Descending the Staircase of Humility

Many consider pride to be the root sin. If so, then humility is the primary condition for us to qualify for God’s spiritual blessings. Christ’s wonderful invitation to abundant life includes this core value of humility:”Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30, italics added).

Andrew Murray expounded on the role of humility for abundant living:

“[Jesus] teaches us where true humility takes its rise and finds its strength–in the knowledge that it is God who worketh all in all, that our place is to yield to him in perfect resignation and dependence, in full consent to be and do nothing of ourselves. This is the life Christ came to reveal and to impart–a life to God that came through death to sin and self. If we feel that this life is too high for us and beyond our reach, it must but the more urge us to seek it in Him; it is the indwelling Christ who will live in us this life, meek and lowly.” [1]

Our Daily Bread related this example of humility:

“Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, was an outstanding example of this truth [the value of humility]. Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.”

Now we may react to this episode as being extreme, yet this meek scientist believed God’s Word which promises that if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He will exalt us in due time (1 Pet. 5:6). The story did not end there:

“The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. ‘It’s perfectly all right, Madam,’ he replied. ‘Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.’ She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.”

God richly rewarded this man of God for his humility by prospering his scientific work.

The Biblical account of the healing of Naaman gives another remarkable example of the need for humility. Naaman had to descend a “staircase of humility” before he found healing.

This military leader of Aram was afflicted with the incurable disease of leprosy. When an Israeli servant girl testified of the miracle-working power of God’s prophet Elisha, Naaman heeded her advice. This was his first step down the staircase of humility. When the King of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel with gifts and instructions to heal Naaman, king Joram ripped his robes in anguish; he knew that the request was humanly impossible to fulfill. When Elisha heard of the king’s dilemma, he sent a message: “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). Naaman’s next step down the staircase of humility was to be sent to a prophet rather than be treated by the king. A further step down occurred when the prophet sent instructions by his servant, Gehazi, instead of giving him a personal audience.

The final step of humility was his most difficult one. The prophet’s prescription was, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean” (v. 10). This remedy was preposterous to the Syrian commander: “Naaman became furious, and went away and said, ‘Indeed, I said to myself, “He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy. Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”‘ So he turned and went away in a rage”(vs. 11-12). Thankfully, his servant was able to reason with him about his refusal: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, “Wash, and be clean?” Naaman was desperate to be healed, so he let go of his pride and preconceived ideas and obeyed God’s prophet. “So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v.14).

This also led Naaman to believe in the true and living God, whose power had healed him: “And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, ‘Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel…'” (vs.11-15).

Like Naaman, many people today are afflicted with life-controlling problems but are reluctant to humble themselves to receive God’s remedy.

  • Perhaps they look down on the person that testifies of Christ’s power. (Naaman, however, listened to his female servant who was a foreign slave.)
  • Some will accept help only from those whom the world recognizes as experts: i.e., doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, etc. (However, Naaman’s healing was not provided by the king of Israel.)
  • Others assume that long-term therapy is the only way to recover from chronic personal problems. (But Naaman did not even see the prophet personally before he was miraculously healed.)

Some of the most effective Discipleship Counselors are “lay” men and women who are humble, compassionate, Spirit-filled servants of God. If they have been trained to recognize the root problem (the self-life) and the ultimate answer (the Christ-life), the Holy Spirit can be the Wonderful Counselor and bring peace and freedom to the struggling believer’s heart (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:17; John 8:32).

When the Biblical Counselor is privileged to witness the counselee experience God’s transforming truth and power, he or she needs to give credit to God, because He does not share His glory (Isaiah 42:8).[2] We rejoice at the fullness of God’s provision to change people’s lives. The apostle Paul declared, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption–that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD'” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). As D.L. Moody put it, “Be humble or you’ll stumble.”

Corrie Ten Boom related an example of the Indian itinerant evangelist, Sundar Singh. He passed the test of receiving praise:

“When I saw Sadhu Sundar Singh in Europe, he had completed a tour around the world. People asked him, ‘Doesn’t it do harm, your getting so much honor?’ The Sadhu’s answer was: ‘No. The donkey went into Jerusalem, and they put garments on the ground before him. He was not proud. He knew it was not done to honor him, but for Jesus, who was sitting on his back. When people honor me, I know it is not me, but the Lord, who does the job.'”[3]

Sadhu’s biography and his devotional writing testifies that he had an intimate, personal walk with God.[4]

John Flavel said, “They that know God will be humble and they that know themselves cannot be proud.”

This vital lesson is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments:

“For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones'” (Isaiah 57:15).

“… Be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble'” (1 Pet. 5:5).

Missionary Hudson Taylor–who referred to radical surrender and dependence on Christ as “the Exchanged Life”–was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia: “The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms. He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as ‘our illustrious guest.’ Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”[5]

Friend, where are you on “the staircase of humility”? Stuck at the top step? How about descending this staircase, humbling yourself before God. Then you can echo the testimony of John the Baptist. When he got the news that Christ’s disciples were baptizing more people than he was, John replied, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven … He must increase, but I must decrease.” [6]



[1] Andrew Murray, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness (N.Y: Revell) p. 27-28. See Jesus Christ’s perfect example in Philippians 2:5-11.

[2] W.E. Sangster remarked of the ministering Christian who succumbs to pride: “He does not trace his success to the grace of God, which alone made it possible. He thinks he did it … and within hailing distance of sanctity [in his soul] he toboggans to the bottom again. Is anything more nauseating than self-righteousness? And what is self-righteousness if not pride in our own goodness? – The Secret of Radiant Life, p.72.

[3] Corrie Ten Boom, Each New Day.

[4] For example, Sundar Singh, The Spiritual Life (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1926).

[5] W. Wiersbe, Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, p. 243. See Hudson Taylor’s testimonial letter at

[6] John 3:27-30; See Luke 3:16.

Copyright, 2001 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article if credit is given to the author and Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright by Thomas Nelson).

Honorable Mention

Tha American Family Association has several ministries that promote Christian values in our wayward culture. Their monthly AFA Journal, for example, has online articles here:

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