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How Understanding Humility Points Us to Unity
One inevitable outcome of a life in pursuit of Christ is the deeper wrestling with questions stirred up by a world — and an existence — that is often anything but simple.
For me, several of these questions have centered themselves in the juxtaposition of pride and humility.
I come from a line of prideful people. We are self-sufficient — we don’t need help, thanks. We’re put together; we’ve got it covered — that sort of thing.
It’s in understanding these parts of my lineage that I’ve uncovered tendencies in myself rooted in that same pride and individualism. But what to do about it? Years spent laboring to stand on my own two feet combined with a front-row seat to the tumultuous state of our world have made the concept of an independent, egocentric lifestyle much more appealing.
Yet, this independent arrogance is foreign to God’s design for His church.. “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” Paul asks the believers in Corinth. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body….Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:21, 27). Paul is speaking to the reality that, as Christians, we have each become part of something greater than ourselves: the universal Bride of Christ. We cannot have Christ without the Bride. There is simply no separating the two.
How, then, to live in a way that reflects this? Genuine interdependence leaves no room for pride. To combat my own prideful nature, I’ve had to recognize through the Holy Spirit its grip on my mind and heart while simultaneously learning to truly comprehend humility.
In my ponderings on life and faith, I’ve more than once found a friend in the compilations of C.S. Lewis. He has this to say about what he calls “the great sin”:
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others….It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. — Mere Christianity, p.122
What a thunderclap this was to me. Could it be that my desire for self-reliance was ingrained in a wish to be stronger, better, and more composed than the person sitting next to me? My brother or sister, my co-heir, my fellow image-bearer? In retrospect, I had to admit that this was often the case. In an ever-shifting, unpredictable world, I had found imaginary comfort in the idea that I had a surer footing in it than someone else.
Not only is this mindset directly in contrast with any attempt to integrate with a unified body of believers, it opposes a life centered in Christlike love and sacrifice. In essence, my pride blocks me from authentically living out the truth of the gospel.
Self-importance limits the capacity in which the Holy Spirit can effectively use us for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians 1:26–29, Paul makes a point to acknowledge God’s choice to call “…what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (ESV). During a recent sermon, Pastor Jacob Ley said in reference to this passage:
God often chooses to work through what is weak or lowly in the world because, in doing so, it removes the ability of human beings to make much of themselves….Understanding the nature of our salvation in Christ will always lead us to boast in God’s power and wisdom.
In other words, if I think to myself how clever I am to have written this blog post instead of acknowledging God’s immense generosity in gifting me the ability to compile the thoughts from my central nervous system onto a sheet of paper, then my focus is astronomically misplaced.
It’s important to note that the definition of humility is far from the absence of self-esteem. God created us uniquely beautiful, specifically talented, and equally in His image. We’re intended to find joy in the ways He’s intricately woven us, channeling our individuality back into praise.
The trouble begins when we start attributing that praise to ourselves instead of to God.
Romans 12:3 charges the Christ-follower to “…not think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” We have understood humility when we can look at ourselves honestly and, in doing so, see a creation made new in the love, kindness, and mercy of the Creator.
It is in acknowledging this miracle that we — the Bride of Christ — find our foremost common ground. It is here that we begin to see ourselves as we truly are:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. — Romans 12:4–5