A Humble Community

Before her death in 1997, Mother Teresa spent her life serving the poor in the slums of Calcutta. Her mission, in her own words, was to serve “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

Mother Teresa never sought fame nor power. And yet, in an odd way, she had both. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. She inspired millions. She influenced presidents and kings. She is one of the most admired and revered humanitarians in recent history.

We may argue about her politics or disagree with her religious convictions, but all of us feel a desire to honor a person like Mother Teresa. Why? Because she considered other people’s needs above her own. Not just ideology, but in her practice.

All of us want to be part of a community where people consider the needs of others and act to meet them—a community where pride and ego are put to death and selflessness and service are brought to life. This is just the kind of community the Bible urges us toward: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Notice that the key to servanthood is “humility of mind.” If we want a more serving community, we must cultivate humility.  In other words, our lack of service to others is primarily because we lack humility. John Scott wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”

The essence of pride is self-concern. It may manifest itself as arrogance and boasting or as self-protection and fear of people—but it’s pride either way, and it kills community. We have all been in a community where everyone seems to enjoy each other, but below the surface, all are preoccupied with self: worried about how they are perceived by others, anxious about their needs, desperate for attention, insecure or self-righteous as they compare themselves with others and the like.  All forms of self-concern manifest themselves in a lack of love for others. We become consumers instead of servants. Such self-absorption can turn an entire community in on itself, concerned only about those within it and indifferent to the staggering needs of the world beyond it.

Those who trust God to meet their needs are free to consider the needs of others. They discover this gospel paradox: If I’m looking to get my needs met, I will never get my needs met.  But when I begin to meet the needs of others—when I begin to live for them instead of for myself—I find that God graciously takes care of my needs in the process.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Rather than demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others. But it begins with “humility of mind,” which we only get by looking to Jesus and understanding more deeply the gospel’s implications for our lives. Paul shows us how in Philippians 2.

Right after his exhortation to consider others more importantly than ourselves, he said, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

Jesus transforms us from selfish consumers to faithful servants. Through the gospel, we become “bond-servants” of Christ—free persons who willingly become servants out of gratitude and honor to our Master. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1) As bond-servants of Christ, we live to serve others, for Jesus’ sake and for God’s glory. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)  As this penetrates our hearts, we will be eager to bless not just each other, but the world around us as well.

Humility of mind involves more than the intellect. God’s grace toward us in Christ needs to get down deep into our hearts, in order to change us. We need to acknowledge our resistance to grace—our reluctance to be served by Jesus. We need to “give in” and allow Him to serve us in ways we so desperately need.  And we need to reflect on His gracious humility toward us so that our hearts are softened and changed. Then we will find ourselves increasingly joyful and selfless as we delight in serving him by serving others in out community and reaching beyond ourselves to serve those who do not yet know Jesus.

Chris Seiple
Director of Parish Operations


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