This morning, I want to share a few more words with you about pride so that we can truly see how destructive it is in our lives. And then I’m going to share some words on humility. As I’ve said before, pride is so insidious and that it slowly grows and develops in our lives and becomes well-established without our knowledge. And God hates it because of what it does to us. And I want to look at one more aspect of pride and how it impacts our thinking in how we regard other people.
And what I want to do is go back and I want to retell the parable that I shared last week, or really, in the first session, but I’m going to do one thing, I’m going to add one more detail to the parable. If you recall, we talked about the story or the parable of two brothers who were twins and they grew up in this mid-size town and they were just inseparable. They went to college together, they went to medical school together, they’d both become orthopedic surgeons, they came back to their hometown, they set up a practice, they were very successful, their practice flourished, they both lived in the same communities with their families until one day, one of the brothers had an opportunity to buy this beautiful piece of property on this hill that overlooked the city, and he made the decision to buy it, and he says, I’m going to build my showplace. I’m going to build the most beautiful home in all the city, and he did. It was like this Parthenon up on the hill. He had this swimming pool, he had tennis courts, he had stables for horses, and every day, he’d get up and he’d look down at the city, and say, you know, isn’t this my beautiful home, I’ve got the grandest home in all of this town. At the same time, his brother would get up every morning and look up at the house on the hill, and with great contempt toward his brother, saying, that proud, pompous brother of mine. He’s so arrogant, so egotistical, he ought to live a more modest life and give more of his money, as I do, to the community, to charity, to the church, and, as we talked about, both of these men were guilty of pride. One of the pride of his wealth, the other the pride of his superior behavior in comparison to his brother. We talked about how they compared each other. One compared himself to the rest of the town, his property to everybody else’s. The second brother was comparing his good life, his upstanding moral life to his brother who he felt like was so proud and arrogant. One was very obvious. Conspicuous consumption is very obvious; the other is not. The deadly pride of self-righteousness. But, let me add a detail to the story. Let’s suppose the brother who had the big property, the big home up on the hill, suppose he calls his brother one morning, and says I’ve got some terrible news. My wife is leaving me. I’m going to have to sell my home. She’s going to take me to the cleaners. I’m going to probably have to move into some small apartment somewhere. And he was just devastated. The question is, what do you think, how do you think, that second brother would remark or, what do you think he would think in his heart when he heard that news? Do you think he would say, Aha, he’s getting what he deserves? I told him so.
Isn’t it interesting that we might take pleasure out of the misfortune of others? Isn’t it amazing what pride does to us? Walker Percy, who most of you know of, quite a famous literary figure from the city of Birmingham, he wrote a spoof on self-help literature, and he liked to explore the questions related to our habits, and our deceptiveness, and our fears, and our bewildering complexity. And he shares this multiple-choice exercise. Now, I changed the words, because, as you’ll see, this is about two men who lived in New Jersey. Since we’re sitting here on Montevallo Road in the middle of Crestline, I thought I would change the words a little bit, and you’ll get what I’m talking about as I start reading it.
“It is early morning, and you’re standing in front of your home in Crestline reading the headlines of the Birmingham News. Your neighbor of five years, Charlie, comes out to get his paper. You look at him sympathetically. He doesn’t take good care of himself and you know that he’s been having severe chest pains and is facing coronary bypass surgery. But he’s not acting like a cardiac patient this morning. Over he jogs in his sweatpants and he smiles. He has triple good news. His chest pains turn out to be a hiatal hernia, not serious. He has also just gotten word of this unbelievable promotion and that he and his family will soon be moving to a new home which happens to be in a much more exclusive part of Mountain Brook. This promotion also will enable Charlie to be able to purchase the home he has always dreamed of down at Lake Martin. Once all this news settles in, you respond, well, that’s great Charlie. I’m really happy for you. And Percy says, but are you really happy for him, and he gives you a multiple choice. Yes, you are thrilled for Charlie, you could not be any happier for he and his family. Or, if the truth be known, you really don’t feel so great about Charlie’s news. It’s good news for Charlie, but it’s not good news for you. Percy then says, if you answered with the second one, “B”, could you specific your dissatisfaction. He says do the following thought experiment. Which of the following news concerning Charlie would make you feel better? A. you go out and get your paper and you hear from another neighbor that Charlie has undergone a quadruple coronary bypass and may not make it. Percy says, would that make you feel any better? B. Charlie does have heart trouble, but he did not get his promotion. Would that make you feel better? C. as they two of you are standing in front of your homes, Charlie has a heart attack, and you save his life by pounding his chest and giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation. But why does that make you feel better, to save Charlie’s life and turn his triple good news into quadruple good news? D. Charlie is dead. Percy then says, just how much good news about Charlie can you tolerate? You know what’s interesting though, is Percy’s really kind of teasing us. He uses this exercise to flesh out the secret desires of the heart. You know, how we look at others and compare ourselves to them. You know, it’s quite perverse that we would get pleasure out of other peoples’ misfortune. But think about, why would we do this. Clearly, if you think about it, if someone, kind of, one of our peers, if their life, or fortunes, begin to sink, what does it do to us, in our minds? It elevates us. If they’re sinking, then we’re going up. It elevates us. Theologian R.C. Sproul says, the mark of a healthy, content, humble person is when someone in your world, like a Charlie, has certain favorable events come their way, you rejoice with them. But, when they encounter difficult circumstances or failure, you weep with them. You know, if you think about it, guys, how I compare myself to others, and consequently, how I respond to their circumstances, reveals a great deal about what’s going on in my life, and in my heart.
Now, what I’d like to do now is to introduce, what I call the heart of humility. What I want to do is to start by reading from the life, or about the life of Andrew Carnegie. This comes from his biography, the one written by Joseph Frazier Wall.
“It’s July 27, 1881, and it was the happiest day in the life of Andrew Carnegie. A Scottish weaver’s son, he had risen from a Pittsburgh bobbin boy at $1.20 a week to become America’s king of steel, and he was one of the world’s most fabled rich men. He was always proud to be called the star-spangled Scotsman and he had set his heart on a triumphal return to Dunfermline, the city of his birth in the east of Scotland. Carnegie’s trip had long been planned, with his mother and a select group of friends, he crossed the Atlantic from New York, set out from Brighton on the south coast of England, and slowly traveled north to Scotland and Dunfermline in a carriage that was royally built and furnished. At 4:00 in the afternoon, the coach and four rolled up St. Leonard Street, greeted by banners reading, welcome Carnegie, generous son, and passing the flags of Scotland, England, and the United States. Then the official parade began, led by the Lord Provost. The procession passed the little stone cottage where Carnegie had been born, and a similar cottage nearby from which his poverty-stricken family had fled to Pittsburgh 33 years earlier. The climax of the day was Carnegie’s bestowal of a new handsome public library on the city of his birth, the first such bequest outside of the United States. But, long before then, his mother Margaret, who, for the entire trip, had ridden on top of the coach, had asked to sit inside so she could weep freely, but unseen, on her day of triumph. Homecomings, alumni reunions, and visits to ancestral countries; most people can identify with the feeling of a native son returning home, but Andrew Carnegie’s pride that day had another source too. Years earlier, when he was a young boy, and his family lived in Pittsburgh, he found his mother weeping in a moment of despair. Cradling her hands in his, he urged her not to cry, and tried to console her. Somebody I’m going to be rich, he assured her, and we’ll ride in a fine coach, driven by four horses. But that will do us no good over here, his mother snorted, if no one in Dunfermline can see us. This was the moment that young Andrew had solemnly resolved that someday he and his mother would show them.”
Now, it’s interesting that when you look at this, clearly you see Carnegie living his life to please a certain audience.
And, as Os Guinness says, that, “Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience, but which audience we have.” And then he says this, and listen to this, because this is a great introduction to humility. “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others. It’s the audience of one. It’s the audience of God.”
Donald Miller, again, from his book Searching for God Knows What, said he was trying to figure out why he does what he does. Trying to figure out what he calls a personality theory. “I figure I was attaching myself to certain identities because it made me feel smart, or, more honestly, it made other people tell me I was smart. This was how I earned some sense of importance. Now, as I was saying earlier, by doing things to get other people to value me, a couple of ideas became obvious. The first was that I was a human wired so other people told me who I was. This was very different from anything I had previously believed, including that you had to believe in yourself and all, and I still believe that is true, but I realized that there was this other part of me and it was a very big part,” and listen to this, “that needed something outside of myself to tell me who I was, and the thing that had been designed to tell me who I was,” and he’s talking about God, “was gone from my life. And so, the second idea became obvious. I was very concerned with getting other people to say I was good or valuable or important because the thing that was supposed to make me feel this way, God, was gone.” And he was writing from the perspective of a non-Christian. “And it wasn’t just me. I could see it in the people of television. I could see it in the people in the movies. I could see it in my friends and family too. It seemed that every human being had this need for something outside himself to tell him who he was, and that whatever it was that did this originally was gone. And this served to me, personally, as a kind of a personality theory.”
And, I share that to introduce something, I think very important. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with a guy by the name of Charles Cooley. He was a very, very prominent sociologist who was born in 1866 and died in 1928. And he came up with the famous theory that you may have heard. It’s called “the looking glass self”, and it’s a theory that remains quite valid today. And the theory, in its simplest form, says this. A person sees themselves as the most important person in their life sees them. I want to say that again. We, as people, see ourselves as the most important people in our lives sees us. If you think about that, for children, the most important people in their lives are their parents. Therefore, that’s why it’s so critical that parents encourage and build up their kids instead of tearing them down. The problem is, and we all recognize this, is that, as our kids get older, slowly but surely, we no longer become the most important people in their little worlds. Their peers are. Their peers’ opinions of them is what they value the most. And what is so difficult for teenagers is that teenagers can be so mean and so ugly to each other. And that’s why so many teenagers have such a poor self-image. But what about for business people? What about for us sitting here in this room?
Generally, the people whose opinion is most important are our peers. The people out in the community. Other men. It’s the audience that we perform for. But let me ask you this question. What do you think would happen to a person’s life if Jesus Christ was the most important person in that person’s life? If He was the audience we sought to please most. Think of how this would radically impact our lives and how we see ourselves. And guys, this is a great place to start in our discussion of humility. Now, it’s important to go back to Andrew Murray’s definition of humility. He says that humility is simply acknowledging the truth of our position as creature and yielding to God His place, in other words, when we truly understand our place in the universe.
There’s a great little book that I read in preparing for this, and it’s called Guide to Humility by a guy named Thomas Jones, and he says this, and I think it’s a great insight, he says this, “Humility is so right because it so squares with reality. It is a reality that we owe other people a great deal. Now consider an even deeper reality. There is a God and you are not Him. There is a great and awesome God who created the Heavens and the Earth and you are not Him. There is a God who knows all, and understands all, and is in control of all, and you are not Him. And I am not Him. He is God, and we are not. He is the great God, and you and I are small people. Very small in comparison to Him.” Now, this is why Isaiah says in chapter 2, verse 22, “Why do you have such high regard for man, who is so frail and so finite? Why do we value his opinion of us so highly?” That is a great question. Why is man’s opinion of us more important than the Holy Infinite God Who created us, and one day, we’ll stand before Him.
George Will, in his book about baseball called Men at Work, shares this humorous little story, but I think it’s very important, and makes a good point. He says, “Baseball umpires are carved from granite and stuffed with microchips. They are professional dispensers of pure justice. Once when Babe Pinelli called Babe Ruth out on strikes, Ruth made a populous argument. Ruth reasoned fallaciously, as populous do, from raw numbers, to moral weight. He said, ‘There’s 40,000 people here who know that last one was a ball, you tomato head.’ Pinelli replied with the measured stateliness of John Marshall: ‘Maybe so, but mine is the only opinion that counts.’”
Isn’t it amazing, guys, that we would value man’s approval over God’s approval? That man’s opinion of us is more important than God’s opinion of us, yet this is at the heart of pride. Now, one of the great problems is that we really do not know what humility looks like. We have a false view of it. Sometimes it is because humility is linked to the word meekness, and meekness rhymes with the word weakness. I mean, who wants to be meek? If you ask any man in this room, who wants the quality of meekness, rarely will you see anybody raise their hand. Yet, meekness comes from the Greek word “praótēs” the word for a powerful animal, that is now gentle, in other words, it is a restraint of your power. Listen to what Drayton says about humility in his new book. He says, “This brings us to a couple of misconceptions that hover around a Biblical understanding of humility.
First, there is nothing about humility that keeps a Christian from aspiring to excellence or success, from going after a lofty goal, from being as tough as nails when justice or love calls for it. A humble person can have a winning attitude and exude great confidence. Second, nothing about humility prevents us from being as highly competent as our God-given gifts allow us to be. In fact, Scripture tells us to aim for perfection in II Corinthians 13:11. We all know that nothing short of excellence will glorify God, so we should be satisfied with nothing less. Thus, it is entirely consistent with Biblical humility for an artist to strive to produce the finest works of which he is capable and to discipline his life to achieve this goal. Being fully humble, in the Biblical sense of the word, a high school student can seek grades to quality for the best college, and can study diligently to achieve that privilege. The offensive tackle on a professional football team, altogether consistent with humility, can lay a pancake block on the opposing lineman time and time again, but it might help every so often to extend a hand to help the lineman up. How is it that we can attain such accomplishment and still remain humble? Because the primary person is not to win, but to glorify God by doing his best, and then to leave in God’s hands whether he will be the best. The humble person understands how little, if any, of our success we can attribute to ourselves. And in that sense,” listen to this, this is great, “humility is a form of wisdom. It is thinking clearly. It is knowing who really deserves the credit, and the glory for what we do.” You see, what we don’t realize guys, there is a power in the humble life.
And again, I want to refer to that great book by Jim Collins called Good to Great, and in it, I’m going to read to you a couple of excerpts, and this is so important to understand. Again, he’s talking about those level five leaders. He says, “A level five leader is an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense personal will.” See, we don’t see that in a humble person. We understand humility, but we don’t realize you can have that intense professional will. He says, “But first, let me permit a brief digression to set an important context. When we were not looking for level five leadership or anything like that in our research. In fact, I gave the research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives so we could avoid the simplistic, well, credit the leader or blame the leader thinking that is very common today. So, early in the project I kept insisting, ignore the executives. But, the research team kept pushing back. No, there is something consistently unusual about them, and we can’t ignore them. And I would respond, but the comparison companies, in other words, companies that weren’t these great companies but were good companies, they also had good leaders, some of them were even great leaders. So, what’s different? Back and forth, the debate raised, but, finally, as should always be the case, the data won. It’s like Socrates says, follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Level five leaders are a study in duality. This is so important to understand. They are modest and willful, humble and fearless. To quickly grasp this concept, think of the United States President Abraham Lincoln, one of the few level five presidents in the United States history, who never let his ego get in the way of his primary ambition for the larger cause of an enduring great nation. Yet those who mistook Mr. Lincoln’s personal modesty, his shy nature, and awkward manner as signs of weakness, found themselves terribly mistaken, to the scale of $265,000 Confederate and 360,000 Union lives.”
He says, “The key trait of level five leaders, ambition first, and foremost, for the company and concern its success, rather than for one’s own riches, and personal renown. Level five ladders want to see the company even more successful in the next generation, comfortable with the idea that most people won’t even know that the roots of that success trace back to their efforts. As one level five leader said, ‘I want to look out from my porch at one of the great companies in the world some day and be able to say, I used to work there. In contrast, other leaders, concerned more with their own reputation for personal greatness, often fail to set the company up for success in the next generation. After all, what better testament to your own personal greatness than that the place falls apart after you leave? Some had the biggest dog syndrome. They didn’t mind other dogs in the kennel as long as they remained the biggest one. One CEO was said to have created successor candidates the way Henry VIII treated his wives. The good to great leaders never wanted to become larger than life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people, quietly producing extraordinary results. Focus on these words from what I just read. These level five leaders. They were modest and willful. They were humble and fearless.
Tim Keller made a similar observation. He said the humble are kind and gentle, but also are brave and fearless, and he says, if you’re going to be humble, you can’t have one without the other. You know when you look at The Bible, you can think of several examples of powerful but humble leaders. Take John the Baptist, remember what he says when Christ comes to him to be baptized? He says I’m not worthy to untie your sandals. And when Jesus’ ministry was just growing at a huge, huge pace, and John, so many of the people were leaving, John, a couple of John’s disciples came to him and said, we’re losing all the people, remember what John said, He, talking about Jesus, He must increase and I must decrease. So, you see a very humble man, and yet, he was fearless. He confronted Herod who had the authority to take his life with blistering words over Herod’s corruption because he had stolen his brother’s wife.
You see this also in the apostle Paul, who regarded himself as the chief of sinners. A very humble man, and yet, if you read the book of Acts, you see incredible boldness, as he goes into hostile environments and proclaims the Gospel.
And in the Old Testament, probably the greatest leader you’ll ever see, is Moses. And yet, if you go to Exodus 4, you’ll hear Moses tell God, God, I am so inarticulate, and he says, I’m not a good speaker, I can’t believe you’d choose me to go before the Pharaoh. And, in Numbers chapter 12, verse 3, it says, Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth. And yet, you see this same humble man, who felt so inadequate go before the Pharaoh in Egypt and he said, I want you to let my people go. I want you to give up your entire slave labor force, which is the key to your whole economic and military superiority. And I want you to do it without payment, and I don’t want you to mess around, I want you to do it quickly. You see, this humility, but you see this incredible fearlessness.
You know, the Biblical understanding is this, the humble, the meekest, are the strongest people. They don’t make their decisions by sticking their finger in there to see the direction that public opinion is blowing. They have a fortitude, they have an inner strength, and they don’t live with the fear of rejection or failure. They don’t feel like they have to impress. Conversely, what’s most interesting, those people who are most pompous, who are boastful, those who act superior to others, what we don’t realize is that they generally do it because they live with a sense of inferiority and insecurity. They live with a sense of neediness. They need to feed their egos. They need compliments. They need to be stroked. They need recognition. The arrogant, ironically, are quite weak. Now, I believe, guys, that we see this polarity of characteristics in the humble. In other words, gentle and kind but fearless, to be humble but to be bold. I think you see this most clearly in the life of Jesus.
Listen to the words of John Stott, a famous priest in the Church of England. Some of you may have heard him 10 years ago when he was here at St. Luke’s. He says this. “At no point does the Christian mind come into more violent collision with the secular mind than in its insistence on humility, with all the weakness it entails. The wisdom of the world values power, not humility. We have drunk in more of the power philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche than we realize. Nietzsche dreamed of the rise of a daring ruler race. Tough, masculine, and oppressive Nietzsche worshipped power. He despised Jesus for His weakness. The ideal of Nietzsche was the Übermensch, the superman, but the ideal of Jesus was the little child. There is no possibility of compromise between these two images; we are obliged to choose.”
You know, Napoleon, who, apparently, at the end of his life, became a Christian, made quite an interesting observation, and I want to read this to you. And this is a quote from him, and this is right at the end of his life. He says, “I die before my time, and my body shall be given back to the earth and devoured by worms. What an abysmal gulf between my deep miseries and the eternal Kingdom of Christ. I marvel that, whereas, the ambitious dreams of myself and of Alexander the Great, and of Caesar, should have vanished into thin air. A Judean peasant, Jesus, should be able to stretch his hands across the centuries and control the destinies of men and nations.” Do you see what Napoleon is saying? He refers to three men, at different points in history, seeking to control the world by power and force, arrogance, and yet, here you have Jesus, a short, humble life that changed the world.
Let me share with you a couple of words about Christ and His humility. Think about it. The King of Kings. The Lord of Lords. And listen to these words about Him. Matthew chapter 8, verses 28 through 30. “Come to Me, all of you who are weary, and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
And then in the book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5 through 8. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, put aside all of His power and all of His glory, and He humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross. He did it for our eternal well-being.
And then one final verse. This is quite interesting. In the book of Revelation, in the fifth chapter, beginning in verse 5. “One of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals. And I saw between the throne, and the elders a lamb standing as if slain.” Isn’t that interesting? Jesus is referred to as a lion and a lamb.
I want to close by reading one quote and then one verse form Scripture, and then we’ll wrap this up. This comes from James Stewart, who was a Scottish philosopher and minister, and he wrote this about Jesus, and notice the contrast, the duality that we’ve been speaking of.
He says, “When I speak of the mystery of personality in Christ, I am speaking of the startling coalescence of contrarieties that you find in Jesus. He was the meekest and the lowliest of all the sons of men, yet He spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms. His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine. No one was ever half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red scorching words about sin. He would not break the bruised reed, and his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell. He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark naked realism, He has all of our self-styled realists soundly beaten. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and traders fell over one another in their mad rush to get away from the fire they saw blazing in His eyes. There is nothing in history to compare with the life of Christ.” You know, Jesus was clearly both humble and fearless.
I close with the words of Isaiah in the 66th chapter, the second verse. He says, “For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” And that word, to this one I will look, it means, this is the person I will esteem and have high regard for. It’s that word, “nabat”, to pay close attention to. God is saying, guys, I have high regard to the contrite, the humble, to those who revere My Word. Notice it’s not a type of behavior, it’s the heart, and it’s important to recognize that pride and humility are issues of the heart, therefore, pride is not easily routed out. It can’t be a New Year’s resolution. Our lives must be changed at the core if we are to be humble servants of God, remembering Christ’s own words, the greatest in the Kingdom of God is the man or woman who humbly serves others. And next week, we will look more closely at the humble life and how we integrate that into our lives.
Let us pray. Lord, we do thank You for what you teach us about pride and humility. Father, help us to realize that there is a power in the humble life, and that you’ve called us to be humble servants of Yourself. I pray that through this series, that we might see how truly deadly pride is, and how it harms and damages our lives and our relationships, and that we might see and understand the power of humility. We thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.