What causes so much conflict in the world?
When you think about it, it’s not that hard to figure out. “Where there is strife, there is pride . . .” (Prov. 13:10).
Behind the conflicts we see all around us lie human conceit and selfishness.
Conceit is thinking more highly of ourselves than we should. For example, we believe that we deserve extra attention or resources, that things should never go wrong for us, that we are more competent than we are, or that we are always right.
Selfishness is when we value our own interests at the expense of others. This means that our attention is centered on our own prestige, security, and profit. This sets me up for conflict with another person whenever my desire for prestige, security, or profit collides with his.
The Apostle Paul pinpointed this problem and suggested a solution: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
If pride is the source of strife, then humility is the way of peace.
Humility begins with valuing others above ourselves. This means we see people as having unique gifts that we do not have, as being created in the image of God, as objects of God’s love, and as those for whom Christ died.
Sometimes, people think humility is thinking poorly of ourselves. This is not the case. We can have a low view of ourselves and also have a low view of others. The essence of humility is a high view of others.
The high value we place on others leads us to be concerned about their interests. When people feel that we are truly care about their interests, the tension that leads to conflict simmers down.
Of course, it’s easy to say: let’s all have humility, and then the world will be free of conflict. Much harder to do.
So, how can we do it? Let me suggest that there are two key ingredients in developing humility.
There’s an old story of two sisters who both want an orange. They go to the refrigerator and find that there is only one. They agree to split it.
Hours later, both feeling dissatisfied, they talk again. “Why did you want the orange?” One sisters says.
The other replies, “I wanted the juice because I feel like a cold is coming on. What about you?”
The first sister laughs and says: “I wanted the rind to bake with!”
The moral of the story is that they could have solved their dilemma by simply asking questions, listening, and then acting in accordance with their distinct interests in the orange.
The same is true for us. The advice of James truly gets to the heart of humility, “Let each person be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
The first ingredient to developing humility is a real curiosity and interest in other people.
The second ingredient is to develop a strong sense of the security of our own person and interests. I believe American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is right to say: “Without freedom from anxiety man is so enmeshed in the vicious circle of egocentricity, so concerned about himself, that he cannot release himself for the adventure of love” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, 272).
In my view (and Niebuhr’s!), this will only happen as it should through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel teaches us how much God and loves and values each one of us and how He promises to provide everything we need (Phil. 4:19).
When we are confident in our own value and security, we can have genuine concern for the interests of others without fearing the loss of our own.
Because this is the case, endless conflict does not have to be the destiny of the human race. Cultivating humility can lead us to a life of interdependence, cooperation, and mutually beneficial action.