Question: "What does it mean to humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord (James 4:10)?"
Answer: The Bible says a lot about humility. God calls all people to humble themselves (Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:12; Romans 12:16; Philippians 2:3–4; 1 Peter 5:6). The prophet Zephaniah sums it up well: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3). Believers especially are reminded: humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10). Humility goes hand in hand with fearing the Lord and doing what He commands (Proverbs 22:4; 2 Chronicles 7:14).
James addresses the interpersonal conflicts occurring among the readers. He tells them that envy and strife are not from God. God gives grace (James 4:6), and our response should be to submit to Him and resist the devil (verse 7). When you submit to God, your heart and desires change. We live humbly before God and others instead of demanding our own way and causing conflict. Ultimately, the solution is to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.
Humility is literally a “lowliness of mind.” Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. It is understanding ourselves properly in light of who God is and who we are and living accordingly (Romans 12:3). God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We are not. The humble person recognizes that all he has is a gift from God (1 Chronicles 29:16). When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, our hearts continually seek after God, even when we sin. We confess our pride and faults to God and allow Him to transform us into Christ’s likeness. In response, God gives grace to the humble but resists or scorns the proud (Psalm 147:6; Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6).
Humbling oneself is necessary for salvation. Proverbs 22:4 tells us that “humility is the fear of the LORD.” Jesus reiterates this need for humility in the Beatitudes. He says the “poor in spirit” will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). To be poor in spirit is to admit one is spiritually empty and unable to please God apart from Christ’s sacrifice. Those who humble themselves and trust in Him will inherit eternal life with God. James 4:10 confirms this promise: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (NKJV). The reward of the humble is promotion by God (1 Peter 5:6). Eternal salvation is available to those who humble themselves in the sight of the Lord, and so is a hope-filled life on earth.
Humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord requires a true heart attitude of meekness. The humble person avoids false humility, and he is not interested in appearances. It’s one thing to put on a show of humility, but we’re not commanded to appear humble in the sight of others but to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, who sees the truth of the heart’s condition. The humble are also wary of becoming the type of people described by scholar and clergyman Robert Burton: “They are proud in humility; proud in that they are not proud” (The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621, pt. I, § 2). The insidious nature of pride is that it can masquerade as humility and creep into the lowliest of hearts.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord” is not just a command that affects our relationship with God. It also affects our daily choices. In this earthly life, we “die to self” so we can live as new creations in light of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 5:17–18). Instead of living for ourselves, we now live by faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). We seek to obey and understand His Word and will above our desires. This humility also affects our relationships with others. Philippians 2:3 reminds us to “count others more significant than yourselves” (ESV). Humility negates our pride, sets aside personal rivalry, excludes conceit, and looks out for the good of another. Instead of elevating ourselves in the moment, we can humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord and choose what is best for someone else. In this way, we represent Christ well. The humble can let go of inconsequential matters and pursue peace and holiness instead (Hebrews 12:14).
We can willingly humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, or we can be humbled by God Himself, a process that will be more painful in the long run—just ask Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4; cf. Proverbs 16:5; Luke 18:14). God promises the humble riches, honor, and life eternal. The prideful will receive destruction and punishment. There is no better way to live than to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Therefore, “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10, NKJV).