Humility and tears don't sound like something we would strive for, do they? Most of us concur that life is found avoiding humility and tears. The apostle Paul makes some very bold statements in the New Testament books he wrote. Some wish that he never said what he said about women especially. In Acts 20:19, Luke quoted his description of ministry when he wrote Paul’s words:
"I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.”
Paul’s audience was the elders from Aphesis. These were church leaders who could better comprehend how humility and tears are part of serving God. Perhaps they needed to hear it again. They needed to hear it from the one who taught them all he knew about loving and serving God. These words were most likely received like affirmation that their own service to the Lord was on track with Paul’s example. This was Paul’s last opportunity to address this group, which caused them great grief (Acts 20:37). These parting words would need to carry them through their future service to the Lord.
Whether you are in paid or unpaid ministry, you would do well to learn the mystery of service to the Lord that Paul is describing because without humility and tears it is likely that your service will be meaningless to the Lord. It seems to be the only way to serve Him. One spiritual observer described ministry without humility this way:
“If we are not humble, we can make ourselves unfit for helping those around us, for pride infects everything. Where you have a proud person nothing goes right; nobody is treated properly: his family, his friends, his colleagues…He expects and demands special treatment for himself because he considers himself different; one has to take care to avoid hurting his very vulnerable sensibilities. The dogmatic tone of his utterances, his ironic or sarcastic contributions to any discussion—for he does not mind anyone else being shown up in a poor light if he himself is going to come out well—his tendency to cut short conversations which arise quite naturally, etc.: all these are signs of something deep seated: It is the all-consuming egoism that takes possession of the personality when the limited horizons of one’s life are centered on oneself.” (Francis Fernandez)
Humility is the opposite of our sin nature and difficult to maintain; that is precisely the reason we are in desperate need of tears. Tears are a gift from heaven. There are two kinds of tears: there are bitter tears and contrite tears. Humility breeds contrite tears, while pride produces bitter tears. I can tell you from personal experience contrite tears are the way to go. They connect you to heaven. They lead to great joy. I can also tell you from personal experience that bitter tears will lead to despair and never satisfy a soul until they turn contrite. We can only feel contrite when we experience our humble status before God and realize all our judgments and blaming is against the One who loves us.
I was surprised when Paul positively described his service to the Lord with the words humility and tears, rather than a headcount of those he had baptized or how many were in the churches he founded compared to Peter. After further thought, I conceded that humility and tears is the way I want to describe my service to the Lord.