A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“The word gentlemen originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman’ you were not paying them a compliment, but merely stating a fact (p. xiii)… A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result gentleman is now a useless word… Now if once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word (p. xiv).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The worst thing we do with language is not cussing or cursing. At least then people know what we really mean (whether we admit to it later or not). The worst thing we do with language is to make it meaningless – perpetuating the punishment of the Tower of Babel.
In our day this decay of language takes the humble and seemingly enlightened tone of, “Who am I to say what is or is not good?” or “Who am I to judge who is and is not [particular positive attribute].” As Lewis points out, with this mindset we surrender meaning and the ability to communicate in the name of being non-offensive.
I think one thing we should learn from this is that humility is a matter of disposition not definitions. If we make humility a matter of definitions, then we get lost in the logic, “Who am I to say who is and is not or what is and is not humble?” In that case, humility begins to mean “someone who does not believe in clear definitions.”
As a disposition, humility challenges us to weigh carefully what we do with the clear definitions of Scripture. For instance, Scripture tells us clearly what a Christian is – a person who recognizes their sinful and helpless state before God and believes in the life-death-resurrection of Christ as their only hope resulting in a life-long commitment to grow in understanding of and obedience to the Bible.
The presence or absence of humility determines what we do with this definition (it does not alter the definition). Humility applies the definition to myself most stringently (Matt 7:3-5), because I know myself more completely and have more influence over myself than does anyone else. Humility recognizes the complete dependence of any person upon God to adhere to this definition.
At the same time, humility recognizes that we do not have the status or power to change or redefine what God has declared. Humility also recognizes that it is prideful to comfort others with words that are not true. Lying believes that we have the authority and power to create our own reality and then invite others to live in the world we created.
One final thought, humility is patient with those who sincerely (but wrongly) redefine words. Humility recognizes that it is not in our power to change the heart or mind of another person. Humility recognizes that all we can do is speak the truth in love using relationship as a bridge for the Gospel. When we try to do more than this we pridefully (often with the same sincerity as our “tolerant” friend) play God in a similar manner as they do when they redefine words (by trying to fulfill God’s role of bringing conviction). Let us be truly humble with the truth.