Humility is a tricky thing and a mark of a follower of Christ. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to” is what Paul writes to the early church in Rome. A highly nuanced statement that implies it is alright to think well of yourself, just be careful that you don’t step over the line. A line that leads to inflated self-worth and boasting.
The key is knowing the difference between boastful living and setting an example as a follower of Christ. I know many individuals who work hard within their community of faith. They give of their financial resources, time and abilities and through it all they ask for no recognition even if in all fairness it is due. When asked about it the response is often along the lines of making a fuss or having others think that they are bragging about their accomplishments.
Humility is a characteristic that runs deep in many Christians. After all we do not take the actions we do for any benefit of our own, rather we respond in love for what has been done for us in Jesus Christ. We give selflessly, just as Jesus did. To seek recognition is seen to be contrary to the example that Jesus set. Jesus fed, healed and taught countless individuals and never looked to be exalted for his efforts. He sat amongst his disciples and washed their feet, demonstrating humility and servant-leadership. Many of his actions run against the consumer me-first culture that surrounds us.
However, from time to time it is good to offer examples of model actions and highlight good work that is happening within a community of faith. Of course, who is highlighting the behaviour is important in determining what function it serves. Is an individual singing their own praises or is a friend offering words of thanks?
Much of how we speak about our own actions and how others present our actions is dependant upon our character. As followers of Christ it is vital that we have a clear understanding of our own character and place within the body of Christ. In addition to speaking about humility in his letter Paul also addressed each individual’s giftedness and how those gifts support the work of a community of faith.
There is a clear transition from understanding oneself as an individual and as part of a larger group. It becomes a matter of not only knowing your own character, but how others understand your character. If you are boastful in the work that you do, your actions and words will be seen that way. If you are humble, then on those occasions when your work is praised others will understand it for what it is: the work of a devoted servant of Christ.
In this we can look to the example set by Mother Teresa. A woman who sought no public recognition, whose only delight was to help the poor. Work that she did tirelessly and for which she was rightly praised, providing an example for others. Not only for doing work that was needed and indicative of Christ’s mission, but of how to accomplish that work.