1775, he was eager to join the war effort following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. His grandparents initially opposed the idea but agreed after Martin vowed to run away and join a naval ship as a privateer if he was not allowed to join. He joined the 8th Connecticut Regiment in June 1776. There, he was assigned duty in the New York City area. Martin arrived just before the opening of the British Long Island Campaign.

Joseph Plumb Martin’s propensity to re-enlist provided him with many firsthand accounts of the critical battles in the Revolution. It is notable that Martin, for most of the war, was just a private in the army. His firsthand account does not involve the usual heroes of the Revolution. Scholars believe that Martin kept some type of journal during the war. Later in life, he used it to write his book. While some events may be dramatized, the narrative is remarkably accurate. Martin’s regiment would have been present at every event he writes about, according to war records of the time.

Martin participated in such notable engagements as the Battle of Brooklyn, the Battle of White Plains, the siege on Fort Mifflin, and the Battle of Monmouth. He encamped at Valley Forge, witnessed John Andre being escorted to his execution, and was also present during the climactic Siege of Yorktown in 1781. He was assigned to Light Infantry in 1778, attaining the rank of Corporal.

In the summer of 1780, Washington ordered the formation called “Corps of Sappers and Miners.” Sappers and Miners were the first units of military engineers. They played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. Sappers were key in preparing the defense around strategic points such as Bunker Hill and leading assaults through fortified enemy positions such as Redoubt #10 at Yorktown. Plumb Martin was recommended by his superior officers to be a non-commissioned officer of this regiment. Additionally, he was promoted to Sergeant. Before Yorktown, the corps was responsible for digging the entrenchments for the Continental Army. During the final battle at Yorktown, they were also a key part of a regiment commanded by Alexander Hamilton. They cleared the field of sharpened logs called abatis so that Hamilton’s regiment could capture Redoubt #10.

Martin’s narrative was originally published anonymously in 1830 at Hallowell, Maine, as A narrative of some of the adventures, dangers, and sufferings of a Revolutionary soldier. It was interspersed with anecdotes of incidents that occurred within his observation. It has been republished in many forms but was thought lost to history. In the mid-1950s, a first edition copy of the narrative was found and donated to Morristown National Historical Park. The book was published again by Little, Brown in 1962, in an edition edited by George F. Scheer (ISBN 0-915992-10-8) under the title Private Yankee Doodle; as well as appearing as a volume in Series I of The New York Times’ Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution in 1968. The current edition, published in 2001, is entitled A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin. Other current versions include a version adapted for children, entitled Yankee Doodle Boy and The Memoirs of a Revolutionary which ended with Plumb describing the British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781.

When Martin was discharged from duty when the Continental Army disbanded in October 1783, he taught in New York state for a year and settled on Maine’s frontier. Martin became one of the founders of the town of Prospect, near modern-day Stockton Springs. Over the years, he was known for being a farmer, a selectman, a Justice of the Peace, and Town Clerk (the last position being held for over 25 years). He married Lucy Clewley (b. 1776) in 1794 and had five children, Joseph (b. 1799), Nathan and Thomas (twins, b. 1803), James Sullivan (b. 1810), and Susan (b. 1812). He also wrote many other stories and poems over the years.

In 1794, he became involved in a bitter land dispute with Henry Knox, former Major-General in the Continental Army and Secretary of War under George Washington’s administration as President. Knox claimed that he owned Martin’s 100-acre farm, as well as the surrounding 600,000 acres in an area now known as Waldo County, Maine. Martin said that this was not true and that he had the right to farm the land. In 1797, Knox’s claim was legally upheld, and Martin was ordered to pay $170 in rent. He could not raise the money and begged Knox to allow him to keep the land. Knox denied the request. By 1811, his farmland was cut by half, and by 1818, when he appeared in court with other Revolutionary War veterans to claim a war pension, he owned nothing. In 1818, Martin’s war pension was approved, and he received $96 a year for the rest of his life. Many other war veterans were fighting for what they were promised as compensation. To further the cause of the veterans, he published his memoirs in 1830. It was not considered a success and was lost to history.

In 1836, a platoon of United States Light Infantry was marching through Prospect and discovered that Plumb Martin resided there. The platoon stopped outside of his house and fired a salute in honor of the Revolutionary War Hero. Joseph Plumb Martin lived to the age of 89, dying on May 2, 1850. He is buried with his wife at the Sandy Point Cemetery, outside of Prospect, Maine.

Joseph Plumb Martin is chosen as our example of humility because he represents the very heart of our nation. Born a minister’s son, Martin gave up his youth to help birth a nation. He asked very little for his sacrifice.

Ideas to Explore

This is an opportunity to purchase for each person involved in this review, a copy of Joseph Plumb Martin’s book. They are available through multiple sources such as Amazon Books or Barnes and Noble online. In paperback they are inexpensive. While the reading style takes care, the book gives the reader a chance to live with Joseph Plumb Martin during the Revolutionary War. Every young person should read this book and add it to their library.

Examples of Historical Humility Occurring in Florida

William Stanhope Foster left the practice of law and entered military service on March 12, 1812, as a first lieutenant in the Eleventh Infantry Regiment. We often forget that there was a second attempt by the British to reclaim the colonies after they lost the American Revolution. The War of 1812 brought such events as the burning of the White House in Washington, DC, and the famous Battle of New Orleans led by Andrew Jackson. Foster was a patriot in our nation’s pursuit of freedom. In the War Of 1812, he was promoted to captain on March 13, 1813, and promoted to major by brevet2a commission giving a military officer a higher nominal rank than that for which pay is received on August 15, 1814, for “gallant service” in the battle for Fort Erie. Between wars, on September 12, 1822, he married Elizabeth Kilgour (1800 or 1801-1879) of Cincinnati. Foster was later promoted to lieutenant colonel by brevet on August 15, 1834.

In December 1836 Lieutenant Colonel William S. Foster was assigned to build a new fort in Florida, on the site of the old Fort Alabama. This is a location in Hillsboro County, Thonotosassa, Florida on the Hillsboro River. The first fort established at the site was called Fort Alabama and was built by troops led by Colonel William Lindsay in March 1836. The fort came under attack by a large force of hostile Indians almost immediately and was abandoned in April 1836. It was later destroyed by a booby-trapped keg of gunpowder. On December 1, 1836, Colonel Foster arrived at the site with 430 men. His assignment was to rebuild the fort and bridge that had been destroyed months earlier. All materials had to be sourced from local forests. By December 19, he had erected two blockhouses, a large storehouse, and a fort. Then on December 22, Col. Foster departed with 180 men, and 25 wagons with provisions and forage to resupply Fort Armstrong. The rest of his men were tasked with completing the bridge and powder magazine.

Fort Foster was to be a strategic fortification built for the protection of the bridge, the river crossing, and the supplies within the fort. Fortified supply depots were continuously placed deeper into the Seminole territory. This allowed soldiers to operate in the field while they fought the Seminoles. On January 1, 1837, Col. Foster boasted in a letter to General R. Jones. He stated that the fort and bridge he oversaw the construction of made one of the best and strongest field fortifications ever erected against Indians. His words would be proven correct over time. The fort was successful in its defense of the bridge.

During the Second Seminole war, he was promoted to colonel by brevet on December 25, 1837 “for distinguished service in Florida. This was due to his actions in the Battle of Kissimmee,” also known as the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. In that battle, he led a decisive charge on Christmas Day as commander of the Fourth Infantry Regiment. In 1838, he was assigned to the pursuit of the fugitive Cherokee leader Tsali in the mountains of North Carolina. About a year later, on November 26, 1839, Colonel Foster died of yellow fever in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was buried there.

Why would a military leader be an example of humility, especially when he was prideful about his role in the war? To begin with, Lieutenant Colonel William S. Foster loved his country. He took his role as a soldier seriously. Discomfort and death were always close. To face death for the betterment of others is the ultimate act of humility. Foster’s orders are difficult to comprehend. The Seminole Wars were about the elimination of all Indians within Florida. It was about the annihilation of a race of people who were fighting for their land. The war was not Colonel Foster’s idea. Those were his orders as one of the senior officers of the Second Seminole War. Colonel Foster served directly under the war’s foremost leaders while seeing action in most of the Seminole war’s decisive battles. He left his history behind as a group of official writings and his many letters to his wife Betty. There was a book published about William S. Foster (This Miserable Pride of a Soldier – October 1, 2005). It is a compilation of his letters and Journals. Colonel Foster was no different than any soldier given orders to make war. He obeyed his orders; he did his best. There are no statues we know of for him, no monuments. One must ask if you are assigned to a miserable service, is it wrong to be proud that you served with honor?

Much of the information about William Foster has been mishandled in history. Colonel Foster’s birthplace was either Weathersfield, Vermont, or Charlestown, New Hampshire. Currently, records differ. We don’t know for sure where he was born. Colonel William Stanhope Foster was incorrectly assigned the middle name “Sewell” by a clerical error in federal military records from the War Of 1812. That error was duplicated in Francis Bernard Heitman’s authoritative “Historical Register and Dictionary of The United States Army” (1903), in John K. Mahon’s authoritative “History of The Second Seminole War, 1835-1842,” and likely elsewhere. Effective Internet research on the Colonel requires separate searches using separate middle names. At present, the location of Colonel Foster’s grave in the Baton Rouge National Cemetery should be described as “probable,” based on the likelihood that his grave was one of those moved from the Old Post Cemetery. Incomplete government records and weathered grave markers make that unclear.

Humility in life does not mean a lack of pride in life. Col. Forster asked nothing from his country but for the opportunity to use his skills in service to the United States. Many people do not celebrate the efficiency with which the United States Army dispatched the Indian population within Florida. Lieutenant Colonel Foster did his job as ordered by his leaders. It is no different than anyone who serves in the military today. Many find their sacrifice and service used for political agendas. Service to our country should never be politicized. Foster’s legacy can still be found at the site of his Florida fort, the fort he built in just a few weeks. The exact location was discovered, excavated, and rebuilt using a period map provided by the Colonel’s papers. Archaeological research helped confirm the location and the original design before reconstruction. You can step back to 1836 and walk with Col. Foster and his men. It will be a memorable afternoon. We owe much to the military who have served throughout our nation’s history. Here you can imagine yourself, in service to your country. Cold in the winter, hot in the summer, under the constant threat of enemy attack.

Ideas to Explore

Planning a visit to Fort Foster has become very difficult. Recent decay has rendered the fort unsafe for visitation. Technically part of (and administered by) Hillsborough River State Park, Fort Foster State Historic Site is on the opposite side of US Highway 301. What is now at the Fort Foster State Historic Site was a reconstruction of a fort in use during the Second Seminole War. Park rangers offered tours (giving out facts about the history, living conditions, and operations) of the site on weekends (when the weather allows). There was also an annual Fort Foster Rendezvous held every year in February, complete with folks in period dress and engaging in re-enactment-type skirmishing. This activity has been suspended.

The parking lot is across the road at Hillsborough River State Park, where the restrooms are, too. The interpretive center is over there, with exhibits about the fort, the Seminoles, and the Second Seminole War. To get there: Take US Highway 301 for 9 miles north of Tampa (6 miles south of Zephyrhills). You can get there from Interstates 75 and 4 easily, but everything involves you finding the exits for US Highway 301 and following the same instructions. Fort Foster was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Check the fort’s calendar for special events that are held throughout the year.

Advisory: Fort Foster is currently closed for safety renovations. Please check before you plan a visit to see the status. As an alternative, you might consider Fort King in Ocala Florida. Originally called Camp King or Cantonment King, Fort King is National Historic Landmark. The site lies on the north side of Fort King Street west of its intersection with Northeast 41st. The fort was named for Colonel William King. It was built because of the 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek, signed between the United States and leaders of the Seminole Nation.

The original fort consisted of several log buildings and a log stockade and was held by the army from 1827-1829. Because of its distance from Fort Brooke in Tampa Bay, the army decided that it was too costly to supply and evacuated it in the latter year. Fort King was abandoned in May of 1836. It has a rich history like Fort Foster. However, its restoration is not complete. The fort stockade has been rebuilt and the site does have scheduled events including reenactments. The history of Fort King is similar to that of Fort Foster. Another fort, Fort Christmas is located just east of Orlando, FL. It too offers similar opportunities to learn about this period in Florida’s history.

Practicing Acts of Humility

  1. Speak as little as possible about yourself. Don’t be a braggart.
  2. Mind your own business. Don’t be nosey.
  3. Don’t try to run other people’s life. Be wary of giving advice. Wise men don’t need it, fools won’t heed it.
  4. Accept criticism. It could be a character flaw that will make you stronger and a better person if you fix it.
  5. Tolerate imperfection. Ignore the mistakes of others. Just try not to make them yourself. But if you do make a mistake, move on, and learn from your experience. Admit when you are wrong.
  6. Control your anger. Not everyone will treat you fairly. Rise above the petty! Make your first response one of kindness. It will throw your enemies off guard and show your friends what you are made of. Use Jesus as a guide.
  7. Don’t think less of yourself, think of yourself less.
  8. Serve others, serve often. Do your best. Enjoy your successes.
  9. Don’t care about getting credit. God is always watching anyway.
  10. Always do the right thing. Practice makes perfect.
  • 1
    NIV New International Version Translations
  • 2
    a commission giving a military officer a higher nominal rank than that for which pay is received