Humility the Greatest Virtue

In the midst of packing for my upcoming 8-week trip to Europe I wanted to post a few comments about humility. Yesterday in church we covered Philippians 2:1-4, a passage in which the apostle Paul calls for unity in the body under the mantle of humility. He says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own interests but also for the interests of others.”

Humility is considered a great virtue among the majority of mankind. Even the proud walking among us would confess that humility is a good thing. Well, maybe not Donald Trump, but everyone else would. As a follower of Jesus I should seek meekness and humility. Blessed are the meek, the Lord said, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). We know, not only from the Bible, but also from our human experience that pride comes before a fall and the proud may get away with it in the near future but even the Al Capones of this world get busted (he evaded arrest for 10 years). So humility is a good thing! A truly humble person will stand firm during drought and trial.

I wish I could say that the church honors humble persons more than the world does but I’m not convinced of it. Just like the world around us, we tend to follow the prideful — the assertive ones who use their passion to rule and demand respect. Pastors should be the humblest people of all but it’s not always true. I know this from personal experience. It’s easy to get “puffed up” when people look up to you. Power does twisted things to even well-intentioned people. Generally, I’ve found that church administrators tend to be assertive in nature while the humblest people serve and follow the pastors. But danger lurks when assertive turns to pride. Pastors, instead, should set an example of humility and meekness. Saint Peter wrote to church leaders, do not “lord your [oversight] over those allotted to your charge, but prove to be examples to the flock.”

Last summer I was minding my own business in a McDonald’s in Colorado when a loud conversation started two tables behind me. You know how that happens, you want to have some peace but the noise level forces you to either move or listen. So I listened. An older pastor was talking to two church leaders from a local church. The situation became obvious by the conversation: the church had just lost its pastor and was now in a moment of crisis. The leaders — one man and one woman — had consulted this older pastor (who had some past connection to this church) for advice when it came to forming a search committee. But the conversation turned into a one-sided rant. The older pastor boasted about himself for a solid 20 minutes and then started gossiping about people in church leadership and the congregation. He told them what he thought of doctrinal bible passages (errant, I might add) and who was wrong about what. It was ugly. By the end of the conversation, the pastor had puffed himself up so full I was afraid he might pop.

Assertiveness and pride aren’t the same thing but they sure make great bedfellows. Pride often comes when assertiveness is met with personal approval. A humble person starts thinking that they are greater than another person and that starts the downhill run to pride and… an inevitable fall. A key tenant of the Christian faith is the concept of self-sacrifice — of bypassing your own needs and desires in order to help someone else. In other words, humility. Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus said it was not the prideful but the humble. Why? For one thing, their humility will draw people towards Christ. It stands out among the prideful world. Why else was Mother Theresa so noticeable? What she dedicated her life to — helping the poor and needy of India — was the polar opposite of the fleshly desire to “better your own life.”

Humility also stands counter to the arrogant yearnings of the natural human heart. An unredeemed person will seek to satisfy their craving for more self. It’s all about me. Me, me, me, me, me. But a person who has believed in Jesus Christ has a new spirit inside, a spirit that cries out, “others.” It is the spirit of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life away for the salvation of others. And this same Christ calls his followers to do the same.

Humility is the mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ. It should be expected of our leaders and it should be encouraged among those who follow them. By the way, to elaborate on Paul’s point in Philippians 2, humility leads to unity. If everyone is seeking the good of others, different theological and form divisions will shift to the side and, if they are unhealthy, go away. Don’t like the worship music? A humble person will look tot he congregation and say, “I don’t matter as much as they do. Lord, minister to them this morning.” Don’t like the sermon style? Say the same thing. Choosing red carpet or blue (or gray-green, like my church)? Say, “I pray this carpet serves us well.”

I’ve posted for you a video blog of my gut reaction to the pastor mentioned above. It was shot in Colorado after I left that McDonald’s to continue my vacation. I talked for 8 minutes but have edited it down to less than 2. Watch if you’d like.

— John

One thought on “Humility the Greatest Virtue

  1. So true, John, and convicting as well! Backing out of a church’s community, declaring a myriad of likes and dislikes (!), isn’t giving way to the humility of no criticism; it is bailing out, and it’s prideful… And I REALLY struggle with this one at times.

    Interesting musings…

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