One of the devotional classics is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. There is some historical dispute as to whether he is the actual author or just the compiler of this fifteenth-century aid to living the Christian life. Of course that’s not what really matters; it’s the substance of the book that counts, and substantive it is.
As I was reading through some excerpts yesterday, one stood out to me because it took aim at my profession—education. There is a tendency for those of us who have climbed the ladder to that supposed top rung to begin to believe we are the knowledge elite. Pride in our scholarly attainments is a real temptation, particularly when those attainments are essential if we are to rise in the ranks. Right now I’m serving as the chair of the committee in my university that evaluates those attainments and decides which professors deserve to be promoted in rank. There’s certainly nothing wrong with showcasing achievement because God has called us all to be excellent. Excellence deserves to be rewarded. Yet we must always guard against the arrogance that may accompany that excellence. If arrogance wins out, we have lost excellence in God’s eyes.
I would like to share what The Imitation of Christ says about this. I’ve altered and modernized some of the spelling so you won’t get bogged down in a forest of shalts, thees, thys, and thous. I hope the Lord can use this to help each of us to be careful to avoid the sin of pride in our accomplishments.
Truly, at the day of judgment we shall not be examined as to what we have read, but as to what we have done; not as to how well we have spoken, but as to how religiously we have lived.
Never read the word of God in order to appear more learned or more wise. Be studious for the mortification of your sins; for this will profit you more than the knowledge of many difficult questions. When you shall have read and known many things, you ought ever to return to the one beginning and principle. I am He that teaches man knowledge; and I give unto little children a clearer understanding than can be taught by man. He therefore, to whom I speak, shall quickly be wise, and shall profit much in Spirit.
There is a great difference between the wisdom of a man devout and taught of God, and the knowledge of a man learned and studious. Far more noble is that learning that flows from above, from the divine influence, than that which is painfully gotten by the wit of man.
If you desire to profit, read with humility, simplicity, and faithfulness; nor ever desire the repute of learning. . . . If you think you understand and know much, yet know that there be many more things that you know not. Affect not to be overwise, but rather acknowledge your own ignorance. . . . You are a man and not God.
More and more I’m impressed that humility is the key to living the Christian life as God intends it. Never am I more estranged from His presence than when I allow pride to well up inside. As I was reading the passage above, a section of Scripture came to mind. It’s from I Corinthians 1:26-29. I close with this and no further commentary, since it is a commentary in itself:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.