Low-down . . .
Faint-hearted . . .
Weakly . . .
Degraded . . .
Abased. . . .
This is how the Greeks usually thought of their word tapeinos (tah pie NOSS), which we translate “humble” or “lowly.” Since man was the supreme center of their world, any display of lowliness was considered shameful. Humility was not a virtue, but a vice.
Josephus, the Jewish general and historian, seems to have adopted the Greek outlook on tapeinos. He writes, for instance, of those who were utterly “beneath notice” (tapeinos) because of their lowly birth. He tells of Agrippa, who was so “humiliated” by the loss of all his money that he contemplated suicide. Only once does Josephus use this word to describe himself--and then the “humiliation” or “lowliness” was only a pretense, a clever strategy to draw his enemies out into the open.
It was quite a surprise, then, when lowliness became a virtue of the highest rank in Christianity. God--not man--is the center of the universe, so every man must realize his own low estate. Christians are exhorted to have “lowliness” (Col 3:12) and “humility” (Eph 4:2; Phil 2:3). Their leaders were not empire-minded egomaniacs or pampered prima donnas, but served among them with all “humility” (Acts 20:19). Paul did not hesitate to “abase” himself by working with his hands to make the gospel free of charge (2 Cor 11:7).
All this was made possible bv the example of Jesus himself. He was meek and “lowly” (Matt 11:29) and did not hesitate to “humble” himself and become obedient to death on the cross (Phil 2:3). He also left us this warning and promise:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(Matt 23:12 )