Humbleness is next to Christlikeness

In thinking about ministry (not that I want to be a pastor, but I'm keeping my options open), I've had a chance to listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, most of which I enjoy. I was there for the 'fall' of Mark Driscoll, for example. I've seen pastors fall from grace constantly, and most of these 'falls' seem to reflect a growing unease with power. As someone who was raised in the church, fell away for a few years, and then came back a time later, it is quite clear to me that humbleness is not a virtue many take seriously. I hate typing that, and I doubt it applies to you, but it is enough of a problem to warrant a short post.

My father, for instance, is quite humble. He worked in ministry and ended up being burned quite badly, and in hindsight, humbleness was not a virtue that was exercised by those who fired him. More could be said, but being an insider lets one see all of the foibles and warts and narcissistic elements of humanity featured inside church walls. A worship pastor wants to be a lead pastor, a youth group director wants to leave because he or she thinks they know better, and so on an so forth. We've all seen this, and if you haven't count yourself blessed.

So, when I was thinking about pastoral ministry and how the local church functions in a community, I came across a text in James—leave it to James to drop a truth bomb on my lap. James 4:10 reads: ταπεινώθητε ἐνώπιον κυρίου, καὶ ὑψώσει ὑμᾶς: "humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exact you." In the Synoptic Gospels, the verb appears often with the pronoun ἑαυτὸν ("himself," "herself," etc). In Matthew 18:4, Jesus tells his listeners to "humble themselves" (ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν) as this child. A child, of course, is not humble in the sense we think; rather a child is not set in his or her ways, and is open and is not concretized as a recalcitrant sinner.  Matthew 23:12 is quite similar in its parallelism: ὅστις δὲ ὑψώσει ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ὅστις ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται: "therefore whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted" (see also the Lukan parallel in 14:11 and in 18:14). Luke 3:5 speaks of the mountains and hills being "brought low."

Paul may have echoed this sentiment in 2 Corinthians 11:7 when he talks about humbling himself (ἐμαυτὸν) so that the Corinthians might be exalted. Of course, Paul is being a bit of a pillock there, as is his custom. In 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul speaks of God ταπεινώσῃ him ("humbling").

In the famous so-called "Christ-Hymn" in Philippians 2, Paul speaks of the preexistent Christ "humbling" himself (ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν) by becoming obedient to death, and Paul himself knows how to be humbled (ταπεινοῦσθαι) in Philippians 4:12. Finally, the author of 1 Peter tells his readers to "humble yourselves" (Ταπεινώθητε). Throughout the New Testament, the verb ταπεινόω (tapeinoō) is used to refer to "humbleness" or "being brought low" and so on. I am reminded of several things.

First, humbleness does not come naturally to me. When I am lectured by someone who I know does not know as much as I do, I tend to puff out my chest and tilt my hat forward and attempt to put that person in his place. Usually, that only happens once in a while, but it is something I should work on.

Second, being humble requires a special move of the Holy Spirit and one's theological community. If one is acting in a self-righteous way, call them out kindly. It's for their benefit, and your community's benefit as well.

Third, you can actually humble yourself. Scripture says you can, so you should. I can humble myself, you can humble yourself, and we can all humble ourselves. Just make sure we give credit to God for the grace given to us.

I end this little post with a comment by John Wesley: "mock humility which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our willful disobedience, 'Oh, I can do nothing,' and stops there, without once naming the grace of God" (Outler, Sermons, 3:208).

NQ