Friday, November 21, 2014

The Most Misunderstood Virture

One of our young mothers has had a rough autumn so far.  Her husband is in another state doing military training, and she has twin baby boys.  Preemies, the twins are prone to sickness, so because of the germs of fall, she isn't able to leave the house as often as she would like.  A few days ago, I saw on Facebook that a sister had taken this young mother a simple meal and some cookies.  It was a kind gesture, one that hadn't even occurred to me because I lack the virtue of humility.

Does that sound funny?  We normally think of humility as a state of mind rather than a state of action.  But I would argue that true humility starts with seeing the needs of others, and is followed by positive action to meet those needs. The perfect model for all virtues is Jesus, and humility is no exception.  Here's what Paul had to say:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8, emphasis added)
Although the words "humility" and "humbled" only show up twice, they are bookends for a short discourse on humility with Jesus at the center. Jesus's humble obedience, which ended with his sacrificial death, sprang from a mind that was focused on us rather than himself.

First of all, Jesus had the right mindset.  C.S. Lewis said that "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."  Jesus knew exactly who he was: the Son of God, equal to him in every way.  He never claimed to be less than God; in fact, he often made sure that his followers and detractors alike knew that he was equal to God. (John 10:30, John 8:58, John 5:17-18, and others)  However, when it came time to leave heaven, to put on a physical body and join us in a corrupted world, Jesus did it.  His mindset was that his position as God's equal was less important than the work he would do on earth, culminating in his death on the cross.  He did as Paul said we should. He regarded us as more important and looked out for our interests.

It's hard for us to imitate that way of thinking.  I didn't think to take food to my struggling sister because that day I had to make a grocery list, buy gas, do my homework, help with kids' homework, cook supper, and begin to prepare my home for a youth devotional.  None of those things are bad, but I was so focused on MY day, MY job, MY interests that I didn't consider the needs of others. It takes determined practice to be less self focused. There isn't some secret formula other than making a conscious decision to focus first on Jesus and then on others, and to pray for God's help as you do so. The more we make a concerted effort to be focused on the needs of others, the easier and more natural it will become.

Humility can't stop with an attitude, though.  Paul said Jesus "humbled himself by becoming obedient," even though his obedience was costly.  It doesn't do any good to consider the needs of others if we aren't willing to meet them too (James 2:15-16).  Sometimes that means putting our own needs on hold.  If I had thought to help my sister, I would have had to let something else go. Serving others is often inconvenient, messy, even painful.  But when I put my own discomforts next to Jesus's sacrifice, they seem pretty insignificant. 

Humility is probably one of the most misunderstood of Christian virtues.  We often think of someone who is free from pride.  While a humble person probably doesn't have much sinful pride, the lack of vice does not equal a virtue.  Simply not "tooting your own horn" doesn't make someone humble.  Instead, a heart of humility is a heart that sees the needs of others and meets them, no matter the sacrifice.  Jesus had a heart of humility; I want to have one too.


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