Tim Keller is a big help with his little book on humility – The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path To True Christian Joy.
This tiny piece is the first among four or five books on humility I’ve committed myself to read. The mortification of pride and vivification of humility is my present gospel-sanctification project and, as always, it is by the mentorship of good Christian authors that I am assisted in these pursuits. Keller, definitely, is one such an aid.
The book is few-paged and, for an average reader like me, could be read in less than an hour sitting. Its structure is easily predictable for someone who is acquainted with books on gospel-sanctification topics. It states the problem, gives the gospel solution, and work out on practical ways in the appropriation of the solution proposed. (The similar structure is present in the book I am currently working on, C. J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness, although it is a thicker book; as well as with William Farley’s Gospel-Powered Humility but with a more ministerial focus). Keller’s book, being short, is straightforward. His work shows that a book needs not be thick in order to be of service. In fact, it’s tininess probably is of help already if you are one who takes pride in devouring large volumes! (Don’t think it’s silly. I was planning to get myself a printed shirt that says “I have survived Bavinck” when I finish his four volumes).
Basing the whole book on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, the first chapter expounds on the unusual Greek word used by Paul for pride, physioo, which literally means ‘overinflated’. From it, Keller describes human ego with characteristics also in common with any concrete item that is swollen. I am hesitant to say that Paul actually had thought of all those descriptions that Keller imaginatively reads on the word physioo, but all of those traits he ascribed to human ego, even if not directly taken from Paul’s figure, are simply spot on. If you are struggling with pride (as I know you do!) you will not find it hard to relate to the description of our sinful ego as incredibly busy even to the point of exhaustion – busy in daily competition!
The second chapter is my favorite one. I love the way Keller presents Paul’s attitude as an unknown terrain for the most of us. He presents Paul as someone who care less about what others think – but not only that – he care less for what he himself thinks about himself! With this, it is now clearly discernible Lewis’s influence upon Keller. Many instructions on humility invites introspection which harms rather than helps the struggling proud soul. Taking his cue from Lewis, he presents humility as one of self-forgetfulness. Meaning, humility is not so much about cultivating a lowly view of one’s self as it is about thinking of self less – of forgetting self at all! The way he presented the amiability of this path of humility would surely move struggling Christian readers who have grown tired of their self-absorption to yearn for the liberty that self-forgetfulness offers. To stop connecting every activity (even of self) to self. O what peace and freedom! It is an unknown terrain, but, O, let me walk that path!
Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honour – nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition – nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either? Wouldn’t you like to be the type of person who, in their imaginary life, does not sit around fantasizing about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others? Or perhaps you tend to beat yourself up and to be tormented by regrets. Wouldn’t you like to be free of them? Wouldn’t you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about those three triple jumps that the gold medal winner did? To love it the way you love a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? For it not to matter whether it was their success or your success. Not to care if they did it or you did it. You are as happy that they did it as if you had done it yourself – because you are just so happy to see it. (Loc 242)
The third, and last, chapter gives the gospel as the way by which that freedom of self-forgetfulness could be gained. When we care about men’s opinion excessively, it is because we place ourselves daily in a courtroom, awaiting the verdict of the people as to who we are and what is our worth. We perform for the verdict. In the gospel, the verdict has already been given prior to the performance! And the verdict was pronounced by God Himself in His Son. The verdict is accepted and beloved. We need not daily look for significance based on how we perform and what verdict would people give. The only verdict that matters was already given – and now perform on that basis. “Like Paul, we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks’. And he has said, ‘Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, and ‘You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.’ Live out that.”(Loc 306)
If you are struggling with the sin of pride (as, again, I know you do, because we all do), why not take the hour or less in reading this piece from Tim Keller? Just like your tiny pill for swollen aching members, this small book, if digested well, is one good antidote to an inflated ego.