God’s word tells us to be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5) and, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Yet, I often feel there is an element of pride in our Christian brother-and-sisterhood that rears its head in the self-satisfaction of what we are instead of humility in where we come from and gratitude for who we are in Christ, remembering that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not any of our own doing (Ephesians 2:8).
In his book Humility, Andrew Murray says: “There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness”.
“It is not that a man ever says, or even thinks, ‘Stand by; for I am holier than you.’ No indeed the thought would be regarded with abhorrence.
“But there grows up, all unconsciously, a hidden habit of soul which feels complacency in its attainments. It cannot help seeing how far it is in advance of others.”
Murray asks: “How much of the spirit of the meek and lowly Lamb of God do we see around us, in those who are called by His name?”
“Think about how all our lack of love has its root in pride. Pride is also the reason for the indifference to the needs, feelings, and weaknesses of others, the sharp and hasty judgements and utterances so often excused by our cries of being upright and honest, the manifestations of temper and irritation, the bitterness and estrangement. Pride seeks only itself.”
To counteract this sense of pride we need to remind ourselves that we were all saved from sin and are jointly responsible for our Saviour, Jesus Christ being spat on, beaten, ridiculed, whipped and crucified, for it is only through His crucifixion and the shedding of His blood that we are saved and our sins wiped clean.
However, this awareness is not always apparent in in our relationships, which often lack compassion and empathy, not only with unsaved sinners from whence we come, but with our fellow Christians too.
Murray emphasises that: “It is in our relationship to one another, in our treatment of one another, that the true lowliness of mind and the humility of heart are to be seen. Our humility before God has no value, except it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellowmen”.
This was gently hammered home to me by Brennan Manning’s “The Importance of Being Foolish” How to Think like Jesus.
Manning writes: “I have often seen Jesus Christ’s delight over repentant sinners brought to life in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The birthday celebrations marking the anniversary of an alcoholic’s first, third, eighth, or twentieth year of sobriety resound with the merriment of the prodigal’s return”.
“An old, broken man named Phil with three teeth in his mouth lived as a drunk on the streets for 20 years. Now he walks to the podium in a packed and quiet room. It’s his first birthday. Nobody thought that he would make it. He starts to speak about once being lost and now being found. He suddenly chokes up and turns his back to the audience. A standing ovation starts. Men and women storm the podium. They kiss Phil on the lips, cheek, neck and shoulders.
“In his delightful book Off the Sauce, Lewis Meyer writes: ‘If one could use one word to describe the feeling of an AA meeting, it would be love. Love is the only word I know that encompasses friendship, understanding, sympathy, empathy, kindness, honesty, pride, and humility. This kind of love I mean is the kind Jesus had in mind when he said, ‘Love one another.’ Shoes might be shed, attention might be diverted, but there is a closeness between AAs, a closeness you seldom find anywhere. It is the only place I know where status means nothing. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is here because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together again. First things are first here . . . I have attended thousands of church meetings, lodge meetings, brotherhood meetings – yet I have never found the kind of love I find at AA. For one small hour the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The levelling that results is what people mean when they use the word brotherhood.”
I had to ask myself: Why did Lewis Meyer experience the kind of love he describes in an AA meeting and not a Church?
I think the answer lies in his experience of a shared humility based on knowledge of where everyone present in the AA meeting comes from and the “levelling that results”.
Likewise, our Christian sister-and-brotherhood would be far healthier if it were defined by the humility of our common experience of being redeemed and raised from sin, not through any merit of our own, but by the grace of God, instead of self-satisfaction in our Christianity in comparison to those who are unsaved and sometimes even comparing ourselves with fellow members of the body of Christ.
We were all lost
For we were all unsaved and lost, to a greater or lesser extent, groping blind and alone in the darkness of the world; we were all without hope and chasing after status, sensual pleasure, self-image, material consumption, ambition, competition, power and security.
We all come from a situation in which we were dissatisfied and no matter how hard we tried were unable to fill the empty hole within, whether with possessions, ambition, position, alcohol, good times, food, drugs, sexual partners, clothes or elevating ourselves by diminishing others.
Now, that we are found, saved, reconciled with our Holy Father, redeemed by His Son, comforted by His Holy Spirit, secure in His love, surrounded by His light, and in the process of being renewed, cleansed, purified and made righteous in Christ, it is vital that, to avoid the resurgence of pride, we remember it is not through any of our own doing, but only by the grace of God.
So let us live in thankful humility as Christians, at-one in Christ Jesus with empathy for each other, for though we are part of the bride of Christ our yet-to-be-perfected white garments still carry traces of the grime of sin that is being cleansed by the Holy Spirit — we are still in the process of dying to self of which humility is a product. Although the Holy Spirit is transforming us, the process is ongoing.
However, it is also important to remember that while humility means recognising our complete dependence on God it does not mean we are inadequate, the very opposite, we are new creations and should know who we are in Christ as temples of the Holy Spirit.
Key to humility
The key to humility is to recognise our weakness and propensity to sin in self and to give God the credit for our ability to do all things in Christ Jesus.
Murray says, “The holiest will always be the humblest”.
“There is none holy but God. We have as much of holiness as we have of God. And according to what we have of God will be our real humility, because humility is nothing but disappearance of self in the vision that God is all.
“The holiest will always be the humblest.”
He warns: “Let us beware. If we do not make the increase of humility our study, we may find that we have been delighting in beautiful thoughts and feelings, in solemn acts of consecration and faith, while the only sure mark of the presence of God – the disappearance of self – was all the time wanting”.
“Come let us flee to Jesus, and hide ourselves in Him until we are clothed with His humility. That alone is our holiness,” says Murray.