Humility and Self-Forgetfulness

By Matthew J. White
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While humility is not often praised in society today, it is a characteristic that Christ displayed at every turn. Marriage offers the perfect testing grounds for humility.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “humility?” When used outside of the context of the Bible, humility usually refers to a quality in someone who we might consider weak or lowly. A quick look at some synonyms reveals words like meek, modest, submissive, unassuming and humble. These are not necessarily characteristics that are pushed in society today, but certainly ones that Jesus pursued and that we should too.

Would you consider yourself to be a humble person? Although we know that being humble is the right thing to do, it is difficult to put into practice. When I do well in a presentation at work, I want to let people know it went well. When your child wins the championship, you want to tell people about it. We even start the sentence with words like, “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but…”

Tattooed for Christ

A perfect example: I recently got a tattoo on my arm. (I won’t go into the details, but it was a birthday present to myself.) I decided to get a Bible verse instead of just a design of some kind. My reason for doing this is so that if people see the tattoo and don’t know what it means, they will ask me what the verse says, which may lead into further conversation. The verse I chose for my tattoo was Philippians 4:13, which is “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

The irony here is this: I’m telling all my friends that the reason I got a tattoo that’s “biblical” is so I can have the opportunity to share my faith. Is it possible, however, that I made this “great Christian decision” just so I can brag to people that I made that decision? Are you following me? I’d like to think that I did it for the right reason. But, did I?

I’ve heard it said before that the moment we realize we’re being humble, we’re not any more. So, I’ve now come to realize that we can’t look at humility the way the world sees it. Instead, if we look at humility from a Godly perspective, it sounds something like this:

“Humility means understanding who God is and who we are in light of him.”Heim, Toben & Joanne. Community. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 2001.

How does it feel to look at yourself from that point of view? When I first heard this definition of humility, it truly resonated with me. The apostle Peter gives great supporting content to this definition when he says:

But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people.

So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. (1 Peter 5:5-7, The Message) Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, 2002.

Do you consider yourself “down to earth?” Would your friends describe you as “plain people?” Would your spouse say that you “put on airs” or that you live “carefree before God?” When we understand who God is and who we are in light of Him, it becomes more evident that we are nothing without Him! If we start to look at daily activities and situations from this perspective, it will change the way we think, act and speak.


John Ortberg, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, says, “Humility has to do with submitted willingness. It involves a healthy self-forgetfulness.” In marriage, that is key! “Self-forgetfulness” is quite possibly the most valuable word in marriage. And, at the same time, it is indeed one of the most difficult to implement. But, when a marriage consists of a husband and wife whose ultimate goal is to do whatever it takes to please God and please the other person, that marriage will succeed.

Christ, who was the only one with every right to be arrogant and prideful, chose to humble Himself:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:5-8, NIV)

Jesus Christ has set the perfect example for us to follow – in life and in marriage. Becoming more like Christ in your marriage will not happen overnight. It will take persistence. It will take perseverance. It will take flexibility. And, most of all, it will take love: a love that shows your spouse that you are more concerned with his or her needs and desires than your own; a love that serves without an attitude; a love that forgives unconditionally.

And in the end, that kind of love will have revealed a glimpse of Jesus to your spouse. They will have seen Jesus in you.

Copyright © 2008, Matthew J. White. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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About the Author

Matthew J. White

Matthew White and his wife, Anne, live in Stow, Ohio, with their three children – Audrey, Isaac and Ian. Matthew is the author of Married to Jesus, which offers a biblical perspective on marriage by comparing the characteristics of Christ’s relationship with the church to that of the relationship between husband and wife.

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