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Serving With Humility

(John 13:1-17)

Lesson 8 -- third quarter 2008
July 20, 2008

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2008

Where are the nobodies?

We can become rather smug with regard to John 13. After all, we have stayed the course, we have kept the faith -- we still practice feet washing. I am pricked by something far deeper and more significant than just pouring warm water on a brother's foot (already clean and deodorized, of course!) and then tapping it with a towel a few times. The principle behind the ordinance makes me uncomfortable.

You see, I willingly "wash" a brother's feet, but would I willingly take a task no one else wishes to do? That's what Jesus did! He did not wash His disciples' feet because it was such a great thing to do. He washed their feet because their feet actually needed washing. He washed their feet because it was such a lowly task, so lowly they didn't consider doing it.

What nobody-wants-to-do-it tasks does your congregation have? (I suspect in mine they are janitor work and cemetery mowing!) Something is grievously wrong if our churches lack "nobodies." The Bible leaves me with the strong impression that every church should be full of them -- 100% so. Perhaps this situation indicates we have lost the spirit of the foot washing service much as the world has forgotten the significance of...Christmas, for instance.

Lowliness is a threatening proposition! Humility poses a tremendous threat to self. Meekness has been defined as the opposite of self-interest. How many interpersonal and church problems could we resolve if we lived by the spirit of feet washing all the year round!

Can I know that I am humble?

Humility is not a hidden virtue or an invisible fruit. Even so, a simple question -- Are you humble? -- makes us uncomfortable and squeamish. Answer "yes" and someone will almost hand you a scarlet P to pin on your forehead (the P to identify you as PROUD and the pin to deflate your swelled head). Answer "no" and you openly acknowledge your disobedience to Scriptures such as Matthew 23:12, Colossians 3:12, James 4:10, and 1 Peter 5:5.

Some accuse others of becoming proud of their humility. Most of us seem to take for granted that the truly humble live blissfully unaware of their humility. Perhaps we do not understand humility. Far too many have a mystical view of humility -- they see it as something intangible, nebulous, obscure. That is not so! Humility is extremely visible, definable, and tangible. Humility is not an abstract concept, it is a very concrete reality!

Humility is something you DO. Humility cleans the church property, takes a casserole to a new mother, acknowledges the rightness of an opposing viewpoint, yields to the will of the church, disposes of used Pampers in the nursery, waits till last at potluck meals, enters in the celebration of the victors, refuses to speak demeaningly of an "enemy." So, are you humble? What are you going to DO today to act humbly?

Humility is not thinking poorly of yourself. "I'm no good" or "She's a better seamstress than I" does not illustrate humility. "I'm all thumbs when it comes to singing" may be a great example of a mixed metaphor but not of an humble spirit. Humility recognizes one's value, abilities, and accomplishments.

Humility is choosing others first. Humility is the choice to not live a self-focused life. Humility is choosing to be consumed with and by the well-being of others. Humility is making the above choices when my position, abilities, rights, and power all entitle and enable me to put myself first.

"Put on therefore...humbleness of mind" (Colossians 3:12) and "Be clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5:5) both call into question the idea that humility is some mystical grace undetectable by those who possess it. I believe an humble person can recognize his own humility without immediately losing it for having done so. (Just don't go around trumpeting your humility. That's playing in the key of mi, which isn't humility at all.)

So you see, humility is also a state of HEART (Matthew 11:29) and MIND (Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12). You can fake the DOING part of humility. Pride and self-interest can DO some of the same things that humility does. However, the humbleness of MIND referred to in Philippians 2:5-8 is inimitable. But I assure you that it is recognizable (Acts 20:18-19).

PS: You must be humble if you would be victorious (James 4:6), satisfied (Psalm 22:26), wise (Proverbs 11:2), and at peace (Psalm 37:11).

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