Early in World War II a pastor in an English church made a discovery. He noticed that the young people in his congregation were not reading the Bible.

Today there are dozens of translations of the Bible that make it much easier to read, for both young and old. In the 1940’s there were no “easy” translations. He understood the problem, and he set about solving it.

The pastor’s name was J. B. Phillips, and he used his time in bomb shelters over the next four years to translate one New Testament book from the original Greek into what he called “modern English.” The young people loved it, and he continued with a book here and a book there.

In 1958, almost two decades after beginning, he published The New Testament in Modern English. It became one of the best selling Bibles of all time, and it made J. B. Phillips wealthy and famous.

And that almost did him in.

Last week I wrote about pride, the insidious sin that besets us all. Phillips was not immune to it, and neither are most of us.

What can we do about it? The answer is both simple and challenging.

If pride is up, is humble down?

Many understand humility as thinking lowly of yourself. That seems to be the opposite, after all, of thinking highly of yourself.

While that sounds logical, it is not quite right.

I know many people who are extraordinarily talented. Some are athletes, some are scientists, some are scholars, some are artists of various kinds. They have used their gifts to entertain and amaze, to enhance and even save lives. Both they and their contributions are acknowledged and lauded, as they should be.

Would it be appropriate for a PGA Tour professional who is one of the best in the world to say, “I’m such a loser” when he finishes second? Should the top engineering graduate from MIT go to an interview and insist that she is really no good?

No, because truth is truth and still important.

Frank Lloyd Wright thought he had to choose between “honest arrogance and hypocritical humility,” so he chose arrogance.

It’s too bad Frank didn’t understand that humility is not thinking lowly of yourself, but primarily not thinking of yourself at all.

Simple, yet challenging.

Let’s say you somehow win two tickets to an event you really want to attend. Super Bowl, Broadway play, The Masters — something like that.

Do you invite someone who will praise you for it and return the favor, or do you invite someone you know will love it even more than you? That’s fairly tough, and it’s an easy one.

The ultimate ends

Pride, focusing on you to the exclusion of others, leads to the belief that you are better than them. That leads to believing they are not as deserving as you. That leads to separation from others, because who wants to hang out with losers?

And that leads to the belief that you alone know what is best for you. Which leads, finally, to separation from God, because even if he is there, you’re the one who got you where you are and you still know better. Think Pharaoh vs. God.

You can live your life that way and succeed financially. True friends might be few in number, but sycophants will do. You might even be one of the best actors or singers or entrepreneurs ever, but your life will never be full.

Humility, thinking of others as more important than yourself, leads to friendships. Will Rogers said, “I never met a man I didn’t like,” and Galileo said, “I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.”

That leads to the realization that you actually don’t have all the answers, which opens you to a relationship with God who does have. Regardless of external circumstances, you have a very rich life.

I know, you’d rather have the money. But please keep reading.

Humble yourself…

Think for a minute about the people you most admire. Are they humble?

It is a quality that is naturally attractive, except to those who believe that pride is a superior way to live.

President Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln wasn’t wealthy or a successful businessman, but he was extraordinarily humble. George Washington was a great leader, both in the military and as  president. One of his chief characteristics was humility.

Did they try to increase their power while in office? Quite the opposite. Lincoln famously built a team around himself not made up of donors and those he “owed” favors to. He built what Doris Kearns Goodwin called A Team of Rivals.

George Washington led the army, then presided over the Constitutional Convention, then became the first President of the United States. Many wanted to make him King George, and he refused.

Humility in the White House has been mostly lacking in my lifetime, partly because power corrupts. Specifically, power creates pride, and pride corrupts as it feeds itself. Humility seems to be absent in the Kremlin as well, but has been seen in The Bankova (Ukraine).

It isn’t just leaders, though, because a whole people can become proud.

When Solomon built the temple and prayed, God responded. He said that in the future he might need to correct them, but when that happened

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.

Every country on earth should heed those words.


Humble yourself is an action, and the first place it is supposed to happen is “before God.” In other words, God is God and I am not.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” we are told.

Pride is destructive, while humility is instructive, constructive, and much easier on your spirit.

J. B. Phillips, who titled his autobiography The Price of Success, learned that. So can we all.

Do good. Be humble.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Gary Dugan

    Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble
    When you’re perfect in every way
    I can’t wait to look in the mirror
    ‘Cause I get better lookin’ each day
    To know me is to love me
    I must be a hell of a man
    Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble
    But I’m doin’ the best that I can

    -Mac Davis (who was actually a humble man)

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