3 New Year Resolutions From Early Fathers: Do Good, Serve Well, Be Humble — An Excerpt from "Awakening Faith"
Part of that product and profit arises from fixing our eyes on a set of resolutions and goals for our lives. Yes it's a bit cliche, the whole New Year's resolution rigamarole. Yet there is wisdom in "measuring twice, cutting once," as they say. Resolutions help us live in a way that's consistent with our desired life outcome, especially if they arise from good, sturdy sources.
Earlier this week we reflected on Christ as King over our new year by surveying some writings on Christology. I'd like to continue that reflection by surveying thoughts from early church fathers in order to help shape our 2014 resolutions, particularly as teachers.
Awakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church is a new resource that plumbs depths of the forbearers of our faith through 366 carefully selected devotionals written in modern English set next to inspiring Scripture passages. Three selections by Gregory the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine provide solid resolution-worthy material.
As teachers we are a privileged bunch serving in unique roles that require a certain set of resolutions. These early church fathers remind us we can only live and lean into that role well in 2014 by doing good, serving well, and walking the path of humility.
-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)
Confidence through Good Deeds
But now, Job, listen to my words; pay attention to everything I say. . . .I am the same as you in God’s sight; I too am a piece of clay. (Job 33:1, 6)
Arrogant teachers have this characteristic: they do not know how to teach humbly, and they cannot properly convey the things they understand. Their way of speaking betrays their teaching— they act as if they live on lofty heights, looking down disdainfully on their students. They regard their subjects as inferiors, to whom they do not condescend to listen; in fact, they barely talk with them at all — they simply lay down the law.
On the contrary true doctrine eliminates arrogance through reflection, because right teaching attacks arrogance in the teacher’s heart. It ensures that the humility it aims to instill in the listeners’ hearts is actually preached by a humble man. For humility, the mother of virtues, teaches by word and demonstrates by example.
The goal of true doctrine is to express humility among disciples more by deeds than by words. When Paul tells his disciples, “These things command and teach with all power” (1 Tim. 4:11), he means the credibility that comes with good behavior rather than the domineering exercise of power. When one practices first and preaches afterward, one is really teaching with power.
One’s doctrine loses credibility if one’s conscience condemns his heart. So Paul is not speaking of the power of fancy rhetoric but of the confidence gained by good deeds. It is said of the Lord, “He taught with authority unlike the scribes and the Pharisees” (Matt. 7:29). In a unique and sovereign way, he spoke with the power of his own goodness since he had no sin. His sinless human nature wielded the authority given to it by his divine nature.
~Gregory the Great
Outdo One Another in Service
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
A person who openly despises the honors of this world and rejects all earthly glory must also practice self-denial. Self-denial means that you never seek your own will but God’s, using God’s will as a sure guide; it also means possessing nothing apart from what is held in common. In this way it will be easier for you to carry out your elder’s commands promptly, with joy and hope; this is required of Christ’s servants, who have been redeemed for service to their brothers and sisters. This is what the Lord means when he says, “Whoever wishes to be first and great among you must be the last of all and a servant to all” (Mark 9:35).
Our service to humankind must be given freely. We must be subject to everyone and serve our brothers as if we were paying off a debt. Moreover, those who are in charge should work harder than the others and conduct themselves with greater submission than those that are under them. Their lives should be a visible example of what service means, and they should remember that those who are committed to their trust are given to them by God. Those who are in a position of authority must look after their brothers and sisters as dutiful teachers look after young children given to them by their parents. If brothers and sisters and elders have this loving relationship, then brothers and sisters will be happy to obey whatever is commanded, while elders will be delighted to lead their brothers and sisters to perfection. If you try to outdo one another in showing respect, your life on earth will be like that of the angels.
~Gregory of Nyssa
The Path of Humility
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
Christ, the spotless lamb, became the sacrificial victim, led to the slaughter for the sheep that were blemished — as if we were merely blemished and not entirely corrupt! Such is the grace we have received! Let us live worthily of that great grace and not show contempt for it. So powerful is the Godly physician that he has healed all our sins! If we choose to be sick again, we will not only harm ourselves, but show ingratitude to the physician as well.
So let us follow the paths that Christ has revealed to us, above all the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us the path by his teachings, and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf. In order to die for us — because as God he could not die — “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The immortal one took on mortality to die for us, and then died for us to destroy our own death. This is what the Lord did, and this is the gift he granted to us. The mighty one was brought low, the lowly one was murdered, and after he was killed, he rose again and was exalted. For he did not intend to leave us dead in hell, but to honor those who rise with him at the resurrection of the dead, believers that he has already honored by justifying them through their faith.
Yes, he gave us the path of humility. If we keep to it we shall confess our belief in the Lord and have good reason to sing: “We shall praise you, God, we shall praise you and call upon your name” (Ps. 86:12).
Awakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church
by James Stewart Bell and Patrick J. Kelly
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