The first time I said the words in front of the church, I thought the world would come crashing down. They were some version of “Sorry, I messed up. I didn’t handle that right. Please forgive me.”
I thought no one would ever come back to the church again. My aura of perfection would be gone, and they would find some new perfect leader to follow.
However, the response surprised me. Some called it refreshing to hear a leader apologize and admit a mistake. Some said it was about time. I realized they knew the moment the mistake happened. Ouch! Some had even told me, “You’re going to make mistakes; every leader does. Just humble yourself, say you’re sorry, fix it, and move on.”
Nowadays, I still try to get things right, try to honor God. But when I mess up, it’s not so much work to admit my fault and ask for help. It’s freeing, actually. Seeking humility feels better than keeping up a facade of perfection, and it encourages the church to do the same. If the leader apologizes for messing up, the rest of the church has no pressure to keep up facades either.
My church will probably tell you I missed a few “sorrys” along the way. I’m sure I have. But I hope now it’s at least from mere ignorance and that in time, someone will point out the fault, instead of my apologizing.
This journey has been made easier by looking to our true leader in the faith, Jesus Christ. I would contend strongly that Jesus never messed up, never failed, never missed something. That makes His humility all the more inspiring. He didn’t fail as we do. He didn’t say the wrong thing or stew in His pride. He didn’t pursue His own path in contradiction to God’s plans. He had more reason than anyone not to be humble. We have this theological gem from Paul, illuminating just what God was doing with Jesus’ incarnation:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
Jesus, the Son of God, whom our Statement of Faith recognizes as existing with the Father before the Incarnation, humbled Himself from that place of esteem and perfection to become human. For those who would argue that Paul means Jesus only seemed or looked human, but was not, we have Hebrews 2. It says Jesus was made a little lower than angels for the Incarnation (v. 9), that He was made of flesh and blood as we are (v. 14), and that He was made like us in every respect so that He could be a sacrifice for our sins (v. 17).
Given all this, what a humbling position Jesus took on Himself to save such wretched sinners as we are. Jesus had an attitude of humility not just on the cross or during His ministry but during His entire incarnated life. He was born in an animal pen to a poor family. They had to flee to Egypt as refugees for a time before settling down in a small country town far away from the big capital city of Jerusalem.
Jesus took up a trade rather than be trained as a disciple of some Sadducee or Pharisee, work in the king’s court, or become a well-off but despised tax collector. Even in His ministry, Jesus didn’t have a home to stay in or even a pillow for His head (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). At the Last Supper, Jesus even took the literal role of a servant and washed the dirty feet of His disciples (John 13:4-17). Of course, His incarnation is capped by the humiliation of His crucifixion and death.
Aside from these actions, Jesus’ teachings reinforce the priority of humility for a Christian. After the foot washing, Jesus went so far as to tell His disciples that they must emulate His leadership humility and that they would be blessed by doing so. In another place, He told His disciples they would not lead as the Gentiles did, in power and greatness, but rather in humility and sacrifice (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45).
Paul continues the thread in Philippians 2 and then justifies the call with the example of Christ, quoted previously:
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 (vv. 3, 4).
In short, Paul argues that the example and power to be humble come from Jesus himself. Therefore, we have no excuse to not be churches, leaders, and believers marked by humility. We would do well to dwell long and often on Jesus’ example and teachings to us as Christians, and especially as leaders. Seek humility as of utmost importance.
Let’s conclude with two caveats.
First, we face a danger of projecting false humility, which can only be cured by being honest with ourselves and welcoming accountability from others. That kind of humility seeks truth.
Second, we can wrongly equate humility with being a doormat for everyone to walk all over — the other extreme. This is humility that lacks courage. Jesus never showed a humility achieved by cowering to the whims of everyone else. Rather, He joined His humility to truth and love — what humility needs for proper strength and direction.
May God bless us with humility after the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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