On Pride and Humility
It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.
—Augustine of Hippo
We can make the case that God’s very nature and his interaction with humans express gracious humility and astonishing condescension.
First, we should get clear on definitions of “pride” (an inflated view of self) and “humility” (an appropriate acknowledgment and realistic self-assessment). … We should ask, “How do you define pride?” [In pride] we promote an image of ourselves because we suspect that others won’t accept who we really are. Pride is actually a lie about a person’s identity or achievements. To be proud is to live in a world propped up with falsehoods about oneself, taking credit where credit isn’t due.
Now, we’re not talking about being gratified or “taking pride in” one’s work (as Paul did as an apostle) or “being proud of” a person’s progress in faith (2 Corinthians 7:14; 9:3–4) and in the proper use of God-given abilities. In all of this, we recognize the grace of God that makes these things possible. Of course, to “boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17) and in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14) puts into proper perspective our deep dependence on God. The pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps type of self-reliance is an expression of pride—a failure or refusal to acknowledge our proper place before God. Grace is given to the humble, not the proud.
Humility, on the other hand, involves having a realistic assessment of oneself. This includes recognizing not only weaknesses but also strengths. Obviously, it’s delusional to claim you’ve invented aluminum foil or Post-it notes when you really haven’t. But it’s also delusional to say you “really can’t play piano all that well” when you’re an award-winning pianist who regularly performs with the Cleveland Orchestra or the London Philharmonic! This would be a false humility that’s equally out of touch with reality—not to mention (possibly) being a backdoor attempt to get others’ attention! A truly humble person won’t deny his abilities, but he will at the same time acknowledge that his gifts come from God and that he can’t take credit for them. So to be humble is to know our place before God.
To thine own self be true
As Shakespeare said, “If thou canst to thine own self be true, thou canst not be false to any man.” How true! If you’re honest with yourself, you will be honest with the Lord, your spouse, and those around you.
The hardest one to confess your faults to is yourself! We hate even to admit to ourselves our own mistakes, sins, and shortcomings, because it is sometimes so discouraging, humbling, and humiliating. So we try to excuse ourselves to ourselves, and defend ourselves from ourselves, and exonerate and absolve ourselves from sin, so that we can stand to face ourselves—but this only tends to make matters worse, because when we’re not honest with ourselves, and we keep on trying to fool ourselves, we try to do the same with God and others, and the result is one awful mess. You make a mess of your own life, hurt those associated with you, and hurt God most of all, as well as hinder your testimony and ministry. May God help us all to be honest with ourselves, others, and God. It will help keep us from being false to any man. Falsification is the product of pride, an effort to hide the awful truth of which we are ashamed.
I don’t mean we’re to go around bragging about all our sins and failures to everyone that comes along, including the whole congregation, just to show how honest we are and how humble we are! This is pride, too! He that is humble knoweth not that he is humble, believe it or not. If you think you are, you probably aren’t. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Just about the time you think you’ve got it made, God will stick a pin in your little balloon, all the hot air will vanish, and you’ll fall flatter than ever before. Pride makes it even harder to forgive yourself, even though you know God will forgive you.
Be honest with yourself and give God the glory for anything good about you. That’s usually a pretty good rule. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) “Every good and perfect gift cometh down from above.” (James 1:17) Give God all the glory. Remind yourself that you’re nothing without Him. Even make fun of yourself. Make a joke of it! Get a kick out of how ridiculous you are and what silly things you do, as my mother used to do about her absentmindedness. She was always telling funny stories on herself and of the crazy things she did to remind herself and you that the only good thing about her was God.
Get a big laugh out of yourself! Help others to laugh at you, too! Even remind God of what a joke you are. “He remembereth our frame, that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13) God has a sense of humor, too, and maybe you can help Him laugh it off, if you’re honest about it, confess it, and tell Him you’re sorry!
—David Brandt Berg
Grasp the truth of God by using the way he himself provides, since he sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility. Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.
—Augustine of Hippo
I have undertaken to translate the Bible into German. This was good for me; otherwise I might have died in the mistaken notion that I was a learned fellow.
Vinicio Riva, a disfigured Italian man, became world famous when Pope Francis greeted him with a hug. It was a powerful moment. Yet, it is quite a contrast in many ways. I’ve been to the Vatican and it does not scream, “Care for the poor.” Traditionally, the Pope literally sits on a gold throne. This Pope, however, Pope Francis, hugs those whom the world unabashedly avoids. The Pope, one of the most important and powerful people on the planet, does not avoid society’s “rejects.” He accepts and embraces them, literally. That’s reflective of a pattern of humility reflected by lifestyle choices, the move away from pageantry, and an embrace of the marginalized. Might we take up this posture of humility? How may we be known for embracing the outcast with humility and grace?
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