Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
Many times in my life I've been accused of being arrogant. Some of those time were definitely warranted, especially in my younger, more brazen days. However, some of those accusations are completely unwarranted. It hurts when someone tells you that you have a massive character flaw and you know that what they're accusing you of wasn't in your heart at all. I've been examining why people still think I'm lacking in humility with an effort to understand what is going on so that I can fix the problem. I don't want to come across in a way that is "wrong" to people unless I have a good reason for it. It's kind of ironic, but it actually takes character and humility to examine yourself and see if there's any truth to what people criticize you for. That's what I want to do.
I think that a large part of the problem comes from what people generally think humility is. When people picture humility, they usually conjure up a mental image of someone like Ghandi. They think of a monk who speaks quietly if at all, owns little to no possessions, and will not do anything even remotely offensive. This ideal person wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone damage someone else with their words or deeds. I think it's fair to say that none of us have ever met a person like this, which also partly explains why we think humility is such an elusive virtue.
However, true humility actually has nothing to do with this picture we have in our heads. According to the Bible, our example for true humility is Jesus. Jesus, who offended just about everyone He ever talked to. Jesus, who created a whip and drove out the money changers from the temple. Jesus, who openly criticized the leaders and religious rulers of His day so much that they chose to murder Him for it. Jesus wasn't afraid to take a stand. He wasn't afraid to speak out unpopular truth. Jesus didn't roll over for anyone. Jesus was our example for humility because He did all of this out of submission and obedience to God the Father. In fact, He was willing to be abrasive not for the sake of doing do, but because He was bringing truth with love wherever He went.
You see, Jesus knew exactly who He was and what mission He was on. You could either approve of that or completely oppose it, but it didn't change what Jesus was going to do. Yet, Jesus is still the perfect example of humility. Our picture of what humility is needs to change. We need to start evaluating it based on different criteria. Humility seems to be more of an internal heart condition that is so solidly built on who God has made you to be that nothing can shake it. Therefore, when someone tells you that you've acted in a way that is inappropriate, you deeply examine yourself to see if that is true and you repent as needed. However, if you examine yourself and there isn't anything to the accusation, then you rest assured in your personhood and don't feel the need to change simply based on the other persons opinion.
This hits home for me when I share my opinions about what is true and what needs to be done. A bunch of what I think is wildly unpopular and cuts across the grain of society and commonly held "truth", especially when it comes to discussing Biblical morality. So, when I take a stand on a moral issue and am accused on arrogant bigotry, I need to take it seriously, but not by the standards my accusers hold. I need to ask myself where my heart attitude was at. Did I communicate with love? Am I doing what God has called me to do or am I off on a crusade of my own making? Am I trying to serve the people I'm communicating with? Questions like these are the hallmarks of whether I'm being humble or not. If I communicated truth but didn't hold God's views of the people I was talking to, then I wasn't humble and submitted to the mission that God has given me. However, if I communicate truth with the right heart, however unpopular, I am being humble, even if that truth hurts you, frustrates you, or criticizes what you're doing.
Humility has nothing to do with the response you get from the other person, it has to do with being submitted to God and His ways. Humility honours who God has made the other person to be and who God has made me to be. Sometimes that means it's going to be wildly unpopular and offensive. That's okay. Jesus was wildly unpopular and offensive to a lot of people too. So go out there, be bold, communicate truth to people with a humble heart. Stand firm when you have the right heart and repent when you don't. Let your identity in Christ define your actions instead of the opinion of others. I'm not going to let someone else's opinion shake me from the mission God has given to build His Kingdom here on Earth.