Pride and Humility
“Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” So said John Stott, whose succinct statement goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.
Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it is an attitude of contempt and indifference.
If pride causes you to exalt yourself, you are painting a target on your back and inviting God to open fire. And He will. For He has declared His determination to bring it low wherever He finds it, whether among angels or humans, believers or unbelievers. Pride will be our undoing if we tolerate it in our lives. Truly, it is our greatest enemy.
One of the more notable biblical examples of pride and its consequences is that of Uzziah. When he became king of Judah at age sixteen, he set his heart to seek God and put himself under the spiritual mentorship of Zechariah. And “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). As a result, he acquired wealth and also became politically and militarily powerful. Then things changed. “His name spread far abroad; for he was marvellously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (vv. 15-16).
What happened? There are hints in the text that at some point on the road to the top, Uzziah stopped seeking the Lord and the spiritual mentoring of Zechariah. Rather than humbling himself in thanksgiving to God, he began to develop an exaggerated sense of his own importance and abilities. This pride of heart led to presumption before God and brought very serious consequences upon him, illustrating the biblical warnings that pride leads to disgrace and “pride goeth before destruction” (Proverbs 11:2; 16:18). I encourage you to meditate on Uzziah’s full story in 2 Chronicles 26. The stories of Haman (Esther 3–7) and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4) also offer valuable insights into pride and are well worth reading.
God loves to bless and exalt the humble. For just as pride is the root of all sin, so “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue,” as John Chrysostom once remarked. Admittedly, humility is out of fashion in today’s world and seems unappealing to most of us. However, as Jonathan Edwards said, “We must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.”
Our perspective on humility can be radically changed if we will meditate on the greatest example of humility in history: Jesus Christ. By the very act of leaving heaven, coming to earth, and taking the form of man, He demonstrated an unfathomable humbling of Himself. Throughout His life on earth, Jesus demonstrated a spirit of profound humility, saying that He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
The apostle Paul urged the believers in Philippi: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves? To put on the mind of Christ, we will need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitudes must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness and His example of it must take hold of our thinking, our desires and our conduct. We must admire His humility and want it for ourselves. For this to happen, we need to earnestly and regularly pray for the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, for it is impossible to do it in our own strength.
Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s word and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells with him who “is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. It is a sign of greatness in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:24-27).
Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it does happen. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility grows in our souls. Fenelon said it well, “Humility is not a grace that can be acquired in a few months: it is the work of a lifetime.” And it is a grace that is precious in the sight of God, who in due course will exalt all who embrace it.
—Thomas A. Tarrants, III, condensed.
“Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have.” —M. R. De Haan