“Any spirituality that does not lead from a self-centered to another-centered mode of existence is bankrupt.”
Brennan Manning, author of The Signature of Jesus
“The way of Jesus is about loving and serving God and loving and serving others. It is not about serving self. If you and I want to follow Jesus, we may need to overturn some of our beliefs, attitudes and actions in the same way that Jesus overturned the tables 2,000 years ago.”
Dr. Mark Wessner, President, MB Seminary
“It’s time to live as people shaped by a gospel-centered worldview.”
Dr. Ed Stetzer, author, social commentator
Navigating The Challenge
Three times a year I connect in regional clusters with Saskatchewan ministry leaders. It is a space where we share about ministry and pray for each other. It is both cathartic and inspiring. Recently, ministry leaders testified to a huge uptick in Christian infighting as our pandemic rages on. These inhouse skirmishes have greatly intensified their frustrations and fears. There is usually one sentiment that captures my attention at these leadership gatherings. Most recently it was: “My greatest challenge is to like the people I love.” The pastor who shared this sentiment is a genuine servant of God, a wise and devoted follower of Jesus. His thought moved me to reflect upon what would help pastors in these troubled times navigate this challenge.
The ‘Salvation’ We Need?
We are living in a time when the church in Canada is experiencing colossal upheaval. It is being wrenched and re-shaped as it seeks to placate hostile external forces and appease internal discontents. The external volleys of negativity are expected and, for the most part, par for the course. However, the collateral damage around keeping the peace among the church’s disgruntled has been notable, some leaders walking away from vocational ministry altogether. Regarding such a reality Scottish theologian Andrew Murray speaks to the present from the past:
“There have been many a church, assembly of the saints, mission or convention, society or committee, even a mission away in heathendom, where the harmony has been disturbed, and the work of God hindered. This hinderance is so because men who are counted as saints have proven in touchiness and haste and impatience, in self-defense and self-assertion, in sharp judgments and unkind words, that they did not each reckon others better than themselves, and that their holiness has but little in it of the meekness necessary to unite.”
Murray writes further:
“What is the cause of all the division, and strife, and envying, that is often found even among God’s saints? Why is it that often in a family there is bitterness – it may be only for half an hour, or half a day; but what is the cause of hard judgments and hasty words? What is the cause of estrangement between friends? What is the cause of evil speaking? What is the cause of selfishness and indifference to the feelings of others? Simply this: the pride of man. He lifts himself up, and he claims the right to have his opinions and judgments as he pleases. The salvation we need is indeed humility….”
20th century theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote in his book No Little People that, “The central problem of our age… is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” What is this “central problem” among the people of God? Schaeffer claimed it was a lack of humility.
How significant is the place and function of humility in the life of a disciple? I offer the following claims from influential Christian thinkers and writers:
- Humility is the “The chief and highest grace.” Andrew Murray
- “The character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love.” Jerry Bridges
- “We must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.” Jonathan Edwards
- Humility is the “The highest virtue for the child of God.” R. Kent Hughes
- “Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.” Thomas Moore
- “There is no holiness without humility.” Oswald Chambers
Still, wondering about the significance of humility in the life of a disciple? Ask yourself, which of the following can be achieved without humility?
- The imitation of God, Christlikeness
- Walking with the Holy Spirit
- Unity for the mission
- Interpreting Scripture using a community hermeneutic
- A posture of being quick to listen, slow to speak
- Seeking the best interests of others
- An attractive Gospel witness to our world
- Avoidance of pride
- Confession & repentance
Humility in the living and written WORD
The Gospel story is a powerful narrative of tangible humility. Jesus, God incarnate, was born to poor peasant parents in an animal feeding trough, then, as an adult declared himself a servant, demonstrated servanthood, called others to do the same, sacrificed himself for the sake of others and was buried in a borrowed tomb. In the best summation of this reality, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, Jesus “made himself nothing” (Philippians 4:7). Now, as disciples of Jesus, we are commanded to do the same; to “live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6b). Again, Paul instructs us succinctly: “Be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2a).
There is no one righteousness, not even one
I wonder if God would judge our culture as being any better or worse than the one of Jesus’ time? I wonder if Paul would determine the church of his time to be better or worse than the church of 2022? I wonder if the plan God revealed in Christ Jesus 2000 some years ago – a gospel narrative couched in humility – has any less impact and transformative power today?
Humility is a core Christian value, a requisite noble Christian characteristic, an indispensable godly trait. Without it, the church is a fragile gathering of self-centred, divisive actors who are at best unappealing, and at worst, repulsive to the unchurched. Without humility, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission are like impotent aspirations embroidered on homemade fabric banners in the church lobby.
My approach to the perceived volcanic rise of outrage, threats, and walls of division in our faith communities begins with living like Jesus did and seeking to obey his counsel: “The greatest among you must be a servant” (Matthew 23:11 NLT). Let, me be clear, there remain situations where strong admonishment, confrontation, discipline and necessary endings must occur to maintain a healthy unified community, but we should begin by aspiring to something greater. I am moved in my spirit by John the Baptist’s sentiment when speaking of Jesus: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30). Why? Because Jesus is the hope – the cure – for a world wallowing in a spirit of entitlement and being right. Jesus transforms any individual heart, any gathered community and any culture where he is imitated, especially when we mirror his self-emptying (kenotic) humility.
The path to humility — a refresher
- Deepen your understanding of God, his redemptive work, and your own human nature
- Abide with, and imitate, Jesus
- Surrender yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit
- Submit your agenda to the purposes of God
- Heed the counsel of Scripture on humility
- Make the needs of others a priority
- Abandon expectations of being treated differently than Jesus was