I’m good enough because _____. What’s in your blank? For some of us, it’s performance at work or school. If the salary or the grades are high enough, then we are good enough. The list of justifications goes on and on. It’s all too easy for us to try and justify our own worth based on the things we do. Thankfully, the gospel redeems this corrupted sense of worth by reshaping our understanding of humility.
As a church, we have been studying 1 Corinthians. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, where pride and tribalism are causing divisions within the church (1:10-13). During a sermon discussion at my small group, we asked ourselves: What is the solution to pride? Humility, of course, seemed to be the correct answer. But what really is humility? If pride is thinking too highly of yourself, then humility might be having a poor view of yourself. Our human understanding falters between two extremes with pride and humility: either we think we are far more amazing than we ought or we think we are far worse than we ought. Hubris and self-loathing are at conflict, and there seems to be no middle-ground in sight. But humility as self-loathing is not true, gospel-centered humility.
Tim Keller writes,
The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself (The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness).
Does Dr. Keller’s explanation change what you think of humility?
For my small group, it absolutely did. We talked about the idea that humility informed by the gospel means thinking of yourself less, not thinking more or less of yourself. The difference in wording is small, but the difference in meaning is monumental. Humility isn’t thinking poorly of yourself. Instead, it is thinking of yourself less frequently. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, Paul says that he does not judge himself because he knows that his identity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. He is free to care for other people in a genuine, all-encompassing way because he isn’t worried about what others think of him. He is content is knowing that God saved him and will be the only judge of his character.
So how do you know if you are exhibiting gospel humility? Tim Keller has some ideas about that, too. One test is how you handle criticism. Are you devastated by reasonable criticism? If so, you’re probably too focused on what other people think about you. Are you completely unaffected by reasonable criticism? Do you find yourself thinking, What do they know? I know exactly what I’m doing. I don’t need to listen to them. If so, you’re probably too prideful. You’re not listening to areas where you can improve. But, if you hear reasonable criticism and view it as an opportunity to change, you’re exhibiting gospel-humility.
There’s another test for the presence of gospel humility that my small group discussed. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, while you were speaking, you felt like the only person in the world? The person who was listening to you probably had a good grasp of gospel humility. They are able to put aside their own comments and experiences in order to truly listen to you. They are listening to understand instead of listening to respond.
The Freedom of Gospel Humility
There is freedom in trusting that God has saved us, that He alone is who we are striving to please. There is freedom in forgetting yourself in order to genuinely listen to others. The gospel transforms our sense of identity when we trust that God’s gracious love is at the core of who we are. Then, we can think of ourselves less frequently and focus our attention on the people whom God has placed in our lives for us to love.
- Ask yourself the diagnostic questions above and think how the gospel applies to your reactions
- How do I handle reasonable criticism?
- How often am I focussed on myself in conversations with others?
- Spend some time meditating on how the gospel challenges our boasting but also our self-loathing
- Pick two people you know who you can pray for every day this week, and grow in becoming more other-person centered
- Listen to our recent sermon on this topic from 1 Corinthians 4 below
- Read The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. Available in our church library or to purchase for $2 here