Each holiday season, we send a dangerous type of person out into the world: Bible College students. You may think I’m trying to be funny, but honestly, this is a dangerous group. Think about the dynamics in play here.
A student leaves his church and comes to an environment where he spends the equivalent of a full-time job learning the ins and outs of the Bible, learning how people function and how we can best help them grow and change, and learning how we should function as the church. He has learned concepts he had never considered before, he sees treasures in Scripture he could never have dreamed of, and he has necessarily formed opinions about the best way to teach and practice these things.
And then Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and we are careless enough to send this young man back to his home church for a time. While there, his idealism is deeply offended. He finds that his church body is not perfect. His pastor is not wringing every ounce of insight out of the biblical text. His friends and family are not using the words “kingdom” and “worldview” enough. So this dear soul spends his holidays putting his ¾ of a semester of Bible College training to work in correcting his church family.
Having seen this scenario play itself out year after year, we have taken to gathering our students just prior to the holidays and giving them the “don’t be a jerk when you go home” talk.
The reality is, we can all benefit from this talk—on a regular basis. Just like the first year Bible College student, we all suffer from misguided passions. As a Christian, you may want to gain a reputation for knowing the Bible well, for being a strong leader, being a powerful speaker, being above reproach morally, being theologically precise or profound, or some other equally noble goal. Honestly, each of these is a worthwhile pursuit, each is modeled in Scripture, and each is commended in the Bible.
But I want to present you with three traits that may not be at the top of your list. Yet the Bible tells us to be famous for each of these things.
1. Be known for love.
Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. Then he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What should we be known for? What characteristic will set us apart as followers of Jesus?
It’s not good theology. It’s not impeccable moral standards. (Good though both of those things are.) It’s love. Love for God should lead to good theology and godliness. But love is the defining characteristic.
Be famous for loving people. Do it sacrificially, following the example of Jesus. Love even your enemies. Love the arrogant, the mistaken, the misguided, the uneducated, the overeducated, the immoral, the rude. Love because you have been loved. Until people see you and think immediately of love, you haven’t taken Jesus’ words seriously.
2. Be known for gentleness.
Paul says it clearly: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5, NIV). Other translations say “reasonableness” (ESV), “gentle spirit” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV), or “forbearance” (ASV). Each of these translation choices gets at the meaning. Here’s the definition of the Greek word: “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).
Paul says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone who looks at us. They should think: She has a lot of patience. She never insists on her way of doing or seeing things. She’s reasonable in dealing with other people; so courteous!
I don’t often hear gentleness or a willingness to yield being praised in Christian circles. We’re certainly not famous for it. But Paul says it should be immediately obvious to the people around us.
3. Be known for humility.
Peter makes this huge statement: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Being “clothed in humility” is rich imagery. Clothing covers us; its visibility hides our covered selves. What if we wore humility like that? What if every inch of our being were only accessible beneath a covering of humility?
So whether you are a first-semester Bible College student, a graduating Bible student, a homemaker, a banker, a pastor, an elder, a retiree, or anything else, evaluate your reputation. What do you want to be known for? God wants you to be famous for love, gentleness, and humility. How are you doing with these things?
If your knowledge of God and his word leads you to apathy, a harsh or dogmatic spirit, or pride, then you are squandering your knowledge. But if your increased knowledge leads you to greater service and a decreased desire for accolades, then something is going right.
Picture yourself as that first-semester Bible College student travelling home for a few weeks over the holidays. How would you put your newly gained knowledge into practice? When you returned to school would your church be in awe of your knowledge? Would they be “humbled” by your theological precision and insistence that doctrine matters? Would they be scrambling to quickly put your hasty reforms into action? Or would they feel encouraged, supported, and loved as you headed back to school to study the Bible in greater depth?
It’s impossible to make a stronger statement about why these things matter than this: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.