I looked up the word “humility” in Webser’s 1828 Dictionary of the American Language the other day. The results were fascinating. One of the definitions was a whole list of new words I had to look up the definitions for. The first one: lowly. And amongst all the other definitions was this one:
Having a low esteem of one’s own worth.
First time I’ve ever used that dictionary and not liked the definition I found (I’m rather fond of old definitions). You see, normally when I read “having a low esteem of one’s own worth” I automatically translate it to mean that someone thinks they are worthless. (I think that’s my modern English affecting that.) But if that’s the definition of lowly, and lowly is one of the definitions of humble, then being humble means thinking you’re worthless. But there’s a problem with that. Calling any human – yourself included – worthless is a blatant insult to God, because He made you in His image. Humility doesn’t insult God, so that can’t be humility. It is, in fact, a weird twisted sort of pride that says you know better than the God who said that person is precious.
Then I had the idea to break it down by looking up ‘esteem’.
Opinion or judgment of merit or demerit.
Which of course led to me having to look up ‘merit’ as well. (I kind of do what people do on Wikipedia.)
To deserve; to earn by active service.
That’s where things got interesting. If you put all three definitions together you get something like this:
Having a low [opinion or judgment] of [one’s deserving of] one’s own worth.
In other words, you judge that you do not deserve and/or did not earn your own worth. “Lightbulb!” [~Gru]
This definition implies not only that the person knows their worth, but that they also know that they don’t deserve that worth because they didn’t earn it. Thus, the definition would also imply that you got your worth from Someone else, and you know it. Which you did. God gave you your worth when He made you in His image, and so humility is giving God credit for that. When you understand that you don’t deserve to have any value whatsoever, but then know that God gave you incredible value even though you could never have possibly ever in your life earned or deserved it…that’s what it means to be lowly. And that’s one aspect of what it means to be humble.