“Pride & Humility”
You would be hard pressed to find a characteristic valued more in Scripture than humility. Our English word "humility" comes from a Greek word that means “low lying” or "of low estate." It is sometimes translated as “lowliness." Lowliness is a metaphor for one's attitude of heart or disposition. It is the opposite of ego, pride and high-mindedness. Most sins and many broken relationships can be traced back to pride. In the beginning, it was pride that led Adam to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was conceit and arrogance that led to the condemnation of devil (1 Tim. 3:6).
But while pride is always punished in Scripture, humility is always rewarded. The humble will be exalted and the proud will be brought low (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). The first are last and the last are first in the kingdom (Mt. 20:1-16). Self-awareness of one's spiritual poverty before God makes one fit for the kingdom (Mt. 5:3). This poverty of spirit does not refer to what one “has” physically, but what one “is”. This realization that without God we are nothing is the soil in which the seed of the kingdom grows.
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went up to the mountain to pray. But only one man came down justified in God's sight God. The average Jew would have expected the pious Pharisee to be right with God. But the despised tax collector was counted righteous due to his humility and God's mercy.
3 examples of pride
Uzziah (2 Chron. 26) ascended the throne of Judah at age 16. His reign was successful "as long as he sought the Lord" (v.5). "But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction" (v.16). Uzziah went into temple to burn incense. This was the job of a priest, a Levite, not a king from the tribe of Judah. And though the priests tried to stop him and warned him it wasn’t his place, Uzziah refused to listen and God struck him with leprosy (v.21). Uzziah's legacy echoes the proverb, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18). When he was humble and recognized his role, God blessed him. But when he grew proud and arrogant and felt he was above the rules, he was struck down.
Herod (Acts 12) addressed the people of Tyre and Sidon. Dressed in his “royal robes,” the people were taken in by his majestic appearance (or perhaps were simply stroking his ego) and proclaimed he spoke with "the voice of a god, and not of a man!" (v.22). Instead of refusing to accept the glory due only to God (Acts 10:26; 14:15; Rev. 22:8-9; etc.), Herod chose to accept the crowd's praise and paid the price (v.23).
Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9) was troubling a congregation of which a friend of the apostle John's was a part. He was domineering and overbearing, always wanting his own way. John described him as one “who loves to be first." Diotrephes didn’t recognize the authority of Christ's chosen apostles, he didn’t want to help traveling preachers and he even threatened Christians who supported them! Diotrephes' pride had blinded him to the fact that Jesus alone has first-place in the church (Col. 1:18).
To balance out the proverb, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” let's notice three examples of humility.
3 examples of humility
Abram (Gen. 13) was a wealthy man traveling with his nephew Lot. Because their flocks were so large, they both recognized the land couldn’t support both companies at once. Instead of causing unneccesary tension, Abram took the humble approach and deferred to Lot: "If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left" (v.9). Though Abram was older he surrendered his rights in the interest of peace, something the apostle Paul would later do for the Corinthians' benefit (1 Cor. 9).
The Canaanite woman (Mt. 15) approached Jesus as he was traveling and cried out to him to have mercy on her daughter who was possessed by a demon. Jesus tested her faith by rebuffing her pleas twice (vv.21-24). Undeterred, the woman continued to beg him (v.25). Jesus tested her once more with a feigned insult (v.26). In a remarkable display of humility the woman accepted her low status and, finally, Christ gave up the ruse. He pronounced her faith "great!" and healed her daughter on the spot (vv.27-28).
The apostle Paul, after his conversion, lived his life in pure, Christlike humility. He had suffered and labored much for the Lord. Who knows how many people he brought to faith? How established many congregations, wrote half of our New Testament, had seen tremendous heavenly visions (2 Cor. 12:1ff) and preached to many people in high places (Acts 9:15; 23-26). And yet, notice how Paul referred to himself: if we take these statements chronologically, Paul said he was "least of the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:9), "least of the saints" (Eph. 3:8) and "foremost of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:18). The longer Paul served Jesus, it seemed, the more he grew in his humility.
Which path will you choose?
These examples are preserved for our instruction. The world is teaching us to be loudest voice in room, the strongest personality, the one who stands out above the rest. But Jesus says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant" (Mt. 23:11). Ironically, we stand out in the world (and make a postive difference in the world) through our humility (Mt. 5:13-16).
Moses is said to have lived 120 years (Deut. 31:2). Some see his life as divided into three distinct forty-year periods, spending the first 40 years believing he was somebody, the next forty years learning he was a nobody and the last forty years seeing what God could do with a nobody. We all find ourselves somewhere in the life of Moses. May God teach us to be humble like Jesus, the truly great one, who washed the feet of his disciples (Jn. 13). The arrogant will not escape judgment. The humble will be exalted.
Here are a few memorable quotes on the subject of humility:
“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.”
“Humility is like underwear; we should all have it but not let it show.”
“Humility is a strange thing; the minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it!”
“There is no room for God in him who is full of himself.”
“God has two thrones: one in the highest heavens, the other in the lowliest heart.”
Isaac Watts' hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," is beautiful and instructive in its humility:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.