Friday, March 28, 2008

The Uniform of Service

“And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5

I attended Women of Faith this summer and had the pleasure of watching a talented actress doing several monologues during the conference. She used very few props. A costume, something held in her hand, and lighting were all she needed to set the stage and help her become the character she was trying to portray. One memorable skit was when she became a diner waitress. She wore a typical waitress uniform, reminiscent of the 50's, an apron, and held a rag in her hand. But that was enough to transform her into a middle aged waitress who had watched life pass her by. Just a simple costume was enough to convince her audience that her words and thoughts were from this fictional character.

We, too, have a “costume” to put on when we prepare for service for the King. Peter tells us that our costume is humility. The Greek verb for “clothe yourselves” is a rare word in the NT. It is used to refer to a slave that puts on an apron before serving. Peter's writing indicates a necessary preparation for service is in a conscious decision to be humble.

This particular word for humility is used seven times in the New Testament. Paul uses it as an opposite to pride. It is interesting to see that Paul served with humility (Acts 20), yet did not shrink from proclaiming the truth. So we get an idea of humility which does not lack in confidence. It is just particular as to where that confidence originates. While pride is confidence in oneself, humility has no confidence other than in the Lord.

There is a positive and a negative kind of humility. Paul contrasts these two manifestations of humility in Colossians 2 and 3. He is writing the Colossians to help them guard against gnostic thought, a first century philosophy which was threatening the church with its heresy. Gnostics taught that everything material was evil; in order to become good, one must treat his physical body with contempt. The word humility is used within this context, translated by the NASB as “self-abasement.” Paul is clear: this kind of humility is not of the Lord. “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23)

Paul later goes on to talk about a godly kind of humility: “So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other. . .” (Colossians 3: 12-13) Do you see the difference? A person with the negative kind of humility despises himself. But positive humility comes as a result of having been chosen by God, set apart by God, and beloved by Him. With the confidence that our position in Christ gives us, we can choose to treat others as better than ourselves. Our confidence is not in ourselves. It is in what God has done for us. So we don’t need to put others around us down to build ourselves up.

When we understand how God views us, as His beloved and chosen one, we don’t have to do anything to make ourselves important. The fact is we are important to God. Therefore, we can relax about proving ourselves and concentrate instead on building each other up. We can put others first because we are already taken care of: we are His and in His hands. With such an astounding basis for security, humility is not so hard to "put on".

Jesus exemplified humility for us in the way He lived His life on earth. A memorable example is in John 13 when He washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Afterwards, He explained His actions to them: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. . . a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13: 14-16) The King of Kings demonstrated humility by performing one of the lowliest jobs available. He did it to exemplify His expectations of the kind of service His disciples should give.

Without this experience, they might have been tempted to lord it over others, due to the importance of their position. After all, Jesus had chosen them to be the privileged twelve. He would entrust them with building the church. Obviously they were special. But Christ, in His actions, knocked any temptation of pride in their service right out the door. If the Master sending them out was only humble in His service, they could do nothing more than the same.

How do we cultivate humility? By understanding our position in Christ. That we are truly, unconditionally loved and valued by God. We don’t need to prove ourselves as important or significant. He has done that for us. We are then free to love others in the way Christ loved the church: sacrificially and without a care for what we will get in return. And He has promised to give us the grace to do just that.

No comments: