Pride and Humility

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Introduction

This evening in our series in the Book of Proverbs our theme is Pride and Humility – a theme so important that it runs right through Proverbs from chapter 3 to chapter 30. As we look at this theme from Proverbs, I want to look particularly at the need for humble eyes. Why humble eyes you might be asking? Have a look at Proverbs 6, 16-17:

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable [or an abomination] to him: [and what is the first? The first is… ] haughty eyes [or proud, arrogant eyes – which is what the word haughty means]... ”

God also hates a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. But the first and most abominable to God are haughty eyes which betray a haughty or proud heart. Proverbs 21.4:

“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!”

Of course, we praise God for our eyes. I recognise the distress caused by visual impairment and I have great admiration for those who cope so valiantly with it. But our eyes are God’s creation and our sight is God’s good gift. Proverbs 20.12 says this:

“Ears that hear and eyes that see – the Lord has made them both.”

It’s been said that the human eye has more concentrated complexity than any other organ of the body. It has tens of millions of electrical connections. It can handle more than a million messages simultaneously. It can detect a lighted candle fifteen miles away when the conditions are right. Light rays are first received by the cornea which bends them into orderly patterns, and then transmits them through the pupil which opens and closes like a camera shutter to the lens. Then by strong muscular activity the lens focuses our vision on to the retina which, although less than a square inch in size, contains 137 million light sensitive receptor cells. The retina then sends messages along the optic nerve’s million fibres to the brain at 300mph. In addition, all the time by a combination of our tears and blinks the cornea is kept flushed, oxygenated, lubricated and sterilised. We thought computers were amazing. The human eye is indeed a miniature marvel!

Our eyes and our eyesight are a marvellous gift of God. We don’t just see with our eyes, we also communicate through our eyes. For example, if you were to shut your eyes while I’m preaching, I would get the message! Our eyes can be very eloquent and speak what is in our heart. They can shine with love and blaze with fury and anger. We can look someone steadily in the eye or wink to indicate insincerity. Proverbs has much to say about the winking eye, for example, chapter 10 verse 10 says that:

“He who winks maliciously causes grief… ”

So be careful – think before you wink!

Like Jesus we can look upon people with compassion or we can look at them with scorn. We can even look with scorn on our own family, says Proverbs. If we do, we are to beware. Proverbs 30.17 says this:

“The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”

So watch out for your eyes if you mock your parents. We can love with our eyes and we can flirt with our eyes, says Isaiah; or even commit adultery
with our eyes, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. So we are to watch our eyes. As with the rest of our bodies we are to offer them “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12.1). Our eyes also betray whether our hearts are proud or humble. We’ve already seen from
Proverbs 6 that God hates haughty eyes, and from Proverbs 21 that when
the heart is haughty, the eyes are haughty too. In Proverbs 16.5 we read that:

“The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”

Richard Dawkins beware. But not only Richard Dawkins. All the proud of heart. Perhaps some of us here tonight need to heed that warning. Proverbs 16.18:

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

In Proverbs 18.12 Solomon says:

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honour.”

Proverbs 30.13 says that there are:

“those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful”.

The message is very clear. Haughty eyes that are lifted in self conceit and in disdain for God and for other people are an abomination to God. The reason is that haughty eyes express the haughtiness of the heart, whereas a humble and contrite spirit is revealed in humble eyes. I want to look at the eyes as symbols of either pride or humility under two headings. And the first is this:


THE ESSENCE OF SIN IS PRIDE

Many people still say they don’t really understand what sin is. What the Bible means by sin is pride. Essentially sin is a self centred rebellion against the authority, goodness and love of God. The sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was that instead of finding their humanness in loving, serving and obeying God, they lost it by defying and disobeying him. The same seems to have been true of the angels who sinned and fell from their first estate and of their leader Satan. See 2 Peter 2.4 and Jude 6: He seems to have said in pride of heart – I am God. Self deification is the essence of sin and we human beings have followed suit.

In Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel there are long sections called oracles against the nations. For example, Jeremiah 46 onwards, although the prophets refer to the idolatry, immorality and injustice of the pagan nations around Israel, they most frequently denounce their pride. Pride is the main reason the judgment of God falls on individuals and on nations. For example, God to Assyria – I will punish the King of Assyria for the pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eye. The same was true for Babylon, Tyre & Sidon, Moab, Egypt, Edom, and also Israel and Judah. Isaiah depicts the Day of Judgment as when the eyes of the arrogant will be humbled. In Revelation 6.15-17, John applies those words to all humankind:

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”

On the last day the pride of men and women will be humbled and God will be exalted. Babylon was the proudest man on earth – King Nebuchadnezzar. He strutted around like a peacock saying, is not this great Babylon which I have built by my might and power. How the judgment of God fell upon him. Not until he lifted his eyes in humility to the Most High, God was the kingdom returned to him. “Pride goes before destruction”, says Proverbs 16.18, “a haughty spirit before a fall.” The essence of sin is pride and defiance of God, our creator, Lord and Saviour. And this pride is very easily detected in people’s eyes. In fact the worst thing that could be said about someone is that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3.18). The essence of sin is pride. And secondly:


THE ESSENCE OF SALVATION IS HUMILITY

Does that surprise you? Let me begin to explain. First of all what I mean is that humility is the way of salvation. Humility is the way to be saved. Does that shock you? You say Jonathan, are you preaching a new doctrine, a new way of salvation? Are you telling me that justification is by humility when the Bible says it’s by faith?

My answer to that latter question is yes and no. I’m certainly not preaching a new doctrine. The question I need to ask you is ‘what is faith?’ What is justifying faith? Have you never thought that faith is humility? Faith is the humility to acknowledge that we are sinners in the sight of God and that we can’t save ourselves. Faith is the humility to trust instead in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners who died for our sins on the cross. It’s impossible for salvation to have faith in myself and in Christ simultaneously. It’s out of self despair that faith in Christ is born. Without humility faith is impossible and our eyes express this. As Ezra came before the Lord he said, ‘O my God I blush and I am ashamed to lift my eyes to you.’ In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, did you notice that Jesus emphasised their body language? Turn to that parable and see how Jesus describes the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. He says he stood up, erect, with head held high, proud and arrogant. He prayed about himself and looked down on others. Whereas Jesus says that the tax collector stood but stood far off, he wouldn’t lift his eyes to heaven, but rather beat his breast and asked humbly and honestly, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner.’ Jesus said (Matthew 18.3):

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It means total humble dependence on God. We depend on God’s grace every moment. As someone has said, ‘If it were not for God’s grace we’d slip immediately into hell.’ Pride keeps more people out of heaven than anything else. Pride is the high road to hell because pride is the refusal to admit our need of a Saviour. That’s why humility is the way of salvation. There’s no salvation without humbling ourselves. The Apostle Peter quotes Proverbs 3.34 in his first letter. 1 Peter 5.5:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Do you want to be opposed by God? If not, humble yourself under his mighty hand and experience his grace. It is those who humble themselves at the foot of the cross who God exalts to forgiveness and access to him. Who needs to do that this evening at this communion service when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross in our place? As Peter continues:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5.6)

Repent and trust Christ, the only Saviour.


Secondly, HUMILITY IS THE HALLMARK OF THE SAVED

Many in this world think the very opposite. They think it’s the height of arrogance to claim that you could be saved. And it would be if we claim that we can save ourselves. But if instead we acknowledge that self salvation is impossible, there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves fit for heaven, cry to God for mercy and believe that he’s had mercy upon us – that’s not arrogance, that’s humility.

And once we’ve been to the cross for salvation, we never leave the cross behind us. The cross of Christ is not an elementary doctrine that we grow out of once we become mature Christians. No! We remain throughout time and throughout eternity dependent upon the free and forgiving grace of God as expressed in the sin bearing death of Jesus Christ.

So let me ask you, what is your brand image of a Christian? Is it of a soldier riding forth in the name of Christ? Yes, that is a biblical picture. And today there is a need for Christians to be Christ’s faithful soldiers willing to put their heads above the parapet. Is it of an athlete, trained, prepared with muscles rippling and running the race laid out for them? Yes, that too is a biblical picture. But there is another biblical picture of a Christian as a child, as an infant humbly kneeling at the communion rail, head bowed, eyes down and hands lifted. As the hymn Rock of Ages puts it:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, else I die.

Yes then as we leave here this evening we go and fight the good fight. But the place to begin is on our knees, humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, with humble eyes and hearts and empty hands lifted to receive a free gift. Even as we go and fight the good fight of the faith, we are to do so humbly and prayerfully. We’re not going to win Gateshead for Christ and change this nation with haughty eyes and proud hearts. 2 Chronicles 7.14:

“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 will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Charles Simeon was vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge for 54 years. During those 54 years he held many student tea parties – his version of student suppers – when students would fire their questions at him. One question was this: What is the chief hallmark of the Christian? What is the chief evidence that someone has been born again? I wonder how we would answer that question. What was Simeon’s response? It was simply this, “Sitting in the dust before God.” Biblically he was right. We are to humble ourselves like children, hell deserving sinners that we are, to receive what we don’t deserve. Humility is the hallmark of the saved.

But some of you say I agree but how? How do we practically walk humbly with our God day by day? The Apostle Paul wrote this:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him… ” (Colossians 2.6-7)

And we know from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that part of that is to have the same attitude as Christ who humbled himself to death, even death on a cross in obedience to his Father and for our sake. Paul then continues in Colossians 2.7:

“… strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

For, as someone once said, thankfulness is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow. Yesterday here at the wedding we were reminded from Psalm 103 to live lives of praise and thanks to God. Thankfulness is a soil in which pride doesn’t easily grow.

Also we are to examine ourselves regularly, as Paul calls us to do in 1 Corinthians 11, before we come to the Lord’s table to receive the bread and the wine and take care over the confession of our sins. 1 John 1.8-9:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

As King David prayed:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart… ” (Psalm 51.17)

We are also to be ready to accept humiliations – they can hurt terribly, but they can also help us to be humble and are an opportunity to grow closer to our humble and crucified Lord.

Next, don’t worry about status. Jesus, God the Son willingly humbled himself, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2.7). He came to serve not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The only status our Lord wants us to be concerned about is our status of proximity to himself.

Finally use your God given sense of humour. Laugh at the absurdities of life and at yourself and your absurdities. Some of you might be raising your eyebrows at that but you know we are all small in God’s universe. God is God and we are not. We are to take God very seriously. Appropriate healthy laughter about ourselves can help us keep ourselves in biblical perspective and humble.

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