By Dr. Tom Stallter
My father’s and my grandfather’s pocket watches were handed down to me as keepsakes. I value them for their history and the memories they bring to me. A pocket watch is mechanical. It has moving parts made of metal alloys. What guarantees accuracy are the rare and durable jewels that are used in certain places as pivot points for these parts without need of lubrication. The jewels in a mechanical watch provide for smaller tolerances, not only creating more accuracy but, because they are harder than metal, giving longer life to the timepiece. It occurred to me the other day that there is an analogy here for believers.
We might ask ourselves, how do I maintain biblical precision in my life? How do I maintain accuracy in reflecting God’s desires for the various areas of my walk with him? It seems to me that there are certain jewels necessary in the Christian life that can help us reflect God’s desires for our lives more accurately. These jewels are possible to obtain, but they are rare. They are not common even among many evangelical Christians. They are rare because, though they are available to anyone who searches for them, they are costly in the disciplined effort required to make them the pivot points on which the aspects of our lives turn.
When I look at the desires of God for our lives as jewels, and we compare ourselves to a fine watch, there seem be four jewels that become pivot points and a mainspring that drives the moving parts, the aspects of our lives, to turn on them. Assuming a genuine faith in who God is, those jewels are: humility, patience, contentment, and submission. The aspects of our lives turn on these jewels by virtue of the mainspring of wisdom.
Now, just as a magnet is the enemy of a fine mechanical watch, so our culture is a magnetic force pulling us away from these jewels. Outside of smashing it, nothing hurts a watch more than the pull of a magnetic force on the parts that must be pivoting smoothly and freely on the jewels in the works for there to be accuracy. We need to be attentive to how our culture pulls us away from the jewels so desperately needed for an accurate reflection of God in our lives. We might call this “cultural self-awareness.” What are the forces in our lives that keep us from being what God wants us to be? Let’s take a look at one of these jewels here, the jewel of humility, to see both its priority in God’s mind for us and the hindrances that make it rare.
Your culture tells you to assert yourself and achieve the recognition that will win for you the respect, and advancement, and self-worth you seek for your emotional wellbeing. In an individualistic society you get the feeling that if you do not impress others, you will never feel accepted or included as a worthwhile person in other people’s eyes. But self-centered ambition seldom has the results we predict, and solo achievement with the wrong motives cannot put us in the place of God’s blessing. Humility lies in a different direction and its rewards, though silent, run deep. As the Proverbs would have it, “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:6).
In 1 Pet. 5:5b-6 we not only see the necessity, but also the results of a humble spirit. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (See Eph. 4:2; Ja. 4:10; Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:3; Tit. 3:2.)
In the Proverbs we see the wisdom of being humble: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov. 11:2); The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor (Prov. 15:33); Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18); Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud (Pr 16:19).
This is reflected in the N.T. in James 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” So wisdom is both the result and mainspring of humility.
Nothing could be clearer than the necessity of humility in our lives for accuracy in reflecting God.
Dr. Tom Stallter is the executive director of the Center for Korean Studies at Grace Theological Seminary.