A young woman in our church has written a few songs that we have taught but she doesn’t want to let anyone know she wrote them. I think she feels she is being humble but I also see how it can encourage our church to know one of our young adults is doing this. Your thoughts?
I appreciated the question. I also appreciated a songwriter is even thinking this way. Social media tempts us to believe it’s our duty to broadcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or our blog that basically, we’re doing a bunch of cool stuff, saying some awesome things, or eating some incredible food. How refreshing for a songwriter to think God alone needs to know what she did! It’s similar to John the Baptist’s comment about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). I wonder how many songs we’d actually finish if our names were never attached to the songs we wrote. Certainly would be a motive tester!
But. I don’t think what she’s doing is necessarily humble. And it may not be the best way for her to honor God and love her church.
Humility Defined Biblically
We often think humility is hiding what we’ve done from others, and there’s certainly biblical precedent for that (e.g., Mt. 6:3-6). But in essence, humility is recognizing who we are in light of God’s greatness. It’s having a realistic view of our gifts, talents, abilities, etc. It’s what Paul is encouraging in Rom. 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” He’s not saying not to think of ourselves at all, but to think realistically, accurately.
Likewise, Peter counsels us: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10–11). Peter doesn’t tell us to avoid being seen. He says we’re to do what we do with the strength and ability that come from God, not ourselves. The very fact that God is using weak and fallible people to bless others highlights how good, powerful, and wise he is.
Jesus sounds the same note when he tells us to let our light shine before others so that they “may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) No one can give God glory for what he’s doing through us if they never know we did it.
Missing Out on Grace Received
There’s one kind of grace that comes to us through humbling ourselves (1 Pet. 5:5; James 4:6). But there’s another kind of grace that comes through the encouragement we receive from others (Heb. 3:13; Prov. 16:24). Of course, we don’t make it our aim to garner praise from those around us. But when I try to keep others from knowing that I served in some way, my very awareness of what I’ve done can be a sign I’m putting too much value on it and thinking of myself too highly. Like when I clean the dishes and take pains to make sure no one knows. Not only do I get points for serving, but I’m also being humble about it!
God is bigger than our attempts to “look” humble. He actually humbles us so that we might receive grace. One of the ways he does that is by using what we do to encourage others, even when we aren’t aware of it. Because ultimately, we’re in charge of faithfulness, not fruitfulness. It’s humbling to be aware of our failings, inadequacies, and sins, and suddenly be reminded by someone else that God’s grace has not only covered our sins but is producing fruit through our lives. That’s why Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Including our name on something we wrote also gives others the opportunity to give us feedback that could help us grow. In other words, happily embracing our “jars of clay-ness” allows others to see the treasure is in us and not us. And this leads to a final point.
Missing Out on Grace Given
God typically uses means to accomplish his work. And the more “ordinary” the means look, the greater the praise God receives. So hiding the fact that I wrote a song can rob people of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit at work through an ordinary person. What a blessing it would be to this girl’s congregation to see how God is raising up songwriting gifts in their church! And actually, if there’s no composer listed when he songs are projected, it might cause people to wonder who it is, and draw more attention to her!
It’s always good to fight our pride. As the Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” But fighting pride should eventually lead us to a place of being unconcerned about how others perceive our gifts. Then we’re able to use them freely in front of others, trusting that God will do what he wants to with them, all for our joy and His glory.
For some helpful thoughts on pursuing humility I highly recommend The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller and Humility: True Greatness by CJ Mahaney.