The scriptures are full of references admonishing us to be humble and meek. In fact it was Jesus who declared, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). There is universal agreement that being humble is a worthy character trait, admired by all and sought after by many. Noble men of every age have expounded on the virtue of being humble. There are very few, if any, who have anything negative to say about this quality of human behavior. Yet, at the same time, it has often been said that humility is the hardest of all human endeavor to achieve.
To many, Jesus was the most humble man who ever lived. Christians believe that He lived a perfect, sinless life, which would also include living the attitude of humbleness to perfection. But there are some who wonder how Jesus could be such a humble, meek and lowly man, yet violently cast the money changers out of the Temple on at least two different occasions, harshly rebuke the Pharisees many times, speak condemningly to those whom He felt were acting unrighteous, and defied Herod's authority by refusing to answer his questions. They wonder, "Is this the way a humble and meek man behaves?"
Furthermore, Jesus emphatically declared Himself to be the Son of God, and the Savior of mankind. In fact, on two separate occasions He was stoned for making such a statement (John 8:51-58, 10:24-32). He also forcefully announced that He was the promised Messiah, the Savior of mankind and that no one could get to heaven except through Him (John 14:6). To some, this kind of talk sounds rather prideful and a little egotistical, which is hardly the definition of being humble.
The most frequent response to such comments is that Jesus had perfect knowledge and could therefore make perfect decisions. We, on the other hand, aren't perfect so we don't always know the right way to behave. In other words, because Jesus is perfect and we aren't, He can do and say things that are wrong for us to do. To bolster this concept, Latter-day Saints quote the sixty-fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants which read, "I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10).
The problem with such an explanation is that we also believe that Jesus set the example for us to follow. But how can we follow His example if His life was lived according to a different standard than ours? How can we learn to become like Him if He behaved differently than what we're expected to live? That would be like telling someone, "Do what I tell you and not what I do."
If we look at the definition of what it means to be humble we see it's an attitude of not being proud or arrogant, of having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, or subservience, and/or making oneself lower in importance or dignity. Synonyms for the word humble are: unpretentious, common, subdued, and meek.
The definition of being meek is: being submissive, gentle, kind, patient, mild, the absence of having a bad temper, or a harsh attitude. Often associated with meekness is being spiritless, timid, fearful, docile, and tame.
Does this describe the type of personality Jesus Christ had? Without doubt there were many times He was gentle and kind, but there was nothing subdued or mild about the way He evicted the money changers from the Temple. There was nothing submissive about His regard to the religious rulers of His time. He had very little patience with those who accused Him of violating the Law of Moses. There was no display of His being insignificant or unimportant in the salvation of mankind. He was anything but spiritless. No man could tame or control Him. And certainly He was anything but timid or fearful.
Then why do we consider Jesus Christ to be the most humble man who ever lived? And more importantly, how can we learn to be humble ourselves from observing the life of Christ?
The answer lies in our perspective of Him. To those who view Jesus as the one and only God, the author and finisher of salvation, the all and everything of our faith, then He is not a humble person. But if we view Him as the Son of God, separate and distinct from God the Father, if we understand what His role is in the plan of salvation, and if we grasp the full import of His message, then we not only see why Jesus Christ is truly the most humble man who ever lived, but how and why it's important for us to follow His example.
Jesus frequently stated His mission in words like these. "I can of mine own self do nothing. I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:19,30) "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). "My Father is greater than me. As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do" (John 14:15). "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17).
Jesus Christ taught people to pray to the Father, not Himself (Matthew 6:9,10). Even the plan of salvation was not His idea, but His Father's. In the garden of Gethsemane He prayed, "Abba Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36). Notice what Jesus was praying for! In effect He was saying, "Father, there's nothing that's impossible for you to do, so if it is possible to achieve the salvation of mankind any other way, please don't let me suffer the agony I'm about to endure." In other words, Jesus pleaded with His Father to release Him from performing the atonement! If there ever was a time when Jesus was afraid, this was it.
If the atonement was His idea all along, why would Jesus seek to back out of it at the last minute? But if Jesus was only doing what His Father told Him, then it makes sense for Him to then add, "nevertheless, if this is what you require of me, then I will do it, even though I'd rather not."
This illustrates why Jesus was the most humble man who ever lived. In His relationship to His Father in heaven, Jesus was not proud or arrogant. He set aside his own importance and dignity to make Himself subservient to His Father. Although He was God, he lowered Himself by coming to earth as a common man. He proclaimed Himself to be inferior to His Father, and made His will insignificant to that of His God.
But what about the time Jesus got angry with the money changers?
The Temple was the House of God, which Jesus referred to as "My house", and there were people defiling it. The definition of being humble doesn't mean sitting passively by while people trash your home!
But what about His impatience with critics? What about His defiance of Herod?
Before we can answer these questions, we first need to understand the meaning of two other words associated with being humble: pride and meekness. In the English language the word pride can mean two different things. On the one hand it can represent such things as having self-assurance, confidence in one's ability, being content with who you are, having faith in yourself, and having the courage of your convictions. In other words, it's having a positive self-esteem. Jesus exemplified all of these traits.
But if we carry these traits too far (which is easy to do) then we have a different type of pride which can be described as being vain, conceited, smug, self-righteous, egotistical and haughty. In other words, it's having an exaggerated estimate of one's ability or importance. Jesus never displayed any of these traits.
As we have already seen, the word meekness means to be submissive, gentle, kind, patient and mild. Jesus was all of these things. However, if we carry meekness too far then we act timid, afraid, spineless, spiritless, and overly docile. But Jesus knew where to draw the line.
He was meek because He was completely submissive to His Father. The Father said, "Go teach my doctrines," so Jesus did. But He wasn't so meek that He cowered when others criticized Him. Instead, He preached the Father's message fearlessly, boldly, and fully. If others didn't like it, that was of no consequence to Him. If they tried to stop Him, He resisted them. If they tried to discredit His message, He defended it. At all costs, even to His life, He was intent on doing what His Father commanded.
When a man willingly subjects himself to the wishes of another, that's called subservience; he is the servant and the other is the master. If the master of a house tells his servant to clean it, the servant must obey. If the master tells the servant to keep the outside grounds continually looking neat and beautiful, the obedient servant does as he is told. When the master tells the servant whom he may or may not let inside the house, the servant is not being arrogant, mean, or impatient if he refuses to permit unauthorized people to enter. He's simply carrying out the commands of his master. In the case of Jesus, His Father has put Him in charge of deciding who gets into heaven and who doesn't (John 5:22). Therefore, when Jesus criticizes the unrighteous, and condemns sin, He isn't being arrogant, He's being an obedient and loyal servant to His Master.
But isn't His claim of being the Son of God and the Savior of the world sort of like bragging or boasting?
No, it's being honest.
If you asked someone what they did for a living, and that person was the president of a company, should they lie about their position just to keep from acting prideful? Of course not. But it's the way they answer the question that would indicate whether they were being vain or humble.
The same is true of Jesus. Many people asked who He was. They even specifically asked if He was the Messiah (or Savior) (John 10:24). I personally do not get the impression from reading the scriptures that His answers were given for the purpose of gaining glory, prestige, honor, or fame for Himself. They were statements of fact. It was a fact that He was the Son of God. It was a fact that He was chosen to perform the atoning sacrifice. It was a fact that His Father committed all judgment into His hands. It was a fact that the Father declared no one could get to heaven except through His name.
Jesus was proud to be the Savior, but He wasn't prideful about it. He had self-assurance, and confidence in His abilities. He was content with who He was - the Son of God. He had faith in Himself and in His Father, and He had the courage to stand up for and remain true to His convictions.
It was with this in mind that Peter explained why it is important for us to follow the example of Christ when he said, "for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time" (I Peter 5:5-6). The apostle James gave us further clarification on this point when he said, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:10, italics added).
Being humble doesn't mean being timid, quiet, passive, or docile. When we are prideful, we seek our own glory. When we are humble in the sight of the lord we seek the glory of God by becoming obedient servants to the Master. As Christ was submissive to His Father, we too become humble when we submit ourselves to the will of our Father in heaven. In that context, being humble means being faithful to God's commandments.
Jesus not only showed us what it truly means to be humble by the life He lived, but also taught us its true meaning. He said, "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). "if any man serve me, him will my Father honour" (John 12:26). "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John16:33). "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21). "Continue in these things even unto the end, and you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father" (D&C 66:12).