The Danger of Pride; The Blessing of Humility
Luke 14:1,7-11 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. . . . Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, says our Lord. Self-exaltation. You know what that is, don’t you? It is pride. It is thinking that you are above others. Such self-exaltation, such pride, such considering oneself as high and mighty is a dangerous thing. For everyone, Jesus says, who exalts himself will be humbled.
The precise reason for Jesus’ statement was that he noticed that certain guests chose to sit at places of honor at the Pharisee’s house. The ancient world generally followed a strict pecking order at meals. The most important guests would sit on the hosts right hand; the order from most-honored to less honored would go from right to left around the table.
Jesus did not object to the seating custom. What he did object to was the fact that certain of the guests thought that they deserved to sit in the most honored seats, which revealed their prideful hearts (Jesus was applying Proverbs 25:6-7).
What Christian does not know that pride is a sinful and dangerous thing? Though they might not be able to give chapter and verse, many Christians can quote Proverbs 18:12, “Pride goes before a fall, but humility comes before honor.” Prideful eyes are one of seven abominations that God hates, according to Proverbs 6. And both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 quote Proverbs 29:3-4, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the to humble.” Christians know well that pride is bad and humility is good.
But what is the pride that God condemns? Pride is thinking you are more important than others, better than others, or above others because of your name, your accomplishments, your gifts, your looks, your knowledge, or your wealth. You are not being prideful when you strive to be the best at what you do. You are not being prideful by merely recognizing that you are better at something than someone else (Paul recognized that he worked harder than all the other apostles; see 1 Co 15:9-10). You are being prideful, though, when you think that because of your superior gifts or accomplishments or name or knowledge, other people are beneath you, and, therefore, are not deserving of your attention, your time, or your respect.
Pride means having an overly inflated sense of your own importance. Scripture captures this idea when it says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Co 8:1). So does the expression, “He’s sure full of himself.” Anyone can fall into such pride at anytime, which is why Scripture so often warns against it. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom 12:3), warns Paul. He reiterates the same thought in his letter to the Galatians: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal 6:3).
When pride happens among Christians it is quite ridiculous. Paul faced this especially in the Corinthian church. Some members of that church, who considered themselves more spiritual, or gifted, or knowledgeable, looked down on others who lacked these things. Paul highlighted the ridiculousness of this attitude when he wrote, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1 Co 4:7). Their spiritual gifts and knowledge were pure gifts from God, not something that they had produced by their hard work. Therefore, how ridiculous it was to boast about such things!
There are many symptoms of a prideful heart. One is the way a prideful person reacts to criticism. No one likes criticism, of course. But the prideful person becomes deeply offended by criticism, and takes a “who are you to criticize me” attitude. Bragging is probably the best known symptom of a prideful heart, though it is just as often a symptom of an insecure heart. Mohammed Ali was the quintessential bragger, constantly spouting, “I’m the greatest.” Meanwhile quiet Joe Frazier beat him two times for the heavyweight crown.
There are other symptoms of pride. You know you are prideful when you become offended when people don’t give you the attention, respect, or honor you think you deserve. “Don’t they know who I am” is a prideful heart speaking. You also know you are prideful when you think that certain work is beneath your dignity and refuse to do it.
But a word of warning. Remember pride is an attitude of the heart. You can’t judge whether someone is prideful by the expression on their face or even their manner. A person can look very cocky, but in fact be quite humble. A person can look and act very humble, but inside be a raging egomaniac. A cocky expression is sometimes a defense mechanism that insecure people use to protect themselves from being hurt.
But let us not lose sight of the most important point. Pride is not merely one annoying little fault among many annoying little faults. God calls pride an abomination because it so easily separates us from him for eternity. It is a dangerous evil.
But you say, “What is so harmful about a little bragging.” But the heart of pride is not bragging. Pride leads to two great evils. One is self-righteousness. The other is idolatry.
When pride is mixed with religion, self-righteousness is the result. A person is self-righteous when they depend on themselves and their own spiritual performance to achieve righteousness (acceptance by God, innocence, perfection). They become self-sufficient, thinking that all they need is their own effort to be saved. Now in the secular sphere, self-sufficiency is a very good thing. It is sinful to become unnecessarily dependent on others. But in the spiritual realm, when speaking of our relationship with God, self-sufficiency is a disaster that leads one to hell. When it comes to God and his salvation, everything depends on what you depend. Pride leads one to depend on himself. But the Gospel teaches us to depend only on God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9) “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4).
In our text, Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” To exalt oneself means to pridefully think that God is going to be so impressed by the good works that you’ve done for him, that he will accept you on that basis. Such a foolish person will be “humbled,” that is, they will fall from grace and be lost forever. On the other hand, to humble oneself means to admit to God that you are a sinner who has nothing with which to impress him. It means to depend only on God’s mercy and grace and to believe that he accepts you on that basis. Such a person will be declared righteous and exalted to heaven when they die.
No part of Scripture better illustrates this than the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
The Pharisee’s pride led him to self-righteousness. He believed that God’s acceptance of him depended on (a) that he was not as bad a sinner as others; (b) all the good works he had done such generous tithing. He exalted himself by his own achievements but he was not exalted by God. He actually thought that he deserved God’s favor on that basis of his performance.
The tax collector, on the other hand, humbled himself. In what did his humility consist? His humility consisted in the fact that he knew and confessed that he had nothing to boast about before God: He did nothing but confess his utter sinfulness and then depended on God’s mercy in faith. He knew that there was nothing in or about him by which he could make himself righteous. His righteousness was by God’s grace, a gift that depended only on God’s mercy.
That is what it means to humble oneself. True humility is not talking softly or being shy or unassertive. True humility is making yourself nothing through repentance and then receiving salvation as a gift through faith in Jesus. It is letting God be God and yourself his creation. True humility says “Not by my good works but by Jesus good works I am exalted to heaven. Not by my suffering but his. Not by my love but his. Not by my piety but his. Not by my sacrifice but his. Not by my zeal but his. It is faith in Jesus that exalts us to heaven.
Many people in the Bible were humble. Abraham (Gen 18:27). Moses (Num 12:3). Saul (1 Samuel 15:17). David (2 Samuel 7:18). The only perfectly humble person, though, was Jesus Christ. As it is written:
How did Jesus humble himself? That though he was true God, he “emptied himself,” that is he refrained from showing or using his divine nature and normally kept it hidden. When he was being badly treated, how easy it would have been for him to reveal his deity and say, “Do you have any idea who you are talking to?” But he didn’t. Most importantly, though, he humbled himself by allowing himself to be crucified for us: “he humbled himself by obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” which was the most shameful execution imaginable. Christ’s humility was not only example; Christ’s humility was our salvation.
True humility depends only on God’s mercy. God’s mercy is found only in Christ crucified. To humble oneself is to depend only on Christ’s humility. Throughout our lives faith says, “Father in heaven, accept me on the basis of Christ’s humility unto death on the cross. Look not on my lack of humility, but on his humility offered up on my behalf.”
This humbling of ourselves it is not a one time event. It must continue until we die. For the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, are constantly inciting us to pride and self-exaltation. Therefore we must continue to strive to humble ourselves in repentance and faith.
We humble ourselves when we think little of our own gifts and highly of others. When we rejoice, rather than pout, when someone else is exalted and we are not. When we are content with laboring for Christ in obscurity, without and thanks or praise. When it is not about me and my reputation but Christ and his. Most importantly, we are humble when we give God all the credit and praise for anything good that we do(see 2 Co 3:5).
If you want to be used by God, then know that God does his greatest works through those who humble themselves. Through Isaiah God says, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
The problem of course, is that none of us sufficiently humble ourselves or are as humble as we should be. That is why in his mercy, God himself humbles us. As our text says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”
Pride and self-exaltation severely limits God’s use of us. That is why God often humbles us through His Word (the Law that reveals our sin - Rom 3:20) or through adversity or failure.
Think of Paul’s example. God did so many mighty works through Paul, and allowed him to see lofty visions of heaven. Because of this, lurking in the background was the danger of pride. Paul writes, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Co 12:7; NAS). God allowed Satan to bring suffering into Paul’s life, a thorn in the flesh. Why? As punishment or rejection? No. As anger or judgment? No again. God allowed the thorn in the flesh to keep Paul from falling into self-exaltation and pride--to keep him humble. For self-exaltation can short-circuit our usefulness to God. Self-exaltation can lead to eternal death.
Paul didn’t like being humbled through suffering. He writes,
It is because of love, not hatred, that God humbles us. It is for our good so that we do not fall into pride, so that we learn to always depend on his grace, and so that we might be even more useful to him.
God not only allows us to suffer, he also allows us to fail and fall. Why? In order to humble us, so that we do not go the way of Satan, whose pride led to his eternal judgment. He allows us to experience shame and personal failure, so that we grow in our appreciation of God’s grace through Christ; so that we learn to glorify Jesus even more. And God sometimes allows us to fall and fail so that he can exalt us later, and do even more with us than before.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” All glory be to Jesus who truly humbled himself at the cross and then was exalted in the resurrection. All glory be to the Father that he freely exalts us because of his Son’s humility, when we humble ourselves through repentance and faith. Even this comes about only by his grace. Amen.
Pastor Richard P. Bucher, Th.D