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Pride and Humility – Part 1


This morning, I’m going to begin a new series on the issue of pride and humility. In the first two weeks, we’re going to look at the issue of pride and just how deadly it is in our lives, and then, in the final two weeks, the final two sessions, we’ll look at God’s promises to those who live humbly as they walk through life, and there will be a major application in the fourth session. And where I thought I might start today is to look at some scripture. I want to start with the book of Isaiah in the second chapter beginning in the twelfth verse. It says, “For the Lord of Hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty, against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up, against all the oaks of Bashan, against all the lofty mountains, against all the hills that are lifted up, against every high tower, against every fortified wall, against all the ships of Tarsus, and against all the beautiful craft. The pride of man will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be abased, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”

I also want to look at one other verse, and this will come from the book of Proverbs, the 16th chapter, the 5th verse. “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. Assuredly he will not go unpunished.” Througout the scripture, you’ll see a phrase, which we’ll talk about in some of our future sessions, and that phrase is this. “God is opposed to the proud.” Now, I think we all have this desire to know, well, who are the proud? Surely not me. I know there are a lot of proud and arrogant people out there, but surely not me. And, where I want to start this morning is to go through a couple of definitions beginning with the word pride, because there are often some misunderstandings about this word. There are two definitions in Webster’s. One of them is justifiable self-respect; the idea of striving for excellence and being the best that you can be; the idea of taking pride in what you do. And that is a positive definition. But the pride that God detests, the pride that is such an abomination in His sight is arrogance. And arrogance is nothing more than an internal feeling or impression of superiority over others. The Greeks called it hubris, which meant too high a view of yourself.

In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful classic, Mere Christianity, he has an entire chapter on pride, and it’s interesting. It comes in Book Three. Mere Christianity is divided into four books. And book three, which is called Christian Behavior, and he lists all these chapters, like the cardinal virtues, social morality, sexual morality, Christian marriage, forgiveness, charity, hope, but when he comes to the issue of pride, he doesn’t call the chapter “pride”. Ironically, he calls it “The Great Sin”. And I want to read to you a couple of paragraphs from this chapter. He says, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free, and which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else, and of which hardly any people, except maybe some Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls, or drink, or even that they are cowards, but I don’t think that I have ever heard anyone accuse himself of this vice. And, at the same time, I have very seldom met anyone, again, other than some Christians, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault of which we are more unconscious of than others, and the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. The vice I’m talking of is pride or self-conceit, and the virtue opposite to it in Christian morals is called humility. You may remember when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now we have come to that center. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison. It was through pride that the devil became the devil.” And then, listen to this, he says, “Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Now, what about humility? What about a definition for humility? I think very few people understand true humility. By the end of this series, I believe that every single one of you will agree that it’s the most valuable quality a person can possess in all of life. And, if you don’t believe me, let me share this one thought with you, and we’ll talk about this in one of our next sessions. One of the great business books written in the last decade was written by Jim Collins. It was a book called Good to Great. And in this book, he sought to discover how average performing companies, over time, became stellar, great performers. And he had this huge team of researchers, and did all this research. And in one of the first chapters, there is a section on leadership. It’s called level five leaderships. And he says, the most surprising discovery of all their research, that these top cream of the crop leaders possessed two primary qualities. One was genuine humilty and the other was that they were fully devoted to the mission of the company. And Collins says that was a stunning discovery. To see that in the lives of leaders. Now, what is humility? Webster’s says it is not to be arrogant.

But, Andrew Murray, in his wonderful little book, Humility, gives this definition. I’m going to work through this. When I first read it, and it might not really connect with you, but over the next couple of weeks, we’ll kind of unravel and unwrap this definition so we truly do understand it. He says, “Humility is not something which we bring to God or He bestows. It is simply the sense of an entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all. When we, the creature, realize that this is the true nobility, and consents to be, with his will and his mind and his affections, the form, the vessel, in which the life and glory of God are to work and manifest themselves, he sees that humility is this: simply acknowledging the truth of his position as creature and yielding to God His place.” In other words, what he’s saying is that when we truly understand our place in the universe.

Now, Drayton Nabers, in his book that will be released, to be published and released in the next few weeks, says this. “Our word humility comes from the Latin term, “humus”, meaning “earth”. In today’s terminology, humus is the result of decomposing vegetable matter and is a common garden fertilizer, and, just as humus helps our garden flourish, so the soil of humility provides a fertile source for the tree of character to grow in our lives and bear fruit for God.”

Now, humility, in essence, is not a virtue. It’s the root of all other virtues. Now, where I want to go for the balance of our time this morning is talking about pride and understanding its destructiveness. I contend that pride is the greatest spiritual struggle that each of us, as men, is faced with. And it’s so deadly because its so insiduous. In other words, it slowly grows and develops in our lives and becomes well-established without our knowledge, and it wreaks havoc in our lives and in our relationships. And, as Lewis says, “We see it and hate it in other people, but we believe that we, in no way, are afflicted by this deadly, deadly thing.”

Now, I want to get to the heart of pride, and where I want to start is to read some words written almost 3,000 years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes, the fourth chapter, the fourth verse. “And I saw that all labor, and all achievements, spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too, is meaningless and chasing after the wind.” What he’s saying here is humans, instead of being satisfied and content in our work and our achievement, and just keeping it to ourselves, we’re always looking to see how others are doing. We’re always comparing ourselves with others and, in the process, we find ourselves always wanting to impress other people. And, what’s really struck me is, in observing mens’ lives, regardless of the achievement, or how successful a man or a woman might be, we don’t feel that we’re successful unless other people know about it. In other words, we seek not only achievement, but proper recognition for our achievement. Now, the question is, why is that? Why do we have to always be comparing ourselves with others. Why do we always want other people to know, why are we always wondering, do I measure up compared to this other person? Well, let me go back and read to you from Lewis’ chapter. He says, “Now, what you want to get clear is this, that pride is essentially competitive. It’s competitive by its very nature. While the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident, pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It’s the comparison that makes you proud. The pleasure of being above the rest. That attitude of superiority.” And what Lewis is saying, it’s not, when I go into a room full of other men, it’s not that I want to be the best looking man or the most successful man in the world. I just want to be better looking and more successful than all of you.

Now, Donald Miller, who is quite an interesting guy, who has written several books, but one that I’ve just finished reading is called Searching for God Knows What. Miller is, I would guess, in his early 30s. For years, he was kind of a hippie. He became a Christian and he works, he lives out in Oregon, and he works on a college campus, but has really become quite a prominent author, and he has some wonderful insights, and listen to this. It’s somewhat humorous, but he’s right on target. He said, “I was thinking about all this the other day while my roommate Grant and I were watching a Blazers game. I was telling Grant that if I were an alien and came down to earth from some far-off planet, there were a few things that I would notice about people, and the first thing I would notice is the way they look. That is, if people looked different on my planet. Then, I would notice how their cities were constructed, and, depending on how the civilization had advanced wherever I was from, I would notice how ahead or behind their cities happen to be. You know what I mean. Mass transit and all, technology, and everything else, but, after I got over all of this and sat down to have a beer with some people, really finding out what they were interested in, what they loved and hated, there would be one thing that I would notice that would kind of explain everything. And by everything, I mean all the stuff that makes a person want to live his life a certain way, or the stuff that drives a person’s thoughts subconscious and conscious, and I was telling Grant, let’s say I was an alien and I had to go back to my home planet and explain to some head of the alien nation about these people on this planet and what they were like, I told Grant I would say to the head alien the thing that defines human personalities is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another. Grant kind of nodded to me as if he thought this was interesting, then he took a sip of his beer and we went back to watching the game. But I kept thinking about this, but that night I got out of bed and I wrote my thoughts down on a piece of paper, you know, as if I were an alien. Humans, as a species, are constantly, and in every way, comparing themselves to one another. Which, given the brief nature of their existence, seems an oddity, and, for that matter, a waste. Nevertheless, this is the driving influence behind every human’s social development. Their emotional health and sense of joy, and, sadly, their greatest tragedies. It’s as if though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working. The greater tragedy is that very few people understand that they have this disease. This seems strange as well because it is obvious, to be sure, it is killing them, and yet, sustaining their social and economic systems, they are an entirely beautiful people with a terrible problem.”

You know, what Miller is saying, is that we don’t determine who we are, or what we’re going to do with our lives. In other words, he says, we allow other people to determine our identity. He says we gear our lives to meet the expectations of others, and because we’re always comparing ourselves, and always comparing our accomplishments, and always comparing our lifestyles, and our kids with each other, he says you know, we’re always wondering, do I measure up as a man. How do I compare to others?

There was a wonderful book written about 25 years ago, and it was a bestseller called The Search for Significance by a guy by the name of Robert McGee. And in the book, he lays out three probing questions that help give some clarity to this issue, and I’m going to ask these questions, or share these, and ask yourself, how pertinent are these questions to our lives. The first is, how much different would your life be if it were not for the fear of failure? Number two, how much different would your life be if it were not for the fear and worry of what others thought of you? In other words, think about how liberating that would be, is what he’s saying. And finally, and this is a great question, how much of your life have you wasted trying to gain the approval of others? In other words, you know we spend so much of our resources and our energy winning the approval of others. And how much of it have we wasted?

Brian Mahan, who is a theologian over at Emory University in Atlanta wrote a wonderful book called Forgetting Ourselves On Purpose: The Vocation and Ethics of Ambition. And he says there is a real dark side to this issue. There is a real dark side to pride and the way we compare ourselves to others. Listen to what he says. He says, “In American society, individual achievement is supremely important. In itself, this is neither good nor bad. Its merely part of the script. The trouble is that it becomes difficult to assess achievement and monitor happiness without surrendering to the impulse to adopt comparison as a prime measure of individual worth. Some comparisons are harmless enough, and many are, in any case, unavoidable. We take standardized tests. We get accepted or rejected by various degree programs, we accept a job that someone else does not get, and we lose a promotion that goes instead to a colleague.” Then he says this, “But there is a darker side to comparison. It’s the dirty little secret of our society, and we all share in the effort to keep it under wraps. We all know the dark conversations our our hearts, even if only intermittently and selectively, and most of us choose to keep them to ourselves.”

I don’t know if how many of you remember the Mark Hacking story. It’s about Mark and Lori Hacking, and it didn’t receive much press because it was about a man who killed his wife, and the reason it didn’t get much press is because he admitted that he did it, and you know, the case was pretty much closed. But, if you will recall, it was about a husband and a wife who seemed to be living a very normal life. He was in medical school, or at least that’s what he appeared to be, and she was, you know, living her life as a wife. And this article from the paper says, by all accounts, Mark Hacking was fun to be around, a loving husband who wanted to be respected and, like his father, become a doctor. But in the hours that he was supposedly studying for medical exams, Hacking often was hanging out at a neighborhood store, refilling sodas, eating hot dogs and smoking Camel menthols. He got his wife to pack up and move to North Carolina so that he could attend medical school, where, it turns out, he wasn’t even enrolled. He kept textbooks open and spread around his apartment, but, in fact, he had dropped out of college. Years of deceptions are catching up to the former night shift hospital orderly, and he has become the focus of the investigation into the disappearance of his wife. What happened was, and the article goes on, and, of course, he does admit to having killed her, is that she discovered and found out that he was faking it, that he really wasn’t in college after all, and that he really wasn’t in medical school after all, and when she confronted him, instead of just owning up to it and acknowledging it, he kills his wife. And it says, “In talking with his father, who was a very prominent physician, the father says, ‘We didn’t see it coming. We got completed blindsided by it.’ Mark Hacking’s family has described him as a kind, loving husband who may have felt drive to lie by perceived family pressures.”

You see, he was comparing himself to his older brothers, one who is a doctor, and another who was an electrical engineer. You know, it’s like Hacking was saying, in order to be successful, I’ve got to be like my brothers, and you see the dark side of this, and how trying to live up to some standard, to try to measure up, this guy took his wife’s life to cover his lie.

Recently, on National Geographic, they had a four-hour special on 9-11 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. And one individual who seemed to be somewhat the head of the Freedom Fighters, they were fighting the Soviets, was a guy by the name of Osama bin Laden. And what’s ironic is the United States was supplying him with all kinds of supplies and equipment, and the ability to fight the war as somewhat guerillas. And, as you know, eventually the Soviets gave up and left. And bin Laden had this large group of men that were followers of his. And then, in 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and if you will recall, Kuwait was right on the Saudi Arabian border, and bin Laden goes to the royal family and says, why don’t you let me and all of my men, we can transport them here to Saudi Arabia and I’ll defend you against the Iraqis. And the program pointed out that the royal family turned him down and said instead we are going to turn to the United States and look to them for their protection. And it says bin Laden was humiliated by this, and it went on to say that this was the roots which has led him to have this hatred, for not only Saudi Arabia, but for the United States. But look what it’s rooted in. Pride and humility.

I don’t know how many of you got to hear Jerry Leachman when he spoke back in November, last November, but, if you recall, he spoke of two studies that were conducted on why leaders fail. And one came from the Harvard Business Review, which focused on business leaders, and the other came from Fuller Seminary, which focused on why Christian leaders, men in the ministry, failed. And if you will recall, and he gave me copies of both of these studies; he says the reason for failure in both cases were almost identifical. Abuse of power, financial impropriety, adultery. But he says, in both studies, he said the underlying reason was arrogance on the part of these leaders. In fact, the Harvard Business Review uses these words. These leaders – “they felt and acted as if they were superior to all others.” And when you think about it, when a person in a position of high leadership thinks they are superior to everyone else in the organization, they will sleep with whomever they want, they will spend the organization’s money however they want, and basically they will do whatever they want, because you’ll see in them what Lewis said. It’s the anti-God state of mind. In other words, they think they’re God-like. They can do whatever they want.

Now, it’s important to realize that pride emanates from a multitude of sources. Wealth, all types of achievement, power, beauty, knowledge, but what’s interesting is the most dangerous pride is what Reinhold Niebuhr called, the pride of virtue. It’s what the Bible calls self-righteousness.

I want to share with you a brief parable that I think will point this out. The parable involves two brothers. These brothers, they’re twins, and they are inseparable as they grow up. They to to high school together, they go to the same colleges, and they both apply and are accepted into medical school. They both choose to become orthopedic surgeons. And when they finish their residency, they go back to their hometown, a mid-size town, and set up their own practice together as surgeons. And their practice just flourishes and they prosper and they do real well. They both build nice houses in a neighborhood, not far from each other, and they both have families. And then, one day, one of the brothers has an opportunity to buy this choice piece of property on top of this hill that overlooks the town, and he decides to buy the property and makes the deciison, I’m going to build my dream home. I’m going to build a showplace.It’s going to be the most beautiful house in this town, and everybody will know it. And, he builds, and it looks like the Parthenon sitting up on the hill, overlooking the city, and he has tennis courts, and a big swimming pool, and stables with horses, and everybody down below can look up and see it, and every morning, he wakes up, he walks out on the balcony of his home, and he looks down on the town, feeling really good and very proud that he lives in the showplace of the town, and feels far superior to all others because he has made a statement. But also, every morning, that brother of his wakes up and looks up and sees his brother’s house up on the hill, and every morning, he says to himself, that pompous, arrogant brother of mine. He’s so arrogant, he’s so full of himself. He ought to live like me. He didn’t have to move out of this house down here. He ought to be giving more of his money to the church, and to charity, and to the community. Instead, he spends it all of himself, and all to inflate his ego. Now, in this parable, both of these men are guilty of pride. One over his wealth, and the other over his good works. Both of them, you see, compare themselves. One compares himself and his property to everybody else’s in the community. The second brother compares himself to the brother that lives up on the hill. He compares his, the way he’s chose to live his life, my lifestyle is better than his. My life is so much morally superior than his. But it’s interesting. One is easy to detect. You can detect conspicuous consumption. When somebody tries to buy something to impress, you see it, but this second guy, I mean, he was completely blind to the pride of self-righteousness, because, in his mind, I’m doing so much good. You know, I’m living the good life. I’m giving money away. I live moderately, and he was proud of his good works, and that is so difficult to detect. You see, it’s the pride of virtue, or the self-righteousness that I mentioned, that Jesus seemed to direct so much of His scorching words.

Now, let me read to you from the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 6. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men, to be noticed by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father, Who is in Heaven. So, when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues, and the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret, and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you pray, you’re not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, so that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. But, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father, Who is in secret, and your Father, Who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Now, here, Jesus is speaking of two very noble and very spiritual activities. One, giving to the poor. The other, praying, yet He’s saying very clearly, if the motive behind these activities is to be honored by men or to impress others, it’s an abomination. It’s like Martin Luther said, at a certain point in his life, he recognized that he was giving and helping the poor, but he said, I realized I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. He said, I realized I didn’t help the poor to help the poor, I did it so I could feel noble, so I could be recognized. I’d do it for me, out of pride and self-centeredness.

So, you see the danger. Why do we do good? You know, why do we do good deeds? Many have people have no idea that their lives are completely out of sync with Christ, because their inner thought is, I go to Church, I give, I do good things, but why? One thing we know for certain, guys, is that a person can lead a very good, a very moral, a very religious life, but, at the same time, be spiritually lost and spiritually dead, and we know that that can happen, because we see it in the lives of the Pharisees. Jesus says, you honor Me with your lips, but your heart is far from me. Doctor Tim Keller contends that the church is full of these type of people who truly do not get the Gospel. They have that pride of virtue, that self-righteousness. It’s like the Pharisees. It’s important to understand. The Pharisees believe they did not need a Savior because they were going to save themselves, and yet, God says, no man can save himself. That’s why Christ came into the world, as a Savior to save us, who need forgiveness.

I want to close by reading one final thought. It comes from a guy by the name of Anthony DeMello. DeMello was from India, and so he grew up in the Eastern part of the world, but apparently, I believe, now lives in the states, and has become a Christian. Now, listen, this is really powerful. He starts by quoting from Matthew 16.

“For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:26) He says:

“Recall the kind of feeling you have when someone praises you, when you are approved accepted, applauded. And contrast that with the kind of feeling that arises within you when you look at the sunset or the sunrise or Nature in general or read a book or watch a movie you thoroughly enjoy. Get the taste of this feeling and contrast it with the first, namely, the one that was generated within you when you were praised. Understand that the first type of feeling comes from self-glorification, self-promotion. It is a worldly feeling. The second comes from self-fulfillment, a soul feeling. Here is another contrast: Recall the kind of feeling you have when you succeed, when you have made it, when you get to the top, when you win a game or a bet or an argument. And contrast it with the kind of feeling you get when you really enjoy the job you are doing, you are absorbed in, the action that you are currently engaged in. And once again notice the qualitative difference between the worldly feeling and the soul feeling.

Yet another contrast: Remember what you felt like when you had power, you were the boss, peo¬ple looked up to you, took orders from you; or when you were popular. And contrast that worldly feeling with the feeling of intimacy, companionship; the times you thoroughly enjoyed yourself in the com¬pany of a friend or with a group in which there was fun and laughter.

Having done this, attempt to understand the true nature of worldly feelings, namely, the feelings of self-promotion, self-glorification. They are not nat¬ural, they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nour¬ishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates Nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to produce thrills, excitement, and emptiness.

Then observe yourself in the course of a day or a week and think how many actions of yours are performed, how many activities engaged in that are uncontaminated by the desire for these thrills, these excitements that only produce emptiness, the desire for attention, approval, fame, popularity, success or power.

And take a look at the people around you. Is there a single one of them who has not become addicted to these worldly feelings? A single one who is not controlled by them, hungers for them, spends every minute of his/her waking life consciously or unconsciously seeking them? When you see this you will understand how people attempt to gain the world and, in the process, lose their souls.”

Let’s pray. Father, we do thank You for the fact that You revealed to us our true nature in Your Word, that we do struggle with this issue of pride. That we are always comparing ourselves with each other. We’re always wondering, do I measure up in the eyes of my peers. Lord, I pray that You would begin the process of setting us free from this, and that we would understand that you are God, and that we’re not. That You are God, and that we are needy of You, that we are frail, weak creatures in need of You, Our Heavenly Father. We thank You for these things. Amen.

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