In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value. In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word (tapeinos) is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy.
If I were say to you in the year 50BC, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.
There is a word in the Greek tapeinophrosune which originates in the words of the New Testament writers. It is a noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23; 1 Pet 5:5); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”. It comes from the word tapeinos.
Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the disciples in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.
The word humility (tapeinophrosune) seems to have originated in the New Testament, where it always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of Humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.
The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves, and to our fellow-man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.
Philippians 2:3-4 (New International Version)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.
It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).
This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.
Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what God is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is;
We do not need not think of ourselves as small, insignificant or unimportant; we simply do not need to think of ourselves at all.
We need to think first of others and put God first in our lives.