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“Humility,” writes David Brooks, “is freedom from the need to prove you are superior all of the time.” 

It’s easy to forget that humility wasn’t regarded as a virtue for most of human history.  The Olympic pantheon, from Athena to Zeus, constantly strove to assert their superiority over humans and one another. Humans, in imitation of their supposed betters, sought to climb the heights through competition and displays of prowess that took on the Olympic name.  Later Roman Emperors would be hailed as divi filius, son of a god. These are just a few examples, but consider how the ancient world was replete with stories of gods and champions who were, in some degree or measure, struggling to prove their superiority.  

There seems to be something innate in human beings that drives us to aspire to be better than we actually are.  This ambition may, in and of itself, not be a bad thing.  But it’s cousin, the drive to prove we are better than we really are…this is the dark condition the old spiritual teachers called pride. 

And it’s at this point that we face the real test.  There is something within us that wants to say, “Ah, but I’m far humbler than Achilles or Caesar.  Over 20 centuries on, human beings have progressed so far!” Our defensiveness here betrays our compulsion.  From our social media habits to constantly sizing up the people we meet in our day-to-day life, too much of our time and attention is consumed with proving our superiority.

But in the midst of this world, we see Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6–7) Of all the men who ever lived, who had better claim to make of himself…something? Instead, he “made himself of no reputation”, utterly and completely humble.  

When the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, his triple command was, “Prove you are the Son of God!” Yet three times, Jesus refused to prove his superiority.  He simply let reality speak for itself.  In truth, he had nothing to prove.  

And so it is for all who follow him and receive his identity in their own life.  We have nothing to prove either.  Rest secure in the knowledge that reality can speak for itself. And consider: how might our lives be different if we made a concerted effort to not prove our superiority? May we come to know this truth in all areas of our lives today. 

Stephen is a Missioner and UMC pastor in Tennessee, USA

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