Servant Leadership and False Humility

Here are some follow-up thoughts about humility and a particularly dangerous form of false humility that is wreaking havoc among Evangelical Christians. It often goes under the name of "servant leadership".

We must be on guard against a sort of false humility that is actually self-centered and self-seeking. What I'm talking about is a spiritualized form of people-pleasing. Jesus warns against this Pharisaical false humility in Matt. 5: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

There are lots of "nice" people in the church who, without even realizing it, are not fundamentally concerned with pleasing God. Their primary concern is to please other people, often in hopes of gaining approval and affirmation.

One critical symptom of this people-pleasing is that a person might be sweet and nice to some people but harsh and critical of others. The key point is that we're nice to people we think we can get something from, but we treat people badly if we desire nothing from them and do not value their opinion of us.

The other form that this false humility takes is being so nice that you never want to hurt anyone's feelings. Nice people often apologize when they haven't actually sinned, because they are desperate not to upset anyone. But if you apologize to someone when you have not actually sinned, you're lying to them. The bottom line is that if you fail to do what God command you to do because you're afraid you might hurt someone's feelings, you're not being considerate or kind. You're rebelling against the Lord.

In start contrast to these forms of false humility, Jesus was supremely focused on pleasing his Father and gladly submitted to his Father's will. Jesus did not need anyone to approve of him except his Father, so he was free from the burden of worrying what everyone else thought of him. Jesus was not seeking affirmation and recognition, and so he never took personal offense when someone criticized him or spoke ill of him. Jesus was not afraid to say hard things or give a rebuke when needed. Jesus never apologized to anyone who took offense at his words, because Jesus never sinned. It's the people who took offense at the truth that were in sin.

Christian humility is rooted in the fear of God. If we fear God more than anything else, then we won't have to live in fear of anything else. This sort of Christ-like humility gives us courage to obey God no matter what people think of us, and it frees us to serve others without needing their approval. Humility is self-forgetfulness, which means that you're so focused on serving others and glorifying others that you forget all about what other people think about you and what you can get from them. 

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