In 1960, C. S. Lewis wrote his famous book The four loves. These are essays on four different Greek words for ‘love’. The Bible also uses several Greek and Hebrew words that are all translated ‘love’ in the English versions. Clearly, to quote the song, ‘Love is a many splendoured thing’.
In May’s ET I explored some of the ways in which Christians should ‘bear with one another in love’, while last month we looked at what it means to ‘love our enemies’. In this final article I want to stress how important it is to have a ‘humble love’.
Thinking about this has taken me back to my school days when we had a lesson called ‘Scripture’. Every week we had to learn ‘off by heart’ a portion of God’s Word. We memorised Psalms 23, 91 and 121, but the New Testament portion that has remained in my mind ever since is 1 Corinthians 13 – rendered in the beautiful language of the King James (Authorised) Version.
The Spirit of humility
Following the opening verses about a ‘sounding brass’ and’ tinkling cymbal’ come these words – ‘charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up’. Our teacher explained that charity was not something our mothers would be ashamed to accept but an old word for ‘love’.
I knew cathedral ceilings are sometimes ‘vaulted’ and that breakfast cereals could be ‘puffed up’, but it wasn’t too obvious what Paul meant by his words about love. The NIV makes it clearer: ‘Love … does not boast, it is not proud’.
In recent years a friend of mine has been delving into the literature on church conflicts and has found a number of common themes. He concludes that, ‘where humility and love are missing there is also an absence of the Spirit of Christ’.
Sadly it is not only young men straight from college who display their great knowledge in a boastful way; those of us who are older can easily fall into the trap of ‘jumping into’ a situation and putting everyone right.
In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul speaks about the importance of living a life worthy of Christ. He urges believers to ‘be humble and gentle … bearing with one another in love’ (4:2). They are to ‘speak the truth in love’ (4:14) and be ‘built up in love’ (4:16). God requires that the whole of our lives should be characterised by a loving humility.
This is a quality that characterised the life of Abraham, who saw himself as ‘nothing but dust and ashes’ (Genesis18:27). Likewise, Jacob told God, ‘I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown [me]’ (Genesis 32:10).
Gideon asked God, ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family’ (Judges 6:15). And Moses ‘was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth’ (Numbers 12:3).
However, the supreme example of humility is the one who told his followers, ‘I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matthew 11:29) and even took a bowl of water, stooped down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet.
Paul tells us that the same Lord Jesus Christ ‘made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:7-8).
Worthy of Christ
Those examples ought to be enough to show us that whatever we may have achieved in life, there is nothing in any of us that makes us more important than other people. If Jesus behaved like that, should we not follow his example and do likewise? He tells us, ‘blessed are the meek [i.e. humble] for they will inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5).
Humble people do not push themselves forward into the limelight. They do not need to be noticed and continually patted on the back. They are more than satisfied to serve as a ‘doorkeeper in the house of [their] God’ (Psalm 84:10).
So, if we want to live in a manner worthy of the name of Christ and of his church, we must humble ourselves and ‘consider others better than [ourselves]’ (Philippians 2:3). Or, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:2, we should be ‘completely humble and gentle, patiently bearing with one another in love’.
This means that although we have fellow believers who are difficult to get on with and whom we find irritating, we should nevertheless <'be patient' and 'bear with them' - doing so with a large dose of 'love'.<
Who said that being a Christian was easy? If we want to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, then we have to humble ourselves and treat others (even irksome people) as more important than ourselves.