They Are Us: Serving with Unfeigned Humility
One of the key pieces in so much talk about loving and serving a community is humility. Many times as a church, we can love our neighbor. Yet many times this love manifests itself as “I am going to go help them.” Unwittingly, what happens to our hearts is a martyr mentality so that what I do and say is what this person in the community needs from me. Lack of humility is easily perceived by those we come in contact with. They can feel like a conversion project. They can feel like they are being sold. This is due to the us/them mentality. We are separate from them. We go to them. We serve them.
Could a better way forward be one of identifying as one of them? Could a purer way be that of understanding our common bond as creatures? Could alignment with how we are alike, first, help us to truly align our hearts and wills with those we seek to serve.
Too many times Christians have viewed the mission field as though it were a battlefield. The images we see in the gospels is that of invitation. We go out to invite in. But the tricky part of it all…if we open our eyes and ears and hearts, we realize that “out” is actually “here”. As soon as you move into the outside, you become one of those who were once outside.
When Christ humbled himself to the uttermost both at the Last Supper on the cross, his eyes and ears and heart were directed toward those outside of himself. He was not laying down his life for selfish motivations. Rather, he laid down his life in complete service to others. “What you see me do, do for each other.” And, “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Of course, humility is what is needed not just as we relate to our communities around us. It is not a quality that can be contrived. Sure, many have feigned humility. As their eyes look to washing feet, they glance (ever so slightly) to see if the person notices. What is needed is a humility that is planted in the heart. A recognition that I am always and forever a recipient. Of God’s grace and mercy. Of life and breath. Of friends and family. Of neighbors. I first receive.
When we begin our self-understanding first as recipients, it’s not that hard to love and serve and reach out to others. Not as projects to reform. But as brothers and sisters who are worthy of love and service and sacrifice. In this way, we don’t glance up to see if anyone notices. We wipe our brow and look down and see Christ washing our soiled lives with grace and tenderness and patience.
If we love and serve our neighbors from a sense of self-promotion, it will become evident very quickly. We will become embittered if no one notices. We will quickly stop serving due to fatigue. But if it flows from a fountain from within--a fountain of recipient, first, and a living stream of God’s Spirit--then we will continue to go to others. We will continue to realize that they are us.
Matt Wireman (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Greenville, SC. He also serves as Dean of Christian Ministries for North Greenville University Online. He and his wife Ashley live in Greenville with their four children.