“Be completely humble …” Ephesians 4 v2
I was recently speaking with a Pastor and his assistant in one of my regions. I asked the assistant if he would ever like to lead his own church. Within his response he said these words, “the Pastor always gives me opportunities, he is always asking me to preach, he is happy to lead me from behind me.” It didn’t fully register with me until last week when for a 3 day prayer event we were holding this Lead Pastor emailed their church prayer requests that I had asked all the Pastors for. I had asked them to name their ministerial teams. He put his name last behind the other assistant pastors on his team. I flipped it around as I produced the schedule and put his name first (so the Pastors of mine will not be able to identify him in this blog!) This of course doesn’t mean that all the others were in any way arrogant by putting their name first ahead of their assistants. Not at all. I would probably do the same. However, it does reveal what this word humble means. It means lowliness of mind in the recognition of the value of others.
I remember sitting with a leader on a journey who was passing on his leadership ability to me. He told me of his many fights with people and how he had won the arguments. I could see how people wanted to be like him for his rhetorical skills, his dogged determination to deal with any slight confrontation and his strength of character for any situation.
But I wondered if he ever wept. What broke his heart?
Good leaders weep.
Until racism and every other negative ism brings us to tears we will never understand humility.
Maybe Paul is thinking back to when he had said goodbye to the Ephesian elders after he asked them to meet him at Miletus. In a very moving farewell speech he says these words, “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears …” (Acts 20:19)
When Paul wrote these prison words the culture of the day was that the word was always used disparagingly and often towards a slave. That attitude of the world threatens the Church even today. Being humble is obviously a trait we all believe in but it doesn’t get a huge mention and we never talk about it as something to aspire to. In fact if you were to say I am humble well that just proves you are not. But why is this so? I think we need more people in all spheres of society, in the Church and outside of it, who will stand up and say one of the hallmarks of their life, the axis of their worldview is that they are lowly in their thinking of themselves and they recognise the value of others above their own value. What’s the worst thing can happen? The response is ‘No you’re not, I can prove it.’ That will only serve the humble well as we work on being more like Christ. The humble will never fight over whether they are humble or not they will just try and be even more for to be humble is to be like the Lord Jesus Christ.
We don’t pride ourselves on our works. We also tell the stories of our failures. Paul was continually aware that he was a sinner, the persecutor of the church and of Jesus Christ, the least of the apostles etc.
I try to be true to the story of my life. We tend to hide our failings and talk of our successes. Our failings that are mentioned only put us in a good light as God brought good out of them. We are afraid of losing friends and fame if we mention when we had failed.
As we carry the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives then we must also carry those sins that he redeemed us from. Paul in his other writings from prison will remind us of how Jesus lowered himself, abased himself is a beautiful word, made man, made flesh. We don’t fully realise the abasement of these words (I needed to use the word again!). We preach Christ crucified, we pray in our imagination to a human Jesus, a servant, the Son of Man. We carry those earthy, human images in our mind because that is true. Yet what is true is He is God!
If we carry the cross in our hearts then why do we only speak of our exaltation? Of course I am not suggesting we create badges saying ‘I am humble’. But I do think when people ask us what has been the thing that has brought exaltation in your life we say it is because I became humble. (Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10) But also that I am working at being completely humble and that may take some time yet!