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A Servant's Heart - Humility

You may have heard of the Four-H Club for young people run by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. You may not know what the four H’s stand for. They represent the improving of head, heart, hands and health.

But that is not our subject for this article. I want to bring your attention to the Four-H Principle of Christian Service. This principle teaches the interrelation between four qualities. These four qualities are haughtiness, humiliation, humility and honor. This principle is taken from Matthew 23:11-12, which reads:

Matthew 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Notice that our greatness (Matthew 23:11) as the disciples of Christ is determined by our work as a servant. It is not based on ability or personality. It is not based on how much we have or who we know. We are placed in the ranks of God’s kingdom according to our life as a servant.

Verse twelve gives a further explanation of what this attitude or heart of service entails. A disciple can either exalt himself (haughtiness) or he can humble himself (humility). As a result, he will either be abased (humiliation) or he will be exalted (honor). This principle goes totally against the practice of the world where a man must promote himself in order to gain position. This is the very point that Christ was making. God’s ways are not the ways of man. In order to understand this principle better, let us look at the four elements one at time.


Christ first speaks of the person who "shall exalt himself." The –alt in the word exalt is related to the word altitude and has the idea of height. To exalt is to lift up to the heights. The man who lifts up himself is filled with pride. He is guilty of self-exaltation. He promotes himself and promotes his own agenda. He is full of his own importance.

Pride, or haughtiness, is the original sin of Satan. The story of his fall in Isaiah 14:12-15 is peppered with five "I will’s:" "I will ascend into heaven…I will exalt my throne…I will sit also upon the mount…I will ascend above the heights…I will be like the most High." In his pride, he exalted himself. Only that which he wanted was important. Nothing else mattered.

Another example of self-exaltation is found in the story of Nebuchadnezzar. He walks in his palace in Babylon and says, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). Notice how his thoughts are totally filled with himself and his accomplishments.

But, you say, I do not have that kind of pride. I know that all glory belongs to the Lord. But do you? Paul complained of his fellow laborers, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Philippians 2:21). Thankfully, he then gives Timothy as an example of an exception to this rule. But can we think to beat the general rule of the apostolic age? If most of those workers selfishly sought their own good above the cause of Jesus Christ, how can we hope to rate better?

Look around you and see if this problem does not persist. We judge churches by how many they have in attendance. We play political games in order to be placed in important positions. We greedily guard our people, fearful that someone else will get them. We speak against others in order to exalt ourselves. We respond in anger when someone else is given an honor we think we should have received. We compare, criticize and contend with others who are also serving the Lord. We are quick to judge others yet glacially slow in judging ourselves. It is time to judge the pride in our own hearts.


Secondly, Jesus teaches us that the man who exalts himself will be abased. The word abase comes from the word base, as in foundation. To abase means to lower or bring down to the bottom. We use the word humiliation here. The next element will use the word humility. What is the difference?

Humility is self-abasement and it is primarily done before God. Humiliation is divine-abasement and it is done before all. One who is humiliated suffers what oriental culture refers to as the losing of face. He is shamed before all.

Notice also that this humiliation is a direct result of his haughtiness. He is brought down to the bottom because he lifted himself up. Other scriptures also teach this connection.

"Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him." – Job 40:11
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." – Proverbs 16:18

If we exalt ourselves, God will bring us down. Self-promotion is not God’s way to accomplish His will. He demands a servant’s heart of His leaders. We cannot grow in the work of the Lord by watching out for ourselves. We must rather live our lives to serve others. That leads us to the next quality in this principle.


Matthew 23:12 now mentions him "that shall humble himself." This refers to the much-misunderstood quality of humility. Whereas haughtiness is self-exaltation, humility is self-abasement. A humble man is small in his own eyes. He exalts the needs of others above his own needs. And, he desires to fulfill God’s will for his life above anything else.

Jesus taught that anyone who would be His disciple must "deny himself" (Luke 9:23). Yet, this self-denial is not to be a "shew of…humility" (Colossians 2:23). That is, his humility is not to be worn as a badge of pride so that others might be impressed. He is not to be proud of his humility.

Humility is not displayed like an Easter bonnet. Rather, God seeks in us a "humbleness of mind" (Colossians 3:12). Humility is found first of all in the way we think of ourselves and others. A humble man thinks of God and others first and himself last. He carries the burdens of others but he does not expect anyone else to carry his burden (Galatians 6:2, 5).

He has the mind of Christ who humbled Himself and became obedient even unto the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). He, as Christ, expects not to be ministered unto, but to minister to others (Matthew 20:28). Humility may be the key to Christian service. A servant of Christ must be humble; he must abase himself. Otherwise, he will serve only himself and will eventually be humiliated.

A haughty man will use others; a humble man will allow himself to be used. A haughty man seeks his own glory; a humble seeks to glorify God and others. A haughty man exalts himself; a humble man is exalted by God. This leads to the last H in the Four-H Principle.


The man who abases himself "shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). Self-exaltation comes before divine-abasement. But divine-exaltation is the result of self-abasement. Look at the scriptural emphasis on this principle.

"The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility." – Proverbs 15:33
"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." – James 4:10
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:" – 1Peter 5:6

What glory! To be exalted by God Himself! To be honored by the Lord of heaven and earth! When God exalts a man, there is nothing of which to be ashamed. His honor is good and clean. There is no corruption in it. God’s exaltation is filled with His blessing. O how sweet to be honored by God! To hear Him say, Well done, my good and faithful servant.

Why would you seek the glory and praise of man when you can have the eternal glory of God? What is a moment of glory in this world? Is it something to be grabbed at as a group of ruffians might grab for the last biscuit on the table? How much better to leave it to God to give the honors!

For this, we must learn true humility. This is not the pretended humility of a long face or the walk-on-me-I’m-a-rug attitude. It is the mind of humility that puts the purpose and cause of God first. It is the humility that seeks the good of others before the good of self. This humility is not a giving up; it is a giving in to God – a submission to Him; a surrender to His will. And, it is the key to being a true servant of Christ.

Biblical humility is the opposite of selfishness; it is selflessness. It is not a hatred of self or an embarrassment of self. In fact, it is a removing of self from conscious thought. It is a life so lost in pleasing God that there is no time and no need to please self. Pleasing God brings full satisfaction. Humility is not a heightened sense of self and a hatred of that self. It is a losing of self in God and in others. God is all and in all.

This is the servant’s heart. This is the disciple’s calling. Perhaps the words of John the Baptist say it best; "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). May it ever be so in our lives.