There are two verses I cite to myself every day: Romans 12:4 (“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment”) and 2 Corinthians 4:5 (“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”). There is a reason for that. I have an ego the size of Nebraska and have a horrible tendency to engage in feats of self-promotion that would even make a Kardashian feel ashamed.
In my defense, I haven’t gone around trying to degrade others for the sole purpose of elevating myself. I should also point out that there are certain features of my biography and psychology that molded me into becoming an overachieving blowhard. When your primary source of self-esteem is achievement and its recognition, you can easily be driven into becoming a workaholic show pony, constantly craving attention and acclaim. Self-congratulatory overachievers may exude excessive confidence and make elevated descriptions of their own significance, but deep down they are often insecure people.
Thankfully, I have reached a point of maturity in my spiritual walk where I’ve learned that “it’s not about me,” and I can find my sense of self-worth in Christ rather than in my CV. I no longer feel the need to impress others, but I find greatness in a service that will lead to others receiving recognition and praise for their own work. I enjoy finding ways to highlight the wonderful work of my colleagues and students and seeing them get due recognition for the hard work that they have done in academia and ministry.
A turning point for me came after a sermon I once gave where I used probably too many personal illustrations. My pastor came to me afterward and gave a polite rebuke, “I’ve heard of Christo-centric preaching, but not Mike-o-centric preaching.” Those words initially hurt, I felt they were unfair and exaggerated, but eventually I had to accept that they were true. I must decrease, Christ must increase.
For those who are spiritually gifted, it is vital that they nurture humility in themselves. Otherwise their giftedness is not an offering to God or a tool for growing the church; instead, it becomes an idol to the cult of self. The most gifted of preachers, teachers, musicians, deacons, or janitors are like an annoying alarm clock if their giftedness is not matched with humility. We need fewer primadonnas in the pulpit and more pastors who use their gifts as servants.
An easy way to tell if you have a servant heart is how you act when you’re treated like a servant. Do you see some services as beneath your calling, are you willing to go wherever you’re needed, or would you do any job that needs to be done even if crowds won’t throng to thank you and even if your achievements go hardly noticed? Whenever I get asked for advice from churches on what kind of man or woman they should get to fill a particular ministry role, whether a preacher or a youth worker, I always tell the same thing. Get someone gifted and godly — both, not one or the other. The great evangelical Anglican priest Charles Simeon wrote a letter to his friend Abnew Brown in which he said, “The three lessons which a minister has to learn are; 1) Humility, 2) Humility, 3) Humility.”
Humility is also important if we are to appreciate the giftedness of other people in our churches. The famous conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked what the hardest instrument to play is. “Second fiddle,” he replied. For people who like to lead, who like to be up front, who like to take the reins, consciously deciding to take backstage position to enable others to exercise their gifts can be difficult. But it reminds me of a story.
There was once a first-time gardener who was sick and tired of going out to his raspberry bushes, gazing down on them and not seeing any raspberries growing. He was just about to uproot the bush when his neighbor told him to get down low and look for raspberries under the lower leaves. So he did. The gardener got down on his belly, looked up into the bush, and beheld several clusters of luscious and ripe raspberries. The moral of the story is that you will only appreciate the fruitfulness of some people if you get down low and look up to them, rather than look down on them in stern judgment.
—by Michael F. Bird, adapted from his new book The Story of God Bible Commentary: Romans.
How to Use This Book
SGBC: Romans will help you teach fresh lessons from the letter to the Romans – a “theological jackpot.” In other words, you’ll see how the “big picture” theology of Romans is also steeped in Paul’s pastoral and missional theology. This book will help you see how the scriptural story meets your own story.
Specially designed for clergy, this commentary has three easy-to-use sections designed to help you and your congregation live out God’s story:
(1) LISTEN to the Story: Includes the complete NIV text, plus references to other texts at work in each passage. This way you’ll experience each passage as a part of the Bible’s grand story.
(2) EXPLAIN the Story: Explores and illuminates each text from within its canonical and historical setting.
(3) LIVE the Story: Reflects on how each text can be lived today and includes contemporary stories and illustrations.
The Story of God Bible Commentary: Romans
“It makes the text sing and helps us hear the story afresh.”—John Ortberg