If You want to get High, go Low! Some Reflections on Pride and Humility2
There are some things that come very easily to me, while others I struggle to achieve. I do some things quite naturally and instinctively. I almost never have to think about them. They just happen. They feel normal. Like breathing. Continue reading . . .
There are some things that come very easily to me, while others I struggle to achieve. I do some things quite naturally and instinctively. I almost never have to think about them. They just happen. They feel normal. Like breathing. No one had to teach me how to inhale and exhale. I never took a course in breathing during my many years of higher education. I’ve never given a second thought to growing hair or crying or eating. They don’t feel like choices. They just feel human.
It’s the same with pride, at least it is with me. I never have to sit down and strategize how I’m going to feel proud during the course of a day. I’ve never read a book that taught the art and science of human arrogance. It comes as naturally to me as does the blinking of my eyes and the secretion of bile from my liver. I am by nature and choice a prideful and arrogant man. If I didn’t know that from personal experience, the Bible makes it very clear. Case closed.
There is, of course, a huge difference between pride and breathing, or between pride and the impulse to eat. Pride is a sin. Unlike these physical activities, I’m morally accountable for the presence of pride in my heart and it takes everything God can do in his grace and power to overcome my tendency to let it rule my life.
But it’s a different story when it comes to humility, the opposite of pride. I’m not by nature or choice a humble man. And neither are any of you! “But I’m so quiet, Sam. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk very much. I rarely voice my opinion. Most often I will defer to others and yield to their wishes.” Yep. And deep down inside you’re probably incredibly proud of it too!
Don’t think that I’m singling out anyone for special treatment or criticism today. We are all by nature and choice, proud and arrogant people. To the degree that your pride is less prominent than others is due to the grace of God in your life. But in the case of all human beings, pride runs with the grain of our souls while humility runs contrary to it.
You don’t hear much about humility these days, or for that matter at any time in human history. Oprah doesn’t say much if anything about it (not that I tune in to listen to what Oprah has to say!). It is rarely, if ever, the central theme in valedictorian speeches or heard among politicians running for office. There’s no such thing as the Nobel Prize for Humility. Humility is never awarded an Oscar, Emmy, or a Golden Globe. Humility is hard to find. It isn’t lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce on you unannounced. It probably won’t be found in your office or school, and it’s often in short supply even in the church. Don’t bother checking out the self-help section at Barnes & Noble.
The bottom line is that the world, flesh, and the devil have conspired to conceal humility from us and to mock it should it ever appear. Our hearts do not and will not produce humility except insofar as Jesus Christ is supreme in every aspect of our lives. Only to the degree that the supremacy of Jesus Christ is our pre-eminent value and his glory our all-consuming pursuit will humility ever find its proper place in our souls.
The apostle Peter knew this. It wasn’t any different in his day. Human nature was the same then as it is now. Peter knew the potential for pride and arrogance and self-importance in the human heart and how utterly destructive it is to life in Jesus and for the health of the local church. That’s why he wrote what he did in these three verses in chapter five.
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7).
Three times he exhorts us to be humble: (1) First, he focuses on the young people in the church and says: “you who are younger, be subject to the elders”, or humble yourselves under their leadership (v. 5a). He probably singles out the youth here because they are slightly more inclined to rebellion and insubordination to church leadership than those who are older and perhaps a bit more mature. Sorry young people, but that’s what he says. (2) Second, he then turns to everyone in the church, to all Christians, and says: “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (v. 5b). (3) Finally, he does it a third time in v. 6 – “Humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”
So, clearly this is an important issue for Peter. We find this same emphasis all through Scripture. We need to hear this exhortation more than three times. We need to hear it daily, repeatedly, over and over again. Why? Because nothing is more at odds with the orientation and inclination of our hearts and souls than humility. Nothing runs more across the grain of the human spirit than humility. Pride is so much easier. Humility is very, very hard work.
So what, precisely, does Peter mean by “humility”? What does it look like? Why is it so important?
My approach in this short series of articles is two-fold. First, I want to answer the question: “What is humility?” What does it mean? Second, I want to answer the question: “Why should we care? What’s the big deal?” Peter will actually provide us with four answers to the second question. But we need to begin with an attempt to understand what humility is. And the best way to do that is by contrasting it with its mortal enemy: pride.
[As you consider this subject I highly recommend a sermon from John Piper, entitled, “Are You Humble Enough to be Care-Free?” (www.desiringgod.org, November 20, 1994).]
To be continued . . .