Why Pride Is Not the Opposite of Humility—And What Is


August 17, 2017

Philippians 2:3-4

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.


In his short story, The Esquimau Maiden’s Romance, Mark Twain quipped, “There’s a breed of humility which is itself a species of showing off.”

Humility is tricky. As sure as you consider yourself a  humble person you can be sure you are not. What is humility? It often gets defined in ways that defy its very character. Most definitions come at humility in reference to oneself—something like self-abnegation.

Sometimes to get at a word’s meaning it helps to consider its opposite. What do you think is the opposite of humility? The knee jerk reaction answer: pride. I used to think of humility as thinking less of oneself. Later I thought of it as thinking of oneself less.

This is not how the bible gets at humility. Today’s text transports us into a whole new approach to how we think about humility. Check it out:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

According to Scripture, the opposite of humility is not pride but selfishness. And therein lies the problem with our definitions. They are all self-referential. We can’t even talk about humility without somehow referencing the self. Here’s what I’m slowly learning. Humility is not about self at all. Humility is all about others. Humility is not putting yourself down. That’s false humility. Humility is about lifting others up.

If I am about me, I am selfish. If I am about you, I am humble. I really do think it’s that simple. It’s another post, but there is a broken way of being all about others that is actually very selfish. It’s called co-dependency. That’s where most of us get stuck.

The journey of becoming a real person is the pathway of being set free from the prison of self and liberated into the God given capacity to love others. It’s the way of the Cross, the journey from  being a “me” person to becoming a “you” person.

This is the mind of Christ. We go there together tomorrow.


Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, the humble one. Set me free from the prison of my own selfishness that I might learn the way of holy love for others. Only you can do this Jesus. I pray in your name. Amen.


  1. What do you think? How do you define humility?
  2. Do you see how false humility works?
  3. What will it take for you to become truly humble? What is a step in that direction?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.


  1. Great article. Humility seems to be one our society’s forgotten words. For me, humility is an attitude of willingness to subdue one’s pride. But unfortunately, our society and in fact the world in general has bought Satan’s lie. For the last few hundred years or so, he has convinced the world that the very thing that he fell from can actually be a good thing. So people speak of taking pride in this or that and many no longer even consider pride to be evil. And when pride can be good, people no longer see just how evil it is and hence humility is no longer so important.

  2. Awesome piece of writing! Forgive me, because I do not claim a Christian faith, but in my learnings about the world the one clear fact I find is that humility is the key to happiness, in my eyes through the dynamic of karma. When you practice humility, the Universe rewards you.

    And one easy problem with comparing humility and pride is that pride is a feeling, where humility is an action, even if sometimes its a thought-action, or process/series of thoughts. It might be even better to think of humility as not only an action, but a reaction, to some experience.

    And yes, being humble, as an action, is putting your own interests last, for the benefit of others. But humility can be drawn out of yourself in a multitude of ways, ranging from how you react to “humbling” experiences, the more negative ones, to how you react to very positive things, like an unexpected gift. Or, just as much, how you react to the ordinary, the mundane, the every-day experiences. You can practice humility in each of these spheres of experiences, and all impact your “karma”.

    The other improper idea of modern society relating to karma is that its a system of punishments and rewards, which in one respect it is, but that’s not the primary dynamic of how karma works. In reality, those punishments and rewards are better viewed as tests, tests about who you are, what you are made of, how you draw on your character to respond to each experience in the best way possible. The very hard, yet very simple answer to each of these tests is humility. Like Jesus also preached, humility is the answer, and with it the Universe will gift you more than you (as a humble person) can/will dream of.