Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 26, 2024

A Year After Tim Keller's Death, His Humility And Self-Forgetfulness Are His Biggest Legacy For Us

Following up on my post, The Life, Death, And Legacy Of Tim Keller:  Christianity Today, Would Tim Keller Care If We Weren’t Still Talking About Him? Probably Not.:

Keller Memoriam[Tim Keller had] an indifference to fame and to curating an image—something many of us struggle with in the social media era. This is also part of why, I believe, he finished his race so well.

Finishing well in life and ministry has been historically difficult for believers, especially for those in positions of leadership. Think of Gideon or Solomon in the Old Testament, Demas in the New Testament, or, of course, the many church leaders today who have infamously failed to persevere.

The esteem that leaders receive from the Christian community can allow for hidden flaws to grow like rust on the hull of a ship, unnoticed and unaddressed at first. But as these leaders reach greater influence, greater weight is placed on these flaws—which can reach dangerous levels of corrosion—and can often be enough to sink the whole ship of their character and legacy. Yet Keller’s neither corroded nor sank.

As Keller wrote in his best-selling booklet on self-forgetfulness [The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy], “Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honor—nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition—nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it?” As someone who seemed neither to lust for recognition nor to be frightened by it, this description seemed to fit Keller well. ...

In Keller’s last video message to his church before passing away, he ... [reflected] on Jeremiah 45, a lesser-known passage about a scribe named Baruch who, evidently, began to think too highly of himself. “Do you seek great things for yourself?” God asks rhetorically. “Seek them not” (v. 5).

Keller used quoted his passage as he told his church, “Ministers very often come to New York to make a name for themselves.” After living 34 years in the city, I’m sure this was not a hypothetical scenario for him. He continued, “Ministers, don’t make your ministry success your identity. … Hallowed be Thy name. Forget yourself, forget your reputation.”

This advice came from someone who had a stellar reputation—as a pastor, theologian, evangelist, and author. And I’m thankful that God extruded Keller to a place of prominence. I’m thankful for the church-planting empire that the Lord built through him and for the many resources he’s published that continue to help people like me and churches like mine today. But had Keller not finished well the race marked out for him (Heb. 12:1), none of that would have mattered.

Which is why I’m most thankful for the reminder left by Keller’s legacy—one that so many church leaders need today—that humility and self-forgetfulness are godly virtues that ensure the impact of our ministry far outlasts our lives.

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