Summary: Humility means accepting your limits.
This morning’s sermon is on the topic of humility. Now, in order for me to judge in advance how this is all going to be received, would everyone who thinks there is value in hearing what the Bible says about humility please raise your hand? [Many hands raised] All right. Thank you. Now, would everyone who frequently finds themselves struggling with the sin of pride please raise your hand? [Few or no hands raised] Well, now I’m confused. You all indicated that you thought it would be worthwhile to hear a sermon on humility, and yet apparently this is an area of the Christian life which most of you already have well under control.
All right. I confess that wasn’t really fair. But the point I want to make is this: that although every one of us dislikes pride, we mostly find it objectionable when we detect it in others. Most of the time, we are disgusted and repelled, not by the pride we sense rising up in our own hearts, but by the arrogance we see displayed by our fellow creatures. It’s ironic, when you think about it. One of the main reasons we find pride in others so offensive is that their pride threatens our pride. We find an inflated sense of self-esteem to be extremely irritating, especially when it competes with our own self-esteem. It infuriates us when people look down on us, because it conflicts with our desire to look down on them. The nerve of some people! How arrogant of them not to recognize that we are superior! It’s really kind of humorous, isn’t it? But the humor is based on a truth, that what we perceive so clearly in others, we are often blind to in ourselves.
Why is that? Why is it that this sin is so easy to discern in others, and so difficult to discern in ourselves? Well, first of all, there’s our inherent tendency toward self-deception. We naturally make all kinds of allowances for our own shortcomings, even while we harshly judge the misdeeds of others. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). That’s why it is so important that we make Bible reading a regular part of our daily routine. The Scriptures act as a mirror to the soul. In fact they’re better than a mirror; they’re like a spiritual X-ray, and MRI, and EKG, and CAT scan all rolled into one. They reveal what’s in our hearts, things that we would otherwise overlook and excuse.
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." -- Hebrews 4:12
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." -- James 1:22-24
When it comes to diagnosing our own sin, we are all guilty of blurred vision and fuzzy thinking. We are notoriously unreliable judges of our own spiritual condition. We can all too easily convince ourselves of our own innocence and righteousness. That’s why we need the Scriptures. The Bible helps us to us see ourselves as we truly are, instead of as we would like to imagine ourselves.
Here’s another reason we have difficulty recognizing in ourselves the sin of pride. We live in a day in which pride is not condemned as a vice, but is instead celebrated as a virtue. Consider the kind of people who are honored and respected in our culture -- professional athletes, movie actors, television personalities, musicians, influential politicians, wealthy business people. Do terms like "humble," and "modest" and "self-effacing" come to mind? There was a time in America when those who had been blessed with great talent or success were expected to at least maintain the pretense of humility. But today, by and large, those who make it to the top don’t even attempt to hide their immense sense of self-regard. They’re proud, and proud of it. And so, as pride is associated with all these images of happy, successful people, we begin to think of it less as a spiritual defect, and more as something to be desired and even encouraged. We don’t recognize the sin of pride in our hearts because we have stopped thinking of it as a sin at all.
Well, so what? Why does this matter? Because God doesn’t care for pride any more than we do. And God has a way of making his feelings known in a way that isn’t entirely pleasant. In fact, as long as your attitude is characterized by pride, rather than humility, you will find yourself at odds with God.