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Humility or Fear of Man?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2:3-4

The virtue of humility seems always to have been exalted in my upbringing, and for that I am grateful.  Human nature is to be self-consumed and for that reason, I need to be told repeatedly that considering others above myself and looking to their interests in addition to my own (or at times, instead of my own) brings about a broader benefit than only looking out for “me and mine”.  This isn’t socialism, it is the basic way of the cross, choosing to die so that others may live.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col. 3:12

Humility is inextricably entangled with compassion, patience, gentleness and kindness.  It is very hard to exhibit genuine humility while screaming reproachfully with my middle finger in the air at the person in my way.  Or, sometimes what I call “honesty” is a thinly veiled excuse for seating myself in the judge’s chair, critiquing the hearts, words and actions of others without compassion, kindness, gentleness or patience and therefore without humility.  But hey, I’m just bein’ honest.

Unfortunately, there is something in my high esteem for humility that results in my feeling shame every time I speak up, disagree, have a critique or passionate opinion.  In fact, just about every time I inject myself into a conversation in an unguarded manner, I leave feeling like a buffoon, a bull in a china shop, a fool, a talking head, a volatile bar patron prone to conflict.  I feel like Animal in the Muppets, who gets so carried away playing the drums that he often ends up destroying the drum set in some way.   At some point, I married humility with silence, invisibility, stoicism and ultimately being more like a chameleon than a particularly and uniquely designed, necessary part of the Body.  I’ve begun to realize there is something fundamentally wrong about my pursuit of humility, perhaps beginning with the pursuit itself.  Within my “humility” there is actually great pride and even another source of self-righteousness.

Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life.  Prov. 22:4

What I fear or am shamed by isn’t really about Jesus at all, it is about the way the other people in my interactions think about me.  My humility isn’t about compassion or patience, its about my reputation.  What I often call humility is actually more about people liking me and approving of me than taking on a servant’s nature in honor of the Lord.  My “humility” is often more about protecting my image than laying it down.  My notion of humility fears being seen and sinning against others, all the while living with the deception that it is even possible for me to slip in and out of relational contexts without ever actually sinning against others.

What if God made me, like Animal, to play the drums loudly and energetically and what if every now and then a drum stick flies out of my hand and hits someone on the head?  What if while playing the drums enthusiastically I bust right through one of the drum faces or break a cymbal?  Or, what if every single time I play the drums I get so carried away that I drool and sweat and have sticks flying?  Can I not then apologize to the wounded friend or make the necessary repairs of my drum set?  But out of a self-serving impostor of humility, I have chosen to do what Animal did in the most recent Muppet Movie and check myself in to Anger Management, forsaking drum playing so as to avoid the way it can open me up to critique or possibly cause harm.   I am not resting in His righteousness alone, but in opinion poll righteousness or even, humility righteousness!

So, the person and work of Jesus offers a third way.  While trying to make myself humble, I can err on the one hand by making it a guise for self-preservation behind which to hide and on the other, a manipulative tool to serve my own ego as if it is in humility that I am justified before God and man.  The third way opened up to me through the person and work of Jesus comes by the basic reality that in my bullishness or aggressive drumming, I have peace with God not because of my sinlessness, but because of His.  Practically, this means I can play my drums boldly and expect to seek forgiveness along the way, and have confidence that it will be found.  The real humility, it turns out, is in opening myself up to the critique of others because I already have peace with the One whose opinion matters most.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ  have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  2 Peter. 1:1-2

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