Thursday, June 22, 2017

Humility and Compromise

Most Christians would agree humility is a goal genuinely worth pursuing. After all, it is our Lord himself who both modeled it for us and encouraged us to behave humbly toward one another.

Paul picks up this theme and runs with it, declaring that disciples of the Lord Jesus are to, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Religious habits that promote personal exaltation over others are not Christian habits.

So why is it so many of us confuse humility with taking a “live and let live” attitude toward inferior teaching in our churches?

All Just Sinners Saved By Grace ... Especially Me

After all, we all make mistakes, right? Next week it might be you or me on the hot seat, so perhaps it’s better to keep our mouths shut and quietly carry on. After all, it’s not completely impossible we could be wrong about our understanding of this or that verse.

But to “outdo one another in showing honor”, as Paul puts it, is not to pretend that bad doctrine is good doctrine, that a weak interpretation is a strong one, or that a series of engaging personal stories delivered from the platform is on the same level as an exhaustively studied, accurate presentation of spiritual truth. It is not humility that motivates us to praise that which is less than praiseworthy. It may be a desire to be liked, or a desire to appear gracious, or a desire to avoid conflict, or all manner of other things, but it’s surely not humility.

The King Listened to Them

I think of Joash after the death of Jehoiada: “The princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them.”

Why on earth would Joash do that? He’d grown up in the temple with Jehoiada. He was declared king while holding the word of God in his hands in front of the whole nation. He’d even demonstrated his own spiritual initiative to the point of calling his old mentor to task for failing to move fast enough on his reforms.

Joash had shown over a period of years that he was in no doubt about the difference between right and wrong. But he went along with a group of “reformers” whose religious ideas were the antithesis of everything he had been taught and everything he had previously stood for. It was not “he”, but “they” who “abandoned the house of the Lord”. Joash just went along for the ride.

So did the attention of the princes appeal to his pride? Had years of taking spiritual direction from the old priest led him to feel the truth he had heard was in some way not really his? Was this the sort of false humility that says, as Aaron must have done, “Well, if everybody wants this idol business, there must be something in it. Who am I to stand in their way?”

Another Slice of Sermon, Please

What is it exactly that prevents us from acting on years of well-developed spiritual instinct and knowledge of the scripture? Many Christians are perfectly able to accurately dissect a bad sermon over Sunday lunch with our families, but few among us can bring themselves to take the same sort of critique to the source of the error and have it out in a godly way where it might actually do some good.

Is it humility that holds us back? I doubt it.

Humility is most clearly demonstrated in behavior that lifts up others while taking the low place. That means doing the unpleasant jobs, the dirty jobs, the jobs nobody else really wants to do. Like confrontation and correction. Nobody likes those.

Nobody likes footwashing either. When the Lord Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was both setting them an example and showing them his love. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He demonstrated that love by performing a series of menial tasks that everyone else was happy to have avoided.

The Easy and the Necessary

At the same time, the Lord did not choose to demonstrate his humility by asking Simon Peter to lead the disciples in a meditation on Isaiah and following it by applauding him as if his comparatively immature thoughts were the spiritual equivalent of rain on the mown grass.

We hear a lot these days about “servant leadership”, as if a true servant leads from behind, politely inquiring if anyone else would like another hot cup of false doctrine or even just a nice bowl of flaccid rhetoric. But the fact that he was the quintessential servant leader never stopped the Lord from leading authoritatively. He was humble but he was not in the least malleable. There was no compromise in him.

I think it is possible — no, actually, I’m sure it is morally obligatory — to carefully analyze and correct the public teaching to which our churches are regularly exposed without being proud or un-Christlike about it.

I’m not saying it’s EASY, but I do think it’s necessary.

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