“Humility With a Hook”

By James W. Adams

It has been suggested that self-abasement motivated by the desire to advertise one’s humility in order to be admired is “humility with a hook.” When I ran across this observation in my reading, it struck a responsive chord. The “humility” of far too many professed, New Testament Christians has a “hook,” hence is quite spurious. Self-depreciation for the sake of advertising humility is no more than a contemptible, Pharisaical ploy which emanates from a deeply self-righteous disposition. It is not an identifying mark of godliness nor evidence of “total commitment.” Rather, it is an age-old symbol of hypocrisy.

True piety is not demonstrated by a sanctimonious countenance, maudlin affirmations of sentimental “love,” a sepulchral tone of voice, and vocal protestations of “humility.” To the contrary, it is evidenced by what we are. What we are is determined by what we believe. What we believe is manifested by what we do, and what we do, both as to quality and degree, is the “proof of the sincerity of our love” and devotion. Paul urged the saints at Corinth to give liberally of their means for the 4dpoor among the saints” at Jerusalem in order that they might “prove the sincerity of their love” (2 Cor. 8:8).

John, “the apostle of love,” stated the point tersely and explicitly when he wrote: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). Advertised humility, conspicuously displayed and vindicated by depreciation of others, whether voiced or implied, neither commends itself, nor him who practices it, to the Lord. Jesus is specific about this in the parable of “the Pharisee and the publican” who went up to the temple to pray (Lk. 18:9-14).

The proud Pharisee commended himself to the Lord in the following manner: “He stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess.” The publican, on the other hand, “stood afar off, would not lift so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

The verdict of Jesus relative to the contrasting humility demonstrated in these two prayers was: “I tell you, this man (the publican, jwa) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee, jwa): for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” The Pharisee’s advertised self-abasement for the purpose of being admired did not impress the Lord. The Lord perceived the “hook” in his “humility.” The lesson is clear: “Humility with a hook” is human egotism born of pride and arrogance. True humility is self-abasement born of a consciousness of sin-guiltiness, hence unworthiness before God, and a consequent, utter dependence upon him and complete submission to his will.

Professed servants of the Lord may succeed in deceiving themselves and others by “humility” with a camouflaged “hook,” but the Lord will not be “taken in” by it. Apostate Israelites who advertised their “humility” with an outward show of religion but were inwardly corrupt were warned by Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord . . . I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10, NKJV). Jesus challenged the Jews of his time with the question: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46) Also, in a single lesson, he called the Pharisees and scribes “hypocrites” seven times. In addition, to that, he called them “blind guides, children of hell, fools, whited sepulchers, serpents, and a generation of vipers.” He pronounced “woe” upon them and asked them, “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:1-39)

It is my conviction, based on solid evidence, that maudlin emotionalism has taken over the worship of multitudes of professed “churches of Christ” and their constituents in their public worship and general demeanor as such. I am further convinced that this is evidence of modern Pharisaism in full bloom and quite as worthy of condemnation as that which existed in our Lord’s day upon earth. It is “humility with a hook” with vengeance. I insist that this is not an “unchristian” judgment of motivation, but an observation based upon conditions too patent to the debatable. The fruit betrays the seed which produces it!

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 15, pp. 449, 462
August 3, 1989