benefits of humility

Why Humility is the Key to Success

Largely because it counteracts pride, a main impediment to success. Let’s start there.

Pride acts as a barrier around a person’s heart; an impenetrable wall knocking down arrows that, if able to enter, would be an impetus for change. It keeps the heart’s inner contents (motives, beliefs, attitudes, etc.) constant in pursuit of elevating self.

Or perhaps it’s more akin to a selective wall: accepting heart entry if it puffs up self. It’s an undesirable characteristic of people and has affected us all at one point or another. 

What Does the Bible Say About Pride?

The Bible has much to say about pride. Sometimes through relatable analogies it compares the heart to stone or impenetrable ground. Other times more plainly. “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice” (Proverbs 13:10). “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

pride goes before destruction

Pride skews our perception of ourselves at the expense of devaluing others. As a preamble to the idea that one person’s gifts or talents are not superior to another’s in our service to each other, the Bible teaches: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).

Pride prevents love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

And it lies at the source of many evils: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart–the unplowed field of the wicked–produce sin” (Proverbs 21:4).

It is found even in the first sin in the Bible. Adam and Eve were free to eat the fruit of all but one tree and death would be the penalty for violation. Eve was eventually enticed to eat the forbidden fruit based on both a lie (she was told and believed she wouldn’t actually die) and learning that upon eating it, “you will become like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

The latter temptation appeals to self-elevation, to pride. For Eve, this led to irrational thinking. She became convinced (at least in the moment) that eating of the forbidden tree was allowed despite God’s express prohibition.

How to Avoid Pride

Undoubtedly, a major principle taught in the Bible is to avoid selfish pride, and pursue humility. This is necessary for success.

For starters, it helps one properly define success. The Bible teaches a definition of success completely different from the mainstream. Instead of optimizing self at the expense of others, the Bible teaches, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11) and, “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

And not just some others, but all of them, including your enemies, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

The primary unit of the worldly success metric is the dollar, whereas the Bible warns, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

ecclesiastes 5 10

Instead the Bible teaches contentment, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).

Achieving success (by this standard) requires a new heart and a new mind. That is, a new worldview, new principles for living, and a new way of thinking. It’s not easy to put others before yourself, to embrace service, or to uproot a wealth, fame, or power-driven definition of success.

Why is Humility Important?

Not only is this contrary to the dominant, worldly thought, it’s a current flowing opposite the river of pride instinctively moving us toward more selfish definitions of success. It’s like we need an inner earthquake to dramatically change the topography of our personal ethic. How else will we reverse course?

Humility is the key.

“Break up your unplowed ground, and do not sow among thorns” (Jeremiah 4:3). These instructions were given to Israel as a part of the plan to change their course.

Breaking up their ground (softening their heart) was necessary for seed to grow. Sure, seed also needs nutrients, water, sunlight, etc. But without first breaking up the ground, the growth process never stands a chance.

The analogous point: softening their heart was necessary for them to make use of any wisdom the Lord would provide (seed = word of the Lord).

Jesus uses a similar analogy in the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9). The word of the Lord is most effective on hearts willing and able to receive it. Not soil that is hard and impenetrable or polluted with thorns that choke out the crop (the deceitfulness of wealth-driven success), but that is soft, broken up, and nutrient rich. Humility is one descriptor of the good soil in the spiritual parallel of the heart.

Humility is the Key to Success

So, to be successful, one must first recognize and accept the unworldly, transcendent, and true definition of success. Both recognition and acceptance require the infiltration of the truth, divinely revealed in former times and preserved in writing until now. Humility facilitates the infiltration.

To get rid of moral filth and evil one must “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21). Notice the precondition of humility. It is necessary for the word to take root.

This word (supreme truth, ideas, and principles) will transform your mind and as a result you will be unconformed to the world (Romans 12:1) and to your selfish tendencies. It’s freeing, actually, from enslavement to the desires of the flesh (our naturalistic, human tendencies), “for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them” (2 Peter 2:19).

If you abide in the words and teachings of Jesus, or one might say if you consume the bread of life (John 6:48-51, John 1:14), then ”you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

The path to true success is not obvious when worldly darkness is so blinding. Biblical truth provides the lamp for our feet and the light for our path (Psalm 119:105). Humility is necessary to be guided by it and not directed off course by selfish influence. Humility is the key to success.

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