The Greatest Virtue
Humility promotes an environment conducive to fulfilling God’s purpose for every person to represent him in interactions with others. It manifests as an invitation, by action or words, and conveys a promise to be respectful of others, polite, attentive, responsive, peaceful, and truthful in human interactions. The invitation offers promise of goodness; promise of care and diligence; promise of appreciation; and promise of obedience—overall, essentially a promise to be available and willing to provide service to benefit others, accept and appreciate service provided by others, and submit to and respect others’ authority. We discuss humility from Christ teaching and an example from David waiting seven years to be made king by due process after the death of the preceding king.
David was anointed to be king of Israel and was expected to become king at the end of Saul’s reign. However, after Saul died, David waited additional seven years to become king of Israel. He did not announce himself king or seek in any way to coerce the people into making him king. Instead, in his humility he waited to be made king by the people according to due process. In this study, we discuss the humility of David in the context of a general understanding of humility based on Christ teaching. We focus on Christ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount; interactions with his disciples, when he explained humility as the greatest virtue; and interactions with guests at a dinner party, when he explained the humble will be exalted.
Humility in the Sermon on the Mount
Humility is important in Following God’s Schedule. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ describes humility as one of the guiding principles of Living in the Image of God (see Following God Schedule by Living in His Image). He describes humility toward God and toward other people. Humility is important to committing to the responsibility of representing God in human interactions: by seeking and following his directions [Blessed are the poor in spirit] through repentance of sin [Blessed are those who mourn] and humility [Blessed are the meek].
This study focuses on humility in human interactions, which manifests as an invitation and conveys a promise to be respectful of others, polite, attentive, responsive, peaceful, and truthful in interactions with others. The invitation is conveyed through action and words and is essentially a promise to be available and willing to provide service to benefit others, accept and appreciate service provided by others, and submit to and respect others’ authority. Furthermore, the invitation offers promise of goodness; promise of care and diligence; promise of appreciation; and promise of obedience.
Promise of Care and Diligence conveys a message that the person can be relied upon to recognize when he/she is in position to provide for a need, recognize the need, care for the needy, seek diligently to alleviate the need, and will persevere through.
Promise of Appreciation conveys a message that a potential receiver of human service will appreciate the service and will do his/her part as needed. Promise of appreciation motivates care and diligence.
Promise of Obedience is important when a person interacts with higher authority, such as proposing a choice to the authority or requesting service controlled by the authority. Through promise of obedience, a person conveys a message of willingness to submit and accept the decision of the authority, even if unfavorable. Promise of obedience motivates a promise of care and diligence from the authority.
As we discuss in a previous study under Value of Humility, humility promotes an environment conducive to fulfilling God’s purpose for every person to represent him in interactions with others. The interactions often occur as part of a network of mutual provider-receiver relationships, whereby every person is potentially a provider of service to benefit others and receiver of service provided by others. Humility conveys a promise to recognize and appreciate others as potential providers of human service and offer self to do likewise. Humility conveys a recognition that another person better than I can be found. As Paul said in his letter to Philippians 2:3, “…in humility value others above yourselves.” Therefore, humility conveys Godliness and motivates others to do likewise. God creates every person to be humble, expects and rewards humility, but punishes haughtiness.
In an interaction with the disciples, Christ presented a child as a personification of humility and described humility as the greatest virtue. The disciples had asked him a question that indicated they were confused by his humility despite the greatness they knew of him.
Three of the disciples had recently witnessed his transfiguration, when his greatness in the kingdom of God was revealed to them: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” [Matthew 17:2]. They saw Moses and Elijah talking with him, and a voice from the cloud confirmed to them that “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” [Matthew 17:5]. Later during the same period, they witnessed him humble himself to pay the local temple tax. A tax collector had demanded the temple tax from him. The disciples probably expected him to shrug off the demand and proceed. Instead, he instructed Peter as follows [Matthew 17:27]: “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
After these events, the disciples asked him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. To answer, he brought a child before them and explained that childlike humility is a requirement to enter the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 18:3–5]: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
Humble will Be Exalted
In another incident, Christ explained humility to guests at a dinner using a parable regarding self seating at a wedding. He was in the house of a prominent Pharisee to have a meal. When he noticed that the other guests had chosen seats of honor by themselves, he told a parable to advise that a person should refrain from assigning themselves to a place of honor in a public gathering [Luke 14:7–11].
The parable is based on a hypothetical guest at a wedding. If the guest chooses a place of honor for himself/herself, then the host could later ask them to yield the position to someone more deserving of honor. In contrast, if the guest chooses a lowly place, the host could later elevate them to a higher position, thereby honoring him/her in the presence of other guests. Christ used the parable to teach a general principle of humility that those that humble themselves will be exalted whereas those that exalt themselves will be humbled: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” [Luke 14:11]. A person humbles himself or herself by recognizing other people as greater or higher placed in one or more considerations [Philippians 2:3]: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Humility of David
David was confirmed king of Israel approximately seven years after the death of Saul. Although he was generally expected to succeed Saul as king (e.g., see statements of Abigail, wife of Nabal, during an interaction with David [1 Samuel 25: 30]), the transition was delayed because of several events that occurred after Saul died, including a challenge for the throne from the house of Saul. However, David’s actions showed he recognized and respected the authority of the people to select and make their king. Therefore, he waited patiently to be made king according to due process.
As we discuss in a previous study under Call to Rulership—Saul Anointed King, the account of making Saul first king of Israel illustrates a three-step process for making a king, viz., the call, election, and inauguration. The call was represented by the anointing. Through the anointing, God selects a person to be king but keeps the selection confidential. Saul’s anointing was known only by Saul and Prophet Samuel. In the case of David, only Samuel and David’s parents and brothers knew about the anointing. Because the anointing is confidential, the election represents a real decision of the people. Although David was too young to participate in Saul’s election, he most likely learned about the process later, maybe through Prophet Samuel. Therefore, he was well aware that the authority to make him king belonged to the people and would be exercised by the people. Therefore, he waited for the people—for seven years after Saul died.
In humility, David recognized the authority of the people and waited for the people to exercise the authority. As we discuss in a previous study under Time to Drive or Time to Wait—David Confirmed King of Israel, the sequence of events during the period includes the following.
- Saul died in the battle of Mount Gilboa.
- David mourned Saul.
- David returned to Israel (settled in Hebron) from exile in Philistine.
- People of Judah made David king over Judah.
- David reached out to people of Jabesh Gilead to thank them for burying Saul and inform them that the people of Judah had made him king.
- Abner (commander of Saul’s army) appointed Saul’s son Ish-Boshet king and launched an unsuccessful war against David [2 Samuel 2:8–32].
- Abner began negotiation to unify Israel under David.
- Joab (commander of David’s troops) killed Abner in cold blood.
- David honored Abner and cursed Joab. Israel was pleased with David.
- David executed two men that murdered Ish-Boshet. Then he honored Ish-Boshet.
- The people of Israel unified and made David king.
David was successful in winning over Israel because of his humility regarding the authority of the people.
Summary of What We Learned
Humility promotes an environment conducive to fulfilling God’s purpose for every person to represent him in interactions with others. It manifests as an invitation, by action or words, and conveys a promise to be respectful of others, polite, attentive, responsive, peaceful, and truthful in human interactions. The invitation offers promise of goodness; promise of care and diligence; promise of appreciation; and promise of obedience.
Overall, the invitation is essentially a promise to be available and willing to provide service to benefit others, accept and appreciate service provided by others, and submit to and respect others’ authority. We discuss humility from Christ teaching and an example from David waiting seven years to be made king by due process after the death of the preceding king.
You can download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation of this bible study from PDF_LINK.