I know. The word feels retrograde. In the real world, if you’ve got the merchandise, you advertise it. If you’ve got the body, you flaunt it. If you know it, you show it.
But there’s something about modesty.
There’s something about having more on the inside than we see on the outside. There’s something about meeting someone who surprises you with their generosity or honesty or intellect or virtue or beauty. In a world where we snap a hundred photos to find the one most flattering for social media, we brace ourselves for the eventual letdown. The unveiling. The descent back down to earth. You see a celebrity in person, only to be surprised by how they really look. Or you encounter a public figure at an airport, only to be disappointed by how they really act. Or you buy the product, only to discover how it really performs.
We have mastered the craft of marketing.
And it’s not just Coca Cola and Honda. It’s individuals and clubs and churches – fighting for their share of the market. It’s me. Every time I act like I know more than I do. Every time I make that clarifying comment to manage your opinion of me. Every time I wear that speedo at the beach. Maybe not.
There’s a better way.
Christians pay a lot of lip service to humility. C.S. Lewis would say that the utmost evil is pride, and that every other vice grows out of it, which makes the utmost virtue humility. But what does humility look like in the real world?
It means we really don’t have to sound more educated or look more appealing or manage our image in a way that shows off our assets, whatever they may be. Some assets are physical; some assets are cultural; some assets are moral. We really do not have to compete for the market share of whatever market we think we’re in. It means churches really don’t have to be cool and you really don’t need to stress over your style. And yes, it does mean we should consider the sensual effects of the clothes we wrap around our bodies. But what a miscarriage of virtue to reduce modesty to the physical apparel of females in a culture intoxicated with immodesty on every front.
Yet we’ll never embody this kind of humility until we’ve had a first-hand encounter with the beauty of modesty for ourselves.
I’ve often been troubled by Jesus. High on the list of the things I would do differently is His approach to self discolsure. If you skip to the end of the Bible you read with no uncertainty that He is King of kings, Lord of lords, creator and judge of the living and the dead. But what drove me crazy in my college religion classes, and what has disturbed me over the years is, why won’t Jesus just make it more clear? Arrive in majesty, not in a manger. Demonstrate Your might, not your weakness. Prove Yourself. Validate. Impress. Amaze. Strut. People’s exhibit Alpha and Omega.
And yet He holds back. He goes slow.
He is born to peasants. And He waits. After 30 years He goes public. Yet it seems minor. He teaches and He heals. But I want him to shout. Instead it seems like He whispers: I am the good shepherd. I am the light of the world. I am the bread of life. I am who I am. It’s a burning feeling when you’re with Him. It’s a burning perspective you never imagined. Occasionally it seems like Clark Kent opens his jacket and flexes his muscles. But the result is something like Peter on his face: “Depart from me, I’m a sinful man.”
And that’s the point.
If all He wanted was slaves, then cosmic special effects would do, and the endgame would be fear. But He’s not a politician scaring you into a vote, and He’s not a CEO persuading you into a sale; he’s an Abba wooing you into relationship. He wants children who love Him, not merely because they must, but because they have tasted and seen how good He is. His humility is not a disguise and His modesty is not a mistake; it’s at the very center of His self-revelation.
I wonder what would happen in our world if we decided to make His way our way. This weekend our faith family has the honor of meeting with one our favorite missionaries. He fights injustice, rescues slaves, plants churches, makes disciples, invades darkness. But you’d never know it when you meet him; he’s too modest for that. And so he follows in the steps of our Leader: he’s changing the world. I dare you to join him.