Hubris or Humility?

In his column for the New York Times, which is titled “Not In Control,” David Leonhardt admits that the way we have approached the virus in this most recent pandemic needs to change. We must, he writes, “avoid believing that we can always know which behaviors create risks.”  He quoted Michael Osterholm, who runs an infectious disease research center at the University of Minnesota, who says that we need to keep in mind one overriding idea: humility. “We’ve ascribed far too much human authority over the virus,” the researcher said. With all the proclamations, posturing, and politicking that the COVID virus has stirred, it was good to see someone admit – we do not know all that we think we know!

I want to run with that thought of humility today. Hubris convinces us that we are masters of our universe, that we understand ourselves, others, and our world more than we actually do. That excessive pride and the resulting over-confidence ultimately makes fools of us when we encounter situations that make it plain that we are not nearly ‘all that!’ Pride is a basic human sin, wrecking our relationships with others and with the Lord.

How important is humility to a vibrant Christian life? Take a look at the wisdom of the Word.

Jesus spoke to the need with this paradoxical statement –
           “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4, NIV)

    Paul urges us to
               “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)

    James does not qualify the command –
               “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NIV)

    Peter, likewise, directs us to
               “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6, NIV)

Humility is an indispensable trait in the character of the godly.  From the opening stories of Genesis to wild visions of the Revelation we learn that humility is an irreplaceable quality for that person who would truly know and love the Omniscient God. Humility allows us to strengthen our relationship with God because it removes our need to ‘have our own way,’ and brings us to bended knee and open heart before Him.  Humility is a key characteristic of the person who builds lasting friendships, who lives in harmony with others. It dissipates anger. It facilitates forgiveness. It raises up the wounded and broken, viewing people as being worthy of respect. 

Humility is a much misunderstood trait, not to be confused a lack of healthy self-esteem. Nor is it about hating ourselves or living in the shadows. The humble cultivate a rich awareness of themselves and others, knowing who they are in Christ, how they are gifted, where they are weak, contented to be no more or less than God made them to be.  Released from the need to strive and compete by God’s gracious love and acceptance, a humble person lives with love for all persons, including themselves, in the best ways.  The humble man has no need to pursue the ‘success’ image that is entrenched in American lore and society.  The chains of servitude that are made strong by endless attempts to find self-worth and acceptance by pleasing others are broken by letting God do the work of creating a humble spirit in us.

Will we receive the wisdom of Jesus when He calls us to let the work of humility be done in us? There is great promise for us in this. “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)  “God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.” (Matthew 5:5, NLT)  Wow! Heaven’s authority and earth’s blessings are God’s gifts to those who are humble.

Isaiah reminds us that “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled).” (Isaiah 2:11-12, NIV) 

Like all evidences of the Spirit’s life, humility is both a gift of God and something we must cultivate. 

First step is to acknowledge Christ as Lord
Not just once, but daily. Make a confession of His lordship, His rule, His ownership of your life part of your morning prayer. Almost every morning, among the first thoughts in my mind is a simple prayer – “Lord, this is your day, What opportunities have You prepared for me today?  May You be honored by my thought, word, and action.”  (Full disclosure – I fall short of that aspiration more than I would like to admit.)

Second step is honest confession of reliance on His grace and goodness
Confession is not endlessly rehearsing ‘I am such an awful person. I am guilty. I am shameful.’  Confession is a daily response to the Spirit of obedience, a readiness to recognize failure and quickly find restoration because of His love and goodness to you.  Though I have walked with God for 6 decades and served as a pastor preaching the Word for 45 years, I confess my need of the Spirit, my complete reliance on His power and grace everyday. That is not weakness, that is humility.  Without the life of the Spirit actively working in me as I yield myself to Him, I cannot please God. Nor, my friend, can you.

If you think you are capable of living for Christ Jesus without living the Spirit’s disciplines, without real prayer, without learning the Truth of the Word, without worship and fellowship with other Christians – you are gripped by hubris!  Want to learn and live with humility?  Then, bow your head, open your heart, and learn to lean, like a child, on the complete sufficiency of the Father.

Here is a word from the Word. Given great gifts and profound revelations of spiritual truth, St. Paul was apparently tempted to go it on his own. “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NLT)  Ah, now there is humility – not I, but Christ who lives in me.


Goodness Of God

(Take a few minutes and make this your worshipful confession)

I love You Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days
I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
I will sing of the goodness of God

All my life You have been faithful
All my life You have been so so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God

I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
In darkest night
You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a father
I’ve known You as a friend
I have lived in the goodness of God

Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
With my life laid down
I’m surrendered now
I give You everything
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me

Ben Fielding | Brian Johnson | Ed Cash | Jason Ingram | Jenn Johnson

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