Jesus washing Peter's feet - Ford Madox Brown

Holiness as Humility

Autism is such a strange disease. In the work I do I have the great fortune and joy to work with a number of autistic children a few times a month. In the severely autistic children I meet, there's a clear inward thrust to their personalities. Because of that, I call it the Turtle Disease. Part of me wonders if autism has become more prevalent because our society has become so inward focused. We have become the Me Generation. I just wonder if autism is a societal response to the inward-focused, self-oriented effects of our highly industrialized society. Do our technologies, media and consumer-based society make children with a particular type of mind draw inward rather than outward. Are they all just trying to hide as they peer out into our hyper-stimulated landscape?

Of course, that's too simplistic. Mind you, I do not think evolutionary changes in a species develop directly out of parents. So, in most cases, parents are not to blame for the innate diseases their children have. I strongly believe that evolution occurs broadly as a species, but that's a whole different topic. Ultimately, I think the root problem to some diseases must be tackled at the societal level, not at the level of the individual, parent or family. Could autism could be cured at the broad level, by society becoming more outward-focused rather than inward-drawn? Does societal arrogance and selfishness cause some diseases, such as autism?

Jesus is our model of outward-focused living. He always focused beyond himself to his Father and the work he was appointed to do. Jesus explains through the apostle John, "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." Jesus humbly explains to his disciples that his work is not me-centered, but God-centered. Even the second person of the Trinity is outward dwelling. Even his prayers were to the Father and not to himself. He makes it perfect clear that we must model after our God who is humble in Christ. One of Christ's key character trait is his humble nature as Paul attested in his letter to the Philippians.

In many of the letters in the New Testament, we find a number of poetic verses that teach us about the nature of Christ Jesus and act as a model of living. Some of these are considered early confessions or statements of faith, which may have been hymns that were sung in early Christian communities. In Philippians chapter 2, Paul records for us one such statement that teaches us about the nature of humility as a inherently Christian worldview.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

After Paul directs our attention to these verses and explains how Jesus will be exalted because of his humility, he gives more details about what it means to have Christ's mindset of humility. He explains that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling, do everything without grumbling or arguing, and live a life of sacrifice and service.

Why is it that we grumble and argue with others? It's usually because we feel at some level an injustice has occurred to our personhood. "It's not fair!" We grumble, scream and argue in the fiercest terms. But when we are truly serving others, shouldn't we just let much of the selfishness slide?

Note that the second half of the verses read this way:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

Through Jesus' ultimate humility, God exalted him. We need not feel that we are being swindled when an injustice occurs, because what God teaches us through the death and resurrection of Jesus is that justice will reign. In Matthew 6 Jesus explains, "Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal." Don't worry about what we think is fair on this earth. Justice will prevail and it's not our job to render justice.

Now there are times that God calls us to cry out, "It's not fair!" to an authority, or to render justice as an authority, but it is always done on the behalf of another, and must not be done for our glory. By standing up for the sake of another, we humble ourselves, particularly if we do it so we are not the center of attention. In those selfless instances, we are still outward-focused. It's also okay to respond directly to the transgressor and say, "No, and you're mistaken." But usually when we grumble we are not putting our life on the line. Instead, we are just simply making gossip.

Likewise, when we argue we just fight with words, rather than relying on God to reveal his perfect justice. Paul explains, "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." And this is applied to the small stuff as well. We can rest assured, so we have no need to battle with words or swords.

Mostly, though, we grumble and argue for our own advantage. We are inward-focused and want our share now. Paul explains that "by taking the very nature of a servant"—by being humble—we actually become "blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.'" Paul is saying that we become holy through humble acts. We don't become holy through holy acts. There's only one holy person and that is the Holy One, Jesus Christ. But through our faith in him and our taking on the "mindset" of Christ, we begin wearing his holy garments, which is Christ himself.

One thing I find happening to me when I try to be humble is that I may put on a long face to show others, "See! I'm humble," which is a nasty form of arrogance. Paul sees this one coming and exposes this notion immediately when he calls us to rejoice in our sacrifice and service. He calls for us to follow his example: "I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me." When we live a life of joy while we sacrifice and serve, we are protected from the danger of false-humility. When we exalt ourselves with false-humility, we do the same things the people of Jesus day were doing when the fasted for show, to which he responded, "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

For those of us who are out of practice being humble, where's a good place to start? Probably the most simple way to start living a life of humility is to practice the words, "I'm sorry." We should first learn to say that to the people closest to us. For me, it's with my family that those words become so difficult and important to utter. But most frequently we should say them to God himself. "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner."

Next in line for re-learning how to live a humble life is to remember to say "Please?" Yes, this seems so rudimentary and basic. But how often do we say "please" to God and to others in our adulthood. Yet, maybe the most humble statement of all is "thank you." It denotes a humble reliance when said from the heart.

Will saying I'm sorry, please and thank you end autism and other broad societal problems. Probably not, but it can certainly change us as a species. Christians must be the first to step up and begin living a life of humility and joy. And by our example we can lead others to Christ, and I expect that we could even change our world.

Tags: commentary, holiness, autism