Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

“Are You Proud or Are You Humble?”

Text:  Philippians 2:1-11 (R.S.V.)         

  Proverbs 11:2, 16:5, 18 

  

      Most of us have probably begun turning over in our minds the question posed by this morning’s sermon title:  Are you proud, or are you humble?  It’s a question I once put to a group of adults in a Bible study class.  I asked them to be very honest with themselves and gave them a few moments to think it over.  Then I asked, “How many of you are humble?”  Almost every person in the room raised their hand.  “How many of you are proud?”  Again, almost every hand went up.  I was impressed with their honesty.  Are you proud, or are you humble?  It’s something of a loaded question.   We might define cold as the simple absence of heat, or darkness as the simple absence of light.  Yet it’s not so simple a matter to define humility as merely the absence of pride, or pride merely the absence of humility.  The fact is most of us are, by definition, a mixture of both pride and humility.

 Before I entered seminary some twenty-five years ago, I had humbled myself before God.  I gave my life to Christ, gave up my career in business to study full-time for Christian ministry, gave up my aspirations of corporate executive leadership and all the bucks and “perks” that went along with it.  I had heeded God’s call to enter a life of service to the church, and what some might jokingly call “a path ofdownward mobility.”  Folks would look at me and say, “What a humble guy you are.”  Well, the rub was, the more of this I heard, the prouder I became.  I was darn proud to be so darn humble! Then I got to my first class in seminary:  Introduction to Theological Studies taught by Professor Steven Crocco who had a B.A., an M.A., an MDiv., a ThD., and a PhD. after his name.  I went into his first class with my thumbs secured firmly under my suspenders.  I was a sharp business person who had given it all up to the Lord.  I had been educated in the school of hard knocks.  I’d been around.  I had worked deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I had led meetings which brought together business leaders from Europe and Asia.  I was primed and pumped, So come on Steven Crocco, B.A., M.A., MDiv., ThD., PhD.  Show me what you got!”  And so he did.  Three weeks into my first term, I received back evaluation of my first written assignment.  Without getting into the specifics of his comments, he all but said “Consider going back to where you came from.”  Pride had gotten the best of this “humble guy.”  In the words of the Proverb we read a littler earlier:  “When pride comes, then comes disgrace.”  Yes, it is so true. I was laid low…….. very low.  In Steven Crocco’s Theology 101 class, I learned an important life lesson:  an elevated level of pride will always get you to the basement.           

We like to think of ourselves as humble persons.  As Christians, are we not after all supposed to be humble?  Scripture clearly tells us that the humble shall be exalted.  But does humility mean we’re to be self-abasing, down on ourselves, in the words of another seminary professor, thinking of ourselves as “scuzzy worms?”  Does being humble mean being wimpy, blown to and fro by the winds of others’ perceptions and expectations, a door mat for anyone who comes along?

             On the other hand, we like to think of ourselves as having a sense of pride, of self-worth, of dignity.  It’s been said that if we don’t have a love for ourselves, we can’t possibly love God or our neighbors.  But does pride mean being puffed-up, self-exalting, setting ourselves above others because we have more, can do more, can become more, looking down our noses, our heads in a cloud?  Several weeks ago, I was at the Rec. Center doing my thing on an elliptical machine.  Just a few feet away was a young man standing in front of a mirror, probably in his early 20’s, every muscle cut like a body builder, jiggling his pectoral muscles up and down.  I thought he was going to kiss his image in the looking glass.  Is that what pride at its narcissistic extreme looks like?  

            The truth is, all of us could raise our hands twice.  All of us can admit to being both proud and humble – some of us, a little more of one;  some of us, a little more of the other.  And like our HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, there can be a healthy balance, and there can be an unhealthy balance with too little of one and too much of the other.  When wise old King Solomon sat down to write his proverbs, he was no doubt thinking of pride in an unhealthy balance;  a sense of self-worth and esteem which is expressed in haughtiness, or arrogance, or stridency, or boasting.  Then, it becomes a danger to the soul’s health.  And Solomon warns that pride so out of balance with humility is a sure prescription for being laid low….. very low.           

Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:  “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit” – nothing out of self-glorifying and self-serving pride – “but in humility count others better than yourselves.”   What Paul speaks of is not a self-effacing, down on ourselves “doormat”-type” humility.  He goes on to clarify:  “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  There is a healthy balance of pride and humility which first recognizes that we are all of worth because we are all children of God, all created in God’s image.  We all have needs – physical, emotional, spiritual – which must be met for our own functioning and well-being.  Otherwise, we ultimately go nowhere and do nothing.  These are needs which require some degree of self assertion.  But pride within a healthy balance does not make us prideful in the proverbial sense.   Solomon’s warning is to those whose pride swells to become the center of their self-identity.  His point is later taken up by Jesus’ when He calls us to follow.  Jesus says we are to “deny ourselves,” which means realizing that everything is not all about us, and giving up our preoccupation with ourselves. It’s a call to healthy humility.

            Paul goes on to point out that Jesus is the quintessential example of pride and humility held in optimal balance, like a perfect balance of HDL and LDL levels in the bloodstream.  Jesus knew who He was as the Messiah, the very Son of God.  Jesus had a strong sense of his own identity, precious and beloved by the Father, which allowed Him to preach and teach with power, and conviction, and divine authority.  Although mistreated by many, Jesus did not make of Himself a doormat, but rather a doorway.  There was a healthy level of pride in Jesus which was an asset.             Yet at the same time, as Paul makes clear:  “…Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant….. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus’ humility was not self-demeaning or wimpiness.  It was submission and obedience to the authority of Almighty God.  And humility which is born of submission and obedience to just and rightful authority is always an asset – to the individual and to the community.   

            In the final analysis, Paul urges us to have the “mind” of Christ; to seek in our own lives – with the guidance of God’s Word and Spirit – that healthy balance of pride and humility.  It’s a humility which doesn’t lord our status as Christians over others, and a pride which doesn’t allow the world to lord it over us.  So it’s okay to raise our hands twice.  But as Paul encourages:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”