40. Pride & Humility

Meditations in James: 40 : Pride & Humility

Jas 4:6     But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

The danger or difficulty of meditating on just one verse, especially when we don’t have a Bible open in front of us,  is that we don’t see the context and the context is so often all-important. Yes, we can get a general meaning from thinking about the verse on its own, but it is much more useful to study it in context so that we see why the writer was saying it and what it relates to that has gone before.

So let’s take the verse as if it were on its own and then later let’s put it in context to illustrate what we’ve just said above. First, he gives us more grace. God is in the business of giving us grace, and grace in this sort of context simply means the divine ability that he imparts to us to enable us to cope. Many of us struggle with this. We just can’t believe that God is standing in the wings, so to speak, just waiting to provide us with all that we need to cope with life today – wisdom, strength, health etc. That is grace, His divine ability imparted to us, but we have to receive it, and more often than not, we have to first ask for it.

But then the verse continues, That is why Scripture says…. It is referring back to the Old Testament, to Proverbs 3:34. We need to realize that the New Testament is built upon the Old. Jesus quoted from virtually all of the books of the Old Testament, and the epistle writers do the same. God’s will was declared in the Old and fulfilled or applied in the New.

The verse continues: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is the Old Testament quote, the teaching that came through Solomon.  Those who are proud rise up and reject or ignore God and basically seek to oppose Him, so He opposes them, for He is God and He is exercising His will for the good of mankind. When we oppose Him we oppose this activity of His. As soon as God sees us coming to the end of ourselves, giving up all of our own self-endeavours, and turning to Him, He is instantly there as a loving Father, ready to pour out all of His wonderful goodness, the resources we need for life, His grace. Yes, when we are humble and acknowledge our need, He is there for us, but He can’t provide for us until we turn to Him and become desirous of His help. That’s what Solomon was saying, and is now quoted in this verse.

Now let’s see what has gone before so we can put it in context to see the wider picture. Having spoken about the tongue in the middle of chapter 3 and then gone on at the end of it to talk about the life style that is a reflection of the wisdom received from God, James has gone on to face us up with what goes on inside us and while doing that we realized that without God we were a mess. The key or turning point is when we come to the end of ourselves and we seek God. Before we do that we have wrong attitudes and motivations which are those of ‘the world’, godless humanity, but God is jealous for us and yearns to draw us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him.  However for that to happen we have to crucify our pride and come acknowledging our state and our need. When we come like that God’s grace is freely available to us. While we are holding on to those old worldly attitudes where self is paramount, we are likely to be in opposition to God (which is a frightening thought when you realize how great and powerful He is!) and we are doomed to failure.  It’s all about what we let Him do on the inside of us, as He brings His wisdom to bear on our lives and we are allowed to see ourselves as we really are, with all those self-centred desires in conflict.

This is what this is all about; facing up to ourselves so that we can come in humility to God, acknowledging our need of His help, and then receiving His grace which transforms our life. What is His grace but His own presence, His own Holy Spirit, dwelling within us.  It is He Himself empowering us, but as we’ve commented so many times in the past, He will not force Himself upon us, and so He waits until He sees we have a genuine, penitent attitude, which really does see that He alone is our answer. When we come to this place He releases His power in us – and that is the grace we need to cope. It is that which changes us, which transforms us, and gives us the ability to live the lives He’s designed for us.

Do you see now the importance of the ‘But’ at the beginning of the verse? He’s spoken about His Spirit, who He has given us, as yearning for us or being jealous for us when He sees we have a tendency to drift away, and so now he reminds us that God’s grace is there to stop us drifting and to help us back into a good place. That’s what the ‘But’ is about. It’s about the provision He has made to draw us back when we are drifting. Isn’t that wonderful!  He sees us drifting but He doesn’t scold or chastise us, because He is yearning to just get us back. It’s like when a teenage child runs away. What they have done is foolish, but you are more concerned to have them back than to remonstrate with them! And this is true of God as well. He is there, zealous to bring you back, and for you to be able to do that, you need His grace – and here it is!  Receive it today if you have been drifting. It’s there for the asking.

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22. Pride

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.22

Psa 52:1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long?

Do you ever read or watch the news and wonder? So often there are ‘celebrities’ or ‘great leaders’ or leaders who think they are great, and they come over with such confidence. They have money, stardom or position and they seem so full of themselves. Perhaps you have a college lecturer like that, or a boss at work. They look and sound so sure of themselves, at least in public, and their lifestyles leave much to be desired, and they are godless. In fact they even pronounce on our folly in believing in a make believe God. They don’t need any such belief to support them. They are strong, they are powerful, they have the ear of important people, and who are you after all? You are just some insignificant Christian who doesn’t cause half the ripples in the world that they do!

Boasting is a sign of pride and pride is an overblown estimation of self. Proud people think they are in control, think they are invincible, think they are all-important, think they can do what they like and get away with it. But proud people are wrong! Proud people, although they don’t realise it, have a major problem: “God opposes the proud” (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). The apostle Paul taught, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom 12:16). Pride we said was an overblown estimation of self. We think our cleverness or our strength or our power has got us to the place where we are, and we don’t realize that it was in fact the grace and mercy of God. We also don’t realize how vulnerable we are. How quickly we fall when the flu strikes or a previously unknown pain strikes, and fear follows a frightening diagnosis. How easily are the mighty fallen!

The heading at the top of the Psalm from which today’s question comes, indicates that David wrote this shortly after he had fled from Saul, gone to the priest for help and been seen by a man by the odd name of Doeg. Yes, this is not so much a question for God as for those who oppose God. Doeg was an Edomite and the Edomites had so often been enemies of God’s people, but Doeg curried favour with Saul to cause upset and opposition against God’s anointed man, David. Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd (1 Sam 21:7) and Doeg told Saul where David had gone (1 Sam 22:9) and when Saul ordered the priests to be killed, only Doeg would do it (1 Sam 22:18 ,19). Only an outsider would raise his hand against God’s priests. That day he killed 85 of them.

As David writes about this he writes, “Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?Doeg may think much of himself in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes he’s a disgrace! He may think, “I’m Saul’s chief shepherd, I’m an important man and I helped the king” but God calls him a disgrace. That’s the folly of pride; it wrongly assesses itself. It thinks it’s great but the most important Assessor of all, utterly disdains it! He says through Solomon, “I hate pride and arrogance.” (Prov 8:13)

Obadiah exposed pride when he prophesied against Edom, “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, `Who can bring me down to the ground?(Obad 1:3). Pride thinks it is secure. The Edomites thought that because they lived in mountain strongholds they were safe. In their pride they boasted, but the word came, I will bring you down, declares the LORD.” (Obad 1:4). David’s question in our verse today essentially is saying, “Why do you boast you silly person? Don’t you know you are answerable to God and you have no security before Him?”

This is the point, isn’t it, that the proud think they are all important and that they are secure, yet before God they are utterly weak. In that Psalm David goes on, “Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin(v.5). In other words, don’t you realize you are doomed because you oppose God? David derides him for his folly: “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!(v.7). More and more the word of God reveals the folly of this proud man. He trusted in wealth. Presumably Saul had paid him well as chief over all his flocks. He grew strong in Saul’s court by doing Saul’s ungodly and unrighteous bidding and so, foolishly, thought he was completely secure. Don’t worry about the proud; leave them to the Lord!

When Peter, quoting Proverbs, wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5) he prefaced it with, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” and followed it by, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.Our call is not to join the ranks of the proud, but to remember who we are, remember our frailty and weakness and need of God, and to get our perspective right. As Paul said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.(Rom 12:3) When we do this, it will not only act as a safety check for us, it will help us realize again the wonder of who we are in God, because we will find ourselves meditating on the wonder of what God has done for us and in us. When we do that there is no room for pride. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3:27 ). Let’s make sure that is how it is.

Humility

Readings in Luke Continued – No.25

Lk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.

Just a few extra words. Just before the centurion says this we find Luke recording him saying, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” and Matthew records virtually the same thing. Both of them record this man’s humility but Luke having added earlier the facts that the Jews came on his behalf to Jesus, now adds in this simple sentence by way of explanation. It’s like the centurion says, this is why I didn’t come to you myself, because I don’t count myself worthy to come to you.

Now this is quite amazing because this is a centurion who is an officer of the Roman army and they are the rulers over this country – the Jews are subservient to them. You would expect it to be the other way round, the Roman not deigning to go to Jesus. Luke has obviously caught something when he has been collecting his materials for his Gospel. He caught the remarkable humility that there was in this man. The others hadn’t picked up on this but, as we’ve said previously a number of times, Luke is a doctor and doctors pick up on people. I wonder, would we have been a Matthew and given this man a reasonable but somewhat cursory coverage, or would we have been like Luke and picked up on the unusual nature of this man. Are we people watchers, do we take in what they are really like, because that is what comes out here in this simple verse.

Humility appeals to Jesus. It is the sign of a person who knows what they are really like. John the Baptist’s teaching and preaching brought people to their senses, made them face up to themselves. John made them aware of their moral failures, of their need to get right with God. Jesus then came to a prepared people with the offer of God’s love. This Roman is aware of spiritual realities. In what follows, he knows who Jesus is – a man with authority to change things. He recognises in Jesus authority over sickness in the same way he has authority over soldiers. He says a word and they jump. Jesus says a word and illness goes. This man has spiritual perception far greater than most of the Jews over whom he ruled. He realises that Jesus is someone special. Anyone less would not have this authority that Jesus has. This is spiritual authority and that is much, much greater than simple human authority which relies on human power or force to exercise it. No, Jesus has a power that cannot be explained humanly, a power to change human bodies. This Roman soldier recognises that here is someone far higher up the spiritual-social scale!

Young people speak of ‘blagging it’ meaning they bluff it out and get what they can by pushing their luck. This centurion doesn’t do that because he is aware of the realities of this situation. He may have the human authority but Jesus has the spiritual authority and you can’t make someone exercise authority; that’s the nature of it. It’s what the person who has it exercises – if they want! This man also recognises that in the authority that Jesus has is included knowledge, knowledge of the realities of a situation and of people. He knows he can’t bluster and throw his weight around with Jesus because Jesus will see right through him, right through his vulnerability, his weakness in concern for his servant. Indeed that concern for his servant indicates a compassionate heart and compassionate hearts aren’t brash, they are gentle. This man has an incredible awareness of the reality of who he is, of his situation, and of Jesus.

So what is humility? It is the awareness of the truth of the situation about ourselves. Humility sees me exactly as I am. It knows my faults and my weaknesses and therefore it doesn’t allow boasting. Yet, it will also see the reality of the good things about me and so it will not allow any false modesty. In Psalm 45, the writer, speaking about the Lord going out like a vanquishing king, says, “In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness.” (Psa 45:4) Do you see that? Humility put on a par with truth and righteousness. It is important to the Lord because it is a sign of a person having a right assessment of himself in God’s world. Solomon wrote, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Prov 11:2) This right assessment of oneself brings wisdom with it. When you know yourself, you know what you should do, what you are capable of doing. But this can work both ways. James instructed, Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13) Humility brings forth wisdom but it also comes from wisdom. The wise know their true position and are humble. Paul instructed, “think of yourself with sober judgment,” (Rom 12:3) which is the same thing.

Humility is therefore an important thing before God. Peter instructed, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Pet 5:5,6). Proud people have an overblown view of themselves. A humble person knows who they are – rightly! God wants people who fit rightly in His world which means they know and understand who they are, how they fit in and how they stand before Him. The centurion was an excellent example of humility. We need to follow him.