This morning, I want to look at how God has special regard for the humble, and then I want to look at how to integrate this life of humility into our personal lives. If you have your Bibles and you want to follow me, that will be fine, but, as I read four or five verses really quickly, real briefly, look at how God has special regard and honor for the humble.
This is Psalm 10:17. “Oh, Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble. You will strengthen their heart. You will incline Your ear.”
Psalm 25:9 “He leads the humble in justice. He teaches the humble His way.”
Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but, with the humble, there is wisdom.”
And then Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
And then James 4:10, and I Peter 5:6 pretty much say the same thing, so I’ll just read James 4:10 that says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you.” God has incredible regard and honor for the humble, and what’s interesting guys, is He doesn’t have that kind of regard for anybody else.
Now, where I want to start this morning is really where we began in Week 1, and go back to C.S. Lewis’ chapter on pride in the book Mere Christianity. If you recall, it’s in the section where he talks about Christian morals and Christian virtues, but when he gets to the chapter on pride, he entitles the chapter, “The Great Sin”. “The Great Sin”. And listen to what he says. He says, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man, he will be what most people call humble nowadays. He will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person who is always telling you, that, of course, he is nobody. Probably, all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him, it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seemed to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility. He will not be thinking about himself at all.” Lewis also says this. And this goes back to Andrew Murray’s definition of humility where he talks about where we recognize God being God and we being in the actual position that we are in. He says, “In God, you come up against something which is, in every respect, immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God is that, and therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison, you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people, and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
And, as I heard one minister say, humility are the eyes through which we see God. And then Lewis goes on to say, “Pride is spiritual cancer. It eats up the very possibility of love or contentment, or even common sense.” And, as I read this, it struck me, it says, he talks about contentment and pride. That, you know, pride does not allow human beings to be content, and I thought about this. A person who is content with who they are, in other words, the way God made them, with their gifts and their abilities, a person who is content with his position in life, and a person who is content with how much he has will not struggle with pride nearly as much, if you think about it. But, you know it made me wonder, as we think about the far-reaching implications of pride, and I don’t think we realize, guys, how it does truly inflict our lives, but, it made me wonder as I was reading that statement, you know, why are we, as men, so driven to be wealthy and prosperous. I mean, why is the human love for money and wealth so intense in our lives?
As I thought about this more and more, I think we like to pamper ourselves, we like the thought of being secure, I think that we like the thought that money and wealth gives us all kinds of freedom and options, but it made me start thinking, where does pride come into this? And I think it comes in a major way, much more so than we realize. There’s a very famous book that was written in 1899, written by a guy by the name of Thorstein Veblen, and it was called The Theory of the Leisure Class. And, in this book, Veblen came up with the term that we still use today. Conspicuous consumption. I’m assuming you’re familiar with that word. Conspicuous consumption means that we purchase something not because it’s useful to us, but more so, because of the image that it projects to the outside world. The way it impresses other people because I purchased it. But interestingly, this is what, 106 years ago, in the front of the book in the foreword or the introduction, a social commentator at the time, a guy by the name of Stuart Chase, summarized the thesis of the book like this. He says, “People above the line of base subsistence, in this age and all earlier ages, do not use the surplus, which society has given them, primarily for useful purposes. They do not seek to expand their own lives, to live more wisely, intelligently, understandingly, but to impress other people with the fact that they have a surplus” – that they have a lot of money – “spending money, time and effort quite uselessly in the pleasurable business of inflating the ego.” You know, do we see, I mean, in this useful little example here, how pride has such far-reaching implications in our lives and why we do what we do with our lives? And Lewis is correct when he calls it a spiritual cancer that devours the soul.
Now, I don’t have time to get into the issue of contentment, but three years ago, I gave a talk on contentment. It’s probably one of the more popular messages that I’ve given, and I’ve got some recordings of it right here if any of you are interested in it afterwards, because that takes us down a little bit different road, and we just don’t have time for this morning, but I’ve got copies of that here. Let me read to you, real quickly, the last paragraph in this chapter, because this is where the application comes in, and this is where we start. Listen to what he says. The last chapter in this section in Mere Christianity. Lewis says that, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
As we said, and have said, pride is a very difficult thing to detect in our lives. It’s hard to see it in ourselves and it crops up in just incredible circumstances in our lives, and the reason it’s so hard to detect is because it takes place in the heart and in the mind more than it does outwardly, even though its ramifications do flow out of our lives, but I was reminded in Luke 1, The Magnificat, when Mary is talking to Elizabeth, and is sharing, you know, Jesus is in her womb, and she’s carrying the Christ child, and she makes this statement, and she’s talking about God, “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.” You know, guys, if a man commits adultery, he knows he’s done it. He might not feel bad about it, he may not feel remorseful about it, but he knows he has cheated on his spouse. He’s not oblivious to it. But, you know, we can be totally oblivious to the deadly pride of life. And so, what do we do? Well, I want to share with you, and I shared this same idea in the Wisdom talk, but it comes from Matthew 7, and this is what, I share this with you, and I encourage you to think about this as how it relates to your own life, and how you can apply this. But Jesus, in The Sermon on the Mount, says, “Why do you look at the speck that’s in your brother’s eye,” you know how easily we see that speck, “but do not see the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, let me help you, let me help you take the speck out of your life, let me help you with all the flaws in your life, but behold, the log is in your own eye. You hypocrite. First, take the log out of your own eye, and then, you will see clearly and help take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
You know, it’s important to know that pride is there, and one of the most life-changing things for me that I do daily is to pray and ask God to show me the logs in my life. Help me to see just all the crud that’s in my life that I don’t see, particularly help me to see the pride that’s in my heart. And let me just warn you, guys, that He is very faithful. But, you know what I’ve realized, when it’s revealed, when you see it, when you become aware of it, it can be quite ugly. I mean sometimes, I’m appalled at some of the motives of my heart, some of the things that run through my mind and my heart. But what I will tell you this, it will strip you of any self-righteousness you have, and it will humble you, particularly when you see the true depravity of your heart. But, as Lewis says, it’s important, and that’s a starting place to deal with pride, and so, I would encourage you to pray that God would reveal the pride in your thoughts and in your motives.
Now, secondly, I want to read a few verses about humility that are critical to understand, and this is where our application; I’m going to give you three applications that flow from these verses. The first comes from Matthew 18. This is Jesus taking. He says, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever then, humbles himself,” and I ought to underscore that word, humbles himself, “as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.” And then in Matthew 23:12, Christ says, “Whoever exalts Himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” And then in James 4:10, and in I Peter 5:6, we’re told this. Same thing. “Humble yourselves in the presence of God, and He will exalt you.” Question. How does one humble himself, particularly, how does one humble himself before God?
Well, I want to spend the balance of our time talking about this, because this is crucial to finding that humble life. Where I want to start is the first way, and, in my opinion, and I again, would say that this is my opinion, this verse is so crucial. And the way I want to lay this out and present this, is go back to the fifth book of the Bible and read a couple of verses from Deuteronomy 8. If you’re ever looking for a good book in the Old Testament to study, Deuteronomy is a great book. But here, God is talking to the people of Israel who had been wondering in the desert for 40 years. And He tells them, this is what I’ve been attempting to accomplish in your life for the last 40 years. And in Deuteronomy 8:2, it says, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Then, in verse three, it says, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” Think about this, guys. Over this 40-year period in the desert, He didn’t say, the main thing I wanted to do was to teach you how to love others. He didn’t say, I want to teach you how to be morally good. He said, the most important thing for you to learn in this 40-year period, is how to be humble and how to rely on Me. And why is that so important? Remember what Andrew Murray said? It’s not just a quality of life. He said it’s the root virtue, or the root of all the virtues and all true character. Now, God comes along and said, you’ve been in the desert for 40 years, but I’ve got good news. I’m getting ready to lead you into the Promised Land. And he describes what He’s going to do, in jumping down to verse 7. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills,” and on and on, just this wonderful land of milk and honey. And then He says, let me tell you, before I lead you there, I want to give you a warning. Before I give you all this prosperity, before I give you this great life in these great surroundings. I want to give you a warning. And, in verse 11, He says, “Beware,” and we need to always take notice when He says beware, “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today, otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and when your herds and your flocks,” now I realize we’re not into herds and flocks, but you know He’s talking about assets, “when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And then He says, what actually happens in your heart is this. You say in your heart, and this is verse 17, “ ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’” In other words, what He’s saying, the problem with humanity is, when they prosper, the natural propensity is for us to take the credit, and He says when you do that, your heart becomes proud and you forget Me.
Soren Kierkegaard, the famous Danish philosopher, made this observation. He said we all suffer from spiritual pride. He says, spiritual pride is where a person thinks they can run their life and they can achieve prosperity, and they can find a purpose big enough to give meaning to life, and they can do it all without God. It’s the idea of “I don’t need Him.”
You know, it’s interesting, this is years ago, I had a good friend share with me about his father, who was a very powerful self-made man, built this big business up, but had no spiritual life Then his son was real concerned about him. His father was a very intimidating guy, and he went to him one day, and just talked to him and shared his concern, and it’s interesting, his father said to him, “I just don’t see a need for God in my life. I have everything I want. There is just no need for me and God.” And it’s interesting in talking with the son, you know, it became real apparent this guy’s strategy for life. And it’s a strategy that a lot of us easily take. His strategy was, whenever any problem comes along, he just throws his money and his influence at it. And that’s the way he dealt with life. And I find it interesting, and I don’t know if he ever changed his perspective, but because I always wonder if his strategy for life ever took into account his mortality, because this man died recently. And it made me realize just how the pride of life can be so deadly and make us think, you know, I just don’t need God, or maybe I just need Him in a crisis. This is the heart of pride. And this is why humility, you know, where He was talking in Deuteronomy 8, the one thing I taught you in the desert was your dependency on Me, and I used it to humble you.
I’m reminded as I’m sitting here speaking of the reflections of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. Here is this powerful King of Babylon, and he’s looking over his glorious kingdom from his palace and he reflects, and says, “is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence, by the might of my power, and for the glory of my majesty,” and he realized what he was saying. I wonder how many men think this in their hearts after some great success or after building a great company, and say, look how great I am. Now, they don’t come out and publicly say it; it’s just what they think. It reminds me of when Jesus is standing before Pilate, and Pilate says to Christ, he’s trying to have a conversation with Jesus, trying to get Jesus to respond to all these charges, and Pilate says to Him, don’t you know who I am? Don’t you realize the position I’m in? Don’t you realize I have authority to put you to death or keep you alive? I mean, you see just the pride and the arrogance, don’t you realize who you’re talking to? And I love Jesus’ words, you know, most men, knowing that this guy could put you to death, would plead for his life. You know what Jesus says to him? You would have no authority over Me unless it has been given to you from Heaven above. In other words, He’s saying, the authority you have, it’s been given to you by God. That’s in John chapter 19, verses 9 and 10.
I think most of you are familiar with Alex Hailey. He wrote the book Roots, and he made an interesting comment. In his office, he has a picture, showing a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, and he said the picture is there to remind him of a lesson he learned long ago. If you see a turtle on a fence post, he says you know he had some help. And he says, “anytime I start thinking, wow, isn’t this marvelous what I have done, look how great I am,” he says, “I look at that picture and remember how this turtle, me, got up on that post.”
Drayton, who, if you haven’t read the paper this morning, there is a real nice article about his new book, and he talks about this very thing, and we looked at this just briefly last week, and I want to read to you from the manuscript. He says, “The humble person understands how little, if any, of our success we can attribute to ourselves. In that sense, 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. Let’s take the example of a tailback who wins the Heisman trophy. This Heisman winner gets his name in the paper and his face on ESPN. But where did he get the DNA that created the strong body? And where did he get the great coordination that helped him to win the prize? How many of the 100 trillion cells in his body did he create? We’re told that for each of these cells, there is a bank of instructions more detailed than 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica put together. Does this tailback understand even one of these instructions? But I worked so hard, he might say. I went to the weight room. I practiced harder than anyone else on the team. To him we could reply, but who taught you to work that hard? Who built the weight room? Who bought the equipment? Who built the university, including the stadium you played in? Who cut the grass there, and laid out the lines and boundaries. Did you hire or pay your coaches? Did you recruit your teammates? Did you open up those holes in the line that you ran through? If this tailback has humility, has that wisdom, he will express nothing but overflowing gratitude when he wins the Heisman, to his parents, to his teachers, to his coaches, to all the players on his team, to everyone who helped him along the way. Most of all, time and time again, he will express gratitude to God, and because of that gratitude, he will be motivated to work all the harder so as not to let down those who have invested in him and who depend on him. This ageless thought says it all. We drink from wells we did not dig and we are warmed by fires that we did not build.’” That comes from Deuteronomy 6:11. “In this life, humility is only logical. It ought to become our daily habit.”
Now, I Corinthians 4:7, says, “Why do you think that you are superior to other men, when all that you have, you have received from the hand of God.” He says, if you have received it from the hand of God, why do you boast as if you’ve done it yourself. So, how do you keep prideful thinking out of your life? You know, I read to you in Deuteronomy 8, where God says, I’m going to lead you into the land of milk and honey, and this is going to be a wonderful place, and you will prosper, and He says, and when you do prosper, and when you have eaten, and when you are satisfied, this is verse 10, he said, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. In other words, He’s saying we should bless and thank God each day for all that He has given us. And what has He given us? Everything. It says in John 3:27, “A man can receive nothing unless it’s been given to him from Heaven above.”
And, one of the things that I like to do, is when I contrast the life of Nebuchadnezzar, when I look at his life, I like to contrast his life with the life of David, particularly right before David dies. And in I Chronicles, chapter 29, listen to David. David is about to die, and he’s looking over, this is when Israel was at its Zenith. It was powerful militarily, spiritually, morally, educationally, and listen to this, we just read Nebuchadnezzar, who says, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence, by the might of my power, and for the glory of my majesty.” Listen to David’s words in contrast. David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly, and David said, “Blessed are You, O Lord, God of Israel, Our Father, forever and ever. Yours O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God,” and listen to this, “we thank You, and we praise Your glorious Name.”
This is why the apostle Paul tells us, our lives should overflow with gratitude. So, guys, the first thing that I’m trying to say is that when we acknowledge all that we are and all that we have is a gift of God and that we are truly grateful for these gifts, we are humbling ourselves before Him. And this is critical to understand. The truly genuinely humble people are grateful people. They are grateful to the hand of God.
Now, a second way we humble ourselves before God is to be contrite before Him. And I just want to take a minute on this, looking at, I think, a very important parable, real short, regarding humility, and Jesus points out this is the key to humility, as well. And it’s about the Pharisee and the Publican. And he told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself. God, I think you that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, but, particularly like that, and he points his finger, that tax collector over there. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on all that I get, but the tax collector, on the other hand, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to Heaven, but was beating his breast saying, God, be merciful to me, the sinner. I tell you, this man went to his house justified, the tax gatherer, rather than the other guy, the Pharisee, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and here is this phrase again, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. You know what’s interesting? If you notice the proud Pharisee, and this goes back to every lesson, every session we’ve had, what does he do? The proud Pharisee compares himself to the tax gatherer. That comparison. It’s the heart of pride, and yet, you see a sense of moral and spiritual superiority. Where, you know, the tax gatherer, he compares himself to nobody. He just sees his own sin, and contritely confesses it before God. What’s interesting – I didn’t hear this, but I was given the tape. George Carey, who was former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke at the Advent at the Lenten services, and he taught on this parable, and he did just a wonderful job, and one of the things he said is this, he said, “the irony of this parable is, that the very religious, moral Pharisee went home feeling very good about himself and is standing before God. Not realizing that something was terribly wrong with him spiritually, and what was terribly wrong? Well, you see it in verse 14. He was not justified before God. He was not right with God. And if you are not justified before God, you are condemned. And yet, he says the humble tax gatherer who felt lowly and contrite, he was the one who was justified before God and spiritually healthy.” You know, I’m curious, guys, other than maybe church on Sunday, how often do we confess our sin before God? How often are we sorrowful over our depravity and sinfulness? Carey suggests that we should pray each day the prayer of the tax gatherer. God have mercy on my life, have mercy on me, the sinner.
So, where are we? What have we said thus far? The starting place is recognizing our own pride. Second, we humble ourselves by giving God the proper thanks that He deserves. And thirdly, we humble ourselves by contritely going before God each day. But a final way we humble ourselves, and I think it’s most critical, and which I close with, is in II Corinthians 3:5, where it says, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Now people often wonder, what is Jesus really saying there? “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Because, you know, every one of us knows that every day, we see Godless people accomplish all kind of great and wonderful things out there in the workplace without looking to God at all. So, what’s Jesus saying here? He’s saying, apart from Me, apart from My strength and My power, you cannot be fruitful, your life cannot be changed and transformed, and you cannot accomplish My Will for your life.
Let me ask you this question. On your own strength, and be serious here, on your strength, just by sheer willpower, do you think you and I can deliver ourselves from this desire to impress other men and win their approval? Just by sheer willpower? My New Year’s Resolution is, I’m not ever going to try to impress anybody or win man’s approval, I’m just going to forget about it. Do you think that you can pull that off in your own strength and your own power? I contend it’s impossible. However, when a man or a woman daily goes before God, acknowledge his or her inadequacy to overcome this enslavement that we have, and it is an enslavement, and say, Lord I cannot deliver myself from this desire to please men. I look to you to accomplish this in my life. Guys, I contend this is when God’s Power will begin to flow into our lives, and He will begin the process, and I would underscore process, of setting us free of being addicted to man’s approval.
Now, my final thought is this, as it relates to this point I just made. The Bible teaches in both the Old and the New Testament that God has a real desire to give His strength and His power to His people. And it’s a fortitude. It’s an inner strength that enables us to be the men that we were meant to be, and there are several words that are used, that talk about God’s strength, His power, His might, but there is another word, and you see it primarily in the New Testament, and it’s a word that I don’t think most people really understand, His Grace. And a great definition of grace is this. Listen to this. God enabling us to do that which we cannot do ourselves. God enabling us to do that which we cannot do ourselves. Divine enablement. You see its significance in Salvation. We can’t save ourselves. But you also see its importance in day to day living. For instance, in Hebrews 13:9, it says, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by God’s Grace.” And you know what? This is so crucial. To grasp. The Bible is very clear. God only gives His Grace, His Strength, His Power, to certain people. The humble. In James 4:6 and in I Peter 5:5, it says, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace, gives His Grace, to the humble.
You know, it struck me, guys, finding the humble life, is like finding wisdom. It’s not instantaneous. It’s not like you can come to a 4-week series and think I’m going to walk away as humble as Moses. It’s like a path you walk down. Humbling ourselves before God each day, looking to Him to set us free from our love of human approval, knowing that over time, the humble life will become more and more of a reality, in each of our lives as we see the pride in our lives, and we humble ourselves before God each day.
Let me close in prayer. Lord, we do thank You for Your revelation and Your teaching us, for we do walk around in darkness, not understanding the great principles of life that You have made available to us. We thank You Lord, for the fact that You do give Your Grace to the humble. And I just pray, Father, that we might, each day, look at, and recognize, and self-examine ourselves, and that You might allow us to see, the pride of life in each of us. And that each day, we might be willing to give thanks for all that has come from Your Hand, that we might come before You contritely, confessing our sin with real sorrow, and each day acknowledging that we can’t transform our hearts. That we can’t set ourselves free from this addiction to human approval, but we thank You that You are the divine enabler, and so we do look to You to begin that work in our lives and we thank You. In Christ’s Name. Amen.