I am a blessed man. That’s the truth. I have received from the Lord’s hand far more kindness and protection, more prosperity and success than I deserve. This I know. And to this I testify without qualification.
I also work in a field in which arrogance is common.
It’s true that we train ministers at Biblical Seminary, and missional ones at that; so that the emphasis on taking up one’s cross to follow Jesus (INTO the world no less) provides subject matter that calls for sacrifice, service, and humility.
It’s also true that a seminary is a graduate level academic institution. It’s in the academic arena where arrogance seems naturally to arise. This is the place where highly intelligent, highly accomplished people form carefully crafted critical assessments and forward sharply honed arguments. One of my mentors, a true scholar and founding faculty member at Biblical, once warned me matter-of-factly, “Arrogance is an occupational hazard of this business.”
Recently, I’ve been studying and preaching and teaching in the prophets — with one clear point of the prophets being: God hates pride. Seeking to scrupulously avoid any suggestion of, “Humility and How I’ve Achieved It,” here are five biblical “methods” to overcoming pride that I find Scripture offers.
Method 1: Experience devastating public humiliation.
This is the method God used on Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 and on Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 — and is probably what is behind the famous proverb, “Pride goes before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Medieval pietists had a saying, “No humility without humiliation.” That may be overstated — maybe. But one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing quite like public humiliation to take someone down a notch or two. And, God is capable of humiliating; and He’s quite good at it, actually.
Method 2: Have the quality or achievement you’re so proud of utterly destroyed.
This is what was behind the destruction of the temple (in both Old and New Testament actually — recall Jesus’ response to the disciples’ being so impressed with the ornate construction of the temple of their day, Matt. 24:2, Mark 13:2). It was also behind the destruction of whole cities when God brought judgment on both the enemies of Israel, and on Israel, His own people, themselves.
Beyond these broad themes, some of the specifics of Isaiah and Jeremiah can be downright spine-chilling. You’re proud of your looks? That can be taken away. (Covering the face with pimples and body with boils is mentioned in Isaiah. . . . ) Proud of your youth? Proud of your strength? You can be crippled. Or forced to plunge your strength into futility or into work that prospers people you don’t even like. Proud of your possessions? They can be evaporated. And quickly.
God has an uncanny knack for discerning what it is that is making a person so proud or arrogant or confident . . . and zeroing in on that very thing to remove it. It’s a very effective method for downgrading pride.
Method 3: Have what you’re so confident in be exposed as being utterly impotent or unimpressive.
This is often what is behind the destruction of armies when kings or generals considered themselves invincible. 2 Kings 19 is a potent example. Sennacherib had been foolish enough to actually put in writing a boast that his gods, the gods that allegedly had raised up his powerful army that by then had conquered over ½ of the known world, were clearly more powerful than the God of puny Judah. Hezekiah took the matter to the Lord. He laid out Sennacherib’s letter right out before the Lord in the temple, and prayed, “Do you see what this man is saying Lord?” That night, 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops woke up dead. Sennacherib slinked back to Nineveh, where he was cut to ribbons with swords by his own sons, while he was in the process of worshiping those supposedly glorious gods.
Great pride in something followed by slinking away, tail between the legs, is a common Old Testament plotline. Even beyond the Old Testament narratives, we dare not miss the greater point. Confidence in (other) gods and confidence in armies is something the true God commonly destroys. So is confidence in money, confidence in prosperity, confidence in one’s abilities and skills.
When gratitude to God for enablement degenerates into being impressed with oneself or impressed with what one has achieved, God gets offended. And He’s quite effective at exposing just how unimpressive those powers, abilities, and achievements really are (without Him).
Now . . . in case you hadn’t noticed, the above three methods are all methods carried out by God. And none of these “methods” are very pleasant for the one having the technique used on them. Is there any other way to overcome pride, that is maybe less painful?
Try these last two:
Method 4: Beat God to the punch.
God tells the Corinthians that, though they’ve been oblivious, He has been disciplining them (in this case, because of their rancor and strife, evident even at the Lord’s Supper). “This is why some of you are sick, and why some in your number even have died.” (1 Cor. 11:30). It’s a fearsome statement of God’s willingness to judge/discipline His people. But then, Paul says, “if you judged yourselves well, you will not be judged [by the Lord].”
That’s a principle that’s illustrated elsewhere — it’s illustrated by what happens when the king and people of Nineveh repent at the announcement of judgment in Jonah. It’s stated prophetically in Jeremiah 18 — you may be deserving and destined for judgment, but you can avoid it if you repent and confess first. Even wicked King Ahab gets a reprieve from the well-deserved judgment planned for him by repenting first (1 Kings 21:29)!
Are you prideful and deserving of judgment? Recognize it, repent, confess, turn from the prideful thoughts, attitudes, and actions. “Beat God to the punch” in a sense, is the principle. And this seems to be a principle that applies to both unbeliever and believer alike; perhaps at a different “level,” but nevertheless alike.
Yeah, OK: recognize our pride of heart that manifests itself in self-interested actions or self-forwarding, self-promoting words and deeds, and confess it, repent, and turn from these thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Sounds clear enough, but for most of us, it’s not going to be so easy to actually come to this spontaneously on our own. That’s why we sometimes get methods 1-3, above, and why we also need method 5, below. . . .
Method 5: Make rebuke your friend.
The “disciplinary mechanism” of Matthew 18:15f. (implicit in Matt. 5:23-25, as well) surfaces this principle: we often need other people to expose us to our blind spots, to make us aware of sinful penchants we may not have even known we had.
These familiar New Testament mechanisms are actually rooted in principles revealed in the Old Testament, Proverbs especially. A wise person recognizes that criticism, confrontation, and rebuke provide an opportunity for growth, maturation, and betterment of character that otherwise would not be possible. Here are a couple of poignant proverbs on this principle:
Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase his learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you alone will bear it. - Proverbs 9:8-12
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. - Proverbs 12:15
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless. - Proverbs 14:16
A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. - Proverbs 17:10
Now, for me (and maybe for most of us), hearing rebuke does not come easily, especially if it’s not framed really diplomatically or gently or winsomely. But, no matter. Scan those proverbs again, and add to them the dimension of “turning a sinner from his way” saves that “sinner” a heaping helping of trouble (Gal. 6:1-5; Jas. 5:19-20).
So, even if you’re rebuked harshly, a wise person recognizes that rebuke from another person is a lot less severe potentially than getting the discipline of the Lord. That rebuke could be the opportunity you need to repent (even if not to the “degree” your “critic” would desire). Painful critique — which none of us likes or naturally appreciates — could be a blessing in disguise.
Here’s the major point: the old adage that has come down to us from the centuries is true: Be humble. Or be humbled.
None of us wants the latter.
Now, with all humility (), I am eager to hear additional points on YOUR list of methods for overcoming pride. I, for one, know I need such methods, and more regularly than I’d like to admit. . . .
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