Monday, September 28, 2015

Humility in Service

SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 4:2-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Sep 27th, 2015

"2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3)
Is it possible to be completely humble? Given our imperfect selves and our natural tendency to be prideful, how then can we ever follow through on Paul's call for us to be humble?

My quick answer: We can't. Not on our own strength that is.

(Credit: ThorstenConsulting)
Humility has been promoted highly at all kinds of leadership conferences. Gurus trumpet it. Writers publish volumes about it. Pastors and preachers regularly mention it over the pulpit. The trouble with humility is that it is elusive and quite difficult to achieve directly. It is an attribute that can only be seen indirectly through various means. The humble will deny he is humble in the first place. The one who claims he is humble is already on the track of pride and arrogance. This is one of life's irony. The more we want something directly, the less we get it. It is like romantic love where a man pursues a girl, only to find the girl running away from him. The moment the man stops pursuing, stops harassing the girl, and begins to do good works to others, the girl would stop running. She would turn around and with piqued interest, find ways to connect with this "nice man." If humility is that desired damsel, we cannot be too overpowering in our pursuit. We need to take a step back and check our own hearts.
  • Am I seeking humility for my own sake or for others?
  • Am I seeking to be humble in order to gain someone or something for self gratification?
  • Am I seeking the humble route because I want to honour Someone?

According to Professor John Dickson of Macquarie University, humility is defined as follows:
"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." (John Dickson, Humilitas, Zondervan, 2011, p24)
In other words, humility comprises three elements: it presupposes the dignity of others; it is a choice; and it is self-deprecation for the sake of others.

A) Humility Presupposes the Dignity of Others

This is the very basic attribute of what humility is. From Dickson's definition, humility is not simply a noun. It is shrouded in service to others. It uses power graciously. It does not abuse one's position of power. I like how Dickson is not fixated on mere definition of how being humble is but how it is being personified in action. It begins with an inner determination not to let arrogance and pride stand in the way. Flowing out of a willingness to put self at the bottom of the pecking order, whatever resources and power are then channeled toward the benefit of others.

For this to happen, one must believe honestly that others deserve it. Notice how people applaud those who had overcome great odds in order to achieve the seemingly impossible. One of Canada's most visible icons is Terry Fox. He was an able athlete, known for running long distance. In 1977, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to have his right leg amputated. Realizing how great the need was for cancer research, he embarked on a personal quest to bring greater awareness of the need to the public. Against all odds and all kinds of well-intentions, he pledged to run across Canada from Eastern Canada to his hometown in the West. If he could raise a dollar each from every resident in Canada, he would have achieved his financial target. Thus began the Marathon of Hope. the marathon took a big toll on Fox's health and after 143 days and 5373 kilometers, he had to abandon his marathon. By that time, he had the nation's attention. After his death in 1981, Canadians remember his legacy regularly and the "Terry Fox" movement is now one of the most visible sign of courage and charitable love for the human spirit. Terry Fox brought dignity to the importance of life for cancer patients.

Will there be cancer patients who are rude and abusive? Of course. Will there be sick people who are ungrateful? Certainly. A humble person must look beyond these and to see the basic need of a human being: Dignity. Love for others will compel one to see the dignity in people.

B) Humility is a Conscious Choice

Life is a choice. Humility too is a conscious choice. Humility manifests the fruit of self-control to ensure that we decrease so that others can increase. In fact, a humble person will find it a joy to serve and not to serve as a form of self-gratification. We choose to limit ourselves so that others can flourish. We choose to maintain a sense of self-control.

The story of the wise man Gamaliel is a powerful example of self-control. In Acts 5, after the Pentecost event in Jerusalem, the apostles were performing all kinds of miracles which made the religious leaders and Pharisees very uncomfortable. So they had the apostles arrested and imprisoned. Unknown to them, the Spirit was at work and had freed them. Instead of the prison, the apostles were preaching the gospel in public places. So angry were the Pharisees that they allowed their hatred to take control. Just when they were about to execute the apostles, a wise man by the name of Gamaliel stood up. He addressed the religious leaders at the Sanhedrin and said:
“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:35-39)
Humility gives people room to release their anger and will intervene at the most opportune moment. Gamaliel is a wise man to see from God's perspective. It shows a trust that God is greater and more able to take charge of things better than humans.

C) Humility Self-Deprecates for the Sake of Others

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
Humility is demonstrated in using our authority and power in service to others, not ourselves. A humble person puts the good of others before the self, just like Paul's telling the Philippians to "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves," (Philippians 2:3)

In the same light, this is also how Mark's gospel describes the humility of Christ."For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

The first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, John Charles Ryle says this of humility:

"If the only-begotten Son of God, the King of kings, did not think it is beneath Him to do the humblest work of a servant, there is nothing which His disciples should think of themselves too great or too good to do." (JC Ryle)

For the sake of others, we serve. For the sake of others, we give. For the sake of others, we love. These are the marks of humility and there is none other than serving one another in the Name of Christ. In Matthew 23:12, we are told that the one who exalts himself will be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Such is the strange paradox of spirituality.

For the sake of others, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Christ, be humble completely. For in Christ's powerful Name we ask. Amen.

THOUGHT: "Humility is not a mere ornament of a Christian, but an essential part of the new creature. It is a contradiction to be a true Christian and not humble. All that will be Christians must be Christ's disciples and come to him to learn, and their lesson is to be 'meek and lowly.'" (Richard Baxter, English Puritan, 1615-1691)


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