From a young age, my father impressed on me the importance of being humble.
I learned the lesson so well, in fact, that for many years, when someone would compliment me, I would disagree with them. If they said I was good at something, I would deny it. I would frequently talk down about myself in front of others.
I thought that is what it meant to be humble.
Psychologists would call that “false humility.” False humility is when we intentionally devalue ourselves or our contributions in order to appear humble. False humility is when we fish for compliments by acting overly modest. False humility is when we brag about how humble we are.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to young Pastor Timothy, wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Paul was an apostle. He was the greatest missionary the world has ever known. He wrote thirteen books of the Bible.
How could Paul call himself the “worst” of sinners?
Was this a case of false humility? Was Paul simply fishing for a compliment?
Immediately before Paul wrote those words, he reminded Timothy of what he had been like in his younger years. Paul had been a persecutor – a violent man. He had hated Jesus. He had led the charge against the early church, arresting Christians and having them killed.
Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he said that he was the worst of sinners. Before Jesus called him to faith on the road to Damascus, Paul was a bad dude.
But you’ll notice, Paul didn’t tell Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I was the worst.”
He said, “Of whom I am the worst.”
By that point Paul was an apostle, a hero of faith and a world-class missionary. How could he possibly be the “worst” of sinners? This had to be false humility…
Yet it wasn’t. Paul knew well the sins of his past. He also knew the many sins of his present. He knew the dark desires which still hid in the recesses of his heart.
Paul understood that if it wasn’t for God’s grace, he would still be a violent zealot fighting against Jesus. Paul recognized that without God’s help, his ministry and life would be in ruins.
Everything Paul had and everything he was, was because of God’s amazing grace in Jesus. In the end, that is true humility. True humility doesn’t mean devaluing yourself or denying your accomplishments. It simply means recognizing who gets the credit.
Like Paul, I too can call myself the worst of sinners.
I know the things I’ve done which no one else can see. You know what you have done.
We are all tied with Paul in the dubious distinction of being the worst of sinners. It is not false humility when we sing, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
We are all wretches. On our own, we would be lost. On our own, we would mess everything up. On our own, we can do nothing good.
But Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners like you and me. Because of him, we are forgiven. Because of him, we are going to heaven. Because of him, we can accomplish great things for God.
Because of Jesus, I am a child of God. He has blessed me with numerous talents and gifts with which I can serve him and others. By his grace and with his help, I have accomplished a number of amazing and wonderful things in my life.
That’s not bragging. I say that in all humility, because I know who gets all the credit.