Pride - Humility
There are certain moments in life when you learn something that changes everything… I’m sure everyone has had a moment like that! You’re going along… you realize the truth about something and then everything is different. And this can be both good and bad. Well, I had huge, bad moment like that a number of years ago; a moment when I realized something about myself and the trouble I’d been causing. Now, I am aware that I have talked about this before, but, it was a moment I have to talk about if we are going to have an honest discussion about self denial and in particular, Pride, today. Many of you know that there was a period in my life when I was a part of the team for a popular, morning radio program. I worked behind the scenes, I wasn’t on the radio… but I was on the team. The team was small: eight people. And due to the popularity of the show and the fact that people were always trying to get to the stars of the show, it had to be a very close knit, eight-person, circle. Now, a lot of people in my life thought it was wonderful that I had somehow found my way into that circle. The thought was that I could be an influence for Jesus in what seemed to be an impenetrable world. And that was my thinking too when I said, “yes” to the position. I have to say that almost everyone in that small circle was wonderful to me. The on-air atmosphere wasn’t always the best but most of the time working there was fine. But what I found out almost immediately was that being a part of the show had big perks; if I wanted just about anything… the best seats at any show anywhere, dinner reservations, access to famous people, those sorts of things… piece of cake. And everywhere I went once the word got out that I was a part of the show I was always given special treatment. I can’t tell you how intoxicating that was… or how quickly a voice inside me started saying, “You deserve special treatment because you ARE better than everyone else!” I am not saying that any of the other people on the show ever felt this way… but I did… My “moment of realization” came when I was chatting with the wife of someone on the show and she suddenly said, “Tim, I thought you might be different, but no, it didn’t take long for you to swallow the poison!” Now, I hadn’t sensed that anything had changed… but, clearly, my overblown opinion of myself was evident to her. So, I asked my wife about it later, and all I got was a long, silent, look. And right then I realized this truth: Pride is like a spiritual drunkenness; it fogs your thinking… it makes you do and say things you’d never say if you were in your right mind… and everyone around you is either embarrassed for you or wants to get away from you. And as far as being an influence for Jesus… pride undermines any possibility of that! I was drunk with pride but the only person who couldn’t see it was me. I don’t think that I am alone in struggling with having, shall I call it, an ‘insane estimate of my own self worth.’ The sad question for many or us isn’t, “Do I have pride?” Rather it’s, “Where is it?” and “How much do I have?”
Before we go any further, though, I want to give you a definition of Pride so we can all be on the same page. “Pride is having a mindset that is focused on yourself. It is living in service for yourself. It is the pursuit of self recognition and self exaltation. Pride is the desire to use all people, things and circumstances for yourself.” Now, when I first read this definition I thought, “That sounds a bit harsh! Living in the service of myself? Using other people for myself? Hey, I’m not that bad.” And I actually started to feel pretty good about myself. But then I found a list of 10 manifestations of pride… and it’s a list that cleared away any hint of self righteousness on my part. No particular order, by the way.
A PROUD PERSON:
- Sees them self as better than others; they are easily disgusted with others who don’t live up to their expectations and they have little tolerance for people who are different than they are.
- Has an inflated view of their importance and talents. They are legends in their own mind.
- Gets angry easily when they feel their ‘rights’ or ‘expectations’ aren’t being met.
- Talks too much… too much about themselves. They brag and boast in ways that draw attention to themselves and they will voice their opinions when not asked.
- Is rigid, headstrong and intimidating. It’s ‘their way or the highway.’ They have a hard time not being the boss.
- Is sarcastic, hurtful or degrading; they are very unkind to others. They often belittle people saying, “It’s just a joke.” but they hurt others and don’t care
- Is rarely concerned about others. They cannot see beyond their own life and so they have almost no compassion.
- Is very defensive and blame shifting. Proud people minimize their own shortcomings and maximize others. They will never admit being wrong and they never ask for forgiveness because they can’t imagine they have anything that they need to ask forgiveness for.
- Is easily angered by criticism. They can’t admit that they don’t know it all and do it all perfectly.
- Has a hard time being glad for others success or blessing. They see others in terms of what they can do for them and their interests. They find little joy in other’s happiness.
Here is what I’ve learned the hard way. If I am living my life centered on myself… believing that everyone else is here to meet my expectations and my needs, that everyone else is obligated to listen to me and honor me because I am the legend in the room, then, there is no possible way that I will be able to fully listen to God because my own voice will always get in the way. There is no possibility that I will be able to fully love God because I will always be competing with God for the center of my own affection. Simply put, Pride will make me a terrible witness for Jesus and his kingdom. And if that isn’t enough, I won’t communicate with others in a godly way or resolve conflict in a godly way or deal with sin in my life well or even try to resist sin. In other words, what I’ve learned is that pride doesn’t just take me off of my game, my game of representing Jesus and his Kingdom, it takes me out of the game. At least, that is what I found to be true. Pride literally undermines everything.
So, what is the answer for those of us that struggle with pride? I’m sure many of you are already thinking: Humility. I know it’s easy to say, “Just be humble!” But being humble isn’t easy at all… it never has been and I’m afraid that it never will be. Fact is, in the ancient world… the world that Jesus lived in… humility wasn’t even considered a virtue… at least in our world being humble is respectable. But in the ancient world being humbled was something that others with power did to you. Humility was the position of a slave; a loser. A person with humility wasn’t to be honored; they were to be pitied. What you wanted was power and control. Being proud said you were important! And then along came Jesus. He was the first person to seriously call humility a virtue. He was also the first person that ever suggested that anyone should humble themselves; the first to say that anyone should see others as more important than them self; the first to say that anyone should be willing to set aside their own agenda in order to accomplish what was best for someone else. I’m sure that many who first heard Jesus saying things like, “The first will be last and the last will be first,” wondered what planet he lived on. And yet, Jesus could call his followers to this kind of humility because if there was anyone in history that had ever humbled himself, it was Jesus. Turn with me to Philippians 2 and I’ll show you what I mean. PAGE???? Paul wrote this letter from prison. He’d been through a difficult time and he knew that the same kind of trouble was more than likely coming to Philippi. And so he wrote to the Philippians to encourage them to live well together when difficulties came. And he says this in verse in 1 of chapter 2, “Therefore, (since life is most likely going to be a struggle) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, (if you have gained anything good from following Jesus) then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (in other words, be unified. And then he gets to his big point of how to live well) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. And then to drive this point about the importance of humility home Paul quotes what almost all commentators believe are the lyrics to an ancient worship song. Now, I can’t tell you how this would have worked with music, but these lyrics take us right to the central truth about humility… and that truth is that we are to humble ourselves because Jesus humbled himself. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’ Can I stop for just a moment and remind us of who we are talking about here! We are not talking about the long-haired, robe and sandal wearing Jesus we often see in the paintings. Forget the gentle eyes and the outstretched arms. That isn’t the Jesus we should picture when talking about Jesus humbling himself. No, we are talking about the Jesus who had, up until he was born in Bethlehem, been equal in every way with God! We’re talking about the Jesus who made the world… The Jesus who, were he to show up now in the state he existed in before he was born as a man would cause every person on the planet to fall on their faces in fear and worship and praise! That is who we are talking about here. ‘He’… this Jesus! Notice the language, made himself nothing… Became a servant… He chose to set aside his rightful place as God and become nothing of importance. Back to Philippians, ‘And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The key to all of this is in the one phrase, “He humbled himself!” Jesus made a proactive decision to become a man, live as a servant and die on a cross. He chose this! And we should never forget why Jesus willingly chose to humble himself: because he knew that you and I could not be saved from the ravages of sin or be reconciled with God unless he became nothing… such was his love for us. And Paul tells us about Jesus’ choice because the expectation for disciples of Jesus is that Jesus’ choice will be our choice. You and I are called to humble ourselves in the same manner as Jesus did. We, too, are to take on a ‘Jesus attitude of mind;’ the attitude that says we should be looking first to other’s interests. And the reason we are to do this is clear: if we don’t have this kind of humility we will never be able to lead others to Jesus and the salvation he offers… people simply do not want to follow the proud. Here’s the bottom line: Jesus has the right to tell us to take our focus off of ourselves and put others first because he did this himself. He did it; we do it. And in the process of being humble, we show the world the truth about Jesus.
Now, I certainly know that choosing to humble your self isn’t easy. It goes against the grain of every fiber in my being. Especially when there are so many people out there that just don’t seem worthy of any respect. And yet here is what I have found to be true: if I am serious about following Jesus… if I am serious about wanting to change the world, then the last thing that should be present in my life is Pride. And it all starts with choosing to have a ‘sane estimate of my own self worth.’ And let me emphasize the word ‘choose?’ I am convinced that becoming humble, lowering myself for the benefit of others is a choice. It was for Jesus and it still is for you and me! Plus, it’s a choice we have to make every day! For me, it’s waking up every morning and saying, “Today, I’m going to fight against assuming that I am better than everyone else. Today, I’m going to talk less; today I’m going to listen more; today, I’m going to be less demanding; today, I’m going to own my own faults; today, I’m going to take criticism with grace. Today, I’m going to lift up God for who he is and today, I’m going to lift up others. Today, through my choice of being humble I’m going to love others to Jesus.” Humility is a discipline that demands seeing every single word and thought and deed as important. It means always being aware that every moment is sacred.
Something else I’ve discovered: the only way that choices like these are ever going to become a part of the fabric of my character is by staying close to the one who made the greatest sacrifice of all: Jesus. I’ve spent the last 18 months carefully studying the book of Matthew and can I tell you, what I’ve found is that one of the best ways to get your attitude right about this issue of pride is to spend as much time as you can with Jesus and you can do this by soaking in the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What I’ve discovered in these books is that every time you turn around, Jesus is trying to do something and someone interrupts him and takes him off of his schedule. Sometimes it’s a person with a disease; sometimes it’s a person that the Jews considered disgusting: a Samaritan, a Canaanite, a Roman soldier. Sometimes it’s a crowd of thousands that want his attention. Often it’s a group of religious leaders who are trying to trick him into saying or doing something that will prove that Jesus isn’t important. People get the notion that Jesus just a happy wanderer, traveling around looking for “godly” things to do. That wasn’t the case at all. Jesus was on a mission. He had disciples to train… he was always trying to get away from the crowd to train them. He also had places to visit; he had good news to share. He had a great deal he needed to accomplish and he knew that his time was short. He knew that there was a group of very proud, know-it all religious people that were sooner than later going to take his life. And yet here is what I’ve found: every single time Jesus is interrupted, or criticized, or dared to prove his own importance he never once reacts with anger, or sarcasm. He’s never defensive. Not once do we see him bragging or pointing out how important he is… even though he is the one person who has the right to boast. You read the gospels in light of what Jesus had to deal with every day… … knowing who we are talking about here… Jesus, for heaven’s sake… you spend time with Jesus learning about him and thinking through the multiple times he had the legitimate opportunity to let people know who they were dealing with … and then you begin to see his continual choice to humble himself and be a servant, it will put you to shame. At least it has for me. I look at Jesus and I think, “Who do I think I am?” “What right do I have to think I am all that important?” You get to know Jesus and there is no way that you’ll be able to justify pride in your life. I think I can go so far as to say if pride is controlling your life you don’t really know Jesus. You may know a lot about him, and be very proud about your knowledge, but you don’t know him.
I do not know for certain what the people in that radio world inner circle would say today if you were to ask them about me. It’s been a long time. But what I do know is this: that experience scared the tar out of me… not being in that circle… but being faced with my own Pride. But once I’d come face to face with it, I knew that it was important that I set it aside… or to use Paul’s words elsewhere: kill it. And I’m thankful that I found a way to kill it: First, I ran to Jesus and let his humble spirit roll over me. And second, I began to practice the discipline of self denial: I started working at denying myself the right to think I’m better than others; I worked at denying myself the right to be the center of every conversation; I worked at denying myself the right to focus only on my own needs and expectations: With the help of God’s spirit I started practicing the discipline of Humility. It’s not rocket science… simply hard, yet very worthwhile work. And with the help of God’s spirit you can do this, too. I want to say something to those of you who have given yourself over to pride. Three facts: Your pride is undermining your relationship with God; your pride is suffocating your participation in God’s mission; your pride ruining the lives of those around you. You may not see it but there are plenty of people around you that will be glad to give you the long, silent look. If you are drunk with yourself then it is time to sober up. Today can be one of those moments. And Jesus has two things to say to you today: Follow me and choose to humble yourself.
Do I see myself as better than others?
Has my pride separated me from God or people in my life?
What are some practical ways I can humble myself and put others first?