“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Ephesians 4:2 NLT
Being humble. If there was ever a life-condition that is truly counter-cultural then this is it. We live in a world where self is king (or queen!). Where we are told it’s all about “me”. Companies run courses in “self-assertiveness”. Children are encouraged to “stickup for themselves” in the classroom and playground. We’re told not to let people “trample all over us”. We score points if we get “one over” someone else. Our politicians look for opportunities to further their own ambitions, if necessary to the detriment of their colleagues. “Ruthlessness” is a quality often revered in others. But Paul says, “Always be humble and gentle” – living life the Jesus-way involves a lifestyle of humility.
Jesus taught us how to be humble. In John 13 we read how Jesus, the disciples’ Lord and Master, did the most menial of tasks – He washed the dirt and grime from His disciple’s feet. This was almost too much for Peter – he couldn’t understand how Someone he looked up to, who he recognised as the Messiah, who he had placed on a pedestal occupied, in his mind, by the greatest Person who had ever lived, could wash his feet. This amazing Person kneeling before him, taking each foot in turn, washing away all the detritus from his feet and between his toes, wiping over the corns and callouses, and then drying them carefully on a towel. But that is what Jesus did in an eternal act of humility that was just as counter-cultural in those days as it would be today. Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted those who were proud and arrogant; the door into the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to such people.
Paul picked up this theme again in Philippians 2. We read, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had“. (Verses 3-5).
So why is humility so important in the lives of Christians? And what does a humble lifestyle look like? The very essence of the Gospel is looking out for the needs of others instead of our own needs. We have a message of hope, a message that is counter-cultural in a war-torn and unhappy world. But to be delivered effectively it has to be supported by the right attitude. An attitude of love. An attitude of grace. An attitude of acceptance. An attitude of humility. We must always deliver our message gently and respectfully. Not rising to insults and rudeness.
We all have faults. Don’t believe it if someone says they don’t. But we have a tendency to ignore our own faults and only see those in others. Paul reminded us in the second part of today’s verse that we must overlook the faults we see in our brothers and sisters in the faith, because we love them. Humility and gentleness leads the way in all our relationships, both inside and outside the Church. We pilgrims must remember that we are all “damaged goods”, damaged by sin, damaged by negative influences, damaged through contact with those in the world around us, damaged by our own misguided mistakes and choices. But, thanks be to God, He hasn’t finished yet in rebuilding our lives. We are being reborn and in the process we are becoming more and more like Jesus. And underpinning it all is love. Through our love for our brothers and sisters we must always treat them with humility and respect, mentally washing their feet every time we meet them.