Pride and Humility

Series: Preacher: Date: August 9, 2015 Scripture Reference: 1 Peter 5:5b; Philippians 2:3-4

As I’m sure you know, these days there is a plethora of Super-Hero movies in theaters—and if you’ve been to any of them—or read the comics on which they are based—then you know that every super-hero has a WEAKNESS. In fact, it’s sort of a requirement to BE a super-hero. You can’t be completely all-powerful, because without a weakness—no one could defeat you. And that doesn’t make for good comics or movies. I mean if the hero is unbeatable what’s the point?

  • So Superman has his kryptonite.
  • For Green Lantern it’s the color yellow.
  • According to the original comic story line—for Thor if he lets go of is hammer for more than sixty seconds he loses his powers.
  • Even REAL heroes like Samson have their weaknesses. For him it was his hair.

Now, I’ll explain why I bring all this up in a moment but if you are a first time guest—or a member who was absent last week—then you need to know that we have just begun a series of sermons called: “Builders and Busters.” The idea is to look to God’s Word for help when it comes to understanding those things that either build up or bust up our precious fellowship.

Last week we looked at a buster called “Sowing Dissension.” This Sunday we’re focusing in on a BUILDER called, “Humility” as well as a BUSTER known as “pride.” Today is a “to-fer” and I hope you’ll see that there’s a reason for that. But first we need to understand that humility is VERY important when it comes to building church’s fellowship. You see, when we follow Jesus’ example—when we learn to be like Him Who is gentle and HUMBLE in heart—well then Christians are able to enjoy an incredibly powerful unity. That brings me back to the subject of super-heroes because you could say that as Christians—Christ-followers—we are called to be like Jesus including His humility. We’re called to be much more than typically humble people.  You could say we are called to be SUPER-humble. With that in mind I want to read two passages that refer to this particular “builder.” Take your Bibles and turn to 1st Peter 4:5b and then Philippians 2:3-4

1 Peter 5:5b – All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

4 – not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Now, like every superhero, people who embrace “super-HUMILITY” have a weakness. And it’s called PRIDE. They go together—you can’t understand the one without understanding the other. That’s why this message has to be a “to-fer.” You see, in the same way that you can’t understand Superman without understanding kryptonite—you can’t understand—you can’t embrace—HUMILITY without understanding its weakness. And, the first thing we need to know about pride is that it gets into our thinking very easily. Before we know it we slip into prideful thoughts and actions.

This reminds me of a true story from the life of Ronald Reagan back in the days when he was governor of California and had just given a speech in Mexico City. Reagan writes: “After I had finished speaking, I sat down to rather UNENTHUSIASTIC applause, and I was a little embarrassed. The speaker who followed me spoke in Spanish—which I don’t understand—and HE was being applauded at almost every paragraph. Well, to hide my embarrassment, I started clapping when he spoke—BEFORE everyone else and LONGER than anyone else—until our ambassador leaned over and said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Mr. Reagan. You see, that man is interpreting YOUR speech.’”

Of course this was an innocent mistake—but it does illustrate the fact that it is very easy for us to LOOK prideful or slip into prideful actions.  Even without our knowing it, pride can trip us up. Benjamin Franklin understood this. He once said, “There is perhaps none of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases—it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it I would probably be proud of my humility.” PART of the problem with pride is that it is easy to see in OTHER people but hard to see in OURSELVES.  This was illustrated in a satirical carton that The New Yorker magazine ran several years ago—a cartoon in which a smiling woman was jabbering nonstop to a glum-faced companion. The smiling woman finally said, “Well, that’s enough about me. Now let’s talk about you. What do YOU think about ME?”

Pride is deceptive isn’t it? As this cartoon shows, it blinds us and gives us a tunnel vision such that we see everything through the lense of “me.” In fact, SELF is the FOCUS of pride. Pride seeks to defend and advance SELF in every way possible. In his book, A Love Worth Giving, Max Lucado writes, “The self-centered see everything through self. Their motto? ‘It’s all about me!’ The flight schedule, the traffic, the dress styles, the worship styles, the weather, the work—everything is filtered through the mini-ME in the eye.”

Okay—before we go any further let’s stop and try to agree on an accurate definition of this weakness all humble people struggle with. What exactly is Pride? And to really understand PRIDE we need to realize that it is not always a BUSTER—I mean, there is such a thing as GOOD pride.   GOOD PRIDE is seen in healthy self-respect, dignity, satisfaction in a job well done, joy in seeing others succeed—those kinds of things.  But the other kind—-BAD PRIDE—fellowship-busting pride—is conceit or egotism. It’s an attitude of superiority that manifests itself in ARROGANCE and BOASTING.  This reminds me of a conversation an airline stewardess once had with Mohammed Ali when he was young and arrogant—just beginning his amazing career. Ali was on a plane and refused to fasten his seat belt. The stewardess came up to him and asked him to do so but he said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.”  She looked at him and said, “Superman don’t need no plane.”

Well, simply put pride is this assumption that we are somehow better than other people—that we are more important than others. Pride can even make us think we are more important than God. In fact, it was this sinful way of thinking that entangled satan and led to his fall. Isaiah 14:13-15 records satan’s proud words, “I will ascend to Heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountains. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” And of course, once satan fell, he successfully led Adam and Eve to commit the same prideful sin. Remember? They ate of the forbidden fruit so they too could become equal to God.

Well, since pride is so destructive—since it can so easily entangle us and then weaken our fellowship—it would behoove us to learn to recognize it. So how can we? I mean, how do we know if we are under the influence of this particular buster? To help you answer that question, here are some common SYMPTOMS that are found in prideful people.  I found them in an article in an issue of Discipleship Journal a few years back. Listen and see if you recognize any of them in yourself:

  • Spotty prayer life – This suggests that we don’t actively rely on God because we proudly think we can do it on our own without His help, which leads to a second symptom:
  • Weariness – the inevitable result of pride-fully trying to do it all on our own strength.
  • Anger – can indicate that we are not trusting God’s sovereign plan and timing and are upset when things don’t go OUR way—and they never do when we ignore God’s guidance.
  • A critical spirit is often found in prideful people. You see the act of bringing others down, especially when we do this to lift up, ourselves points to an inflated sense of self.
  • Taking responsibility for success, accomplishment, or financial prosperity — this may mean we have lost sight of God’s gracious and undeserved provision.
  • Impatience about having to listen, wait, serve, be anonymous, or be led by someone else also hints at an overdeveloped sense of importance—or PRIDE.

And then, in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg lists two other symptoms of pride that I think would help us in diagnosing this problem in our own lives.

One is VANITY—or a preoccupation with our appearance or image. Ortberg says, that if we exercise with spandex there’s a chance we have this problem—and, if we work out in a gym where there are mirrors on the wall and we watch ourselves, that’s a strong sign as well. I would add—if you have a closet that is over-flowing with clothes—you could be vain and therefore ensnared by pride.

Lucado also writes about this particular aspect of pride and says, “Suppose you are in a group photo. The first time you see the picture where do you look? And if you look good, do you like the picture? If you are the ONLY one who looks good, do you still like the picture?  If some are cross-eyed and others have spinach in their teeth—but you still look good—do you like the picture? If that’s what makes you like it even more, you’ve got a bad case of pride.”

This leads me to mention another symptom of pride—comparison. Prideful people tend to judge themselves in comparison to other people. I’m reminded of a story about three dogs. Two pure-bred dogs were walking daintily along the street with their noses held high in the air. Along came a big alley dog of the Heinz 57 type.  Embarrassed at being in the company of such a no-account dog, one of the pure-breds said, “We must go. My name is Miji, spelled M-I-J-I.” The other blue blood said, “My name is Miki, spelled M-I-K-I.” The low-class alley dog then put his nose up in the air and said, “Well, my name is Fido—spelled P-H-Y-D-E-A-U-X”

Jesus referred to this symptom of pride when He told a story about two men at prayer: a tax collector and a Pharisee. The sins of the tax collector were obvious to all: greed, dishonesty, corruption.  And, the Pharisee thanked God that he was in a different category—he saw himself as BETTER than the tax collector next to him. Remember his pride-fully comparative prayer in Luke 18:  “I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week.  I give a tenth of all my income.” In his demented condition, he didn’t care about his own sinful state—just that, by comparison, he was less sinful than the tax collector.

People who suffer from pride often spend all their time pointing the finger of blame at others—thinking that it somehow makes them look better to God—if they can find people who are more sinful than they are.  They mistakenly believe that God grades on the CURVE—when you and I know He grades on the CROSS.

Another symptom of pride is STUBBORNNESS. Proverbs 29:1 refers to this by saying, “One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”  You see, stubbornness can be a form of pride—pride that causes us to shun needed correction. It renders us unable to stop defending ourselves. When someone points out an error or flaw, we evade or deny or blame someone else.

Well, what about that? Do you often find yourself being defensive even when good friends or parents or siblings lovingly attempt to give you guidance? Do you find it difficult to admit wrong?  Is it hard for your lips to form these three words, “I was wrong?” If your answer is YES, then there’s a good chance pride has you ensnared in its fellowship-busting grip.

And you know, after reviewing these symptoms, I think we’d be prideful if we didn’t admit that we are ALL susceptible to this weakness—this sin! And we are. Even Christians striving to grow spiritually—especially those striving to be humble—have to watch out for this buster.  One reason I say this because the more we attempt to be like Jesus, the more easily it is for us to be critical of those who don’t make the attempt. It’s like going on a diet.  I don’t know about you but when I’m on one—when I’m trying to eat healthily—I find certain thoughts involuntarily running through my mind. For example on Wednesdays when it’s chicken night here at our fellowship dinners—Nancy always has a healthy baked version—and an unhealthier version with the skin and other unhealthy—but very tasty—stuff on it. Those nights we also have mashed potatoes with gravy as an option. Well, when I’m in line behind someone and they choose the chicken with the skin and the egg batter—and the GRAVY—I think, “How can you eat that stuff? Don’t you know that junk is lethal? Have you no discipline—no self restraint? Why you’re like the people Paul was speaking of in Philippians 3:19 when he wrote, ‘Their end is destruction; their god is the belly?’” Of course I never SAY this because I have too much pride—I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone criticizing me as a pastor for criticizing others! No—I just THINK these thoughts. I don’t verbalize them because these people are eating the same things I ate before my diet began—and will probably be eating again next week, when I give up on my diet.

You see the problem is, when I try to do something good, I am very aware of it—and at the same time, I tend to be very aware of other people who aren’t putting forth the same effort. I tend to think they should—I start to compare my effort with their sloth. And the result is pride—judgmentalism—and a lack of love on my part. Ortberg writes, “One of the hardest things in the world is to stop being the prodigal son without turning into the elder brother.” Yet another symptom of pride is EXCLUSION—and this is where pride REALLY BUSTS UP our fellowship. You see, at the deepest level, pride is the choice to exclude both God and other people from their rightful place in our hearts.

As I reminded you last week, Jesus said that the essence of a Godly lifestyle is to love God and to love people—and extreme pride destroys our capacity to love either.  Pride leads us to love only self. Pride is a form of anti-love because it moves us to exclude instead of to embrace. It leads us to judge rather than to serve—to bow down before a mirror rather than before God. C. S. Lewis writes, “A proud person is always looking down on things and people—and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something [or SOMEONE] Who is above you.”

Well, I hope it’s obvious at this point that we ALL need God’s guidance as to how to break free of pride and embrace humility! AMEN?  So let’s ALL pause now, as CC puts it, “for a word from our Sponsor.”  What does God’s Word say about pride?

One thing we have to remember is that last week’s text told us that PRIDE is the first in this familiar list of seven things that are detestable to God.  Pride is foremost. It gets top billing in this list. And in our text from 1st Peter it says that God “OPPOSES” the proud.  Well, why would this particular sin be so upsetting to our Heavenly Father? Why would HE hate PRIDE more than other sins? Why would He oppose those who embrace it?

(1) One reason is that He knows that, like all sin, pride HURTS us.

As Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction.” And I like the way The Message paraphrases it, “First pride—then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” This reminds me of a story I came across this week about a turtle who wanted to spend the winter in Florida, but he knew he could never walk that far. He convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center. Well, the flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, “Who in the world thought of that?” Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the prideful turtled opened his mouth to shout, “I di….d!” As this story illustrates, when we engage in prideful behavior we are setting ourselves up for a painful fall. Pride hurts and God doesn’t want His children to hurt—the thing He wants most for us is that we would experience the JOY of living life as He intended.

I think this is one reason PRIDE is listed first in this list of sins that God hates most

a. And one way pride hurts us is this: it opens the door to other SINS.

Now, remember, pride is an attitude that focuses undue attention on self—and this focus ALWAYS leads to sin. For example we give in to GREED when we feel that SELF does not have enough.  We give in to ENVY when we feel that SELF has not received its due, and honor has gone to someone “less” deserving.  We often give in to ANGER when SELF is offended. We give in to A CRITICAL SPIRIT when SELF esteem has been injured. We feel resentment when our own self is threatened by that of others.

Well, for this reason pride appears not just on this list in Proverbs 16 but in every other major list of deadly sins in Scripture. As C. S. Lewis once said: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves: PRIDE. Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

b. And then another way pride hurts us is that it prevents personal GROWTH.

You see when we think we have it all together we don’t have any motivation to keep learning and growing and developing and changing. Proverbs 10:17 refers to this by saying, “Anyone willing to be corrected is on the pathway to life. Any one refusing has lost his chance.”  Or, as someone once wisely put it, “When the head starts swelling the mind stops growing.”  The fact is pride keeps us from getting needed help.

  • If we have MARRIAGE problems and we won’t talk to anyone about it, that’s pride.
  • When we’ve got FINANCIAL problems and we don’t want to admit it and ask for help, that’s pride.
  • When we’re not cutting it as PARENTS—when we’re not making it AT WORK and don’t want anyone to know about it—that’s pride and it keeps us from getting help and therefore growing.
  • You see, pride makes us prefer to LOOK smart more than to BE smart.

(2) A second reason God stands opposed to pride is because He knows it POISONS relationships—making Biblical fellowship impossible.

The fact is—the root of all conflict and disharmony is pride. As Proverbs 13:10 says, “Pride breeds quarrels.”  Think about it. When we act out of pride we tend to be demanding and unsympathetic. We become obnoxious and rude—and who wants to be around someone like that? I mean, when we shop for friends do we look for proud braggarts? No—of course not. This old cliche phrase is so true: “Pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick except the person who has it.”

One of the ministers who sat on my ordination council made sure we all knew he had just received his doctorate.  Before the council began he told us had gotten it via correspondence courses that only took him a couple months and he was very proud of his “accomplishment.” In fact, to commemorate his new educational achievement he had gotten a personalized license plate for his car that said, “Dr. David” and we all kind of groaned as we heard him boast.  Let’s just say, he was a very PRIDEFUL person and unpleasant to be around.

I remember asking my dad about Dr. David on our way home from the council. Dad told me that when David showed up at the council that afternoon and first told him about his new degree he said, “Charles, from now on you’ll have to call me ‘Dr.’”  And dad replied by pointing to his Masters of Divinity Degree hanging on the wall and said, “I’ll be glad to call you “Doctor” David—as long as you always refer to me as “Master.’” I know my father’s response was itself prideful—but he verbalized what the other ministers thought.  No one enjoys a relationship with a prideful person. It is indeed a fellowship buster because selfless, giving love BUILDS relationships whereas prideful selfishness ERODES them.

You know, so many conflicts in life would never happen if it weren’t for arrogance. Usually the key to reconciliation is for us to simply swallow our pride. And if it helps, remember, pride is non-fattening! So, God detests pride because He knows it hurts us—He knows it poisons relationships—but the main reason God opposes pride is because:

(3) It makes a growing relationship with Him IMPOSSIBLE.

I mean, you can’t even become a Christian until you first HUMBLE yourself and admit that you are a sinner and that you can’t make it on your own—that you NEED Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. PRIDE is the wall that will keep any sinner from a relationship with God and God loves sinners so He hates pride.  Pride can lead us to exclude God from His rightful place in our hearts and to bow down before a mirror instead.  It is the main form of idolatry in society today.  And we see it so clearly in our culture where people foolishly think they are greater experts on how to live than God is.

Okay—how do we avoid this weakness that plagues us all? I want to suggest two basic principles we need to follow.

(1) First to defeat pride we must learn NOT take OURSELVES too seriously.

Lewis Smeades tells a wonderful story about Pope John XXIII. Apparently a member of the curia was continually nagging him to fix this or that problem. This official in the curia lived as though he alone saw the severity of the problems facing the church and the world, and as if without his warnings everything would collapse.  Finally the pope had had enough, so he took his hyper-conscientious adviser aside and confessed that he, too, was sometimes tempted to live as though the fate of the world rested on him.  He was helped, he said, by an angel who would sometimes appear by the side of his bed and say, “Hey there Johnny boy, don’t take yourself so seriously.”

Well, this is good advice for us to heed in our battle with pride because in order to defeat it we must remember that as the Psalmist says,  “The Lord is God. It is He Who has made us and not we ourselves. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:1-3)  Paul refers to this attitude in 1st Corinthians 15:10 where he says “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  In other words, Paul didn’t take himself too seriously. He counteracted pride with the knowledge that anything good that he did was due to the grace of God. To free ourselves from pride we must do the same thing—remembering that as James 1:17 says, Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father.”

Of course the most important PERFECT GIFT to remember is the gift of God’s only Son. Above all else, this memory will help us not take ourselves too seriously. You see, when we look to the cross, we remember our sin. We remember that if it weren’t for Jesus death on our behalf we would be separated us from God and destined for Hell. Do you remember the words to Isaac Watts’ beloved hymn? Sing them with me:

“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died—my richest gain I count but lost, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

You see, the way to defeat pride is to re-direct it—to change it. When we remember that anything good in us is only because of the grace of God, we transform conceit into praise. Joseph Stowell tells of a French film, entitled “My Father’s Glory” in which a husband and wife living in Paris take a vacation in the countryside with their two boys—and the boys’ aunt and uncle. Upon arrival, it becomes apparent that Marcel, the older boy, deeply admires his dad and he is embarrassed that his uncle dominates and intimidates his father. Early one morning, the two men go hunting. Marcel begs to go with them and although his father seems to be weakening, his uncle firmly says that this is not something for a boy to be doing. But, as the men leave Marcel sneaks off and follows them from a distance.  As the hunters walk through the valley chatting and looking for quail, Marcel walks along the ridge, hiding behind bushes when he thinks they might see him. Quite by accident, Marcel flushes two royal partridges out of the bush. As they rise, his father spots them and raises his gun, as does his uncle.  But Marcel’s dad is faster, and he fires twice before the uncle can even bring his gun to bear. Both birds come plummeting to the ground at Marcel’s feet.  Ecstatic at his father’s triumph, Marcel grabs the partridges and lifts them high, one in each hand, and his shouts echo through the hills, “He killed them both! He did it! My dad did it!”  As the camera zooms away from the boy, the gorgeous beauty of the hills and valley envelops him as he stands, arms lifted with partridge in hand, raising his father’s glory to the sky. This is an illustration of the kind of RE-DIRECTED pride I’m talking about—looking at any accomplishment as coming from our Heavenly Father. Transforming pride in self to pride in God defeats this sin in our lives. When we accomplish something good, instead of feeling pride, like Marcel we should praise God lifting our voices in praise saying, “He did it! My Heavenly Father did this!”

So, to defeat pride, DON’T take yourself so seriously—

  • But secondly—DO take the needs of OTHERS seriously.

In other words, with Jesus’ help embrace HUMILITY—-and put the needs of other people above your own. Make their needs a priority in your life. Now, in our culture, this word “humility” is often given a bad rap. I mean, when we think of humble people we think of doormats and people with self-esteem problems. But that’s not Biblical humility. No—humble people are not people who are always putting themselves down.  They are simply people that have been empowered by God to love their neighbors the way they love themselves. Humble people don’t have inferiority complexes. They are not weaklings. To the contrary, they are strong—secure in who God made them. In fact, the truth is, humility is the mark of emotionally HEALTHY people whereas pride is the mark of emotionally INSECURE people. Humility is not about convincing ourselves that we are unattractive or that we are incompetent. It’s not about beating ourselves up or trying to make ourselves into nothing.  No, humility has to do with a kind of submitted willingness; humility has to do with a healthy self-forgetfulness.  Real humility is not thinking poorly of your SELF. It’s just thinking more about other people.  It’s getting the focus off my needs, my desires, my hurts, my wants, and putting the focus on what other people need.  Think of it this way: Humility is not thinking less OF yourself, it is simply thinking less ABOUT yourself.

I imagine the younger people here don’t recognize this face but Marion Anderson was a black American contralto who won—and DESERVED—worldwide acclaim as a concert soloist. In spite of her achievements—and there were so many—she remained the same gracious, approachable person. She was a beautiful model of humility. A reporter once interviewed Miss Anderson and asked her to name the greatest moment in her life—and she had a lot to choose from. For example:

  • There was the night that Arturo Toscanini announced, “A voice like hers comes but once a century.”
  • Or the night in 1955 she when was the first black American to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
  • There was the day in 1956 when her autobiography, My Lord, What A Morning, was published and became a best seller.
  • There was the night she gave a private concert at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England.
  • There was the day in 1963 she when was awarded the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • And then there was the Easter Sunday pictured here where she stood beneath the Lincoln Memorial and sang to a crowd of 75,000 which included Cabinet members, Supreme Court Justices, and most of the members of congress.

Which of those moments did she choose?  NONE OF THEM.  No Miss Anderson quietly told the reporter that the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing any more. Marion Anderson had every reason to rejoice in her many achievements but she was too humble to do that.  No amount of public acclaim could cause her to forget that her mother took in washing to put food on the table—and a roof over her head. The thing that brought her the most joy was being able to help her mother.  That—and not herself—was what she took most seriously.

As you know, we close our service with a time of invitation. The idea is for us to take the time each week after we’ve studied God’s Word to humble ourselves and say, “God, You made me. You redeemed me. What change do I need to make in my life in light of what You’ve taught me today? What do I need to do in order to fully acknowledge You as Lord? You’re the boss. You’re the Creator. I’m the creature. Tell me what to do. Tell me what changes I need to make in my life, and I’ll do it.” Let’s all to that right now. Let’s end this service by humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord.  Pray with me.

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