February 4, 2021
In today's Reflections on Life Together, Scott shares how foundational humility and meekness are to genuine everyday ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can only truly serve when we don't consider ourselves superior, and we'll only consider ourselves rightly when we reckon the full weight of sin that Christ has forgiven us. But when we know his forgiving love, we'll delight in extending ministry to our brothers and sisters who share in Christ's forgiveness with us. #lifetogether #community #ministry #forgiveness #humility
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Romans 12:16)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philipians 2:3–4)
These are words that Paul wrote in Romans 12 and Philippians 2, and understanding them and living them is essential to the everyday ministry that followers of Christ are called to give to one another. Here is the core principle: You can’t serve someone else if you think that you are better than them or more important than them. It’s not that you can’t pretend to be serving them. It’s just that your ministry to them won’t actually be ministry, but rather manipulation—a way to gain control, to assert superiority over them by faking humility and helpfulness. Think about what Paul wrote. We are all tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We think of ourselves according to the measure of our flesh — according to the measure of our human strengths and accomplishments and points of pride (2 Corinthians 5:16) —rather than according to the measure of faith in Christ that we have graciously received from God in keeping with his wisdom. We are glad to associate with the lowly only when we don’t actually consider them lowly — at least, not any lowlier than we ourselves are. It is only prideful haughtiness that would make us distance ourselves and consider their concerns as irrelevant or less important than our own. We are glad to give their interests and needs full and focused attention because we consider them to be more significant than ourselves. We are meek in Christ. We recognize that we have power and potential and importance. But we are also willing to restrain that and put it in service of someone other than ourselves because we consider them just as important as we are. That is the ministry of humility and meekness. There is only one way to arrive at this kind of meekness and to sustain it beyond a fleeting moment, and Bonhoeffer helps us to see this clearly. To see ourselves accurately according to faith, our self-perception will be rooted in acknowledgement of the brokenness of our human nature. As Bonhoeffer writes:
He remembers the ambition of the first man who wanted to know what is good and evil and perished in his wisdom. That first man who was born on this earth was Cain, the fratricide [killer of his brother]. His crime is the fruit of man’s wisdom. Because the Christian can no longer fancy that he is wise he will also have no high opinion of his own schemes and plans. He will know that it is good for his own will to be broken in the encounter with his neighbor. He will be ready to consider his neighbor’s will more important and urgent than his own. (Life Together, p. 95).
But we need more than a permanent skepticism of our own wisdom and magnanimity. To minister to others in meekness each day, day after day, in any kind of sustained way, as more than a mere performance of self-justifying willpower that will eventually give out, we must recognize ourselves as sinners, even the greatest sinners, who have found forgiveness in Christ. Here’s how Bonhoeffer helps us grapple with this:
To forgo self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian. It sounds like an exaggeration, like an untruth. Yet even Paul said of himself that he was the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15); he said this specifically at the point where he was speaking of his service as an apostle. There can be no genuine acknowledgment of sin that does not lead to this extremity. If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible. Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations [or excuses] for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no [defense] whatsoever. Therefore my sin is the worst. He who would serve his brother in the fellowship must sink all the way down to these depths of humility. How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own? (p. 96–97)
How would it change every one of your relationships if you were quick to find understanding for the difficulties and weaknesses that made a brother or sister who sinned against you more vulnerable to temptation? If you were to be oppositely rigorous in making not even the slightest excuse for your own failure to fulfill the law of love towards them? What Bonhoeffer observes so acutely is that we can’t truly minister to and serve and love others when we look down on them and despise them. And we can’t help but disdain them if we think their sins are more despicable, more indefensible, more numerous than our own. Ministry that follows the way of Christ begins in love, and we’ll only have this love as we acknowledge that we are desperate for forgiveness no less than them—in fact, we know we need forgiveness quite likely more than them. As the Lord Jesus said in Luke 7:47, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” It is good news for all of us when we realize that we have actually been forgiven much. So we are able to grow in meekness when we grow in the knowledge of the forgiving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. We’ll consider God’s love for us more deeply as we consider Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians to know God’s love as we study the final half of Ephesians 3 in our Grow Groups this week. On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.