Humility and How I Achieved It … ???

Many have pointed out that humility is the essential virtue that we cannot “work on.” Think about the fictitious book, Humility and How I Achieved It. It’s a joke, right? If you’re writing a book about how you achieved humility, how much humility do you really have? Humility by definition does not focus on its own presence or quality. This is what Paul had in mind as he wrote his Philippian friends about how to live together:

“… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because humility is a supremely Christlike virtue, we often find in the Christian community the oxymoronic attempt to act humble. The reason is clear; we wish to acquire the respect that comes with being perceived in the Christian community as a Christlike or humble person, while at the same time enjoying a very hefty prestige based on this “humility.” How odd. This is especially present among long-time, well-churched Christians. It is a spiritual malady of the “mature.”

How should we respond then? Since we can’t “cultivate” humility like we would certain other virtues, is there any hope for us to actually grow in it? Good News: There Is! Christlike humility is attempting to spring up within us all the time.  It is growing through the only means possible in a pride-saturated world—humiliation. Interestingly, our culture treats the idea of humility as a virtue and the concept of humiliation as a vice, even though they come from the same root. Nobody in western society, tutored as we are in the gospel of self-esteem, embraces humiliation in any form. We are nagged relentlessly to “stand up for ourselves,” “demand respect,” “fulfill our potential,” and “get our best lives now.”

Humiliation is the acquisition of genuine humility through the most honest means available. It need not be public humiliation, or even very severe for that matter, but it is the piercing, conscious awareness of specific failure coupled with a sense of needing and receiving grace from the Lord. It is one of the essential ingredients in what the Bible calls repentance, the first step into eternal life. But it’s not just the first step, is it? Do we not learn to walk in this humble repentance always? Is this not walking in the Spirit? (Gal.5:25-26).

Let me suggest that true humility is actually growing in us when the Lord arranges for us to be sinned against, slighted, ignored, embarrassed, or in some way hurt by others. At moments like these, when angry self-righteousness so naturally erupts, we might ask ourselves the same question God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be so angry?” What would our reaction be if we really didn’t care about our reputation or prestige and only cared about the truth, the needs of others, or the will of the Lord in the situation? In other words, what would it be like if we thought like Jesus on the subject at hand?

I have heard Christians seriously teach that, “It’s a sin to allow anybody to sin against you,” which would mean of course that our Lord is the worst sinner of all time (!). Do we have to let others sin against us in every case? Of course not. Justice is also a virtue. But as Christians we have the right and the power to let others hurt us unjustly without retaliating. And the exercise of doing just that is the one way we can cooperate with the growth of humility in our hearts. How else could our Lord teach and demonstrate his famous instruction to turn the other cheek (Take a moment to look up the following verses: Matt.5:38-42; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25). Jesus saved the world by doing precisely what he instructs us to do in strategic situations—let pain and humiliation happen to us. The result in us is a true selflessness, a relief from the burden of appearing perfect, of living up to the unbearable weight of our own reputation for maturity. Under the grace of the Lord, we will sense the love, joy and peace—the relief—that comes from simply loving and being loved by the Lord himself (See 1 Cor.13).

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Feeling Thougtful

Some years ago I sat in my study with a middle-aged, moderately successful, single Christian man I’ll call Mitch (not his real name of course).  He had made the appointment to discuss his frustration with life in general and his confusion about God’s guidance.  He was articulate, outspoken in his faith, regular in attendance at an evangelical church.  He was also a veteran of several marriages and affairs.  As we talked I asked him if he was sleeping with his current girlfriend (whom he recently met at church by the way, because he wouldn’t dream of dating anybody who wasn’t a Christian).

 “Yes,” he said, slightly surprised at my blunt, personal question.  “We know others might disapprove, but sometimes one thing leads to another and, well, you know … it’s a part of life.”

“Hmmm,” I murmured.  “So, why did you make this appointment with me?”

“Well, I need some perspective on where this relationship is going,” he said.

“Which relationship?” I asked.

Mitch frowned slightly but pleasantly with that Haven’t-you-heard-a-word-I’ve-said look.  “The one with Phyllis, of course.” (not her real name)

“Oh,” I responded.  “I thought perhaps you were wondering about your relationship with the Lord.”

“No,” he said. “That’s fine.  I’m wondering if the Lord wants me to marry Phyllis.”

“I don’t think so,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened as he sat back in his chair.  “Why not?” he asked.  It was obvious that my role in this conversation was to affirm his strong walk with the Lord and his deep desire to marry yet again, which, being God’s primary purpose for his life, would make him supremely happy … finally.

“Well, you’re not very good at marriage,” I said.  “You’ve had three, in between your girlfriends, and have not seemed to get the knack of it.  If a pilot who had flown several planes into different objects asked me if he should buy a new flying machine, I’d advise him to take up jogging.  He’s not a pilot; he’s a wrecker of aircraft.”

Mitch was speechless for a moment.  “But,” he exclaimed. “What shall I do about dating?”

“Stop,” I said simply.

“What?!” he exclaimed, leaning forward across the table.  “I have needs for companionship, intimacy.  What about that?”  He was becoming agitated now.

“I don’t think there is a biblical mandate for you to date,” I explained.  “And you’re constantly falling into evil when you get emotionally involved with women.  There is a mandate about that.  So, I’m advising celibacy instead of marriage for you.”

You would have thought I had suggested amputation (It crossed my mind actually).

“Well, I’ll have to pray about that,” he said.  He sat still, hands flat on the table between us, eyes down, scanning like a line of lights on a computer with too much data to process.

After many seconds of silence, I suggested praying.  He nodded blankly.  I prayed.  He didn’t.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my time.

I heard several months later that Mitch had married, but that things were not well.  They were seeking counsel, Christian of course.

How can a person be so well conditioned to church life that he seeks advice from his pastor, but live so immorally that the idea of celibacy seems utterly foreign?  It’s about what we consider real knowledge.  The tip-off to Mitch’s mind-set, his worldview, was in the first part of his conversation, when he essentially excused his sexual evil by assuming that this was “a part of life.”  It may be a part of life in a sense, but is God’s will not a part of life?  Apparently God’s word was not as ‘factual’ a part of Mitch’s life as his own need for intimacy.  He obviously ‘knew’ that his needs were paramount and must be met.  But God’s instruction was not quite so convincing, so ‘factual.’  Why is that?  Because Mitch’s mind has been trained in the ‘fact’ of his psychological needs, but is deficient in the perspective God presents on these needs.  He simply didn’t believe God’s view of relationships.

People always do what they truly believe, and they tend to believe what they think most about.  Thinking and believing eventually blend to form the mind.  Which is why Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  It does not say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of faith, but of knowledge.  The presence and power of the Lord is apparently a fact God wants us to put at the front of everything else we call knowledge.  Mitch had relegated his faith in the Lord to the area of feeling, opinion, while firmly grounding his life-choices in the ‘facts’ of his needs.

The mind is the central organ of faith.  J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that the Bible says more about knowledge than it does about faith.  He’s right.  But the statement sounds strange to our ears because most of us have been taught since we were young that vibrant faith and factual knowledge are two different things.  With our hearts we “feel and believe” and with our minds we “think and learn.”  It becomes possible then to ‘think’ one way and ‘believe’ another.  Jesus didn’t think so.  In Matt 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, he says we should “… love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.”  He is equating these three, not dividing them.

In the biblical worldview God presents real knowledge, which we should absorb mentally and use to interpret everything else in life.  Wisdom (the ability to live faithfully and well) grows organically out of God’s revelation in His word and His world.  Scripture sees no distinction between the mind and the heart, like we assume when we say things like, “My mind is telling me one thing but my heart is telling me another!”  Or, “Don’t think about it, just do it – follow your heart.”   These statements reflect not a difference between feeling and thinking, but a conflict between desire and virtue.  The mind is very active in all such decisions.  The only question is whether it is thinking faithfully, based on God’s wisdom, or crookedly based on fallen presuppositions.

So, we must think and feel like Christians.  To do that we must treat God’s word as factual in a way that puts all other knowledge into perspective.

When a person says, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I ask, “Is that a fact …?”

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick