John Calvin once stated that the Christian life and all of the theologizing that goes with it could be summed up this way: "humility, humility, humility."
At its core, humility has more to do with motive for action than anything else. And as present day "Christianity-at-large" has become more focused on the end result, production and "purpose," and often trying to "quantify" the Christian life in much the same way that the business world quantifies things, the art of true humility and the motive for our actions are becoming lost.
Let me briefly explain my phrase humility has more to do with motive for action than anything else. We live in a world of false humility and especially so in "Christian" circles. False humility emerges when action and motive do not align as they might appear to align. Let me be more clear - and as a good friend recently pointed out to me - action and motive always align. In other words, we always do what we desire most to do at that time. However, there is usually more than one motive for action - what will be the effect of the action, and how does the action effect me? So, a simple example of what is meant here by false humility would be doing something designed for good but doing so for the sake of a motive ulterior to that good itself when that ulterior motive is in reality greater than the motive we want people to think is greater - ie. I give $1000 to The Salvation Army because I want to help the helpless, but not only that, and in reality greater than that, I want to be recognized for doing it, and I want to get a break on my taxes as well. Most likely, this would be false humility.
False humility is born from a "wrongful" motive for action, or perhaps more accurately, a "deceptive" motive for action. I would submit that this is any motive not born out of Love (the capital "L" here is intentional). Why? It must be true that any motive that is pure is born out of Love (Keep in mind the context here is dealing with the spirit and not the flesh, ie morality - so I am not talking about eating being motivated by hunger or drinking being motivated by thirst, etc.). As an aside, the philosophical types at this point might be considering whether man is even capable of a pure motive at all, which is a very good question to ask. My short answer is no, at least not man by himself, in his natural state; such a man is not capable of a pure motive. In fact, in an absolute sense, no man - save Christ - has ever had a pure motive. Perhaps the purity of one's motive is most accurately marked by the one whose image it reflects.
Let me put some meat on the bones here, explaining true humility as pure motivation with the following:
Consider the notion of being needful versus being useful as it relates to humility and motivation - and this is perhaps my main point.
The desire to feel needed and to be appreciated is so very strong within each one of us that it perhaps motivates us to action as often as anything else. By our very nature we like to know that our efforts or our very presence are needed in a cause or a relationship. It feels good to be needed by others. It feels good to help others in need. It feels good to know that our time here, our relationships, that our causes all have a particular "purpose" behind them.
But think about this - could it be that this need to feel needed is a root cause of false humility in our lives, and thus when it looks like we are serving the Kingdom, we are more often only serving ourselves?
Or think about it this way: is the need to be needful making us more or less humble, more or less pure, more or less true towards the calling of following Christ? Is our intrinsic need to be needful a pure motive? Does it rightly reflect a new nature born of Love?
Enter the idea of being useful versus being needful.
If as Christians we are to be truly concerned about more than our own "purpose" here and if rather than being driven mostly by end-results, our motives are important (and in fact critical), then being useful must be a great concern towards living in a state of humility and reflecting the true nature of Christ.
Useful is more concerned with the greater good than needful is with self.
Useful asks how can I give, how can I be used, not how am I needed or what will the result of my giving be?
Useful is born of Love supernaturally, while needful is born of self naturally.
When Christ came to crucify the natural self and all of its impure desires, He at the same time established that true humility is about being used for the sake of the Kingdom - always, and in every circumstance.
Only when one has resigned the idea of being needed by God, can one then truly be used of God in humility. In past writings, I have quoted Karl Barth with an idea that has lodged in my mind for the past couple of years, which is this - a Holy God, who is "wholly other" and without need, who is by nature self-sufficient and self-sustaining, does not need man in order to accomplish His will. God does not need you or I in order to accomplish His will. If He is Holy, it must be so. And as His followers we must know He does not need us. But we must also understand that He sure can use us.
Think too about Paul's 1 Cor 13 passage with the repetitive theme of "and have not charity" or "love" in light of this idea of right motivation or useful being tied to humility and ultimately being tied to Love. In a very real sense, Paul is saying that having the right motivation is the center of everything we do as Christ followers. It is not enough for a Christian to simply do the right thing absent of the right motive. Just as saying one thing and doing another or professing one way and secretly living another is hypocrisy, so too is doing one thing while feigning to desire another or even doing something seemingly right without a greater motive of Love.
And this, I believe, is not only a reason for the "hollowed out" or "shallow" Christianity we see out there as well as sometimes within, but it might also be this more subtle hypocrisy that causes a lost world to increasingly look upon the "Christian" world with growing disdain.
Where the greatest concern is for "purpose driven lives," or in aligning with my vernacular here, where the greatest concern is for finding and fulfilling the needfulness of our lives, the peace of true humility will never rest its head. To simply be "driven" by Love rather than a sense of "purpose" is the path of the rarely humble Christian. To be "purpose driven" is a dangerous path where action separates from motive which leads to the nearly certain destiny of false humility and the common hypocritical "Christian."
But where Christians are motivated by supernatural Love and are willing to be used regardless of what that has to do with feeling needed, then perhaps in those moments when motive rightly aligns with action, we can understand what Calvin meant by "humility, humility, humility." And perhaps then too, by the grace of God, we can live more often as we believe.