Have you ever needed to be rescued … from you?
Paul warned the young preacher Timothy (First Timothy 1:6-7) that certain teachers within the church would get way off-track, and even “wander away into vain discussion … without understanding … the things about which they make confident assertions.” I’ve been thinking recently about the dangers of teaching (or preaching, or leading, or even engaging in discussion) without bona fide humility. One of the realities for ministry leaders who get off-track is this: they rarely go alone. Often other people are dragged down with the spiritual leader who loses his or her way.
It’s so easy for us to become impressed by ourselves. That’s especially true for those of us who love to teach, and who are admired for even miniscule skill in communicating God’s truth. Who doesn’t want to be called “Rabbi, Rabbi”? Who doesn’t want to be known as a doctrinal expert? Who doesn’t want to be recognized for obvious aptitude in rightly dividing the Lord’s Word? Who doesn’t enjoy a little applause for a Bible lesson home run? The problem starts when we start believing that we deserve any of those kudos at all.
All of us are just myopic enough to think that we’ve got a corner on the truth. That our interpretation is pure, while everyone else’s is tainted. That our theological stripe lines up perfectly with God’s ideal. That our worldview is without its blind spots. Next thing you know we’re preaching (or teaching, or just talking) for personal gain, if only for the self-satisfaction of being right.
Pride is easy for us to spot among the rich and famous, but people can also spot it in religious leaders from a mile away! Pride threatens to choke the very life out of our souls, and it can wound our closeness with God – as well as our once-tight bonds of friendship with others. Humility, though often mistaken as weakness in our confused culture, becomes a window through which others can see the love of Jesus in and through us.
If Jesus taught, lived, and led humbly, shouldn’t we? If He who was God “made himself nothing” and “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8), shouldn’t you and I be incessantly reminding – ourselves and others – that we have a long, long way to go before “spiritual maturity” would even be a fitting descriptor for the likes of us? I’m reminded of a quip from some of my old sermon notes: “Weak point. Pound pulpit hard.”
Beware of your dogmatic declarations, and I will try to do the same. Whether you’ve been a Christ-follower for a week, or for half a century, that’s pretty sound advice. We still need Jesus in everything we do. We’re still desperately dependent upon His Spirit for wisdom and grace. We’re still looking to Him for a perseverance that will stand the test of eternity.
C.S. Lewis said it like this: “To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert. Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”