‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:1-3) Integral to healthy relationships, selfless service and resolved conflict is humility. ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ (James 4:6)
And pride is a fragile thing. Its fragile because its false. We want an estimation of ourselves that doesn’t fit the facts. We want to think of ourselves as good people when in fact we’re deeply infected with sin. Because pride is so fragile it needs constant reinforcement.
- We look for affirmation. We act towards others not out of selfless love, but out of a self-serving desire for their regard.
- We delight in others’ failures because they bolster our standing.
- We patronise = pride dressed up as compassion. Patronizing is what we do when we think we’re better than someone, but we know we should treat them with humility.
Imagine a church where everyone is trying to prove themselves or wants to be admired. Even if you don’t feel proud now, you’d like to reach the point where you could be proud! If that’s what you’re like, you’ll never serve God and you’ll never serve other people. All your actions will be self-serving. Their aim will be to make you well regarded.
Humility cannot be achieved! So what can we do? The great English Puritan John Owen may help us. He said: ‘There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then of themselves – of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition.’ We look at ourselves through the prism of God’s glory, seeing ourselves as unworthy servants of a great King. We look at other people through the prism of Christ’s cross, seeing ourselves as sinners saved by grace pointing other sinners to the fountain of grace. Humility cannot be ‘achieved’. But the cross humbles us.