Humility Test: Pass or Fail?

“A humble man when he reads the Holy Scriptures he will relate all things to himself and not to others.”

St. Mark the Ascetic

Not too long ago I put an app on my phone that contains 300 sayings of the desert and ascetic fathers. These sayings are gold and would be worthy of years and years of meditation. St. Mark the Ascetic’s statement on humility would be one worthy of continual meditation. When I read it the first time, my soul was pierced. I was convicted. Humility test: Failed.

I’m on a long journey slaying my most formidable, internal enemy, my own sense of my own importance. People who know me well, particularly my wife, but also my mentor, know just how proud my heart can be. I was never more proud than when I was in seminary. Wowzers…. Absolute pharisee. I prided myself on my knowledge of the Bible, the ancient languages, knowledge of various theological dilemmas and their “answers.” When I left seminary and went to teach in the high school classroom, my pride soared to new heights. I seriously answered every question my students asked.

I would philosophize on every question, often giving the students way more than they asked for (and way, way more than they cared for). What’s worse, my answers were often not merely a factual barrage of information, but also loaded with sarcasm (like, “Oh, please let me show you all I know . . . you know, all the stuff you don’t know). Some students found my sarcasm rather funny. Others, however, loathed it. And, loathed me.

My actions showed I knew very little of Christ experientially. I acted as if I knew him intellectually, but an act it was. How can anything finite even address the infinite? While I said all the right theological things and gave all the right biblical answers, I was a white washed tomb. My words were right, but my breath was rank. Evidence? St. Mark the Ascetic described a “humble” man and I was nothing like him.

When I read the holy Scripture, I applied the text to everyone else, or everything else. How pathetic. I was puffed up with knowledge, but not built up with love (1 Cor. 13). By God’s grace, though, the same students who I sought to truly educate and “sanctify” were the means through which God educated and sanctified me. How I wish I could do those years in the classroom over again!

If Christ is our Lord and we are to emulate him, we are called to be humble. Philippians 2 describes Christ’s humiliation for our sake. He sought the lowest place imaginable for the good of others. We are called to do likewise. Christ, who is equal with God, set his status aside and died between two thieves. We are called to do likewise. We are called to not search for the sawdust in others’ eyes, but remove the planks in our own eyes. St. Mark the Ascetic gives us an simple (note: not easy by any stretch, but quite simple) rule to follow:

Read the Bible and never apply it to anyone but yourself.

Could you imagine the grace with which people would treat one another if this was our motus operandi? It’s hard to fathom! How many times have I read a passage of Scripture while thinking of another person? How arrogant. I could probably spend the rest of my life on just a few passages. What if we sought to perfectly live out the Scriptures one verse at a time and moved on to our next verse only when we “got it” with each passage? How long would we be working on 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them”? Or, James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”?

Let’s start with Jesus’ own words. Let’s all start here: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48) There. There’s a passage that will take a lifetime, an eternity, to embody. How dare I read the word of God and apply it to others, almost trying to help God keep people accountable?

Here’s the rule:

“A humble man when he reads the Holy Scriptures he will relate all things to himself and not to others.”

St. Mark the Ascetic

May God give us the grace to live this rule out.

One thought on “Humility Test: Pass or Fail?

  1. How many of us make the same mistake. We look at the next person and try to save others without we ourselves being saved. I’m definitely going to be more conscious to read the Word as applied to me. Although I do think about others when I study, I have to as the song says, “sweep around my own front door.”
    Great post

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