Clean men vs. soiled garments...
Want a good test of pastoral humility? Don't look for what's absent. Look for what's present.
Humility is a positive virtue, not the absence of a negative trait.
Rejection of the pursuit of money may be evidence of humility but poverty by itself proves nothing.
Of all the actions potentially denoting humility in a man of God the most important is the wearing of blood-soiled garments. Allow me to explain....
In Exodus 28 and 29 God gives Moses instructions for making Aaron's priestly garments. Their workmanship is to be of the highest order, their materials include gold and fine linen....
But when the garments are done and Aaron and his sons stand arrayed in their glory, God's command is not yet finished. Aaron and his sons must be consecrated, a final step that requires the sacrifices of a bull and a ram.
Yet even with sacrifices made and priests arrayed in new robes, one step remains. In Exodus 29:21, God tells Moses to take the blood of the slaughtered ram, mix it with oil, and "sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments and on his sons and on his sons' garments with him; so he and his garments will be consecrated."
Before Aaron is consecrated to God's service, his new garments must be spattered with blood and oil.
The stains of this act will be a perpetual sign to the children of Israel that their spiritual leaders are as much in need of the cleansing blood of God's sacrifice as the people for whom they intercede.
This is the attribute of pastoral humility most often lacking in God's servants. The ideal minister in the eyes of many, including many pastors, is a stainless automaton, not a man whose personal gifts and glories are spattered by the blood of an intervening sacrifice: a spotless man, a clean machine unsullied by the full wretchedness of normal human depravity, a man whose sterling character uniquely qualifies him to stand in for God.
The result, all too often, is a man who becomes a demiurge to his flock, a subordinate-yet-still-divine voice of the supreme God just as Paul and Barnabas were treated as messenger gods outside the temple of Hermes in Lystra.
But instead of running into the crowd shouting, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God," as Paul and Baranabas did in Lystra, these men just cluck their tongues, gently demurring, "Now, now, you know better. We're only testimonies to the grace of God."
No shouting, "But I'm a sinner too!" No screaming, "I have the same nature as you." No pastoral letter claiming, "I'm the chief of sinners." No psalms beseeching God not to take His Spirit away from them. No ripping of suits. No blood stained robes reminding people of the reality of their sinfulness--sinfulness so dark and depravity so deep that only by the covering blood of Christ can they stand in the assembly at all, let alone preach the Word of God.
It is an inescapable rule of God's work with His great leaders that He exposes their sin in the sight of all--spattering their robes with blood.
David's Bathsheba becomes a public scandal. So too his census. Peter's betrayal is public, as his restoration. Noah's nakedness, Lot's incest, Abraham's claiming Sarah as his sister, Paul's fight with Barnabas: we could go on and on with the list of God's great men publicly exposed, visibly defined by Providence as sinners needing the blood of His Eternal Sacrifice. And not only exposed in their own time but their sinful deeds written down for eternity in the Word.
So, you want to know how to look for pastoral humility? Here's the test: does the man wear blood-stained robes in his public service as God's anointed? Does he openly acknowledge the depth of His sinfulness? Does he acknowledge real sins, not just the pious failings of a demiurge--you know, sins like "worrying too much" and "not being patient," those pious weaknesses so often confessed by men who must admit that technically they're sinners while still seeking to preserve the illusion that they aren't really like other men in deserving death from the hand of God?
Has he confessed impure thoughts to his elders, thoughts that flow from looking at impure images on the internet? Does he fight his greed, honestly acknowledging that a desire for money wars with righteousness within his own breast?
Does he publicly call on God not to remove His Holy Spirit from him as David did? Does he say with Luther that the only pope that really worries him is the pope residing in his own heart?
Brothers and sisters, the secret fear of every pastor is that his sin will be found out. For many of us, life consists of a series of frantic attempts to cover our sins so that we can maintain the illusion of pastoral perfection. I know this. I'm a pastor. I know of what I write.
Humility in my life as a pastor begins in acknowledging that I need a Saviour today--my wearing blood-stained garments. Only by wearing these garments do I rise above my sin.
The test of a pastor's humility? Confession. Repentance. Publicly. Privately. Wearing blood-stained robes among his people. There's the beginning of true humility.