1 Peter 3:8—Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Yesterday we discussed the need for local churches to be places of compassion. Next, Peter commands us to “have . . . . a humble mind.” In his book Humility, C.J. Mahaney says “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”[i] So humility does not mean that you have poor posture, low self-esteem or you’re an expert at self-deprecating humor. Humility is to look at God’s holiness and then your sinfulness and rightly understand who your are in light of both. Or to put it another way, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.
And that gets at the heart of why this virtue is included here. The greatest obstacle to unity, sympathy, and compassion is not mean-spiritedness. It’s pride. I love the way C.S. Lewis explains this in his book Mere Christianity. He writes: “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”[ii]
Why don’t we know those in our church family? Why don’t we take time to listen to their hurts? Why do we feel the need to interject with our own stories about our own pain, rather than step into the suffering of others? Why do we shy away from acting to alleviate the suffering of others? Why are we slow to show compassion? Why do we make excuses for why we shouldn’t act? Why do we justify ourselves, insisting that we’re doing enough? The answer to all these questions is pride.
Once again, C.S. Lewis is helpful. He writes this: "The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”[iii]
Perhaps you’ve been reading this today and you’re thinking about all these things that we’re supposed to expect from the local church. And then you’re thinking about your experience in local churches. What the Bible requires and what you’ve actually experienced are two very different things. Why? To paraphrase Lewis, pride is the chief cause of misery in every local church since the church age began. If you’ve been hurt by the church, the problem isn’t the church, the Bible, Christianity, or God Himself. The problem is pride.
So how can we learn to be humble people? Again, the answer is not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less. Pride fades away when your heart and mind are captivated by something far bigger and better than you. To show you what that is, on Saturday we’ll look at the final virtue that we should expect in the local church.
We should expect the local church to be a place of humility.
[i] Mahaney, C. J., Humility: True Greatness (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2005), 22.
[ii] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 128.
[iii] Lewis, 123–24.