Humility: The Prerequisite for Service

Humility-CS-Lewis1I have a confession to make. I am a junky. I have a serious addiction problem. I have had it since childhood.  I have not talked about it before. Today I am coming clean.  It has nothing to do with chemical dependency or substance abuse.

But there are no “twelve-step” therapy groups or treatment centres to help me fight it.  Many people are addicted and don’t even know they are. At least I do. And now you do too.

Do you feel any less of me? Because what you think matters to me. And that’s the problem.  Do you know what it is called? “Approval addiction”. It is living in bondage to what other people think about you. When your identity is wrapped up in whether you are perceived to be successful, likable, or acceptable, you are predisposed to this addiction also. Then you too are an approval addict.  John Ortberg says, “no matter how much of this drug you get, you can never have enough. Just like all other junkies, you need more and more.” Henri Nouwen put it like this, “Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised.” In other words, I am what other people think I am. If being busy is important , then I must be seen to be busy.  If having money is a sign of success, then I will invest my life in making as much as I can and flaunting it.

If knowing the right people proves my importance, my social calendar will revolve around St Tropez, Cannes, Davos, St Moritz, Bermuda, Venice, Chelsea, Henley, Ascot, Queen’s and Wimbledon. Being seen enjoying life with the upwardly mobile is all that matters.  If you are an approval addict, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? Being ignored. Not appearing in Hello magazine. Being snubbed. Not receiving that invitation. Because approval addicts are always vulnerable to what others think.  If you are not sure whether you are an addict, here are some of the symptoms. One or two and you have a mild case. Three or more and you are seriously addicted.

  • I am easily hurt by things other people say about me.
  • I often compare myself with other people, even people I don’t know very well.
  • I am very competitive and have an unexplainable need to beat other people and be number one.
  • I live with a nagging sense that I am not all that special and am jealous of those who seem to be important.
  • I try and impress others by talking about myself or my achievements.
  • I don’t confront because I am afraid people won’t like me.
  • I sometimes wonder “What do other people think of me”

How many did you score? I think you will agree, we all have moments when approval addiction contaminates our soul and we are hooked.  So what is the answer?  Please open your Bibles at 2 Corinthians 10. In our series on ‘Serving from the Heart’ we come to ‘Humility: The Motivation in Service.’ Lets observe:

The Humility of Christ is the Prerequisite for Ministry (10:1-3). The Knowledge of Christ is the Power in Ministry (10:4-11).

The Church of Christ is the Proof of Ministry (10:12-18).

If you forget everything else, remember this one thing: “My identity does not revolve around what others think. Christian Service is about Jesus. It is not about me.”

  1. The Humility of Christ is the Prerequisite for Ministry

“By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” (2 Corinthians 10:1-3)

John Ortberg observes, “The Corinthians were confused because sometimes Paul seemed so gentle and other times so powerful. Would the real Paul please stand up? They had never met someone who was so free from approval addiction,

so unconcerned with what others thought. Because Paul’s focus and driving passion was God’s approval, he could be both gentle and forceful. He walked in freedom. Some people are afraid to be gentle. What might people think? Others are afraid to say tough things. What might people think? Contrast the leadership model here with those campaigning over membership of the EU. Which of our political leaders stand out? Which characteristics impress? Who seems most influential? In the world, humility is not rated very highly.  Paul on the other hand could defy people and confront leaders with great boldness because he did not fear their disapproval.  If he addressed a controversial topic, and they didn’t like it, he was not devastated. At the same time, Paul could be humble and gentle. He did not have to work at being impressive and powerful or go around comparing himself with other people to be superior.  He was free from worrying what people thought of him. He asked one question: “What will please God?””  The Humility of Christ is the Prerequisite for Ministry.

  1. The Knowledge of Christ is the Power in Ministry

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-11)

Dr David Burns , author of Feeling Good observes, that it is not other people’s approval or compliments that make us feel good, but our belief that there is validity to what they say. No one’s approval or disapproval will affect us unless we grant it credibility and status. This is because Paul insists we are engaged in spiritual warfare. The battle is a battle for our minds long before it becomes evident in our words or actions. And the enemy, the real enemy is not our critics but the one who has already infected our minds to be influenced by our fans or critics. That is why Paul did not let praise or criticism dominate his life. He insists “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. Paul addresses in this paragraph one of the false grounds for approval. Paul’s detractors made critical comments about his appearance and about his preaching.

People do the same today. They care more about keeping up appearances and doing things right, rather than doing the right things. Sooner or later, we need to learn the same lesson.

What the Lord Jesus thinks is all that matters. This is the only way to be free from approval addiction. Paul’s approval was grounded in the fact that he belonged to Christ. His identity was bound up in his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul was crystal clear in his identity, he was saved by grace and he lived by grace. The Lord Jesus gave him the wisdom and strength to deal with criticism and conflict. And we should too. We should be able to say “I belong to Christ, nothing else matters”

Speaking personally, I have found when your motives are questioned or your activities maligned, you can easily become very dependent, even addicted to how you are portrayed in the media, or who stands with you, or who speaks on your behalf. When it all gets really messy and everything gets stripped away, what are we left with? Paul reminds the Galatians,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galatians 2:20)

The approval of other people is really not that important when you have Jesus. That is where our strength and resilience lies.

The Humility of Christ is the Prerequisite for Ministry.
The Knowledge of Christ is the Power in Ministry.

  1. The Church of Christ is the Proof of Ministry

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:12-18)

John Ortberg observes, “Comparing ourselves to others has become a national pastime. We are obsessed with polls, surveys and the most recent top-ten lists that tell us who are the richest, most powerful, best looking, or greatest. Into this pathologically comparison-orientated world, God speaks “Just be who I have made you to be.”  Here is the irony. While some so called leaders at Corinth criticised Paul, he reminds them that they are the proof of his fruitful ministry.

This is why approval addiction undermines Christian ministry. When we are dominated by approval addiction we are not free to serve unconditionally, unreservedly and unequivocally. We will only serve with certain people who makes us feel good. We will only serve if we get something out of it, if we get recognition or status or expenses. That is addictive because it never fulfils, never satisfies. But when we are secure in our relationship with Jesus, when we remember we are serving him, we won’t compare ourselves with others, we won’t seek their approval, we won’t care what they think of us, we won’t be discouraged by criticism or intimidated by opposition. Instead we will find release into new levels of service.  We won’t boast about ourselves. We will boast about what the Lord is doing in and through our Church.   John Ortberg concludes, “As you seek freedom from approval addiction, you will begin to identify places of service that never seemed possible before. As the Holy Spirit stirs new desires to serve, and fresh confidence that you can be fruitful in these areas of ministry,” step out on faith and the Lord will honour you, he will defend you, He will commend you.

The Humility of Christ is the Prerequisite for Ministry. The Knowledge of Christ is the Power in Ministry. The Church of Christ is the Proof of Ministry. Lets pray.


With grateful thanks to John Ortberg and his Bible study guide, “Serving from the Heart: 2 Corinthians” (Zondervan/Willow Creek Association).