The Humble Won’t Crumble

A post this morning from Phil Schroeder.  You will enjoy his posts!  Look for his bio soon on the authors’ page.

Once upon a time there were two brothers who grew up on a farm.  One went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a partner in a prominent law firm in the state capital.  The other brother stayed on the family farm.  One day the lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, “Why didn’t you go out and make a name for yourself so that you could hold your head up high in the world like me?”  His farming brother pointed outside and said, “See that wheat field over there?  Notice that the heads that are standing up are empty, while those that are well-filled are bowed low.”

It’s hard for people to be humble. Yet this is what Jesus called his followers to be.  “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-37).

Why is it so hard to be humble? I think it’s because humility cannot coexist with its nemesis– pride.  Pride says, “Me first.”  Humility says, “You first.”  Pride says, “I expect special treatment.”  Humility says, “I expect common treatment.”  Pride says, “You should know who I am.”  Humility says, “I want to know who you are.”   Pride says, “I’m the best.”  Humility says, “There’s always someone better.”  Pride notices how other people treat it.  Humility doesn’t.

In all of us, pride wars for our hearts.  In the long run however, the one who is hurt the most by pride is the one who is ruled by it.

The following story illustrates why.  Two mountain goats met each other on a narrow ledge just wide enough for only one of the animals to pass safely.  On one side was a high cliff with a long drop to the bottom. On the other side was a steep wall.  There was no way for them to squeeze past each other. If they acted like many people do, they would have stood there refusing to move until one gave way to the other. Eventually they would have butted heads until they both plunged over the edge.  But that’s not what happened. These two goats had more sense than that.  One of them lay down on the trail and let the other literally walk over him.  And then both were able to continue safely.

Unity is impossible without humility. The church that is humble won’t crumble. (By that, I mean the church that is made up of humble people. I’m talking about the people here, not an institution.)

“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

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5 Responses to The Humble Won’t Crumble

  1. Widsith says:

    Excellent post, and true whenever churches are healthy.

    A negative aspect of humility, though, is when the call to humility is a substitute for accountability. It happened in one unhealthy church and in an unhealthy mission organization in knew. Both organizations used the idea of humility to guilt members after they brought a moral concern to light. Every time someone approached leadership with an issue about moral neglect in the congregation/mission, the leaders refused to address the issue and chided the members for not being humble and not submitting to leadership. Again, these were spiritually unhealthy evangelical Christian organizations, although they considered themselves to be healthy and blessed by God.

    This is a trend I’ve noticed as I’ve heard peoples’ stories and researched church issues. What this leads to, I’ve been learning, is that true humility will always include a willingness to be accountable and transparent. This is especially true for leaders.

    As your article suggests, it’s certainly true that in our culture we generally lack humility, and the church has absorbed this attitude to some degree as well. Meanwhile, to guard against spiritual abuse (especially the subtle kind that largely goes unchecked), we must also remember that the call to humility can be used as a tool to manipulate.

    So in our desire to be humble, we also need to guard ourselves against being told by leaders that humility means not holding them to a healthy ethical and moral standard.

  2. Widsith says:

    Sorry, that should read, “and in an unhealthy mission organization I knew” (not “in” knew). My copy editing skills are sketchy before breakfast.

  3. philipschroeder says:

    Widsith, no apology necessary. Who of us hasn’t put a type-o in a comment thread?🙂

    Your comment is excellent and well-taken. I think you have a good point. To use the goat illustration in my original post, if one goat said to the other goat, “You’re the one who needs to be humble. You lay down so that I can walk over you.”, there’s a problem. One Christian shouldn’t be saying to another, “You be the one who’s humble so that I get my way.”

    Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. ” (Ephesians 5:21). In other words, Christians ought to be “arguing” about who gets to be the one to lie down. Kind of like the two people stuck at the door, neither one going in, because they are both saying, “You first.” “No, You first.”

    Both parties, all parties, need to be humble. So in a situation like you are describing, it would need be said to (and heard by) both the members AND the leadership. You are right, it’s a problem when one side is saying “be humble” to the other without necessarily being humble themselves.

    I think Peter helps us here. He said,

    1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

    5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

    6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

    Notice that he is guarding against exactly the sort of situations you describe. He tells the elders to be shepherds (i.e. to lead them in order to care for them), with a servant’s heart and not lording their authority over htem. And then after telling others to submit to elders, he says “ALL OF YOU, clothe yourselves with humility”. I think that he’s talking to both elders and regular members there. Everyone needs to be humble, and then we are modeling the kind of Christlike unity that God wants in his church.

  4. philipschroeder says:

    Now it’s my turn to apologize. I don’t know where that “are” came from.🙂 Also, I forgot to cite that passage – It’s 1 Peter 5:1-6.

  5. pebasv says:

    Great post and also a wonderful follow up conversation. It is important to note that the humility is a product of lowliness. It is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not so much an issue of our needing to learn or decide to be humble as it is an issue of us letting the Spirit produce that in our character. If that were the focus of our teaching you wouldn’t see misuse.

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