What is the most neglected characteristic among Christians in our day? Today, Burk Parsons highlights one Christlike quality that we should be asking the Lord to cultivate in us.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week, I’m joined by Ligonier Teaching Fellow and the Editor of Tabletalk magazine, Dr. Burk Parsons. Dr. Parsons, in your opinion, what is the most neglected characteristic among Christians in our day?
DR. BURK PARSONS: Well, Nathan, as you know—as a member of our church and a friend of mine—as soon as I talk about this subject that I’m going to mention in just a moment is the minute all my friends, and I’m sure each and every member of our church, can say, “Well, that is not true of Burk Parsons,” and it’s true—that I think that the most neglected characteristic in the church today among Christians is humility.
The moment I mention that, I realize everyone can look at me and say, “Well, you’re not humble,” and I would say, “You’re right,” and that’s why I pray for humility every day. Sincerely, it’s one of the reasons that the thing that I have asked for the most in my life for more than two decades for prayer is humility—that God’s people would pray for me for humility and wisdom because I believe that they are the things that I most naturally lack.
It’s hard to talk about humility because really, none of us is qualified to talk about humility. The only one truly qualified to talk about humility and to teach about humility is Christ, but that’s why Paul tells us to look to Christ. In Philippians 2, he tells us that Christ humbled Himself. He became obedient to the point of death, even death at the cross. So we’re to look to Christ and His example of humility.
The reason why I think humility is one of the most overlooked or neglected characteristics is because we really don’t understand humility. We’ve seen humility too often paraded and put on display, but humility isn’t something you can act. It’s not a play act; it’s not something that you can manifest. It has to be genuine; it has to come from within.
A lot of times we have a wrong view of humility. We think that someone’s humble simply because he or she is quiet, or that someone is humble because they’re never bold, or they never speak out, or they’re not courageous. When in fact, when we look at Jesus, we see Jesus in His humility speaking out. We see Jesus in His humility being bold. That doesn’t mean being harsh, but we do see Jesus being harsh with His enemies and the enemies of His people.
It doesn’t mean just being weak. It doesn’t mean just being a bystander. It doesn’t mean just being silent. But a lot of times, that’s the impression we’re given of what true humility is. But true humility is beautiful, and true humility is rooted in every characteristic that Christ teaches us to possess within. It’s the foundation of everything that the Bible gives to us and how we are to approach God, how we are to approach one another, how we are to approach our neighbor, how we’re to approach our friends, how we are to approach our spouse, and even how we are to approach our children, how children are to approach their parents.
Humility is to be the overwhelming and undergirding characteristic of each and every Christian. When the world sees us, they ought to see a humble people who love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And when we don’t, we’re repenting of it and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when we are not, we’re repenting of it that they don’t see us as a bunch of hypocrites, but rather as a bunch of repentant sinners who recognize that we are helpless and wayward and lost without God seeking us and finding us.
We who understand the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty and of God’s salvation and His grace in our lives ought to be the most humble people the world knows. I think it’s completely oxymoronic that anyone who calls himself a Christian or anyone who calls himself Reformed would be prideful and arrogant and pompous, yet we so often are. We need to be the first ones to cast the stone against ourselves and say we are too often pompous, we are too often arrogant, we are too often full of pride, and we need to confess it and recognize it each and every day of our lives.
Nathan, as a pastor, both of us have seen many men in ministry fall into grievous and heinous sin. One of the questions that I’m always asking is, how did they get there? How did it come to that? While I don’t know and I can’t judge, and I don’t know their hearts and I don’t where it began for each of them, I can say, biblically speaking, that to a certain degree, at one level or another, it began with them not humbling themselves before the Lord and not asking the Lord to make them humble, because when God makes us humble, He makes us content, He makes us grateful.
Humility and entitlement are enemies, but humility produces gratefulness. It produces contentment with who we are, with the wife that God has given us, with the spouse that God has given us, with how He’s made us. When we’re humble, we don’t fall into self-pity. When we’re humble, it means we’re seeking first not our kingdom and our glory, but God’s kingdom and His glory. It means we’re not seeking more than God has allotted to us and given to us. It means that we’re humble in the stewardship that He’s given to us and that we simply try each and every day to be faithful. That we’re first and foremost concerned with giving God His glory and honoring Him and not making the whole world look at us.
That can happen for any Christian, and I would say that it can happen more quickly and more easily for us pastors, for those of us in Christian ministry. We have to be the first ones to hear the applause and the accolades and the thanks from God’s people and to remind them and remind ourselves that we are wretches in and of ourselves, and that we are saved and that we are sustained only by the grace of God. To be truly humbled, not the act of humility, not simply pretending to be humble so that people will look at us, but a real genuine humility that overflows from a heart that is overwhelmed by our own sin and by the beauty and the majesty and the amazement of God’s grace in our lives.
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