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Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited (Romans 2:16).
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3)
If conceit is the most blatant vice in the eyes of God, its exact counterpart, humility, is the most misunderstood virtue in the eyes of man. Many confuse humility with weakness, servility, defeatism, even humiliation. The New Testament pays homage to this divine virtue in the life of Jesus Christ: his humble birth in a manger, his apprenticeship as a carpenter, his choice of disciples from the common people, the profound simplicity of his teachings and parables, his stoic suffering and ultimate resignation on the cross. Yet these poignant references somehow fall short in delivering the message of humility to our hearts.
In speaking to the Romans, Paul advises harmony. The word derives from αρμονία, an ancient Greek concept that is best visualised in art by the complete absence of any abrupt transition. Viewed metaphorically, pride is a sharp peak that spoils the continuity of harmony wherever it appears.
Along with humility comes compassion, along with compassion comes charity, along with charity comes Christian love. Not the sentimental mawkishness but the love that stays distant in order to envelope with its grace all those who suffer, showing no preference, like the good parent who does not discriminate between his children. Being divine, Christian love is completely unsentimental, otherwise it would be another form of human emotion. Jesus was the nobleman who put his own life on the line to save his servants and having done so, is taken away in chains. The people he saved are devastated to see him being carried to his death, but as far as he is concerned, he has done what his conscience dictated. That is all that matters to him. A few moments before his death he secures the blessing of the Eternal; his eyes are shut in resignation. Thy will be done.
This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to accept. We often hear ourselves say: Why me? Doesn't God love me? What have I done to deserve this? The preoccupation with ourselves prevents us from being attentive to others. How can we be graceful behind a panoply of self-indulgence? We feel so secure in it that we forget to take it off. The glittering armour of self-pride makes us impervious to the breeze of charity.
Humility is disarming, and that is precisely its hallmark. The only leader except Jesus Christ who was genuinely humble was Mahatma Gandhi, the man who preached non-violent resistance and eventually paid it with his life. But his message lives on. The fervour of orators serves to raise men’s spirits into a state of fight, whereas humility is a silent voice that asks every individual to look within, underneath his armour of hardness. To be humble presupposes (in an ecumenical sense) that one is humane; humaneness is the precondition for humbleness, one cannot exist without the other.
The persons who still glow in my memory after half a century, do so because of those two virtues: from the man who out of his own volition, spent two hours over the engine of my car, along the M1, trying to make it start again, to the head of department in a London-based consultancy who paid as much attention to the personal problems of his staff as to their assigned projects.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” says Paul to the Philippians. We function as individual members of a larger group, and we work towards the common benefit of that group even if at times we feel desolate and isolated. If “in humility we value others above ourselves” as the apostle advises, we forget our own pride, which is the main cause of friction in achieving social harmony. Friction dissipates itself as heat and decreases engine efficiency, I was taught many years ago as an Engineering student in the Northeast of England.
Humility does away with all that. For humility is humanity’s essential oil, a blessed balm.
Athens, Greece - firstname.lastname@example.org
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