I ended last week’s blog with a quote from Jim Collin’s best-selling book; Good to Great. Collins and his team of researchers observed that “Level 5 Leaders build enduring greatness through the paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
Tim Keller makes a similar observation when he says, “The humble are kind and gentle, but also brave and fearless. If you are to be humble, you cannot have one without the other.”
This is one of the great paradoxes of life, that inner strength is found in humility. This is so foreign to our world.
We find a number of biblical examples of this in men like John the Baptist, the apostle Paul, and Moses. In one of my favorite examples of true humility in a man, in Numbers 12:3, we learn that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth. Yet we see Moses go before the most powerful man on earth at the time – Pharaoh, king of Egypt – who could have easily had him killed if he so desired. Moses stood before Pharaoh and said to him, with great boldness, “I want you to let my people go – I want you to give up your entire slave labor force, the key to your entire economic and military superiority. I want you to do it quickly” (author’s paraphrase of the story found in Exodus 5-12).
This polarity of characteristics you find in the truly humble – kind but fearless, gentle yet bold – is most clearly seen in the life of Jesus. In Revelations 5:5-6, Jesus is referred to as both a lion and a lamb. In Mathew 11, He refers to Himself as gentle and meek. He is after all, the God of the universe who has restrained His power to become one of us.
Napoleon recognized this great paradox in the life of Jesus. At the end of his life, he made this observation:
“I die before my time and my body shall be given back to the earth and devoured by worms. What an abysmal gulf between my deep miseries and the eternal Kingdom of Christ. I marvel that whereas the ambitious dreams of myself and of Alexander and of Caesar should have vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant – Jesus – should be able to stretch his hands across the centuries and control the destinies of men and nations.”
Here are three famous men – Alexander the Great, Caesar and Napoleon – seeking to control the world by power. When we see their lives contrasted with one man, Jesus, the humble life of a carpenter, we marvel at how truly extraordinary He must have been such that the world could have been so powerfully changed through his simple life of humility.
The biblical understanding is that the humble are the strongest. They don’t make decisions by sticking their fingers in the air to see what other people think. They enjoy fortitude, an inner strength that comes only through God’s grace. They know who they are. Their lives are not consumed by trying to please and impress others.
Conversely, the arrogant feel as though they are superior to others and have this need to impress them. Although they believe themselves to be great and powerful, in reality they are crippled with a sense of inferiority and insecurity. They are extremely needy. They need to feed their egos; they need compliments; they need to be stroked; they need to be recognized. Though they do not realize it, the proud are clearly weak.