(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]
G. K. Chesterton said one hundred years ago (1908), “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32).
In these days of truth-minimizing pluralism and relativism the accusation of arrogance is inevitable…. The strategy of labeling someone as proud or haughty is much bigger than [a] little conflict. “Arrogance” is the condemnation of choice in the political and religious arena for anyone who breaks the rules of relativism. If you say of anybody’s view of God that it is wrong and harmful, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say that Christians should share Christ with their Jewish friends in the hope that they would believe on Jesus and be saved, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say to a straying church member enmeshed in sin, “Repent and come back,” you may be accused of judgmentalism and arrogance (160-161).
It seems to me, therefore, that what we pastors need to do is carefully ponder what pride and humility really are, not so much to defend ourselves from calumny—which almost always backfires—but rather to test ourselves and make sure that we are fighting against every whiff of pride in our own souls (161).
Much of our anger and resentment in relationships comes from the expectation that we have a right to be treated well. But, as Geoge Otis once said to a gathering in Manila, “Jesus never promised His disciples a fair fight.” We must assume mistreatment, and not be indignant when we get it. This is what humility would look like (163).
We must remind each other that to tell this gospel is not arrogant but loving (164).
[Humility] submits moment by moment to the sovereign rule of God over our daily lives and rests quietly in the tough and tender decrees of God’s loving wisdom (165).
True humility senses that humility is a gift beyond our reach…. Brothers, for the sake of the truth, and for the good of your people, and for the glory of God in the world, don’t confuse timid uncertainty with truthful humility (166).
As a pastor, you have to stand for the truth. You must say that there is an objective, unchanging and unchangeable reality which holds all things together. You must say that there is a signpost pointing in the one right direction, and that one turns, removes, or ignores that signpost to one’s own detriment. A pastor must say that there is a standard for living in the Scriptures that is binding on all and sufficient for walking uprightly in the world before the Lord. Once you establish such objectivity, however, you open yourself to the charge of arrogance.
The charge will not come immediately; there must be a confrontation – even if only in the mind of someone who disagrees – before one throws the arrogance label. Most people will allow their pastors to hold to objectivity as long as it is his personal view and it is not imposed on others. But for a faithful pastor, those congregants’ practical cognitive dissonance will be short-lived, for the first time the pastor confronts sin, objective truth is on the line.
As Chesterton so infers in the quote above, a pastor must be as certain about Objective Truth as he is that 5 x 5 always has, does, and will equal 25 (even in the realms of mathematical infinitude, in a spacecraft approaching the speed of light, in a parallel universe, or in the Matrix). If “human” life is found on a moon circling a planet in a galaxy 1010 trillion light years away from Earth, I know that the Creator is Lord there too, so Objective Truth will not change in that galaxy. As the catechism says, “God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Therefore, because the Creator of things countable, enumeration, and all mathematical truth is unchanging, and because he has made addition and multiplication constant, 5 x 5 = 25 wherever he is Lord, which is everywhere. In the same way, Scripture – his word, his voice – is true wherever he is Lord.
There is no reason for me to be humble about this. To be humble here would be to deny God’s word. It would be akin to Ahaz’s pious rejection of requesting a sign from God when the Lord was the one offering him an opportunity to request a sign (Isaiah 7). That was not humility; it was disobedience and pride. It was an attempt to think better than God himself thinks. If on any matter I say, “well maybe God’s word might not be true here,” I am not acting with humility no matter how humble it sounds or how pleased another sinner is that I have backed away from objective truth. Instead, I am acting with uncertainty and with great arrogance toward the Lord who has spoken his Word.
This is a difficult truth for someone like me who does not like to ruffle feathers. However, years of walking before the Lord and pastoral work have taught me that sinful feathers need to be ruffled and plucked with regularity for the good of the church. We must confront our depravity with the truth of Scripture Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out, and daily. (Expository preaching is good for doing this.)
Piper draws out five things about humility from the Scriptures so that we are clear on the differences between humility and uncertainty:
1. Humility begins with a sense of subordination to God in Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).
2. Humility does not feel a right to better treatment than Jesus got. “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). Therefore humility does not return evil for evil. It is not life based on its perceived rights. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. . . . While suffering, He uttered no threats, but handed [his cause] over to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
3. Humility asserts truth not to bolster ego with control or with triumphs in debate, but as service to Christ and love to the adversary. “Love rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). “What I [Jesus] tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. . . . Do not fear” (Matthew 10:27-28). “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
4. Humility knows it is dependent on grace for all knowing and believing. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
5. Humility knows it is fallible, and so considers criticism and learns from it; but also knows that God has made provision for human conviction and that he calls us to persuade others. “We see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). “A wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15). “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).
People perish when we do not say, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), “there is no other Name under heaven by which men might be saved” (Acts 4:12), or “be holy for the Lord is holy” (I Pet. 1:16). Lives are destroyed when we blink instead of saying, “you will stay in your marriage” (I Cor. 7:11, 12, 26-27, 39), “go back and submit to the elders” (Heb. 13:17), “your lifestyle shows that you are filled with greed and you are lacking in sacrificial giving” (Mt. 6:19-25), “keep putting your hope in the Lord, for he will deliver you” (Pss. 130-131), or “stop sowing seeds of discord and division” (Tit. 3:9-11). On such truths we cannot be humble. Rather, we must be prepared to fight for the cause of truth; we must be certain.