Has anyone ever deliberately done something that makes you feel inferior or look bad in the eyes of others? For example, have you ever been physically bullied, has someone ever made a belittling remark about you, or spread bad rumours about you behind your back? They may have used phrases about you such as, “That brought her down a peg or two” or “That made him eat humble pie.” Let me make it clear, you were not humbled, but humiliated. There is a difference.
Humble, like love, is a verb. It is a doing word. And if you are humbled it means that someone is expressing humility towards you. The word humble comes from the Latin “humilis” which means lowly, grounded, earthen, or of low birth.
“To be humble means to be lowly, modest, self-effacing, unpretentious, ordinary, gentle, modest, respectful, and looking out for others to serve. The humble person will set aside self-regard: nothing and no one will be above them.” (Martyn Percy, 2021)
Therefore if you are humbled it means someone has made themselves lower than you — through their thoughts, words, or actions. They have respected you, honoured you, or put themselves out for you.
And humility should be the hallmark of the church. Why? Because despite being radical, spiritual, and political, Jesus was also vulnerable, humble, and grounded. As Paul writes in his letter to the church in the town called Phillipi:
“(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
If I asked you to tell me the most pressing problem facing the church today, you may suggest that it is the decline in numbers. And when any organisation or community faces a crisis, they do two things: they seek to address that crisis and protect that which remains. And we see those two things at play. We put an urgent emphasis on church growth (how we can get more bums on pews) and we seek to protect the fabric, traditions, and customs we have long held dear. And often, the growth-strategist and the protectionist — even though they both want the same thing — find themselves in bitter conflict. However, neither is the answer. Jesus did not say that the greatest commandment is to grow or protect the church. He said, and confirmed, that our first priority, above everything else, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Everything we do, everything for which we are custodians over, should be about fulfilling the church’s role to love God and neighbour. Everything. Our income, our expenditure, our buildings, our spaces, our programmes, our projects, our worship, and our ministry.
The church does not exist to be self-consumed, self-serving, or self-important. Our questions should not be, “How can we get more bums on pews?” or “How can we protect our heritage?” but, “How can we live and be God’s Kingdom such that others are invited and welcomed into it? How can we be the body of Christ, glorifying God, and following Jesus?”
How can we lower ourselves, be self-effacing, unpretentious, ordinary, gentle, modest, respectful, and look out for others to serve? How can we set aside self-regard such that nothing and no one will be above us? How can we be a humble church?
To be humble means to take risks. To serve and love others means putting ourselves out there for others. This is exactly what Jesus did. God took a risk in reaching out and down to humanity and even gave himself up on a cross. Being humble will undoubtedly be costly to ego, comfort, and perhaps, even life itself.
Jesus’ teaching is full of examples of how to put humility into practice. For example he said, “When you lay on a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, siblings, relatives, or wealthy neighbours, in case they may invite you in return. If they did that then you’d be repaid. No, when you throw a dinner party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
Who are the poor, crippled, and lame in our society? Perhaps those who are lost, cast aside, or misunderstood — the broken, the marginalised, the hurting, the wounded, and the downtrodden.
So, may we be a church that takes risks.
May we invite people to God’s banquet.
And may we be a humble church.