bits from bob....


by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

[Note: This is another article in a series devoted to understanding Christian character through the eyes and literature of the early church.]

In a world that jostles for power and seeks to dominate others, there is little place left for love. In its place is defensiveness, the need to be right always, and a struggle to feed the insatiable appetites of power, position, prominence, possessions--in short, selfish greed. It is no easy task to turn one's back on all that the surrounding culture values.

Anyone can forego things desired to gain what is wanted more. Therefore, the early Christians sought humility, not renunciation. Only humility can transform the old creation into the new. But what is humility? The word rolls from tongues easily, the reality lives out in lives hardly.

A definition. The modern view of humility is often self-demeaning. Humility is not inferiority, nor should it be equated with a low self-image. Humility has to do with relationships. Humility enables escape from ordinary cultural patterns of dominance and servitude. Humility seeks a model of loving service for all persons toward all other persons. Real humility mobilizes us. Humility accepts the fact that we sin and are vulnerable to Satan's snares.

Humility and pride. The modern view of humility understands this paragraph's heading; the early Christians would not. Only in our selfish world can even a beginner see self as a hero. Christianity in our society is paralyzed because the only Scripture reading, prayer, or religious activity that we can accept must be heroic in its dimensions. Unless we can be heroes and proud of our actions, we despair and are demoralized. This view belittles small actions as unimportant. We do not begin the relieve social evils, influence our government toward morality and goodness, deal with hunger, poverty, or prejudice because our small efforts would not make much difference. Our failure to act is our failure in humility.

Humility and sin. As love does not center on self, neither can genuine humility. Humility has no self-image to maintain. The recognition of one's own temptation and sinfulness is a powerful part of humility. Humility is the major weapon in God's arsenal when we face the dangerous temptation to pass judgment on the actions of our neighbor. We cannot hear God's message with proud hearts. The Pharisee in Luke 18 was right in his judgment of the publican's sinfulness. It is true that the publican was wrong. The Pharisee's position was right, but his heart was wrong. He was condemned, and in a twist modern legalism can hardly stand the sinner was declared righteous.

To be humble is to identify with the sinner. That is what Jesus did on the cross. We can do no less if we are to communicate the gospel to a lost world. The ancients said, "At the very moment we hide our brother's fault, God hides our own." James 5:19-20 reflects the same truth.

Humility is difficult. It is countercultural. It wreaks havoc with the individualism of our society. It can never "live and let live." It demands involvement in the lives of others for their good. It never allows each person to negotiate values with God in private; humility knows that Christian values are God-ordained. The values of the world with the attachments they imply-- possessions, social advancement, recognition, and all the rest--must be replaced with God's values.

Humility is powerful. It is powerful because it no longer needs to look good in the eyes of self or others. It is realistic about the human dilemma. It lets God be God, grace be grace. Humility adopts values that oppose the culture around us. The power of such humility is that love is empowered in a jagged world of unlovables and unlovelies--empowered because humility is honest enough with self to recognize that all humans are unlovable and unlovely. We are undeserving. But God....demonstrated love, lavished love, identified with the human dilemma. He had a choice--divinity took the form of humanity. He humbled himself. He gives us no choice. Don't try to look like more than you are. All sinners (humans) are related! Humble yourself!

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Last updated January 7, 2002.