Imitate Christ. Reflect His image. That’s the challenge facing us in 1 Corinthians 11:1.
What would imitating Christ look like in our lives? It certainly should include one characteristic which Paul specifically mentions: Our Lord’s humbleness (Philippians 2:8).
Humility is like grace in that the more of it we have, the better off we are. That is especially true in cross-cultural missionary work. To begin with, people entering a new culture invariably make embarrassing mistakes that are deflating and humbling (and I am speaking here from personal experience).
I have heard people equate humility with weakness. One online dictionary even offers “mousiness” as a synonym for humility. Other dictionaries suggest far-out words like passiveness and servility as ways to think about humility. Such preposterous suggestions have little to do with the humility that characterized the life of Jesus Christ.
So, what does Christ-like humility look like? Well, a good place to start is “unpretentious.” There is no better word to describe the humility in Jesus’ earthly life than unpretentious. Jesus never insisted on “my rights.” He never acted arrogantly. He did not return the Roman soldiers’ trash-talk when they mocked Him after His arrest.
Jesus never expected special treatment. No task was “beneath” Him. Indeed, Jesus took on the very lowly task of washing His disciples’ feet the night before His crucifixion. Jesus did not seek applause. On more than one occasion, He said to someone He had just healed, “Go and tell no one” (Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:40-45 and 7:36).
Jesus did not promote Himself. For instance, on Palm Sunday, He rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey rather than on a horse. He refused to try to “wow” people with what He could do. During His temptation ordeal in the Sinai wilderness, our Lord resisted a suggestion that He jump off the pinnacle of the Temple so that a sudden rescue by angels would awe everyone who saw it or heard about it.
Sadly, temptations abound that call us to promote ourselves, to demand “our rights,” to be pretentious, and to expect the privileges of status. When pastors, missionaries and other church leaders fall prey to such temptations (and they do), they fall short of Paul’s call for us to imitate Christ.
Humility needs to permeate cross-cultural ministry -- whether that be in career missionary service or during short-term mission trips.
Jesus modeled the level of humility He expects from His followers. So, seek humility for yourself. Pray that missionaries will graciously embrace the humility our Lord modeled so well for us.
Gladys Aylward serves as an excellent example of Christ-like humility in missionary service ( http://engagemagazine.com/content/doing-mission-well-humility ).