10 Key Bible Verses on Humility

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

Humble Yourselves before the Lord

Christ set the ultimate example of humility by submitting himself to life on earth and then death on the cross on behalf of sinners. As Christians, we are called into lives of exemplary humility too. Be encouraged from Scripture with these verses and commentary adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

James 4:6–10

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

God’s grace will be extended to those who are humble before him; cf. Prov. 3:34 (cf. also James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5). “God opposes” means he resists and sends judgment, for the proud have chosen the praise and the methods of the world and are acting as God’s enemies (James 4:4).

The only way to resist the devil is by also submitting and drawing near to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). Satan will be defeated and will have to flee, as indeed he did from Christ (Luke 4:13). “Cleanse” and “purify” are Old Testament terms for ritual purity (e.g., the priests at the bronze basin, Ex. 30:18) and ethical purity. Laughter shows how casually James’s readers were treating their sin. The only proper reaction to God’s impending judgment is to be wretched and mourn and weep, as is seen often in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 15:2; 22:4; Jer. 6:26).

Returning to the theme emphasized in James 4:6, it is the humble whom God will exalt (cf. Matt. 23:12 par.; Luke 1:52; 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:6). But as long as people exalt themselves, God will not exalt them.

Philippians 2:3–8

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There is always a temptation to be like Paul’s opponents in Philippians 1:17 and operate in a spirit of selfish ambition, looking to advance one’s own agenda. Such conceit (lit., “vainglory”) is countered by counting others more significant than yourselves. Paul realizes that everyone naturally looks out for his or her own interests. The key is to take that same level of concern and apply it also to the interests of others. Such radical love is rare, so Paul proceeds to show its supreme reality in the life of Christ (Phil. 2:5–11).

This passage is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” Paul depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces his preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. Paul wrote this magnificent theology to encourage the Philippians to consider other people’s interests first. Jesus is the paradigm of genuine spiritual progress: not a self-aggrandizing struggle for supremacy, but a deep love for God and neighbor shown in deeds of service. Philippians 2:6–11 have some clear indications of poetic structure, leading some to believe that this is a pre-Pauline hymn adapted by Paul. It is just as likely, however, that Paul composed the hymn for this setting. In view of the myriad theological questions that arise in these verses, it is critical to keep two things in mind: (1) these verses were written not to spur Christians to theological debate but to encourage greater humility and love; and (2) the summary of Christ’s life and ministry found here is not unique: the same themes are evident throughout the New Testament.

Prior to the incarnation, Christ was in the form of God (Gk. morphē theou). Despite the assertions of some scholars to the contrary, this most naturally refers to the “preexistence” of Christ—he, the eternal Son, was there with the Father (John 1:1; 17:5, 24) before he was born in Bethlehem. “Form” here means the true and exact nature of something, possessing all the characteristics and qualities of something. Therefore having the “form of God” is roughly equivalent to having equality with God (Gk. "isa theō"), and it is directly contrasted with having the “form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). The Son of God is and always has been God. “Form” could also be a reference to Christ being the ultimate image of God, “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). It might also refer to the fact that he is the visible expression of God’s invisible glory (Col. 1:15). Remarkably, Christ did not imagine that having “equality with God” (which he already possessed) should lead him to hold onto his privileges at all costs. It was not something to be grasped, to be kept and exploited for his own benefit or advantage. Instead, he had a mind-set of service. “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3). In humility, he counted the interests of others as more significant than his own (Phil. 2:3–4).

2 Chronicles 7:13–15

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.

God’s purpose above all is to forgive his penitent people and heal their land. The specific vocabulary of this verse (humble themselves, pray, seek, turn) describes different aspects of heartfelt repentance and will recur throughout 2 Chronicles chs. 10–36. “Heal their land” includes deliverance from drought and pestilence as well as the return of exiles to their rightful home (2 Chron. 6:38). For the Chronicler, this includes the restoration of the people to their right relationship with God. Cf. Jer. 25:5; Jer. 26:3.

The invitation to prayer and repentance (2 Chron. 7:14) is sealed with the strong assurance of God’s presence and attention in the temple.

Matthew 23:2–12

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Seating at banquets was assigned to guests based on their rank or status. best seats in the synagogues. Excavations at early Galilean synagogues indicate that bench seats were built along the sides of the synagogue. In any meeting place, some seats are regarded as better than others.

Rabbi (Hb. rabbi) literally meant “my lord,” but it was used generally for outstanding teachers of the law, most frequently heads of rabbinical schools.

Jesus’ disciples should not try to gain authority over one another as teachers or masters, since Jesus is ultimately each disciple’s teacher and master (you have one teacher . . . one instructor), to whom the disciple is accountable. Jesus does not literally forbid use of the titles “teacher,” “doctor,” or “father” for all time in all circumstances, but he prohibits his disciples from using these terms in the way the Pharisees used them, in a spirit that wrongly exalted leaders and reinforced human pride.

1 Peter 5:6

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

In their suffering, God’s people are to give themselves entirely to him, submitting to his wise ordering of their lives. Mighty hand of God brings to mind the exodus, where the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt “by a mighty hand” (e.g., Ex. 3:19; 32:11; Deut. 4:34; 5:15; Dan. 9:15). Those who suffer can likewise be confident that the day of humiliation will not last forever. Whether later in this earthly life or on the last day, God will exalt his people at the proper time.

2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Giving to the Lord’s work must be voluntary, not compelled. And when it is voluntary it brings much blessing (cf. 2 Cor. 9:5–8). This is a reference to Christ’s preexistent status as the eternal Son of God in heaven (John 1:1–3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6) and the humility of his incarnation, including his death (Rom. 15:3; Phil. 2:7–8), so that the believer might become rich (salvation and all the benefits that flow from it). What Christ has done for the Corinthians is to be reflected in what they do for others.

Deuteronomy 8:2–3

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Remember is a key word in this chapter (also Deut. 8:18), along with its antonym “forget”: Deut. 8:11, 14, 19. Remembrance is demonstrated in obedience. The wilderness test was to reveal the state of Israel’s heart. This does not imply that God did not know but rather that he desired for Israel’s heart to produce evidence of obedience. Manna literally means “What is it?” (Ex. 16:15); it was not to their liking (Num. 11:6; Num. 21:5). The testing was also to teach Israel that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Real life derives directly from God and trusting his word (“word” could also be translated “thing spoken of”; see also ESV footnote). This was the learning that Israel needed in its heart (Deut. 8:2) if it was to pass the test in the land (e.g., Deut. 8:17). This is the first of three verses from Deuteronomy quoted by Jesus in his temptation, affirming his confidence and determined faithfulness toward God (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; see also Deut. 6:13, 16).

Romans 3:23–24

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

No one can stake a claim to this righteousness based on his or her own obedience, for all people have sinned and fall short of what God demands (see Rom. 1:21). Therefore, all are justified (declared not guilty but righteous by the divine Judge) only by God’s grace (unmerited favor). The word redemption reaches back to the Old Testament exodus and the blood of the Passover lamb (see Exodus 12–15), by which the Lord liberated Israel from Egypt; the exodus likewise points forward to the greater redemption Jesus won for his people through his blood by forgiving them their sins through his death on the cross (cf. Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).

Colossians 3:12–13

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Put on the virtues of Christ. Paul calls the Colossians to a holy lifestyle, consistent with their new identity. Believers have been chosen by God and stand before him as his beloved holy ones. They are to live up to what they are in Christ.

Tolerance is a virtue within the Christian community, although Paul clearly does not want the Colossians to tolerate the false teaching. forgiving each other . . . as the Lord has forgiven you. When wronged and betrayed, Christians are called to forgive others, even as they have been forgiven for their betrayal of Christ. See Matt. 6:12, Matt. 6:14–15; Matt: 18:21–22.

Jeremiah 9:23–24

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

The truly wise man learns what God teaches; he knows why Judah will fall and is grieved and humbled by that knowledge; thus he will not boast in his wisdom. Knowing God means knowing his steadfast love (covenant faithfulness), justice (right judgment), and righteousness (right behavior, esp. in keeping his promises). See Ex. 34:6–7; Ps. 103:8; Joel 2:12–14; Jonah 3:9–4:2. Paul applied the admonition “let him who boasts boast in the Lord,” based on this text, to the Corinthian Christians (1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17).


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