The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility

One of the most surprising things about books on business strategy and organization is the emphasis on humility. These books have given me a lot to think about as I consider the application of humility to daily life.

For example, in Marshall Goldsmith’s helpful book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, he explains his work with successful people who could not move up any further because of some significant character flaw. Most of these flaws were rooted in pride.

Goldsmith provides a list of 21 character flaws that he has seen in working with various executives. They include:

  • passing the buck–refusing to take responsibility for what happens under your watch;
  • the desire to add value to every conversation by throwing in your two cents;
  • continually beginning sentences with the words “no,” “but,” and “however” in a way that makes people think, “I’m right, and you’re wrong”;
  • feeling the need to answer every suggestion rather than just saying “thank you.”

There’s a lot of simple, practical wisdom in Goldsmith’s list (see the whole list here, and I would encourage you to read the whole book which you can find here).

I have learned a lot from these books. They have shown me very practical ways to show humility that I would most likely not have learned in other ways.

In light of that, it’s worth considering: what is the difference between secular humility and Christian humility? In saying this, let me be clear that I’m not describing the difference between particular secular individuals and Christian individuals. Rather, what different perspective does Christianity provide on the subject of humility?

I believe there are four basic differences.

First, there is a different motivation. The Christian motivation for humility is rooted in God. We see how awesome and glorious He is and humble ourselves before Him, and we are humbled by the fact that He loves and cares for us so much (see Philippians 2:1–4).

Second, there is a different example. The key example to follow is Jesus Christ, not merely because He was humble as a human being but because He was in the very nature of God but took the form of a servant. In light of that, what privilege should we not be willing to set aside in order to serve others? (see Jn. 13:13–17).

Third, there is a different power. The Christian faith tells us that we should work hard to be like Christ, but it also encourages us that this power is not from ourselves but from God. It can be overwhelming to fight against pride, but it is “God who works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Fourth, there are different objects of our humility. The axiom of the Christian faith is that humility is directed toward every human being. As the Apostle Paul reminds us: we should “speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” This is rooted in the fact that God is the Creator and Father of all (Matt. 5:44–48).

These differences highlight the unique genius of Christian humility. Ideally, these dimensions of Christian humility should give us much greater motivation to pursue humility than we have had before.


One Reply to “The Difference Between Secular & Christian Humility”

  1. Humility is greatly misunderstood!
    Thank you for the reminder to be aware of our motives and that they should be rooted in Jesus Christ.

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