I’m sure you probably already know, but preachers have a difficult task. Even if we don’t consider all of the pressures, expectations, opportunities and responsibilities of ministry, there is still one single element of preaching that makes the job so difficult: and that is…preaching. Okay, so here is what I mean by being so blatantly obvious in saying that preaching makes preaching difficult: it is not enough just to preach. A preacher can’t go about picking random topics or scriptures to expound upon and be faithful to his responsibility to build up the church. A preacher must be willing and able to take stock of the needs of a congregation and build sermons and series that will address those needs.
Some needs are specific to the congregation, and some are more general, faced by every or nearly every Christian. In my personal efforts to take stock of needs to be able to produce meaningful sermons, I have decided that there is (at least) one main issue that every Christian struggles with: pride. Every conflict and every sin can be summed up as an issue of pride and humility. If one brother hurts another, the problem is pride: putting self before others. If a Christian decides to disobey God, the problem is pride: putting self before God.
But, in order to be humble, we must understand humility. So, Paul gives us a proper definition:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:3-8]
To put it mildly, humility requires us to be willing to give up our lives for others. This is mild because Jesus showed much more humility than this by giving up the glory of heaven to become a man. But, since we are not deity, we are called to a lesser degree of humility, but to the greatest degree of humility we can give. If I am really willing to give up my life for my brother then what part of my life would I withhold from him?
The humility of Jesus is a lofty goal. He perfected the art of putting self last. Think of the humility He showed in His sinlessness: with every temptation He put the Father’s will before His own desires. Think of the humility He showed in His social interactions: He ate with the despised and rejected. Think of the humility He showed in the presence of His enemies: He quietly suffered, and gave up His rights and authority as the divine Son of God. Think of the cross.
Mostly, though, we are not required to give our lives for others. Usually, humility asks much less of us: allowing another to get his way; giving up a little “free time” to serve others; foregoing our “rights” to build up someone else. But, we stumble over even these small requests.
It is easy for us to give in to Satan’s voice in our head telling us that we can never be perfect, we can never be as humble as Jesus, so we might as well not even try. It is easy for us to rationalize, saying, “Well of course Jesus was humble…He was, afterall, God in the flesh.” But these voices and rationalizations do not negate our call to be conformed to the image of Christ. [Romans 8:29]
“Conformity” carries with it the idea of change, even of a process of change, and that is exactly what God wants in the life of every believer. The humility of Christ is a difficult goal requiring difficult changes. But, a process of change makes it more feasible.
Start with a commitment to the goal. Then, make the change in steps. Decide today, for example, that you are going to give thirty minutes of service to someone in need. Decide tomorrow that you are going to let your spouse do things his or her way rather than demanding that they be done your way. Decide the next day that when the next conflict arises between you and a brother or sister in Christ that you will be willing to admit that you could be wrong, and that you will be open to considering another point of view.
Whatever you do, however you do it, start changing. Be a servant. Strive to outdo others in showing honor. Be sacrificial in your giving and service. Focus on humility, and you will go a long way toward becoming like Christ.