Cheap Humility

Written by Drew on May 19th, 2009

lebronLeBron James has been named the NBA’s 2008-09 Most Valuable Player.  The Cleveland Cavaliers forward had an outstanding season, leading his team to an NBA and franchise-best 66-16 (.805) record. He averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.69 steals and a career-best 1.15 blocks in 37.7 minutes per game.

Upon receiving the reward, James responded with a well-worn cliche: “I’m humbled.”

Humbled?  He was just named Most Valuable Player!  Cameras are flashing in his face.  Coaches and sports journalists are slapping him on the back.  How is this teaching him humility?  I know James was just trying to be modest, but I am weary of celebrated multi-millionaires looking into cameras and broadcasting their humility to the world.  When LeBron James was awarded the MVP, he was exalted. If he wants a taste of humility, I would suggest that he take the ACT.

Jesus taught us to aim for humility, but he meant for us to do more than mouth the word.  One of his most familiar axioms reads, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt. 23:11).  He wasn’t talking about waiting until you are exalted and then saying you are humbled.  Far from it.  His point was that the accolades of men really do not matter.  True exaltation comes from God, who respects the quality of humility.  Humble yourself through service, and God will lift you up.  “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Pet. 5:5-6).

During Jesus’ trials and crucifixion, he was stripped naked no less than four times.  First, he was stripped for scourging.  After they scourged him, they clothed him again, only to strip him a second time to clothe him in a scarlet robe so they could mock him.  They stripped him a third time, so they could put his own garments back on him, and stripped him a fourth time for the crucifixion.  This time, he would not get his clothes back; the soldiers cast lots for them at the foot of the cross.  If violence were all there was to Roman crucifixion, that would be enough.  But it was more than violence.  The victim was made a public spectacle.  His accusers would gather around him to laugh.  After death occurred, the body was customarily left on the cross as food for the crows.  Thankfully, Joseph of Aramathea spared Jesus this last humiliation by burying him in his own tomb.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to receive an award.  I just have a problem with cheapening the concept of humility by attaching it to glory.  The Bible teaches us to “give honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:17; cf. 1 Pet. 2:17).  But we are also taught to humble ourselves by serving one another (Mt. 20:26-28; Gal. 5:13).  Only then will we receive the greatest reward in heaven.

Update (5-26-09): Judge Sonya Sotomayor after Barack Obama announced her as his pick for the Supreme Court: “Thank you, Mr. President, for the most humbling honor of my life.”  Sports stars are not the only ones confused about the meaning of humility.


4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jim Canada says:

    Hello Drew. I’m a preacher who reads your blog. I enjoy your content and the wit with which you deliver it. But I think your sarcasm got out ahead of your heart this time.
    While I understand the point you are making about humility, I think your comment about the ACT humbling Lebron James is an inappropriate and somewhat arrogant joke.
    I am not trying to embarass you by this post, but it just seems ironic that you would mock someone for their discussion of humility – certainly you can see the irony.
    I know that you are aware that Paul told Timothy that ministers need to be examples in love, faith, and purity. I just wanted to remind you.
    In Love,
    Jim C

  2. Aaron says:

    Thank you for this beautiful truth. Well said and thought out. I appreciate your hard work!

  3. Drew says:

    Thanks for reading, Jim. I appreciate what you said about my sarcasm. Maybe I went too far with that joke about the ACT. I personally didn’t think it was out of line when I wrote it, otherwise, I wouldn’t have printed it. My readers will have to be the judge.

    Humility cuts at our weaknesses. I suppose I was merely trying to imagine James in a real scenario of humility, something other than a press conference where everybody is praising him for his skill in basketball.

    My article wasn’t about LeBron James. I merely wanted to juxtapose his flippant view of humility with the true humility of Christ.

    If you want me to talk about how I feel about sports celebrities, I will. I think they have become horrible role models for our children. Actually, Lebron James seems to be one of the few respectable athletes we have left.

    I’m sorry I didn’t live up to the example of love, faith, and purity that is expected of ministers. I’ll try to do better.

  4. I believe most people understand the point of the joke. Indeed, even those who have scored relatively well on the ACT tend to leave the test realizing how little they know; therefore, I fail to see how it was a jab at anyone’s intelligence–including LeBron’s. The contrast was between situations–a session of praise, on the one hand, versus a grueling test seeking weaknesses, on the other.

    Therefore, I think it very harsh indeed to indicate that Drew somehow fell short of love, faith, and purity.

    To me, this brings up another issue. While we should be patient with those who are weak, we are not to allow them to rule us. I am afraid that many current interpretations of love lead exactly to that. My own character has been questioned at times simply because of my pressing someone to provide a biblical answer instead of just an opinion. Does that person’s judgment now become the truth? I would hope not.

    I do not wish to downplay the responsibility of a gospel preacher to live as an example (1 Tim. 4:12); however, he also has the responsibility to preach the Word without compromise in as effective way as possible (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Sometimes pointed examples, contrast, and sarcasm are part of that. Now, it would be nice, perhaps, if this were unnecessary; however, in my experience, today’s listening audience often requires such just in order to get the point. I have observed others whose main object seems to be not to offend; the declining spiritual state of those who hear them does not recommend the approach.

    I know I went far beyond the context of this particular discussion, and I do not doubt the sincerity of anyone who has commented; however, without the proper balance, the weakest spiritually end up determining what you tell them. Postmodernism and political correctness have elevated such matters so that the person who is offended by simple hyperbole is given all the control. If that happens in the church, we are in trouble because it will take away the power of preaching in the manner of the most effective spokesmen for God, those whose hyperbole and sarcasm was inspired.

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