“Humility and Wisdom”
Robert M. Thompson, Pastor
Corinth Reformed Church
150 Sixteenth Avenue NW
Hickory, North Carolina 28601
(© 2012 by Robert M. Thompson. Unless otherwise indicated, Scriptures quoted are from The Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright 2011 by New York International Bible Society.)
Gotcha doesn’t bring many people to Christ.
April 29, 2012
Easy questions to answer
Last week Pastor Paul and I began preaching on the subject of humility. We’re going to be on that subject for several weeks, so I invited follow up questions on humility. I received several –
These questions are all easy. Humility gives the same answer to all of them: I don’t know. If you have additional questions, please share them with me and I’ll try to answer them as well.
I’m just kidding. We will touch on practical questions like these in the weeks to come. I’d love to hear more of your questions. But one of the important things to say about humility is that the whole point is not pretending to be answer.com about every complex issue in life. Humility is comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.”
Perhaps this is the reason Proverbs 11:2 says that humility precedes wisdom. Sometimes I think we have the wrong idea about wisdom. We think wisdom means you have the right answer to all the questions of life. Wisdom may actually mean the opposite. This verse makes two contrasting points, as many proverbs do.
First, pride leads to disgrace. Something about preaching on pride and humility causes one to see the words (or concepts) everywhere. This week there was a great column in The Charlotte Observer about the death of Chuck Colson, Richard Nixon’s hatchet man who went to prison, came to know the Lord, and spent 30 years bringing the gospel to inmates through Prison Fellowship.
Michael Gerson wrote as he reflected on Colson’s life, “Pride is the enemy of grace, and prison is the enemy of pride.” Pride was an internal arrogance, self-sufficiency, and superiority that put Colson in prison, but the disgrace then brought him to his knees before Christ.
Second, humility leads to wisdom. Humility is the opposite of pride. It’s an internal insufficiency, inferiority, and relative unimportance. This word is rare in the Hebrew Bible, but Micah 6:8 uses the same word to in a list of actions that are good: “walking humbly with your God.” Humility is the willingness to submit to others, to treat them as more important than yourself, as Paul says in Philippians 2.
A gray-haired man walked out of last week’s service saying, “There’s something about getting older that makes you humble.” We think of age as wisdom. He thinks of age as humility. The two are connected.
Years ago I took an evangelism training class that taught Christians how to lead an unbeliever through all the steps to confess Christ. Most young Christians are rather intimidated by the possibility that someone might ask very hard questions we can’t answer. This evangelism course had a whole chapter on giving answers to objections.
One of the illustrations we learned to use was for an atheist or an agnostic – someone who doesn’t believe in God or insists no one can know if there is a God.
The illustration was simple – a big circle and a tiny dot inside. You draw the circle for the atheist and ask, “If this represents all the knowledge in the world, how much do you know?” An honest person will usually admit he knows about as much as the dot. Then you follow, “Is it possible that somewhere out there in what you haven’t experienced God exists?”
Gotcha, right? Except the point of the illustration is to put the unbeliever on the defensive. In my experience people hardly ever come to Christ because of a gotcha. As we learned last week, it is love and unity among Christians more than anything else that convinces the world of the truth about Jesus.
Here’s something the evangelism class leader did not point out. My knowledge, too – not just the atheist’s – is a tiny dot. Yes, I believe in God, but my experience of God, my awareness of how he works, my wisdom of how to apply that knowledge of God to life is a dot in a universe of unfathomable size and complexity. Humility is far more effective in evangelism than gotcha.
The older I get, my dot gets just a little larger, but the circle stretches far more than the dot. The wisest people know the more they learn the more they understand they have yet to learn. Easy and set answers fade away, while humility is more willing to say, “I don’t know.” That very humility is the path to wisdom, for it’s when we don’t think we know everything that we pray, we listen, we learn, and we wait. Amen.