Indeed, there are some people who are wise beyond the typical human understanding, and serve as modern-day prophets to correct us, convict us, bless us, and bring our distorted world into focus. We should listen to them carefully. One such person graced our world for too short a time, but her brilliance was a gift to us:
From Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (1954-2018):
“Humility is much to be preferred over pride. Pride is a noxious, toxic, nerve-wrecking affair – always having to defend a tenuous turf that you know isn’t really yours. Humility allows you to be comfortable inside your own skin. You realize that it simply is not about you, so that you do not require the incessant approval of people. There is no need either to prove yourself or to conceal yourself. You live in response to God – his word, his will, and his everlasting love. Humility is the only path to lasting freedom from all the anxieties that enslave and terrify the proud heart.”
Her words just struck me as being so true. In addition to her wise words, prophets, poets and kings throughout history have warned humanity against the tyranny of pride. Unfortunately, there are many leaders today who disregard that message. Their pride, power and position are at stake; they would never admit to a weakness, a critical mistake, a blatant sin, or an error in judgment, because they must prove themselves, and seek their approval ratings. Truth and integrity are gone; only arrogance and self-importance remain. Pride is a disease that rots the person slowly, from the inside out. It is a vicious circle that appears to be like water, circulating, down a drain.
From the ancient “wisdom literature” in the OT, the early prophets declared that,
“In your majesty ride forth victoriously, in the cause of truth, humility and justice; let your right hand achieve awesome deeds” (Ps 45:4).
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Pr 11:2).
“Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor” (Pr 15:33).
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pr 16:18).
“Humility is the fear of the Lord; is wages are riches and honor and life” (Pr 22:4).
The prophet Zephaniah warned his people, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zep 2:3).
In the NT, Jesus himself was tempted to assume a position of power and pride. He was tempted three times to do things that would bring him notoriety and relevance (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). The background for Jesus’ temptations is the 40 days of testing of the nation of Israel in the wilderness (Dt 6-8), where they had to decide whether or not they would follow the one true God, or not. “Authority and splendor,” power and position were attractive promises made by “the devil” to Jesus (Lk 4:6). As the Son of God, he could have chosen to use his powers for himself and his own status, and then he would have never sacrificed himself for the benefit of all of humanity. But Jesus could take no pride in succumbing to the evil temptations. Three times he used a weapon against the devil to resist pride, which is still available to everyone today – “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17).
The Apostle Paul defended his own ministry by writing, “By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you, – I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you but ‘bold’ toward you when I am away!” (2 Cor 10:1). That is, he was accused by his readers of being “timid” in person, and those who wished to discredit him said he was “bold” only at a distance. In fact, he was preaching and writing in truth, with the “humility and gentleness of Christ.” His mild tone in this letter changes into a firm reproach for his enemies. Thus “humility” is not fear or cowardice, or low self-esteem. It is confidence in the Lord and in his righteousness.
Paul also reminded the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Php 2:3).
And to the Colossians, he wrote: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col 3:12).
Finally, the Apostle Peter wrote specifically to the “shepherds,” to the leaders of the people: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pe 5:5). Christian leaders, in particular, are commanded to love, serve and empower others, not to control other people and/or exercise unjustified power over “the flock.”
Author Richard Rohr wrote that “Power, perks, prestige symbols and material possessions are the armor of the actor….Jesus is always trying to undercut the arrogance, the self-validation, the cold calculation of the ego. The entire Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) makes that quite clear. He clearly sees pride, self-sufficiency and its resultant hypocrisy as the primary moral problems” (Things Hidden; Scripture as Spirituality, p. 77, Rohr’s emphasis). Pride may be the “primary moral problem” in our society today – my emphasis.