“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)
The ego is very delicate, so it erects barriers to protect itself from damage, little knowing that if reality were only allowed to crash through, the truth about self could lead to freedom. A proud person is easily humiliated (offended, hurt) but not easily humbled. To prevent that, he mounts a skillful defense.
Rationalization. When I have failed, it is painful to admit it even to myself, so I seek for an explanation that makes the failure appear inevitable, if not actually good: I fell again before the temptation to lust, but with a sex-saturated society engulfing me, I can hardly be expected to do otherwise. I do have a short temper, but then my father did, too, and the repression I suffered under my parents you wouldn’t believe! The boss didn’t seem pleased with my performance, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.
And so we survive the failure with self-image intact, but we thereby forfeit the success that might come from acknowledging the truth and being pressed to trust One who is capable of coping. Our use of language is the clearest evidence of rationalization. We “goof “ or “make a mistake” or “hurt” or “have an illness” — anything but “sin.”
Projection. If the excuse is too weak to provide an adequate defense, we may try to find relief by ascribing to someone else our own unworthy attitudes or thoughts. Somehow it lessens the guilt of selfish behavior if we can discern that motive in the actions of others, especially in good and great people. It is said, with some measure of evidence, that we tend to see in others our own weaknesses. Those who declaim against corrupt politics most loudly have sometimes proved to be the most corrupt. The liar trusts no one, the immoral person convinces himself that “everyone is that way.”
Repression. When the two more direct defenses prove inadequate, it helps to forget about it, to refuse to admit the failure. It is quite possible, they tell us, to reject from consciousness painful or disagreeable ideas, memories, feelings, or impulses. They also tell us that this is psychologically damaging. But it is also spiritually damaging, for one can hardly seek forgiveness or strength from another to overcome a weakness he doesn’t admit exists. Thus in our depravity, we are not only set up for a fatal fall by a distorted view of reality, we invest enormous energies in keeping ourselves and others deceived. What results?
Pride brings tension with others (Prov. 13:10) and the opposition of God himself (James 4:6). Pride brings many a fall (1 Cor. 10:12) and finally leads to destruction (Prov. 16:18). These are built-in results, for a break with reality always tends to brokenness in every other area. But humility — honest appraisal of one’s own inadequacies and God’s full adequacy — leads to benefits unending.
Pride may lead to a fall, but humility has the opposite effect, a lifting up the opposite direction one might expect in both cases! Humility brings God’s approval and honor indeed his very presence God’s salvation and mercy are reserved for the humble. Along with himself and his salvation God bestows many other graces on the humble: peace (Ps. 131:1-2) and rest (Matt. 11:29), guidance (Ps. 27:11), wisdom (Prov. 11:2), and joy (Isa. 29:19).
What is the antidote for pride? In all other virtues, in all righteousness and holiness, God himself is our perfect example. But can God be humble? Does he not refuse to give his glory to another? Is it appropriate to speak of God’s humility? Strange as the words may ring, it must be appropriate, for we are clearly told to model our own thinking after Christ’s way of thinking when he deliberately humbled himself (Phil. 2:1-8). In Jesus, humility exists with the most exalted claims for the reason that the claims were not exaggerated nor were they the expression of an aspiring ambitious spirit. Pride is an exalted, inflated opinion of self — in other words, a lie. So the truth about oneself, whether good or bad, cannot be sinful pride. Indeed, God himself, as seen in his Son, is the model of true humility. How do we follow his example?
Recognize and Publicly Acknowledge the Truth. As we have seen, the task is to have a true evaluation of self. This includes the reality of my sin and inadequacy as well as the wonder of all God’s great grace revealed in this human “showcase” of his own glorious excellencies. But how can a person inclined by nature in the opposite direction resist the lie of pride?
Gratitude and Praise are the Greatest Antidotes to Pride. It is very difficult, while giving God the credit for some great success in my life, to take any credit to myself — if I am genuinely giving him the credit and not mouthing hypocritical spiritual passwords.
Faith comes along with praise and is, in a sense, more the opposite of pride than humility. To trust God is possible only to the one who distrusts himself. Faith, fostered by a continual spirit of thanksgiving and praise, is a great antidote to pride. Central to the teachings of Jesus was the assertion that there is no way to God apart from becoming as a child, trusting him for everything, and self for nothing.
Assume the Servant Role. We are called on to stop seeking great things for ourselves lest we become incapable of believing God because we are preoccupied with courting the praise of men (John 5:44). We must actively humble ourselves (1 Pet. 5:6), even put on the clothes of humility (Col. 3:12, NIV). Assume the role of a servant, and humility will come as a by-product. The apostles, like us, were busily trying to decide who was Somebody, the Very Important Person, jockeying for position, when Christ taught them through startling example what it means to take the servant role. The task that was needed at the beginning of the meal had gone undone, refused by everyone present, no doubt because of inflated evaluations of personal importance. Finally, Jesus took the towel and basin himself, deliberately modeling the servant role for all true disciples (Luke 22:24 ff.; John 13:1-17). How about you? Will you be a servant? Are you grateful and giving the credit to God? Seems hard, pride wants to win out. May we have a true evaluation of ourselves this day.