Consider this: it’s possible to preach a sermon or even write an essay on humility while remaining arrogant and proud! — It’s a mysterious thing: when you realize you are proud, you’re humble; and when you think, “I’m humble,” you are proud.
“A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility!” said C. S. Lewis. When we think, “I need to be seen as humble,” that is the very act of pride! That’s exhibitionism! In fact, the greatest sign of pride confirmed in a person’s life is when they say, “I am humble.” Why? — Because all humility is unconscious. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones insightfully said, “We can be proud of our humility, indeed I think we always are if we try to give the impression of humility.”
It’s too easy to be unaware of pride in our life and we can deceive ourselves into believing we are making great progress on this thing called pride and yet be most conceited. It is the devil’s masterpiece. And so, first, Satan tries to keep us away from Christian service; when he fails, then he makes us proud we are involved and judgmental of those who are not. Satan never stops using the evil of pride in all religious activities.
We all should tremble when we are reminded, “for God resisteth the proud” (James 4:6). Lacking humility means God is against us. So, it’s possible to be busy serving God while God resists all we are doing! We can sing a song about Jesus bleeding and suffering on the cross and be proud while we sing. God finds it all offensive and distasteful to Him.
Never once have we been guilty and God did not take notice of it—He sets Himself against it. Any act to intentionally get ourselves noticed or applauded is in that category. Any planned effort to get credit or to try to make people think we are wonderful is offensive to Him. Anything we do to assert our superiority is classified in the same way. Simply, self-confident and self-reliant people who promote themselves is an expression of glorifying in yourself.
But God is not out to make us think less of ourselves; He does not want us to think of ourselves at all. Nothing is so easy to deceive than ourselves—that statement goes back before Christ came; even pagans realized that fact.
The New Testament language is Greek, and the word for humility refers to modesty and avoiding the chief seats. Pride parades itself by not being willing to listen because we have an implacable confidence in our taste and our own judgment, and why? Because it is our own judgment, we are always right! We see it in the person who refuses to be contradicted or challenged because their ideas cannot be wrong for their mental process is infallible. Any challenge is an insult to such a prideful person.
Let’s examine it:
I. A DESIRE WE HAVE
We must be convinced that if we are going to be blessed by God, it will be because God finds us humble. For a clear statement or two, God says, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
And then in Isaiah God makes a promise to those of humble spirit, “to revive the spirit of the humble” (Isaiah 57:15), which means God’s continual freshness in our life. Who would not desire that from God? — These are promises from God about what He will do for those who are humble. Humility in a person draws God’s attention and brings His blessing.
Add to that this, God says He desires to show Himself strong to those whose hearts are pure and whose humble spirits are blameless. (read II Chronicles 16:9) One translation reads “to bring aid and comfort.”
So humility draws His attention and humility invites His active involvement in what we do. It is gracious attention He promises and it is spiritual blessing He gives. Who in their right mind would not long for that for their work and witness? James says it like this, “God … gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Martin Luther famously said it this way, “Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”
So God promises, I will greatly bless the humble, and D. L. Moody said, “God never made a promise that was too good to be true,” and Spurgeon adds, “God never out-promised Himself.” So mark it—God always means what He says and God will always do what He promised. If we want His blessing, then we, with a heart passion, must cry out to God.
II. A DISCOVERY WE MAKE
Here is what we discover—genuine humility will require, in each of us, a total redefining of success. Jesus Christ, of course, is our role model and our teacher. So then, let’s think, He ended up with eleven disciples (most of them afraid) and a handful of others, mostly women. And that was after three long years of ministry! Who today would call that success?
1. The Radical Response~
At first people came in the thousands, whole cities were stirred, and people like Zacchaeus even climbed up a tree to see Him. And many common people took their first step into the faith—He received them.
But look at those He evidently turned away—sometimes men in positions of power, people with money and people who said all the right things, but really it was superficial. Why? Well, that’s easy to answer. John tells us, “For Jesus for his part would not trust himself to them. He knew them all, and had no need of evidence from others about anyone, for he himself could tell what was in people” (John 2:24-25, English Bible). He could flawlessly read them.
Now, if it had been us, we might have been gullible or we might have lowered the standards and let them join. I’m sure our numbers would have been greater than His! But to Jesus, success was in the heart of sincerity and so He turned some away. But because pride is a factor and we think numbers are important—we would have opened the floodgates. We are blinded by our capitalistic idea of success and we take the easy road that gives instant and superficial results.
Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon in August of 1856 on “Pride and Humility,” and he said of this cheap success, it is “a groundless thing” and “a brainless thing” as well as “the maddest thing that can exist.” Allow the promises God gives to the humble to shape our lives and determine our choices. If that happens, when we are gone, they will say, “They had humility—it was the secret.”
2. The Right Response~
This is holy ground—we cannot understand success, the Jesus kind of success, unless we come to Mount Calvary; it is impossible without a cross!
We could use Mark 10:45 as the foundation, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Spurgeon said, my theology can be summed up in four words: “Christ died for me.” The cross, as we discover, is our symbol of success, the bloody cross!
III. A DISCIPLINE WE PRACTICE
The amazing man of God John Stott, now remembered for humility combined with personal discipline, had a lot to say on this important subject. He wrote near the end of his life this: “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”
So we are convinced in every stage and in every sphere we need authentic humility, in every circumstance and all conditions—we rebuke the greatest enemy to our work and witness—pride. Yes, it is against all logic to try to serve God with an arrogant attitude. We know, yes, we know, but pride is hidden deep within and restlessly waits to express itself. The heart is where pride exists and when we lack discipline, that’s when pride leaps out to boldly express itself.
So, John Stott went on to say, “Pride is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.” Be convinced there is nothing God hates more than the sin of pride—yes, He hates all sin, but nothing is more offensive to Him than pride. So let’s settle it forever, Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in his heart is an abomination to the Lord …” and in the same Book of Proverbs, chapter 8, verse 13, God said it unmistakably, “I hate pride and arrogance” (Proverbs 8:13, NIV).
Can we quickly list, in very simple words, practical steps to guard us and quietly discipline us against it? Let me suggest four of them:
1. Reflect on the Cross!
How could any Christian be proud and arrogant who keeps the cross before them? The Puritan John Owen said, “Fill your affection with the cross of Christ that there may be no room for sin.”
Isaac Watts wrote:
“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.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Westminster, London, said, “Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”
2. Rejoice in Your Lord!
Admit, all you can do without God is make a mess of things. All we can do is stumble. Don’t allow yourself to listen to yourself brag; rather, talk to yourself about bragging! I believe it—only God’s work done God’s way will produce God’s blessing! Rejoice in that—remember and retain that truth.
3. Relish in Praising God!
A spirit of gratitude will stop pride. “Thankfulness is a soil in which pride cannot easily grow,” said a British churchman.
Matthew Henry said something like this, gratitude will sweeten your spirit. He is right. The most proud people are ungrateful and do not live in a spirit of praise to the God of grace.
4. Reside under God’s Hand!
Here is what I mean, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (I Peter 5:6)—notice, “under the mighty hand …” Think of His hand on you. Which means He watches all we do and He is powerful—powerful enough to put you down or powerful enough to lift you up. Reflect, “His hand is on me and I am under His hand, His mighty hand.” Live under His mighty hand!
We conclude, the only way to be blessed by God is humility and the only way to know humility is to abide in Christ and linger long at His feet for we realize by and in Him all things consist and exist.
Paul declared in Ephesians that “Christ filleth all in all” and in Colossians that Christ is “all in all”—that is the allness of Christ which causes us to confess, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
Walk in humility!