What does it mean to “humble oneself”?

I suddenly looked at this question in a new way as I sat listening to the sermon yesterday morning based on Luke 14. It is a story of Jesus having dinner at one of the Pharisee’s homes and talking about not taking the seat of honor.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 14:11

In Russian (which is one of the main languages that we usually read the Bible in here in Ukraine, aside from Ukrainian), two words are used interchangeably in this context – to “humble oneself” and to “humiliate oneself.”

Due to this slight confusion, it is often perceived that as Christians, we should LOWER ourselves as compared to other people around us. (I think the same thing happens in English as well, even if the confusion with words isn’t as high.)

Something my pastor has said, however, stopped me in the tracks.

God sees us as equal. The phrase “Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others” (Hello, Animal Farm) doesn’t apply to his point of view. No matter how high one is or how low he is, God still sees that person as being on the same level as all the other people.

Therefore… Could it be that to humble oneself would actually mean to get oneself back to level with others, not lower than them? 

To me, personally, this makes a lot more sense than consciously “humiliating” myself before others.

I mean… it’s hard to combine knowing that God loves you to the end of the Universe and back and, at the same time, humbling/humiliating oneself so that everyone else becomes “higher” than you.

It is also hard to “love your neighbor as yourself” if you put your friend on more top “shelf” than yourself.

However, when you just get down to earth and view everyone on the same level as yourself, then both things become possible.

Don’t humiliate yourself, but don’t get above everyone else either.

Everyone is equal in God’s eyes.

  • To my way of thinking humbling myself and humiliating myself are two different animals. Humbling myself is the act of putting others before me. Humiliating myself is when I have done or am doing something that lowers dignity and goes against common actions. Not sure that explains my thoughts very well.

    • It does, from an English language standpoint. In Russian, however, those are very similar and almost interchangeable terms, which presents quite a lot of ground for confusion.

  • betty-wiseheartedwomen.blogspo

    I would ditto what Bill said but thats in the English language, must be hard due to the Russian language. When that happens in a tribal language the translators sometimes have to use another word in that language to explain.

    • There are many tricky things like that – I have stumbled across quite a few in the years of translating from English to Russian and back. Some are minor, but some, especially the ones that concern the translations of the Bible, can be very disturbing if interpreted incorrectly.

      For example, Malachi 2:16 (I hope to never translate a sermon based on this verse…)

      Most English translations say:

      “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

      However, traditional Russian translation says:

      “If you hate her, let her go,” says the Lord.”

      As you see, it can be quite “fun” to translate a sermon on divorce given this verse as a basis. (Btw, the original Hebrew can mean both of those options… so there’s no definitive answer as to which translation is right. My best guess is “God hates divorce, but if the husband and wife truly hate each other, it’s better for them to go apart than continue destroying each other.”)

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