God exhorts us many times in scripture to be humble. In the beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are the humble (meek), they will receive what God has promised.”
Do you have an example in your life of a humble man? You are more likely to be acquainted with a humble woman, but a humble man is hard to find. I am reminded of the Greek philosopher Diogenes who wandered around ancient Greece carrying a lantern and searching for an honest man. I believe that today he would have the same difficulty finding a humble man. I can say definitively that my Grandpa John was a humble man, and I can’t truly say that about any other man that I have known in my 78 years.
Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue which centers on low self-preoccupation, or unwillingness to put oneself forward. In many religious and philosophical traditions, it contrasts with pride.
I spent many hours with Grandpa John. After his wife died, he came to live with my family two years before I was born and lived with us until I was fifteen years old. He had a carpentry shop beside our house, and I spent most of my early childhood “helping” him with his work. He was mild-mannered; small of stature around 5’5” and 140 pounds.
You may not be able to name a humble man, but I will bet that you can name some men who would try to take advantage of a humble, meek man. You may think that someone is humble until you see another taking advantage of him. Then you see anger instead of humility. I have three stories about Grandpa John that illustrate how he did not lose his humble attitude even when pressed.
Living on his farm in the early 1930s he and Grandma Clara were sometimes invited to a neighbor’s house to play cards. Grandpa worked hard at learning the rules of the games, but the neighbor would win 90% of the time. He could not accuse the neighbor of cheating because the neighbor and Clara were one team against Grandpa and the neighbor’s wife. And he knew that Clara would not cheat. After quite a few evenings of play Grandpa suddenly realized that they always played at the dining room table and there was a mirror on the wall behind Clara. Grandpa never accused his neighbor, he just declined in the future when invited for cards.
Another neighbor, who was known for being a little overbearing, invited Grandpa and Grandma to dinner one Saturday. When they sat down to eat, Luke, the neighbor, proudly told them that they had a special treat–they were serving opossum. As was typical they passed around the various items and everyone served their own plates. Grandpa did not comment but passed the opossum on to the next person without taking any. Luke urged him to try the opossum, but Grandpa just said, “no thank you.” As the meal progressed Luke continued to press the opossum, eating large quantities himself. Finally, Grandpa said, “Well I don’t eat opossum.” This led to Luke insisting to know why. Since Luke would not relent, Grandpa finally responded, “Well I won’t eat anything that a dog won’t eat.” Luke was offended, saying that Grandpa didn’t know what he was talking about. “I’ve got two dogs outside and I guarantee that they will eat anything.” “Okay” said Grandpa, “let’s try it.” Luke picked up the bowl of opossum and went out to the front porch, with the wives and Grandpa close behind. He emptied about half of the opossum meat into the dog’s bowl and stood to watch. Both dogs smelled of the opossum, went about six feet away and lay down. You could see by Luke’s face that he was at first stunned, then Grandpa’s words came back to him. He was eating something that his dogs would not eat. He left in a run for the nearby rail fence, leaned over, and vomited his opossum onto the ground. Grandpa did not comment, he simply went back in the house and finished his meal. He complimented the wife on the excellent vegetables. They were never invited back.
In later years in the mid-1940s Grandpa did carpentry instead of farming. He frequently built screens for the windows in the neighborhood because many of the houses did not have screens. No one had air conditioning, so they needed to leave the windows open. Grandpa’s pricing method was to add up the cost of all material and add 10%. This means that he made almost nothing, but he was living with us and had few needs for money. One particular neighbor asked him to make screens for his whole house, about ten in all. Grandpa measured carefully, constructed the screens and went over one afternoon to install them. The man of the house came out, sat in his porch rocker, and watched Grandpa work without comment. After a couple of hours Grandpa was satisfied with the work and handed the man the sheet with the price for the work. The man leaned back, put his feet on the porch rail and said, “Well, I think that is too much to pay for this job.” Clearly, this was another person trying to take advantage of Grandpa’s humble attitude. Grandpa looked at him for a moment, then said, “Okay.” Turning, he went to each window, took all of the screens off, put them in his truck and left. Those screens were stored in Grandpa’s shop for many years. Grandpa would never think it, but I did: “I hope that man has a lot of pesky flies and even a few mosquitoes in his house.”
Here are just a few of the many scriptures about humility:
Num 12:3 (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.)
Rom 12:16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.
Eph 4:2 Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another.
Php 2:3 Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves.
Jas 3:13 Are there any of you who are wise and understanding? You are to prove it by your good life, by your good deeds performed with humility and wisdom.
Jas 4:6 But the grace that God gives is even stronger. As the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”