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Pride and Humility

Song:

 Lord I want to be like Jesus in my heart (2x)

Inner my heart (4x)

Lord I want to be like Jesus in my heart

The saintly Bernard of Clairvaux once observed, "Humility is the first virtue of the Christian. The second greatest virtue is also humility. The third greatest virtue is, likewise, humility."

With an insight that is both rare as well as mature, seminary professor Calvin Miller confesses, "I learned in times of need that both humility and pride are not merely points in our pilgrimage, they are our pilgrimage. Humility is the harder pilgrimage. It separates us from our grasping egos. It is stepping back and looking at ourselves. It is being so rebuked at what we see that we yield to a better self.

"Pride on the other hand, never requires self-scrutiny. In fact, pride cannot stand the bright light of self-study. Pride has a fear of seeing what ego really looks like. Pride is a generous self-portrait. Humility shuns such portraiture."

Some years following his conversion to Christ, Charles Colson, former Nixon aide and Watergate figure, acknowledges, "I had given away my money, felt my values being transformed, and yet now I could see that all the while, unknowingly, the sin of pride, cleverly cloaked in the disguise of spirituality, had nearly recaptured my values and personality."

Methodism's founder, John Wesley, repeatedly admonished converts to be on their guard against this ever-present foe: "Beware of pride, and that daughter of pride, enthusiasm (fanaticism)." Warning his disciples against this insidious and deadly snare, Jesus said, "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12)

Are we growing in humility? Are we being increasingly changed into the divine image of Christ? “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Are we more or less childlike than the day we accepted the Lord? Are we honest with ourselves when symptoms of pride arise? Do we rationalise arrogant actions and reactions? Do we justify vanity, pretentiousness and conceit? Are we more self-centred or less self-centred today than when we first began our spiritual pilgrimage? Are we quick to apologise–to say "I'm sorry"? Or are we defensive. In other words, are we growing in pride or humility?

I realise there are those in the body of Christ who espouse a type of sinless perfectionism, which asserts that God's people can be thoroughly eradicated of all every trait of pride in a moment of time. These mistaken saints are so perfected as to never feel the need to acknowledge a prideful or selfish action. However, the more we familiarise ourself with the Scriptures, the writings of devout and wise Christians, as well as learn the ways of our own heart, we will see increasingly the need to confess our fallen natures, shortcomings, imperfections, debts and sins. Tell me, who among us always reacts with perfect humility in every situation? Who among us never acts in a selfish manner? Who among us never considers himself before another? And you mean to tell me you never sin? Please!

With that said, let us now survey some of humility's traits.

Humility lives in total reliance upon God. It bows before Father-God, confessing him as Creator-God and acknowledging its dependence upon him. Humility has learned its place before God: it bows, it worships and it confesses. It does nothing on its own initiative. It is God-directed and Spirit-led. It is ever mindful of the words of Christ: "apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Humility views itself soberly. It has learned its limits. The humble person neither envies another man's gifts nor is puffed up over his own. He realises that God has solely distributed spiritual gifts among the respective members of the body of Christ. Humility can thank God for the other's gifts as well as his own. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment . . .” (Romans 13:3).

Humility isn't competitive. We're not speaking here of fun and games, but of real life and Church situations. Humility doesn't feel the need to be first, have the biggest, be the greatest, or have the best. That's not to suggest it settles for mediocrity. It merely means it's not in competition with other: other Christians, neighbours, other businessmen, and other employees.

When African immigrant Samuel Morris arrived in Upland, Indiana years ago and was asked by Taylor University president which dorm room he wanted, Sammy responding, "The one no other student wants." In a clear rebuke to his disciples, Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." (Mark 10:43-44)

Humility is more in tune to its own faults than another's. Oswald Chambers remarked on this subject, "God does not give his servants discernment in order to criticise, but to intercede." (My Utmost for His Highest). The easiest thing in the world to do is point out the shortcomings of a brother and sister in Christ. Humility will cause us to be less severe with others and more honest with ourselves. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

Humility is willing to yield. It doesn't insist on having it own way. What a veritable heaven on earth our homes, Churches and society would be if we all consistently practiced this. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3). Too often our stand for principle is nothing more than a stubborn ego unwilling to backup or back off. Years ago while embroiled in a tense Church conflict, the Lord reminded the minister of James 3:17: "But the wisdom from above is . . . reasonable". An alternate translation is, "willing to yield."

Let's face it: Most of our Church conflicts are not the result of great doctrinal issues. Most of our tensions come because we're pushing our own agenda, opinions and ideas; we're insisting on having our own way. How many new Churches have been started because someone didn't get their own way in the former Church?

Humility shows respect to properly constituted authority. God has ordained all true authority. Whether that authority presents itself as a crossing guard, law enforcement officer, judge, teacher, church elder, pastor or parent–God is behind that authority.

If we disagree with the authority, there are proper channels one can use in order to address any grievance. But respect is always to be shown by the Christian. Note Paul's reaction upon learning the man he summarily rebuked was actually Israel's high priest: "Paul replied, 'Brothers, I did realise that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people." (Acts 23:5)

Humility acknowledges failure when it occurs. Did not our Lord teach us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors"? (Matthew 6:12). Is our voice rising in volume? Do we feel our stomach tighten? Is our face flushed? In all likelihood we're getting defensive, protecting our ego, unwilling to acknowledge the rightness of the other person's view while defending our own.

Humility doesn't advertise its good works and accomplishments. Pride loves attention. Sure we all have the need to feel appreciated, valued and needed. But once we've been accepted by God–justified–we learn that to hear his "well done" is the highest reward and commendation we can receive. We seek to please God not men. People are fickle. They'll praise you now and curse you the next. Jesus said to those who seek only to glorify him, "your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:18). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Humility is Inclusive. Humility's arms are long enough to embrace all its brothers and sisters in Christ. Sectarianism is a curse in the Church. It's divisive, exclusive, self-righteous and prideful. Humility reaches out and embraces its brother–even when it disagrees with him over secondary issues. May the Lord of the Church help us to practice true Christian inclusiveness.

Pride and humility. Which one characterizes us? Who among us can say we're humble? Never! That would be the greatest of sins. But can we not all pray:

Father, too often I have failed in my love to my brothers and sisters in Christ. At times I have acted and responded with less than the humility of Christ. Words have been spoken quickly–sharp words, unkind words. On occasions I've asserted myself, presented my views dogmatically. I've failed to show the tenderness of Christ, his gentleness, and his patience. Forgive me of every prideful way.

 Be pleased, O Lord, to cleanse me afresh and fill me with your Holy Spirit by the power of your indwelling Spirit, continue to change me into the likeness of your blessed Son. Amen.

God bless you

Evang. John Oseh