The Purpose Driven Life: Cultivating community takes humility. Self importance, smugness, and stubborn pride destroy fellowship faster than anything else. Pride builds walls between people: humility build bridges. Humility is the oil that smooths and soothes relationships.
Humility was important to Jesus, who said in Matthew 18:1-4: At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. We’ve often heard that we should be more child like, but what is important about this is a child’s humility.
Children are able to accept kindness. I live in a German community and grew up in a culture where people were quick and generous to help others … but very slow and stubborn about asking for help or allowing anyone to see them as being in need. Some of these cultural habits come from ways that poor people protected their self-esteem, and are deeply engrained even in adulthood. For example, I am unable to use the rest room at a gas station or convenience store unless I purchase something, even if it is as small as a pack of gum, and even if I am a regular customer of that corporation or even that particular store. I must prove every time I enter the store that I am not penniless. The purchase may be humble, but the human attitude is one of pride in the sense of preserving self-respect – it’s a refusal to owe anything to the store and remain independent. As an adult and a pastor, it has been difficult for me through the years to allow others to be kind to me. Being in community involves loving one another – Jesus commanded this in John 13:34-35 – but we cannot truly love someone else until we are willing to allow them to reciprocate and love us in return.
Children are able to share. The cry of “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” has been heard in many a child’s playroom, but children are also able to share with other children as they play together. The last of the Ten Commandments speaks to us of envy and coveting – the desire to have something or control over someone, and for the other person to lose that ownership or control: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. It’s not coveting for you to want the same car as your neighbor – you want THAT car, and you want your neighbor to lose it. You wish to win, in other words, and for another to lose. This is the opposite of humility.
Children do compete. Coveting is a desire to be superior, and for someone else to be inferior, and so it applies to ambitions of all kinds. Pride fuels a desire for conquest. Wikipedia points out that Martin Luther felt that “the tenth commandment is not intended for the rogues of the world, but for the pious, who wish to be praised and considered as honest and upright people, because they have not broken any of the outward commandments. Luther sees covetousness in the quarreling and wrangling in court over inheritances and real estate. He sees covetousness in financial transactions practiced in a manner to obtain houses, castles, and land through foreclosure.” Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15: And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It all becomes a game, the desire to win all the counters from all the other players.
Children can admit their hurts and pains. Jesus told this parable in Luke 18:9-14: He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In this complex parable, Jesus refers to the tax collector as humble while anyone can see the pride in the Pharisee. But consider: the humility of the tax collector allows him to request forgiveness and acknowledge that he is a sinner. And, indeed, compared to the Pharisee, the tax collector probably a wicked man. But only the wicked man was justified, forgiven, because only the wicked man asked for forgiveness; the proud man assumed that no forgiveness was needed, a fatal mistake that occurs when we compare ourselves with others. Humility allows us to see our faults and desire, even seek out, forgiveness from God.
Children can allow themselves to be seen as they are. As we draw closer to the light of Christ as described in John 3 and 1 John 1, it’s obvious that the light displays are faults more clearly for all to see them. People pull back into the dark so as to hide their faults. Humility is being authentic with others. (See the link for this post below.)
One of the most beautiful passages on humility is found in Philippians 2:3-13, which includes the hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11:
Phil 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Phil 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Have this mind among you, Paul says – a humble mind, like that of Jesus, who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Perhaps humility is best described by Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
The first three steps of what is known as the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous describe such a submission to God. To take these steps is an exercise in humbling yourself and recognizing your own limitations. And then in Step 4, we begin to list those shortcomings in preparation to confess them to another human being in Step 5. These steps are seen as a process of humility: “Another great dividend we may expect from confiding our defects to another human being is humility—a word often misunderstood. To those who have made progress in A.A., it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move toward humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies.” (12 & 12. Pg. 58)
The Purpose Driven Life sums it up: You can develop humility in very practical ways: by admitting your weaknesses, by being patient with others’ weaknesses, by being open to correction, and by pointing the spotlight on others…. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don’t think of themselves. And, as in all these different aspects of the value of community, lessons in humility will come to us through our relationships with other people.
The recent naming of Pope Francis has provided a number of examples of humility. One significant example is that the new pope has not changed his humble practice of faith much since his promotion to a high seat of power. Previous popes had washed the feet of twelve carefully chosen priests … but Francis chose to wash the feet of teenagers in prison. Here are some comments from this amazing story:
Previous popes would carry out the foot-washing ritual on Holy Thursday in Rome’s grand St. John Lateran basilica and the 12 people chosen for the ritual would always be priests to represent the 12 disciples. (Not very humble.)
Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service. “This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.” Later, the Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices — part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society. It’s a message that he is continuing now that he is pope, saying he wants a church “for the poor.”
What’s not mentioned is that two of the teenage prisoners were Muslims. What a difference humility makes!
Some quotes in italics are from Day 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
For a definition of humility in various world religions and philosophies, see the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humility. For the discussion on coveting, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou_shalt_not_covet.
The quote on humility from the 12 Step Community can be read in context here: http://home.capecod.net/~action-12steps/hu/
The blog post on how visible our faults become as we draw close to the light of Jesus is entitled “My Purpose Driven Life: – Day 18 – Part 3: Authenticity, part 2” and can be read here: http://disciplewalk.com/ambidextrous/2013/03/25/my-purpose-driven-life-day-18-part-3-authenticity-part-2/
The photo is of Pope Francis washing the foot of a prisoner at Casal del Marmo youth prison in Rome March 28, 2013. It can be viewed at: http://news.yahoo.com/photos/pope-francis-washes-foot-prisoner-casal-del-marmo-photo-191007309.html.
The news story about the event which is quoted is “Pope Francis washes feet of young detainees in ritual” by Nicole Winfield (AP) from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/03/28/pope-frances-washes-feet/2028595/