CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Good and Faithful Servant, Part 4
Courage and Humility
By Christopher Schwinger
Part 1: Evangelizing the Lost and Helping the Disadvantaged
Part 2: Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility
Part 3: Knowing God and Generosity
Part 4: Courage and Humility
Part 5: Growing in Grace
There is a fine balance between working hard in God's service and trying to win His approval. Duty is a good motivation when it comes out of a devoted relationship, but becomes legalistic when it's attempting to win God's favor, as if a relationship can be earned. Paradoxically, the desperate attempt to please God becomes a barrier to fellowship. On the contrary, pleasing God becomes natural and spontaneous, instead of forced, when we begin with an understanding of God's character and then grow from there. When the path starts with our attempts, it leads to bondage, but when it starts with God's revelation of His kindness, it leads to a healthy kind of duty.
This is the fourth in a series on how being a good and faithful servant starts in the heart.
One other important observation about the Good Samaritan story is that he initiates kindness without expecting to be paid back, which is one of the ways Jesus takes the Mosaic covenant to a new level. Everything was about rewards and punishments in the Mosaic Law. But Jesus said, "If you give to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners give to sinners in order to receive back the same amount" (Luke 6:34, which I changed from "lend" to "give" to broaden the meaning). An overlooked type of courage the Good Samaritan exerted is that he knew he would not be paid back. It was his duty as a human being, because God gives everyone a degree of moral light, to be kind to this helpless man.
Courage is required in many situations, and sometimes it's very subtle. Others may not always know whether what we do is courageous or not, and sometimes it is courageous just to emotionally take the risk that the person you help will not reciprocate. Jesus' courage was demonstrated when He was like a Good Samaritan to those ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. Only one of them returned to thank Him after being healed, and He may have been talking about spiritual cleansing when He told just that one man, "Stand up and go; your faith has made you well." That man was a Samaritan, by the way.
Eighth, humility is the foundation of all morality: Without humility, we cannot pray, and without prayer, we cannot develop in the compassion needed to genuinely love others. If pride is why Adam and Eve sinned, and pride leads to rebellion, then humility, its opposite, is the foundation for all morality. I like to compare models of morality and think Mencius, a Confucian scholar who came after Confucius, had a very good understanding of morality. He believed we have innate moral potential as children to develop in wisdom, righteous conduct, manners (adherence to social customs that keep society stable), and compassion — four cardinal virtues. An interesting idea he had, which he used to prove we have natural moral instincts, is that people with nothing to gain from it would rescue a baby from a well if they came upon it. The part of his thinking that interests me the most is that in his model, compassion should be the cardinal virtue that enlightens the other three cardinal virtues. This is very much like Pauline thinking that the works of the law and writings of the Old Testament mean nothing without love ("If I have all knowledge and exercise all spiritual gifts but have not love, I am nothing" — my paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13), or the very Protestant-oriented Andy Griffith Show where Barney represents law and burdensome, impractical restriction while Andy represents grace and flexibility and is always much better at improving situations because of it. The way to grow in compassion, which touches all other facets of our personalities and responses, is not by trying harder at the virtues of wisdom, righteous conduct, and manners, but by focusing on humility. Mencius named characteristics which are seeds that develop into the cardinal virtues, and there's not an exact parallel in his model to humility, but he has an interesting point, that the roots of morality are in us as children, and we need to grow in them. This is not contrary to Biblical thinking, either. Jesus said that to enter the kingdom of God, we must become like little children, which means being teachable and dependent, characteristics we have naturally — synonymous with humility. When we focus on the basic virtues, instead of trying harder to perform according to everyone's expectations, then the virtue of compassion will develop and we can live authentically.
In our practical Christian lives, humility is what will help us to not rationalize our questionable actions and attitudes. People who are very focused on "the rules" are also inclined to be hypocritical. It was true of the Jewish religious leaders Jesus confronted. These are empty "works of the law," as Paul would say in Romans. When we see the purpose of rules, and are tuned into compassion, it becomes so much easier to discern when to break them in order to help people, as Jesus continually insisted. He referred to David eating the showbread under necessity, Matthew 12:1-7, and then said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." This is exactly what Mencius's model implies, that compassion is more important than rules. The Book of 1 John says simply, "God is love" (4:8, 16), which is a synonym for active compassion, and it's another shift from the Old Testament, which mostly said God is holy and forbidden. His justice is because of His love, not a separate characteristic.
When we evaluate our own character with humility instead of through a "log in our eye"/barrier of selfishness (Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:42), it gives us discernment so we don't seek to rationalize our questionable actions and attitudes. This will make a huge difference in how gracious we are.
Image Credit: werner22brigitte; untitled; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Jesus-Christ
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Published on 8-31-15