With all humility, and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is nothing that gets more fidgeting in church pews and personal pep talks of, “The pastor must not be referring to me” or “This message is good one for John to hear rather than me,” than talks of pride and humility. A message that should get the most response of repentance often gets the least. We all have it, it’s the monster on our back that we keep feeding when we should really be starving it so it dies, we try to deny it, we like to call it by a less offensive name, like self-esteem, or confidence. We try to dress it up so it doesn’t look as gross, which is about as helpful as putting lipstick on a pig.
Often my devotionals have an illustration, something that can be used to tie in the central message of the passage, to grab attention, to spark an interest. But I feel as if in discussions of pride and humility, I need to be as clear as possible, because “God opposes the proud.” I cannot be trite in calling us to be humble, when some of us struggling with pride stand opposed to God and can inhibit the work of grace in our lives.
Tim Keller writes of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, who makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less.
In this section of Ephesians, Paul goes into detail talking about the Oneness and Unity, of the Spirit, the body, the faith, the Lord, the baptism. But before that, he tells us to be eager to maintain (not create) the unity of the Spirit. He commands us to be gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. And I believe in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit comes not with thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less, which is the essence of humility.
In Philippians 2, Paul connects being united in spirit and mind, and viewing others more important than ourselves. And the foundation and reason of this is to be like Christ Jesus, who as God in flesh, came down to be a lowly carpenter from the peasant town Nazareth, being born in a manger, having at times nowhere to lay His head, washing his disciples dirt ridden feet, who knew He was God, and knew that one day, after His death on the cross, He would be seated at the right hand of the Father, and that one day every knee would bow and tongue confess that He is Lord.
This connection of unity and humility is seen even within the Trinity. The Father, who is supreme, has Jesus constantly walking in humble obedience to Him, even though Jesus is God. Yet we see constantly throughout the Scripture that the Father is constantly pointing toward Jesus. He’s constantly reminding us of Jesus’ grace and mercy, how He’s giving Jesus command over everything, how He gets glorified as Jesus is worshiped. In John 16, Jesus declares even the Spirit is about glorifying Jesus. The Spirit is not testifying to Himself, but points to Jesus. The Father, always points to His Son. Jesus constantly points to the Father and walks in the submission to the Spirit leading. It’s as if each member of the Godhead is concerned about putting the spotlight on the other Person. The Father doesn’t take pride-of-place because He’s the Father, but generously and humbly has us look to Jesus. When every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, it is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11) When the Son has subjected all things to Himself, he likewise subjects Himself to the Father, “that God (the Father) may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28)
Brothers and sisters, this is an important message for us. Jesus Himself, on the night He was to be betrayed, prayed for our unity. He prayed that we would be as one. If this was so near and dear to His heart as He was facing this horrendous and excruciating death, doesn’t it stand to chance that this message of humility and unity be one that we embrace and stand for?
Are you a humble person? Do you take correction well? Are you able to submit to your leaders? Are you critical of your leaders? When 1 Peter 5 speaks of God opposing the proud, but giving grace to the humble, he does it in the context of admonishing the younger to be submissive to their leaders. Do you exist to serve others, or others to serve you? Are you independent or dependent on God and His church? Are you critical of people in general?
I am including a link to a page on a chart comparing Proud People vs. Broken (Humble) people. I exhort you to read and pray through it to see what areas you struggle with pride. When you’re prideful, that’s an area of your life that you’re not looking like Jesus. Ask yourself, do you truly want to be like Jesus? Humility is others-exalting, pride is self-exalting. Nothing kills unity more than pride, and nothing builds unity more than humility toward one another.
If the answer is yes, and you believe yourself to struggle with pride to a degree that God is opposed to you, repent. When you repent, you are acknowledging that you’ve been embracing the idolatry of yourself, and that in your pride, you are not looking like Jesus, and are thinking of yourself more than others. You are more concerned about your desires, your esteem, your security, your significance, rather than Christ’s desire for you to be holy and Him to be glorified, Christ’s esteem, security we have in Christ, and His significance. Tell God that you’ve placed your own interest, your own control, your own power, your own will, your own worth, your own agenda, your own security over Him and others. Be specific with God in the areas you’ve been proud.
By faith, believe that the gospel empowers you to be humble, because you know that it was you who needed to die on the cross for your own sins; it was you that should be far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ; it was you that was rotting in your stench of sin, being progressively made holy now only through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. You were the wrath deserving, sin slaving, enemy of God and needing reconciliation to Himself and to others, brought by the grace giving, faith authoring, sin forgiving Savior. Grasp that truth and let it leave you broken and humbled.