Seeking Humility with Superiority
This is the 3rd in the series we are going to be walking through on humility and purpose in God. If you haven’t read the other 2 yet, you might want to skip back and do so, as this one takes off in the middle.
We spoke last week about how difficult it is to be humble, as the vast majority of us have elevated perceptions of our own excellence in a number of different subjects, or experiences. With so few exceptions that we must pause and rethink our opinion of ourselves; it is going to require some work, and a genuine effort at re-programming. That means choosing to assault our own habits of thought by vigorously pursuing gratitude to God, but also taking the axe to our own egos and putting up speed bumps. That is what we’ll talk about today. Our egos actually get in the way of us doing the best job or relating to others in the best way possible. Confidence (sureness and optimism, but with correctability) – yes, but arrogance is an unyielding and unreasonable attitude of superiority that tends against correction, and toward control, or steam-rolling others.
Instead of just accepting that we don’t know where our knowledge stops and our egos take over, we must take up the sword of truth, AND – ask others to do so as well on our behalf, paying close attention to our past mistakes, and seeing our own failures as well as the failure of others, as new starting points with a lesson learned, instead of just bad endings.
Last week we talked about the Dunning-Kruger Effect and how “Illusory Superiority” has us in its grip, whether we realize it or not, and, in fact, most often we do not realize it. Professor Dunning has also spoken on ways that we can pursue the “unknown unknowns,” and cut down how often we walk on others (or just look stupid) because of our own elevated self-perceptions.
Let’s look at several ways Professor Dunning advises to cut back on “Illusory Superiority” and its effects. They aren’t difficult. They just need our desire, and motion.
- Seek Humble Mentors: because of their experiences, they know some of the unknowns, and as they get to know you, could help you identify them. Spend time together, and give them full license to speak – then, engage your listening skills whole heartedly. Stay humble and there will be victory in loving confrontation.
- Beware of New Situations: steep yourself in books, videos, and sound advice. Move way more carefully than you normally would, just because you know there are lots of unknowns. Say out loud “I don’t have a lot of experience, here.”
- Establish Buffers: put safety features out there to slow you down in situations where you don’t have a lot of experience. Mentors can help here too, but it is a general rule, like leaving earlier than you think you should when the roads are icy or you’ve never driven there before, or you don’t know the situation you’re walking into. Before moving, seriously ask yourself “how certain am I really?” There are few situations that require immediate movement…take some time. Don’t move too quickly, and don’t judge too quickly. For example, loving parents are keenly aware of whether someone you like could be good for you in the long run, but people tend to shy away from a parent’s advice and pay the price later.
Engaging these things as a practice will help you discern what you know and what you don’t know. They can’t eradicate mistakes, but they will lessen them, and could soften their effects.
In scripture, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark ring loudly of these principals. In Acts chapter 13, this group of cousins and ministers heads out together. Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” had been the one to bring Paul into mainstream ministry in Acts 9:27 when all the disciples were afraid of him because of his past murderous moves against the new church. He walked Paul into a meeting with the apostles themselves, and stood up for him, using specific facts and circumstances to prove that Paul was no longer the “Saul” they had known. Barnabas spoke into Paul’s life, and for his ministry, with love and conviction, having watched Paul persevere through some really harsh things already on behalf of their Lord, as no man perpetrating a ruse would. He assured them that “Saul was no more, and that Paul could be trusted, and the apostles accepted Barnabas’ word. The Christians went from rejecting Paul to embracing him, and even hiding him from persecution, based on Barnabas’ interference, and then Paul’s own behavior. Paul is always known as a deeply convicted soul who stood for what he believed was right…but he was not always right.
In Acts 13:13, amidst the travel and active ministry, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem, where his family resided. The circumstances around this leaving are not given, but it is clear that Paul was really upset by Mark’s withdrawal. When Barnabas spoke up for Mark, as he had done for Paul earlier, Paul refused to allow Mark back into the work, and there was such a fight that Paul and Barnabas went out separately, and Barnabas took Mark with him. Barnabas gave Mark a second chance; he was humble toward Mark and whatever caused his failure. The confidence Barnabas placed in Mark allowed Mark time to grow into a confident minister of God’s Word. If Paul had been heeded, who knows where Mark would have ended up in his faith walk. Mark, for his part, became a humble minister of our Lord, and the first Bishop of Alexandria. Yes, this is the Mark that wrote one of the gospels. And, yes, this is the Mark who died for his faith.
“When Mark returned to Alexandria, the idolators of the city resented his efforts to turn the Alexandrians away from the worship of their traditional gods. In AD 68 they placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.” (TaylorMarshall.com)
This type of death was shared by one of Paul’s disciples, Timothy, in Ephesus, for the same reasons. Did Mark have trouble knowing Jesus’ fate, and seeing the hatred held toward the apostles as they went out? I wonder.
When Mark failed on that first journey, Paul saw it as an impasse and turned him away when he tried to repent and return. Barnabas lacked the Illusory Superiority that was blinding Paul in this situation (in my opinion), and did for Mark what he had done for Paul earlier. Mark responded and grew into the minister who wrote one of the gospels and died for his faith in Alexandria. Barnabas was a humble mentor and saw the problems with putting a new person in a new situation without grace. He didn’t force Mark to come back but accepted him when he did. What did they do to assure Mark would succeed in the future? Scripture doesn’t say, but Mark did flourish and succeed, in the end, when he was tested with his life.
Later as Paul is in prison and dying, and beckons Timothy to come to him, he asks for Mark, and compliments Mark as well. It took Paul time, but his understanding of his own superiority, through study and hardships, was broken, and he loved Mark, saw him as useful in ministry, and called for him personally.
2 Ti 4:6-7 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. NKJV
2 Ti 4:11-12 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. NKJV
Watching Paul graduate through hardships and thank those who he openly calls out as having spoken into his life, I believe there is hope for me, you, and absolutely everybody else, to shake off our delusions of excellence, embrace our short comings or weaknesses, and to flourish in whatever God has for us to do.
There’s a saying – God equips the called, He doesn’t call the equipped. Let’s answer Holy Spirit’s calls on our lives without thinking ourselves “perfected,” but rather “graced.” It makes us a better canvas for a more beautiful painting.
That huge portion of grace in our lives gives us peace to move when called or challenges us if we don’t feel peace when we’re called. God help us to be more like Barnabas!
December 16, 2021