About six months ago, I had a conversation with my friend Bryan about the upcoming school year. In particular, he asked me if I had thought about serving on any ministry teams in GOC. I answered that I had: I planned on joining the media team at GOC, because although I am musically inclined, my time on the worship team in high school, before I was saved, had led to a lot of prideful attitudes and actions. I did not want to open myself up to that risk of pride by joining the worship team in the upcoming year.
The fact that Bryan commended me for my desire to avoid the sin of pride was not surprising. What was surprising was the advice that followed. Bryan noted first of all that the worship team does not receive as much public accolade as one might think, and so the opportunities for pride to arise may not be so plentiful. He also said this: humility is not meant to discourage public service and leadership. Humility is not about avoiding situations that allow the possibility of sin (though I might add that this is not necessarily a bad thing), humility is about the heart. That is something I have been thinking about for six months now. It brings up the questions “What is humility?” and “What does humility look like?” and “What is the relation of humility to serving?”
Clearly, pride is a sin, and God detests it. Both James and Peter note this in their epistles: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b, 1 Peter 5:5b). But why does God so oppose the sin of pride? The psalmist gives some insight: “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God'” (10:4). Pride is a refusal to acknowledge God as God. (In the most extreme, pride is a refusal to acknowledge that there is a God.) A refusal of the prideful, wicked man to seek God shows a failure to understand who God is, because anyone who understands the omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence of God would surely seek Him. Instead, the wicked man does not seek the face of God, but has confidence in his own face.
The opposite of pride, then, is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to God. That is humility: understanding who we are in relation to God. It follows that the antidote to pride is obtaining a right understanding of who we are in relation to God. C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility, advocates that we take time to sit at the foot of the cross. The cross is the ultimate source of humility, for there we understand that Christ died, and why He died: He died because we are sinful and helpless. When we contemplate that, it should humble us. Christ died for us to save us because we cannot save ourselves.
Thus Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3, 5). Just as the ultimate pride is to say there is no God, the ultimate humility is to acknowledge our need for God. Humility is an internal acknowledgement of our desperate need for God because of our sin. It is accepting the truth that we have no riches or merit before God. It is also the way we accept that truth: quietly, meekly, without struggle.
So what does humility look like? What is its relation to serving? These questions can both be answered by looking at the context of James 5:6b and 1 Peter 5:5b. James’s words after “[God] gives grace to the humble” are “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (5:7a). (There are many other commands he gives in relation to being humble, but this is the one I want to focus on.) If we are humble, if we understand both God’s authority and sovereignty and benevolence as well as our need for the salvation He offers, we should desire to submit ourselves to God. This is indicated by James’s use of the word “therefore.” Submission to God follows humility, because in our humility we understand this is the best thing we can possibly do. It is what God desires, and we should also do it because God knows best. Submission to God is our sign of obedience to Him and trust in Him.
Peter similarly commands that those “who are younger, be subject to the elders” (1 Peter 5:5a). In our humility, we are to follow the instructions of those more mature than we in the faith, particularly those placed in a position of authority over us. Jesus depicts humility as the simple act of a child coming when he is called (Matt. 18:1-4). Humility looks like obedience. Which means that in many circumstances, humility looks like service, not only because we are commanded to serve, but also because we desire to show our love through serving.
Which brings me back to the issue of humility and serving on the worship team. As Bryan said, the desire to avoid and fight sin is commendable. It is a good thing to avoid situations that could lead to temptation and sin. That is wise. However, humility is not hiding. It is not about dodging every opportunity to serve visibly because it might lead to pride. Rather, humility is about the attitude behind the service: serving God because we love Him and desire to see Him glorified, knowing that we, in our sinfulness, do not deserve any praise for anything in our lives; any good or progress in our lives is a result solely of His grace. Certainly, one can aid one’s fight against pride by hiding from every opportunity to serve visibly, but by doing so we will miss out on ways we can serve God and His church, particularly in ways that suit our unique gifts–and, God forbid, we might actually disobey commands by God or elders to pursue our idea of humility. Not to mention that pride will rear its ugly head whether or not we serve visibly.
So, in the upcoming months, if God prompts me internally or externally to join the worship team, I will devote myself to prayer and consider serving in that way. I will not hide from this opportunity to serve GOC. Should I choose to join worship team, I will strive to be humble in my attitude, knowing that Christ had to die in order to save me because I am a deeply sinful being. I will not rule out joining the worship team, because I know–thanks, Bryan!–that I can pursue humility and serve visibly at the same time, since humility is fostered or diminished by my heart, not my environment.