From the Pulpit: Strive to be humble

Guest column by the Rev. Cynthia L. Hale

Everyone knows that, to get ahead in life, to climb the corporate ladder and become successful in whatever you’ve set your sights, there are certain things you must do. You need an impressive resume or portfolio indicating that you have the right credentials. It also helps to network and connect with the folks who can help get you to where you are trying to go. As my father was fond of saying, “It’s not always what you know but who you know!”

If you want to go anywhere in life, you have to have the right attire, the right attitude and the right demeanor. You dare not offend certain folks, though you might have to step over, step on and push others aside in an effort to get to the top. All of us have played the game in one way or another because that’s the way of the world.

But in the Kingdom of God, when you live under the reign of God, the rules are altogether different. They are the complete opposite of the world; they are counter-culture — the way you become great is to serve.

The apostle Paul makes clear what this means in Philippians 2:3, where he says:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

The key word here is “humility.” “Humility,” particularly as it is used in this passage, refers to one who does not merely think of him or herself, but also considers the needs of others. It’s not just about what you need or want. It’s about what God wants to do for others through you.

Dare I talk about humility and meeting others’ needs at a time when it’s all about me, when entitlement is the name of the game? Common courtesy and cordiality are no longer common. Few people even bother to speak or smile at you, even when you speak first.

No one says “I’m sorry” when they are wrong anymore, or “excuse me” as they step over you trying to get to a seat or cut in front of you as they move rapidly through a busy corridor. Do we dare talk about humility when most are thinking about themselves and how they can advance their own agenda?    

What better time to talk about humility than when it is no longer in vogue. Those of us who would like to think that we are humble need to be careful; because humility is that grace that when you think you have it, you’ve lost it. The truly humble person knows himself, loves and accepts himself with all his strengths and weaknesses. He is not prideful and does not see himself as the center of the universe.

Quick test to see how humble you are: When you are in a conversation with others how many times do you use the pronoun “I”? Is the conversation all about you? What you’re thinking and doing? How often do you ask those with whom you are in conversation, what is going on in their world and wait to hear their answer? Does what’s happening in the lives of others even concern you?

The truly humble person considers the interests of others. The decisions and choices he or she makes are made based on how it will bless and benefit someone else.

The career I chose is not about how much money I can make for the benefit of my own needs and pleasure. The way I spend my retirement, my time off, is not just about how it will benefit me, but what a difference I can make in the life of someone else. 

It is Jesus who helps us see what a humble person looks like. Paul goes on to say, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Though Jesus, in cooperation with His Father, owned the world and everything in it, he gave it all up for you and me. Though he possessed full divinity, Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or “to selfishly hold on to.”

Some of us hold onto our titles, positions and possessions for dear life, afraid to let go of them because they define who we are, give us a reason to feel good about ourselves and believe that others should admire us.

Jesus did not think of himself.

His attitude and his outlook was that of unselfish concern for others. He thought about the wellbeing of others. Someone said, “The attitude of Christ was, ‘I cannot keep my privilege to myself.’ ” He is not the only who felt this way.

President Barack Obama remembered Senator Ted Kennedy, when he died in 2009, as the “champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party and the lion of the Senate.”

Ted Kennedy was the youngest son of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. He was the longest survivor of brothers who gave their lives for the good of our country and its people. A Newsweek article titled “What Teddy Can Teach Us” asserted: “He possessed two qualities rarely found in our elected representatives: He did not hog the limelight and he was never petty. For 47 years in the U.S. Senate, Kennedy patiently waited his turn to speak and assert his views, and by doing so accomplished more for the poor and dispossessed than any other senator.”

Teddy Kennedy was a man of tremendous wealth and privilege, who could very well have been arrogant and aloof, without concern for anyone else, but he used his position and his privilege to serve the needs of others.

He obviously understood, as each of us should, that one who would be great must be the servant of all.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale is the founding and senior pastor of the Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga.