A Short Reader’s Guide to “Rediscovering Humility”

click here to see the Table of Contents, Foreword, Preface and Chapter One

I think it can be fairly argued that in some ways, I tried to do much with my book.  What I did try to do is make each chapter unique, so that I am not just repeating myself for fourteen chapters. I also tried to write a book that would appeal to various kinds of people all in different places on their spiritual walks.

What this may mean, however, is that certain readers will find some chapters more useful than others. So it would not hurt my feelings at all if readers skim or skip some of the chapters. The idea, after all, is to grow in humility, not finish a book!

So if that is you, here is a suggested reader’s guide, for at least three categories of readers.  For an outline of the book with chapter titles, please see my earlier post from January 18.  (Or:  click here to “Look Inside” at the Table of Contents, etc.)

1) Seekers and Skeptics ~ First, thanks for picking this book up! I would read chapters 1-5 to explore the Christian case for humility. Chapters 1-3 are my argument that much of what passes for Christianity in America these days is not a good representative of its Founder. Instead, we must go to Scripture. Chapter 4 explains how the Gospel requires and leads to humility as the central virtue of the Christian life. Chapter 5 explores humility’s intersection with the pursuit of truth, a major stumbling block in our day, since many skeptics believe it is arrogant to proclaim Jesus as the unique Savior. Then, if you are at all intrigued or challenged, then perhaps go on to read Chapters 6-9, and if further interested, consider the last section on humility in the Church.

2) Christian Leaders ~ If you have been around the Christian faith awhile and are already pretty convinced and catechized about the need for humility, then of course, I would like you to read the whole book, since each chapter builds on the previous ones. But the real meat of application begins in Chapters 8-9, I think, and then especially expands in the section on the Church in Chapters 10-14. Push through the briefer and more basic chapters early on to get to these. I don’t expect you to agree with all my suggested applications, but I suspect there are at least a few you have not considered, or realize your church could do a better job pursuing.

3) Your Average Proud Christian ~ So, you know humility is a good thing, but you also realize that you struggle with it. You want to follow Jesus better in this virtue, and let it permeate your life more. Well then, Chapters 4-9 are for you. Chapters 1-3 may set you up well to see the need across the church, generally, and Chapter 2 may especially guard you against some missteps. But delve into that middle section of the book and then let that take you into finding your part in this wider experiment in humility that we call the Church in the last section of the book.

Again, whether you skim through it, or pick it apart, I pray it is useful to you. Thank you for reading it, and may God help us all in this pursuit to His glory.







It is a great honor to have so many friends and mentors in my life agree to add their endorsement for my little book on humility. click here

It is incredibly encouraging, and a reminder that following after Christ is truly a community endeavor.

The provocative Foreword is by Dr. David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, one of my favorite professors there. I am grateful for his support!

Here are the other folks who agreed to blurb for the book, listed in the order they appeared in my life, because the book reflects all these folks’ influence and kindness to me.  Please note, that I am NOT listing all of their many titles and distinctions!


Dr. Jeff Hutchinson, Mission Anabaino (brother)

Ms. Paige Britton, Grass Roots Theological Library (high school friend & a proofer of the manuscript)

Dr. Rob Norris, Fourth Presbyterian, Bethesda, MD (first evangelical pastor)

Dr. Shawn Wright, professor,Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (college friend)

Dr. David Bowen, Second Presbyterian, Nashsville, TN (college pastor in Durham, NC)

Dr. George Marsden, Notre Dame professor emeritus (professor at Duke)

Dr. Will Willimon, Duke Divinity School and retired UMC bishop (chaplain while at Duke)

Dr. Terry Johnson, Independent Presbyterian, Savannah, GA (pastor while in Army, and the one who “sent” me off to seminary)

Dr. Joel White, Giessen School of Theology, Germany (seminary friend)

Rev. Roland Barnes, Trinity Presbyterian, Statesboro, GA, (I served as Roland’s associate pastor for 7 years)

Dr. Tom Gardner, English professor, Virginia Tech (a current fellow elder at Grace Covenant Presbyterian in Blacksburg, VA)

Rev. JR Foster, RUF Area Coordinator (first RUF minister at VT)

Ms. SharDavia Walker, Campus Outreach, Lynchburg, VA (author & former member)

Dr. Dave Silvernail, Potomac Hills Presbyterian, professor at RTS-DC (friend)

Dr. Guy Waters, professor, at RTS-Jackson (friend)

Dr. Dominic Aquila, President, New Geneva Seminary (friend)

Dr. Stephen Estock, Director PCA Discipleship Ministries (friend)

Mr. Richard Doster, editor, ByFaith magazine (friend)

Rev. Joe Holland, Christ Presbyterian, Culpeper, VA (friend, editor at Ligonier)


I am extraordinarily grateful for the support from all of these sisters and brothers and from New Growth Press. Truly a team effort! SDG!



Library, Pemboke VA


I encountered an excellent Twitter thread by @AmyMantravadi written on April 9, 2018, contrasting Pride and Humility.  Twitter at its best.

The thread was thoroughly Biblical in its ethics.  And so for fun, I listed the first New Testament verse or brief passage I could think of to prove or illustrate each pairing. Some were obvious, as they were direct quotations; others just the first example I could think of — free association.  So, here, of course, I am attempting to prooftext positively, not in the pejorative sense that the word is sometimes used.

I am posting it here, simply because it is too long for a Twitter thread.  I thought this might be useful for a Sunday School or Bible Study handout if someone wants to use it.

Again, all the pairings are the work of @AmyMantravadi.  I just added the Scripture texts.


Pride says, “Let me teach you.”
Humility says, “I will listen.”

James 1:19

Pride says, “You hurt me!”
Humility says, “Did I hurt you?”

James 3:13-18

Pride says, “God is on my side!”
Humility says, “Am I on God’s side?”

James 4:4-10

Pride says, “I have rights.”
Humility says, “I am a sinner saved by grace.”

Romans 3:27

Pride says, “It’s all your fault.”
Humility says, “Is it I, Lord?”

Matthew 26:22

Pride says, “Thank God I’m not like them!”
Humility says, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Luke 18:9-14

Pride says, “I built that.”
Humility says, “The Lord built that.”

I Corinthians 3:7

Pride says, “I must work out my salvation.”
Humility says, “He works in me.”

Philippians 2:13

Pride says, “Who must I love?”
Humility says, “I must love all.”

Romans 12:14-19

Pride says, “I have arrived.”
Humility says, “I need grace.”

I Corinthians 4:8

Pride says, “You take the first step.”
Humility says, “I’ll take the first step.”

Philemon 1:12

Pride says, “An eye for an eye.”
Humility says, “Here is my cloak.”

Matthew 5:40

Pride says, “How great is my knowledge!”
Humility says, “How great is my ignorance!”

I Corinthians 8:1

Pride says, “The Church needs me.”
Humility says, “I need the Church.”

I Corinthians 12:14-27

Pride says, “I forgave you before.”
Humility says, “I forgive you again.”

Matthew 18:22

Pride says, “I need not the sacraments.”
Humility says, “I need them like daily bread.”

John 6:51

Pride says, “Confess to me.”
Humility says, “Let’s confess to one another.”

James 5:16

Pride says, “I know all.”
Humility says, “God knows all.”

Psalm 131

Pride says, “There is no pain like my pain.”
Humility says, “There is no pain like Christ’s pain.”

I Peter 2:21-23

Pride says, “Good riddance.”
Humility says, “I pray you return.”

II Corinthians 2:6-8

Pride says, “Where are you wrong?”
Humility says, “Where do we agree?”

Philippians 4:2

Pride says, “I must not be tainted.”
Humility says, “I must serve Christ.”

Galatians 2:11-21

Pride says, “I’m surrounded by hypocrites!”
Humility says, “I am a hypocrite.”

I Timothy 1:15

Pride says, “Here’s what you owe me.”
Humility says, “What do I owe you?”

I Corinthians 6:7

Pride says, “Listen to my wisdom.”
Humility says, “Listen to God’s Word.”

James 1:22

Pride says, “Who must I condemn?”
Humility says, “Who must I commend?”

Philippians 2:29-30

Pride says, “I messed up.”
Humility says, “I sinned.”

Romans 7

Pride says, “Me!”
Humility says, “God!”

Psalm 115:1



If anyone is interested, here is the Table of Contents of my forthcoming book, Rediscovering Humility:  Why the Way Up is Down (New Growth Press, due out June, 2018, Lord willing):  click here


Table of Contents


FOREWORD by David Wells





1) Whatever Happened to Humility?

2) Wide Is the Road: The Lure of False Humility

3) Return of the Jester: The Vision of Humility Back at the Table



4) Lest Anyone Boast: Humility and the Gospel

5) Hope for a Fool: Humility and Truth

6) Not unto Us: Discipleship as Humility



7) Bold Nobodies: Humility Regarding Self

8) Seeking the City to Come: Humility and Eschatology

9) Tales from the Lower Totem Pole: Humility toward Others



10) The Assembly of Egos: Humility in the Church

11) Like Men Sentenced to Death: Christian Leadership as Humility

12) The Assembly of Fools: Humility, Truth, and Unity

13) Turning Woes into Blessings: Humility and Church Image

14) Turning Factories into Gardens




APPENDIX: 100 Verses on Humility






CPC New Haven


When I enter a pulpit, I live. One of my best friends once told me early in my preaching that he wished I was more myself when I preached. That’s odd, I thought, I wished I was more myself when I wasn’t preaching.

I enter the pulpit and open the Bible. I look up and announce the text, and while I am still turning to it myself, I find a sip of water. I look up again, and then begin reading this Word from God. When it is finished, we pray. I pray. I tremble. I beg. I am thankful that I am but a courier, a messenger‑boy standing between parties, having little to do with the business being conveyed back and forth. I have run many miles to be here, and I stand weak and panting. Dear sirs, I have a message for you, if you please….

I enter the pulpit and open my soul. I enter the pulpit a compound of faith, caffeine, Tylenol and sin. I have not slept enough, nor prayed. I enter, filled with the Spirit. And so I begin, stumbling and pleading. This is urgent, so please, sirs, if you would come with me… we have many miles to go. And so the messenger‑boy becomes the leader, a guide to bring them to the place he has been told. Please hurry. It is urgent.

I am Aragorn, thin and swift, running across leagues of hilled meadows in pursuit of my prey held captured by our enemies. I am armored lightly so that I might run hour after hour, that I might have rest. I am a young man on vacation in the cool, summer air of New England. I run along Kettle Cove, my lungs full and my feet barely touching the ground as I sweep through the air a seagull. Nothing can stop me, nothing for the next half hour or so. I am a young officer running in loose formation mile after mile as the large Georgia sun begins to burn its way through the pine sculpted haze. All is strong and in order. Dead armadillos line the road.

I am winded, parched. I am Frodo, chubby, and weighed down by a burden unbearable, lost in a dark and alien land, surrounded by creatures who would wish to kill me if they only knew who I was. I am old and my back hurts. I stretch in the swimming pool, and an old man wading with yellow fillings smiles at me and says, “Hey ho! Something went crack!” I smile back, not happy. I run my twelfth mile in pack and boots, Georgia clay dust clinging around my lips and eyes. I blink through the sun and sweat. Is that the finish? My feet barely take me there. As some random General pins the medal on my chest, teetering in formation, my bladder finally releases and urine pours into my boots. I am decorated. I am a mess.

I am spent, parched. Words spill out that I had not planned, and those more eloquent than I think wise or right. I struggle and stumble along ‑‑ is it not plain for all to see? Then why do I not see? What is this blurring? Why do the words rise strongly into my throat, but only exit a whisper? I tear. I know that it is uncaused, unsought, a distraction. I know that it is as much exhaustion as conviction, as much chemicals as affection, but it is too late. I must finish, show them the place, collapse. Please, come, hurry. I am spent, alive. I preach. I live. I preach. ~ CAH, c. 1998

Water is Sweeter




Gain draws nearer, step by step

I feel it in my bones

All things wear out, grow weak and thin

And yet

Water is sweeter

Not metaphorically, not some imagined fancy

But upon my tongue

Strangely sweet

As real as all the pain and sadness

Literal foretaste from the land beyond

This mortal mind slipping, slipping

And yet, water is sweeter

Sweeter upon my tongue






In Part I, we argued that when David flees to Philistia in I Samuel 27 and 29, he is not backsliding in faith, but rather doing what he can to serve God faithfully in difficult circumstances.  We argued this for five different reasons:

1) The literary structure of I Samuel 21-29 shows David growing in godliness, not backsliding, except his confessed sin in chapter 25.
2) Psalm 56, a Psalm of distress, may well have been written in this period.
3) The text nowhere describes David’s actions as sinful.
4) Practically, treachery to Israel would have undermined his ascension to the throne.
5) Most importantly, the results of David’s venture are positive, and thus reveal his true motives.

We turn now to the positive fruit that the text indicates results from this episode in David’s life.  And once again, we find five.

1) David ends Israel’s civil war.  We read in I Samuel 27:4 that Saul no longer pursued David.  Indeed, the last word Saul exchanges with David is when he gives him his blessing in 26:25, sincerely or not.  But it is David’s flight to Philistia that leads to peace in Israel.  As he could not in godliness either fight or kill Saul, David had no other option but to flee.  And that brings unity, of a sort, to God’s people.  In this, David reflects the mind of Christ, who prayed that His people may be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:21).  A true King, such as David, always seeks the peace of God’s people, even at great personal sacrifice.  In this, David demonstrates the wisdom that is from above, reaping a harvest of righteousness and peace by his flight (James 3:13-18).

2) David repossesses part of the Promised Land without any bloodshed.  The narrator reveals this remarkable fact in I Samuel 27: 6: “So Achish gave (David) Ziklag that day; therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day.”  David wanted to live away from the Philistine regional capital of Gath in order to remain elusive, as we will see below.  But as a practical result, he ends up annexing part of Philistia back for Israel.  So the Kingdom of God (which at this era of redemptive history maintained actual borders) expands into Philistia, all without any blood being shed.  This is part of David’s deceptive strategy to do what he could to defeat the Philistines even though he had only six hundred men at his command.  It also is a foreshadow and type of Christ who now expands His Kingdom throughout the world through the ministry of the Church, all without bloodshed, a Kingdom of grace without earthly borders (cf., Matthew 28:18-20).

3) David continues to fight Israel’s Holy War as their King in exile.  In I Samuel 27:8ff, we read of David’s raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amelekites.  We do not know much about the first two groups, other than that the text tells us that they “were inhabitants of the land from ancient times.”  But we know that the Amelekites were to be the subjects of Israel’s holy war, and were to have been wiped out in the initial conquest.   This is not the place to go into the details and propriety of holy war in the Old Testament, but David appears to be engaging in a form of it.  He does indeed take plunder, which is forbidden in holy war, cf., Deuteronomy 20, but he appears to do so in order to trick Achish into thinking that David’s raids were actually against the people of Israel.

What then of David’s lying to Achish?  In my judgment, this is a lawful use of wartime deception, a way to remain within Philistia while yet carrying out his duties as Israel’s king.  There is no clear parallel today since the Church is never to use the sword, but a rough equivalent may be the propriety of a German Christian lying to local Nazi officials about Jews hidden in her basement.

The point is that David is continuing to act as Israel’s true king by defending them, even in exile.  Most kings who go into exile do so in great luxury, and only to protect their own hides.  Not so David.  David continues to risk his life by conducting a holy war against the original inhabitants of the Promised Land.  These are hardly the actions of a rebel or backslider, but of a man devoted to his God, in season and out of season.

4) David evangelizes the Philistines.  This may be one of the most unexpected results, and yet one clearly hinted at in the text.  In I Samuel 29:6, while defending David against the (probably accurate) fears of the other Philistine lords, Achish says to David: “As the LORD (Yahweh) lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army are pleasing in my sight.”  Commentators consider it significant that Achish the Philistine uses the covenantal name of God, though most think he retains his polytheism in doing so.  (He is after all, on his way to attack Israel.)  Nonetheless, David’s venture into Philistia made the name of God known in pagan lands.

Likewise, Achish’s wording is striking when he describes David as “an angel of God” to him in verse 9.  Achish describes David as bringing him a message from God.  Whether successful or not, and notwithstanding the fact that Jew and Philistine were still primarily enemies, here we have a brief foreshadow of the gospel going to all nations.  After all, it is in the Old Testament in which we read that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32).  Jonah was sent to Ninevah, Israel’s greatest enemy at that time.  Why shouldn’t David proclaim God’s mercy to the Philistines, even as he recognizes that he must in part deceive them as Israel’s earthly enemies?  It is a complicated situation to be sure, but Achish’s wording in I Samuel 29 is intriguing to say the least.  One result from David’s flight is that Yahweh’s name is proclaimed among the Gentiles.

5) David plans to wreak havoc in the Philistine rear as they march against Israel.  It seems clear that David intended to do just what the Philistine lords feared – to stab them in the back in the middle of battle against Israel.  Such feats are not unknown in history, such as what occurred at the Battle of Leipzig when many of Napoleon’s German allies changed sides in the middle of battle, joining the multi-national army arrayed against him.

There appear to be three main reasons to think this was David’s plan.  First, the Philistine lords clearly state that is what they believe will happen.  Second, the inconceivable idea that David would actually fight with the Philistines against Israel, whose king he is.  Third, David gives ambiguous and almost humorous answers to Achish concerning his plans.  In 28:2, David merely says to Achish, “You will see what your servant can do.”   In 29:8, David says, “May I not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?,” without ever specifying exactly who his lord and king were.

For all these reasons, I am convinced that David intended to attempt the dangerous tactic of handing victory to Israel by turning against the Philistines in the middle of the battle, and then somehow from there escaping Saul’s clutch after victory was attained.  If that seems unlikely, keep in mind that David had been walking this kind of razor’s edge for years as Israel’s inaugurated but not yet consummated king. In any case, the text tells us that in God’s providence, David is spared such a dangerous tactic, because the Philistines refuse to bring him along.

And then we know the rest of the story.  It is this battle that brings about the end of Saul’s life and reign.  God’s time for Saul’s end and David’s ascension had finally come.  And so the lessons for us are indeed to trust God’s providential care in times of plenty and in times of want.  To serve Him in season and out of season.  To seek the peace of Jerusalem, God’s people.  And to do our small part to see God’s Kingdom spread to all peoples, even our enemies.   I find this to be a far more satisfying, encouraging and faithful reading of I Samuel 27 and 29 than the more common approach to this text.   David is an example of faith, and a type of Christ, our ultimate King in exile.

This article was first published on the Aquila Report and is based on a sermon I preached on June 21, 2015.