Pondering Pride and Humility
Proverbs 10–29 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
Transfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019 (am)
Today we move back into Proverbs. Over the next five weeks we will hear sermons from each member of our Preaching Team on singular themes from the most familiar part of this collection, cc.10-29. Today is Pride & Humility. Next week, Todd Walker will preach on The Fountain of Life. Pastor Ray will be up next addressing The Tongue, then Pastor Dan on Boundaries and Limits. And finally, Pastor Nick will speak on Friendship.
Pride and humility are huge subjects in Proverbs, as in all the Bible, and they need to stay before us! We especially need instruction in humility. So, let’s give our attention to that. Let’s address just two questions today.
What does Proverbs teach about Pride and Humility?
As we read in Jam.4:6 and 1Pe.5:5 … God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. In Pro.3:34 we find the seed of that thought: 34 Toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor (esv). 34 The Lord mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble (nlt). God is generous and helpful, strengthening, to the humble. He comes to their aid. He pours out His favor upon them. But He [scorns] the proud. He mocks those who mock Him. He scoffs at those who scoff at Him. And He’s not just getting even. He’s turning their judgment back upon them. But that also means He’s an enemy to the proud, even as He’s a friend to the humble.
Also, there’s a direct link between humility and the fear of the Lord—the same fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (9:10). 8:14 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. So, pride and arrogance are the way of evil and the fear of the Lord is hatred of all that. It’s the opposite of it. In fact, it’s by the fear of the Lord that [we turn] away from evil (16:6). So, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (9:10), but it also works within us to enable us to [hate] what is evil and [turn] away from [it], and thus also to walk in humility. This begins to set the context for our topic today.
From our study of cc.1-9, we’ve seen that pursuit of the good life, abundant life (cf. Joh.10:10), stands as the heart of Proverbs. All its instruction is aimed at avoiding death and gaining life, laying aside the way of foolishness, scoffing, greed, self-determination, and pride to embrace the way of wisdom, faith, contentment, self-denial, and humility because the former are the way of death while the latter are the way of life.
There’s likely no single word in Proverbs that captures the way of life better than humility, and therefore none better than pride that captures the way of death. 16:17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life. 18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. 19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Better to be humble and poor than wealthy and proud—the one ends in life; the other ends in death. And this is eternal death we’re talking about—it’s the judgment of God. 16:5 Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. 18:12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor—ultimate, highest honor. 22:4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life—our theme verse today. 29:23 One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly will obtain honor.
Pro.15:31-33 puts this all together. Let’s look at it. 31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. So, hearing and responding to correction from the wise makes us wise. Then we hear that again in the second half of v.32: 32 … he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Then v.33 adds that the fear of the Lord is the same thing as this instruction in wisdom—33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom…—which means that receiving and responding to instruction in wisdom is one of the ways that our fear of the Lord shows itself. Then v.33 finishes by saying that all of this leads to our being [honored]. So, a fear of the Lord that receives instruction in wisdom is called humility, and this leads to our being [honored] by God: 33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. But there’s still one phrase in v.32 that we haven’t mentioned yet. And it offers a penetrating insight: 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself…. So, receiving instruction is an expression of [fearing] the Lord, and also of wisdom. And [ignoring] instruction is not just rejecting the Lord and turning our back on wisdom. It’s actually an expression of self-hatred, self-destruction! Boasting, pride, self-exaltation which feels so necessary at times, so essential to our success—the quality that is often coached into us in our day as a core component for career advancement—actually works toward our destruction before God! We’re deceived if we believe it is profitable or helpful! To put it another way, whatever we gain by [prideful] pursuits is not what will finally satisfy our desires. In fact, it actually works against us, toward our downfall!
So, we see the central importance of humility in gaining the [abundant] life that stands in the crosshairs of the instruction in Proverbs. But we need to know one more thing before we move on to Question #2: what does Proverbs mean by humility? How is it defined? There are three Hebrew words that come over into English as humility (Estes 243-245). There is similarity among their definitions, but each one uniquely adds to our understanding of what humility really looks like.
The first means to trample or to prostrate. That’s the word we saw back in 6:3 where we were told to go quickly to our neighbor if we’ve made a rash vow to him, a boastful promise. We shouldn’t sleep until we’ve gone to him to humble ourselves (esv f.n.1) and plead urgently that he will release us from our words. We cast ourselves at his feet even if it feels like our dignity is being trampled (Estes 243).
The second word means to push down or bring down low. But this can result from a personal decision to humble ourselves even when we might have insisted on a place of prominence (Estes 243). We saw this in 16:19 It is better to be of a lowly [humble] spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Choose the lower place recognizing that it is actually the higher place.
The third word speaks of condescension or even modesty. (Estes 244). Exalting oneself is a prelude to humiliation, whereas being low (humble) is a prelude to being raised up. Honor is given, not taken. One can, however, prepare to receive it by humility, probably in the sense of self-effacing service (Clifford in Estes 244). We saw this in 18:12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. But maybe even more clearly, we saw it in 15:33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor, and in 22:4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. This is a surrendering to God’s authority, economy, mode of operation, recognizing that it’s best to go His way. That’s what will work out best for Him, for us, for all involved. Jam.4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
So, to summarize: humility involves 1) a self-denying repentance toward freedom from bondage to our prideful boasts, 2) a voluntary release of any sense of entitlement to personal advancement, and 3) a willing embrace of God’s plan for our exaltation over our own. Humility is unqualified surrender to God, His will, and His way.
What do we need to learn about Pride and Humility?
We need to forsake pride and embrace humility! We need to forsake the tendency to promise more than we can deliver, to make ourselves look better than we are, to advance our own best interest ahead of the best interests of others. We need to resist the temptation to seek or protect or recapture our wealth by any shady or selfish scheming. We need to embrace living at peace with those around us, overlooking their faults even if they routinely complain about ours. We need to honor God and His ways even if it is unpopular or unappreciated, even if it becomes inconvenient or illegal. We need to be lovingly attentive to our spouse, patient and consistent with our children, faithful and dependable to our boss, true to our word, conscientious in our relationships, frugal with our money, unpretentious with our possessions. We must be above reproach with the opposite sex, gracious with all, kind, merciful, at peace with God and people, and loving. These are the evidences of humility in our daily lives!
Col.3:12 (niv) says: clothe yourselves with… humility. How are you doing with that? Do you still slip into pride more often than you embody humility? Both Peter (1Pe.5:5) and James (4:6) tell us that makes God your enemy. He then works against you, not for you, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And this means you’re on the way of death, not life.
Earlier we read these words: 16:5 Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. 6 By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. V.6 here is a tremendous comfort, for all of us feel the threat of v.5. When we’re honest with ourselves we don’t have any trouble noticing our inclination to think more highly of ourselves than lowly, to embody [arrogance] more than humility. Commentators agree that the steadfast love and faithfulness that [atone] for iniquity here, in context, are talking about our steadfast love and faithfulness toward God, not His toward us (Kidner 112; Ross 146). What do we do with that, especially once we begin to see the utter imperfection of our steadfast love and faithfulness? V.6 is a great promise for anyone who can actually model these virtues toward God! But for all the rest of us it can come across as one of those ways that the Lord mocks [us] mockers (3:34 [nlt])—I will help anyone turn away from evil, and I will even [cover] their [sin] if they will simply live in [covenant] love and faithfulness toward Me.
This is impossible! The story is told of highly respected leadership consultant who was summoned to the War Rooms by Winston Churchill during WWII. They needed a solution for the German submarines that were just destroy-ing the British fleet. How do we defeat these submarines? That was the question. After hearing the problem and pondering possible scenarios, the consultant’s face lit up. I’ve got it, he shouted. You need to bring the ocean to a boil! If you bring the ocean to a boil, that will force the submarines to the surface where they will be no match for your battleships! Everyone looked at one another, then the Prime Minister said: That’s fine, but how do we bring the ocean to a boil? The consultant replied: You asked me for a solution, and I’ve given you one. But I’m no implementation expert. How you accomplish this is entirely up to you.
Funny story, but once we’ve understood v.6 it can feel quite similar: just do the impossible for you and your problem will be solved. What we need is the ability to show steadfast love and faithfulness to God; we need to be able to fear the Lord such that we actually can [turn] away from evil! It’s like we need a whole new heart and mind that runs with a whole new operating system—one that’s equipped for steadfast love and faithfulness, the fear of the Lord, humility! And that is just what we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the one Man Who is equipped by God—as God!—embody perfect steadfast love and faithfulness in the fear of the Lord such that always and without exception He turns away from evil in undiluted humility! But it can’t stop there! In addition to His own perfect relationship with God, He somehow needs to enable the same in us! I’m going on and on here not to be coy, but to help us appreciate the amazing gift we’ve been given in the Lord Jesus Christ—One Who not only models the life we failed to live, but [covered] the penalty our failure earned, then credits His love and faithfulness and perfect humility to us as a free gift of grace to be received by faith, then enables us by His Spirit to live in the steadfast love and faithfulness, the fear of the Lord, that increasingly helps us to [turn] away from pride and every form of evil!
Paul wrote to the Philippians (2:5-8): 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. That is part of our legacy by faith in Christ: the perfect Model and complete enabling of humble submission to the will and character and plan and purpose of God—the vivid, rich, textured instruction on humility that runs through Proverbs and the rest of God’s Word, fully ours in Christ! He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, [has indeed along] with him graciously [given] us all things (cf. Rom.8:32).