4. The menace to humility
What tempts us to be proud? What are the battlefields where we fight to be humble? In what areas does Satan tempt us?
a) Pride in one's abilities
We are often tempted to be proud of our strengths. For example, I've never been tempted to be proud about my fantastic mathematical ability because I don't have any. I've never been tempted to boast about my tremendous musical expertise--the best I can do is sing the melody line. But I am tempted in my preaching ability because God has given it to me as a gift. If I give in, during the week I inevitably get a letter from someone who says something like, "I was in your church Sunday, and I want you to know that I violently disagree with everything you said. I brought my neighbor and you offended her. I'm never coming back again!" Someone said to me on one occasion, "We came to hear you for the first time, but we like our pastor better." Times like those help me keep the proper perspective.
(a) Paul's education
Paul was a well-educated man. He studied at the feet of Gamaliel, a religious authority; was trained in the rabbinic traditions; and knew the Old Testament very well. He had a philosophical mind. Yet in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 he says, "When I came to you, [I] came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Paul didn't manipulate them with his intellect and philosophy.
(b) Paul's personality
Paul also had a dynamic personality. He was an intense, fiery, courageous individual. He had to be considering that at one time his goal in life was exterminating the Christian faith. He was like a spiritual bounty hunter. With that as his background he could have approached his ministry with the tact of a bulldog. But in 1 Corinthians 2:3-5 he says, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
Paul avoided the temptation to turn his strengths into sin. He didn't abuse his power of personality, his ability to communicate, his logic, and his knowledge of philosophy. Later in 2 Corinthians 12:10 he says, "I take pleasure in infirmities ... for when I am weak, then am I strong." We're all tempted to abuse our strengths by flaunting them. We like to let people know about the things we do well. It's difficult to stay humble about those things. But the key is to remember that whatever you do well, it is because God gave you the ability to start with. Any talent useful to God is a gift of the Holy Spirit. All the credit belongs to Him.
b) Pride in one's economic status
If I preached about this temptation in some parts of the world, the people wouldn't understand what I was talking about. People who live in homes with mud floors, walls, and roofs couldn't relate to this. But in America, economic pride is a big problem. People boast about their riches. They trust in them. And they assume they must be great for acquiring all that they have.
(1) Deuteronomy 8:11-20--Moses warned the people of Israel, saying, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his ordinances, and his statutes, which I command thee this day, lest, when thou hast eaten and art full and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold are multiplied; and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up" (vv. 11-14). Moses told the people that they would receive wonderful things at the hand of God in the Promised Land. But he warned them that there would be a tendency to forget the source of their blessings. Instead they would think they acquired those things based on their abilities.
Then Moses said, "[You will] forget the Lord thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might test thee, to do thee good at thy latter end" (vv. 14-16). Moses told them the day would come when they would forget what God did for them and would believe they did it themselves. They would forget that for forty years they were absolutely dependent on God. Every good thing they ever had was from Him--every meal and every drop of water. But they would forget that and become proud about it as if they survived all by themselves. Then Moses said, "Thou [will] say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is he who giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish, because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God" (vv. 17-20, emphasis added).
Everything we have God gave us. Are we parading our possessions as if we obtained them ourselves with our own self-created abilities? If you lived in certain countries it wouldn't matter how creative you were, because the best you could do for yourself would be a two-room mud hut. Don't kid yourself about who the source is. It's not you.
(2) Isaiah 5:8--"Woe unto them who join house to house, who lay field to field, till there is no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!" Woe to the person who buys more and more until he has crowded people so far out of his life that he is totally alone with his possessions.
(3) Revelation 3:17--Christ rebuked the church at Laodicea, saying, "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked."
The sin of economic pride is manifested first in boastfulness, then in the thought that you acquired all you have on your own, and finally in the wastefulness of parading one riches rather than investing them in God's kingdom.
c) Pride in one's deeds
A braggart (Gk. alazon) is one who makes more of himself than reality justifies, "ascribing to himself either more and better things than he has, or even what he does not possess at all" (Gerhard Delling, "Alazon," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965] pp. 226-27). Picture a stranger in town walking up to a man standing on the shore gazing at a fleet of ships in the harbor. He says, "Those are lovely ships; whom do they belong to?" The man answers, "Those are my ships. They have sailed the seven seas and carried the greatest of cargos." With that the man walks away. The stranger is so awestruck that he approaches a passerby and says to him, "Did you know that all those ships belongs to that man over there?" The passerby looks toward the man and says, "Oh, no. He's the town fool. Those ships don't belong to him. He's nothing but a braggart."
We may catch ourselves saying things about ourselves that aren't true. It's amazing how the facts change the further we are from an actual event. The story gets better and better year after year. Every time you tell it there's a new wrinkle. Verbal pride consists of boasting and arrogance. The idea it to make sure you tell everyone what you want them to hear.
(1) Bragging about what we have done
There is a tendency with human nature to tell people what we have done. I certainly fight that. People get into a conversation and soon they're trying to top each other about the things they've done. In 1 Samuel 2:3 Hannah says, "Talk no more so exceeding proudly, let not arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed." God knows the truth about what you really did. Proverbs 27:2 says, "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth."
As a test, try to get through an entire week and never once talk about what you've done. Try to last an afternoon for a starter. When people don't talk about what they've done, the very absence of it says volumes about their character.
(2) Bragging about what we're going to do
People boast about many things they would like to do, such as telling off someone they don't like, or building a big business and making millions of dollars. First Kings 20:11 says, "Let not him that girdeth on his armor boast himself as he that putteth it off." A soldier wasn't to boast before the battle; only after it was over might he have a reason to boast. Psalm 12:3 says, "The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things." What a vivid picture! There's no reason for us to brag about what we've done or what we will do.
d) Pride in one's class
(1) The world's perspective
When people reach a certain level in society, they have a tendency to look down on people at lower levels. They tend to think of them as a lower class, as people they don't want in their neighborhood. They tend to invite to dinner only those who are at a certain strata in society--certainly not someone who might dishonor their home. They certainly don't want to spend time with anyone who isn't a good conversationalist. But all those attitudes are sin--the sin of pride.
(2) God's perspective
Anyone who thinks like that has forgotten something important: God loves poor people. Jesus was one of them when He was in the world.
(a) James 2:2-4, 6-8--"If there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in fine apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment, and ye have respect to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here [by] my footstool, are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges with evil thoughts?... Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do they not blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well." There is to be a recognition of equality among all men and women.
(b) Psalm 10:2--"The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor." You might say you would never persecute a poor man. But you do persecute him when you don't let him in your world, don't love him, and don't share out of your abundance to meet his need.
e) Pride in one's appearance
(1) The temptation
I believe people ought to dress appropriately--to have a sense of propriety. If people look too bad they can call attention to themselves in a negative way. That's what the Pharisees would do. Whenever they wanted to appear pious, they would put on old, torn clothes and put ashes on their head. They would look so terrible, the people would judge them to be holy since they appeared to have no concern for worldly things. But that wasn't holiness; Jesus said it was hypocrisy.
In our society advertisers tempt us to call attention to ourselves by what we wear. And they're very effective. We buy many of the useless things Madison Avenue promotes so we can show off.
(2) The confrontation
The apostle Paul had to address this particular problem. In those days when the women wanted to show off their wealth, they revealed it by the ornaments they put in their hair. A woman would let her hair grow long, then wind it up with all sorts of things, such as gold and tortoise-shell combs, stick pins, and pearls. She might have a literal fortune on her head. To counteract such ostentatious displays in the church, Paul said that women should "adorn themselves in modest apparel ... not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but with good works" (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Yet this admonition isn't limited to women; men also must be careful how they dress.
Lucifer was the most beautiful creature God ever made, but his beauty was his downfall (Ezek. 28:11-19). God has made some of you lovely to look at, and Satan can use that to make you prideful. Such pride causes people to become haughty, boastful, and indulgent, desiring to show themselves off as better than others. But it's an evil thing (Isa. 3:16-26).
f) Pride in one's position
Everyone holds a certain position in life, and everyone is tempted to take advantage of it. In any position of leadership, whether it's in your home, your job, at school, or in a group of peers, you can always be tempted to oppress people with an over-exaggerated sense of your own importance.
(a) Revelation 18:7-8--The apostle John personified the pride of Babylon: "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give her; for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her."
(b) Acts 12:21-23--"Upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten of worms, and died."
(c) Daniel 4:30-33, 37--"The king [Nebuchadnezzar] spoke, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" (v. 30). Then God took the kingdom away from Nebuchadnezzar and turned him into a raving maniac. He acted like an animal--his fingernails grew like the claws of a bird, his hair grew like that of an animal, and he was wet with the dew (vv. 31-33). Then in verse 37 a restored Nebuchadnezzar says, "[I] praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways justice; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase." Nebuchadnezzar got the message.
g) Pride in one's social status
In a sense this is like pride in one's class, only you demand to be treated a certain way. As you move up the social ladder, you expect a certain kind of treatment. If your waiter is a minute late, you wonder why he's treating you like an ordinary customer. As people move up they tend to expect the best of everything. But that's an erroneous view of one's worthiness. There's certainly nothing wrong with what God provides, but your perspective of it can be.
(1) Luke 14:8-10--The religious leaders always wanted to hold the chief seats in the synagogue. They wanted to lord their authority over everyone, and have the people recognize them. So Jesus told a story that illustrated the right attitude: "When thou art bidden by any man to a wedding, sit not down in the chief seat, lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place that, when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher; then shalt thou have honor in the presence of them that dine with thee."
(2) Matthew 23:6-7--Of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus said, "[They] love the uppermost places at the feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the market places, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi."
Social pride is an overwhelming desire to attain worldly honor and glamour. It's the temptation to be important in society.
h) Pride in one's external spirituality
Above all types of pride I think this is the worst. In Matthew 23:27 Jesus says, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." Throughout the gospels He condemned the sin but loved the sinner. But with those hypocrites He condemned both sin and sinner alike. That's because they pretended to be spiritual when they weren't.
We can look spiritual--carry a notebook and a Bible, yet be a devil on the inside. There's nothing wrong with looking spiritual on the outside, as long as the attitude of your heart matches the image you're projecting.
i) Pride in one's intellect
After listening to the bad theology of his friends, Job said, "Ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you" (Job. 12:2). It's so easy to be intellectually smug, thinking you have your theology together and know everything.