There is an amusing and poignant story told of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous 19th century Baptist Pastor, and a member of his congregation. Apparently this lady approached him after a morning service and told him, ‘Mr Spurgeon, I am pleased to tell you that I haven’t sinned for six months!’ Spurgeon smiled knowingly at her and responded, ‘Thank you for sharing this feat with me … you must be very proud?’ ‘Oh! I am!’ she replied. Pride, of course, is one of the so-called ‘seven deadly sins’ and, although we cannot really classify sins, I suspect that ‘pride’ and particularly ‘spiritual pride’ is the sin that God hates the most.
God hates pride simply because it was pride that caused Lucifer to rebel in the first place and start this whole sorry mess we are in. Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:12-15 paint a powerful picture of a prominent angelic creature – possibly an arch-angel – who, before the creation of the human race, rebelled against the Creator and became Satan, the chief antagonist of God and humankind. According to the creation narrative it was Satan, in the form of a snake, who tempted our first parents into sin, again through the sin of pride (Genesis 3:1-13). It is because pride is so subtle, and so dangerous, that the Apostle Peter exhorts us to ‘clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble … humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time’ (1 Peter 5:5,6).
Jesus himself, told a story about two people – a Pharisee and a tax collector – who both went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray (Luke 18:9-14). All prayer was considered efficacious but especially that prayed in the Temple. Devout Jews prayed three times a day in the Temple – at 9.00 a.m., 12 noon, and 3.00 p.m. The problem with praying in the Temple in this way was that it led to some people praying ostentatiously – praying in such a way that their prime motive was to be seen to be praying rather than simply praying for the sake of praying to God. In this way they fell foul of the temptation of pride. Thus the Pharisee in the story – the Pharisees were a politico-religious sect or faction among the adherents of Judaism at the time of Christ known for their rigid religious zeal and legalism – prays, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’ (Luke 18:11,12). We can picture this as we read this prayer – the loud voice to attract the attention of bystanders, the prolonged sideways glance at the tax collector in question when it comes to the appropriate words in his prayer. In contrast the tax collector – well aware of what the general public thought of him, and probably very self-conscious about actually being there in the Temple to pray even though his sense of contrition had driven him there in the hope that praying in the Temple would make his prayer more efficacious – finds a gloomy corner somewhere where he will not be noticed, shies away from even looking up to heaven, beats his breast, and simply prays, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:13). Jesus tells us that it was the tax collector who went home justified before God rather than the Pharisee, and draws a significant moral from the story – ‘All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted!’ (Luke 18:14).
In one of my former churches there was a guy who simply could not pronounce the word ‘humility’. Whenever he tried to say it, it always came out as ‘humbility’! Even though this word does not exist in the Oxford English Dictionary, I rather like it. It seems to me to capture the very essence of humility. I was therefore recently pleased to discover the word in the Urban Dictionary where it is defined as ‘the act of being humble while having a sense of humility’… in other words ‘actually being genuinely humble when you display or talk about humility’. It is far too easy for us – even as Christians – to be like Charles Dickens’ fictional character Uriah Heep, notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own ‘humbleness’!? Arrogance, pride, especially perhaps spiritual pride, pride about our own humility even, are huge barriers to experiencing the blessing of God … which is why the Lord responds to Solomon’s prayer for God’s blessing to be upon the people at the dedication of the Temple with the words, ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways … then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).
It was Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) – one of the greatest orators of his day – who exhorts us to ‘Think as little as possible about yourself. Turn your eyes resolutely from any view of your influence, your success, your following. Above all speak as little as possible about yourself. Guard especially against those little tricks by which a vain man seeks to bring around the conversation to himself and gain the praise or notice which his thirsty ears drink in so greedily.’ Wilberforce goes on to support his statement by reminding us of Jesus’ exhortation to believers not to bask in the adulation that comes from our fellow human beings but rather to seek the glory and approval of God (John 5:44).
Under God’s mighty hand,
So that he will lift you up.
Under God’s mighty hand.
So that he will lift you up.
~ Dave Bilborough (based on 1 Peter 5:6)