Will I be humbled?
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction…
2 Chronicles 26:16a
No, after conversion we need bruising, that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.
The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Richard Sibbes (works p. 44)
At the root of the first sin was pride. ‘For you will be like God,’ the serpent says. Isn’t this irony a tragic one? God made us like him, but Adam and Eve in the garden were tempted by the serpent to be more like God than they should, and so they sinned and brought death into the world. This sin and pride spread to the next generation and the next generation. Genesis details the terrible pride of humanity whether in Lamech’s boast or in the Tower of Babel. And so on down the line through Israel’s kings (and peasants).
And unfortunately for us, we too carry this great stain of pride in our hearts. In marriages, pride is tested, but it isn’t always dealt with. I know many if not most couples end up living with their acceptable level of pride. Sometimes this is for fear of explosions, and other times it is out of a perceived love. Other times, we hide our pride; this is a common temptation for Minnesotans. We don’t react loudly perhaps, but we let offences to our pride boil within us as though we can bear this great burden, and we imagine it’s almost a noble thing.
I suppose I’m writing this because I regularly run into my own pride as a pastor. Somehow it always gets pricked, and it’s also a common pastoral issue. It’s a heavy problem, especially when you know your own heart is not immune. And so who ought, who is able to carry this burden of pride out with the trash but only Jesus? But somehow we are ever tempted to be personally offended or to attempt to carry the problem ourselves.
And all of this is distressing because it is destructive. We think in our pride that someone else is harming us (and they might be), but in all reality the one who is doing the most harm is ourselves (just like Adam and Eve). Our pride undermines our discipleship, fellowship, and love, if left unhindered. Perhaps you’ve seen this: someone withholds the right hand of fellowship, and as much as it hurts (Ami and I know this hurt well), it is far more destructive to the person withholding the love. And so we should have much compassion on those who are afflicted by this pride. I have been struck by the words of 2 Chronicles for most of my life, ‘But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.’
But this isn’t the end point of our discussion. If it were, then I think we should just all abandon Christianity. We don’t simply sit in our guilt. Instead, we actually are saved from it. Sibbes is wonderful, ‘No, after conversion we need bruising that reeds may know themselves to be reeds not oaks. Even reeds need bruising by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature and to let us see that we live by mercy.’ What a wonderful truth. Pastoring can be a regular reminder of this. I have to deny my pride daily as I have conversations with others because I want to seek their good not my own. What I am most grateful for is how God works through broken vessels to kill our pride (and sin). Through everyone’s weak efforts, I have seen many people humbled into wisdom even this year. It is all by God’s grace. But there is always more work to do, so let me encourage you to consider your own pride. Pray to the Lord that he would humble you. And consider where you might have latent pride in your life.
Will I be humbled? I see my pride when I react to something. I see my pride when I defend myself. I see my pride when I rationalize. I see my pride when I can’t imagine loving someone (unless they change). I see my pride when I just dismiss someone, something, or an idea. I see my pride in my self-pity. I see my pride in my quickness to hear my faults and then want to just move on. I see my pride when I run away from difficult conversations. I see my pride when I know I’m right and look down on those who are wrong. I see my pride when I never talk to my brother or sister about my problem with them. I see my pride when I resort to fixing all my problems by myself. Maybe you do too? It’s really humbling to list these prideful habits in my heart. The gospel of Christ calls us to repent and to actually put your faith in Jesus who saves us from our pride. If you are in Christ, he may be bruising you, but this is an opportunity to remember that you’re just grass and not an oak. But in Christ he’s making you into something that will endure. Sibbes goes on to say, “Hence we must learn not to pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God doth exercise us with bruising upon bruising; there must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who ‘was bruised for us,’ that we may know how much we are bound to him…God is about a gracious work in [us and] them.”
And I’d like to encourage you that one of the healing balms to pride is love. Love bears all things. I don’t know about you, but my pride get pricked regularly enough by my kids, my wife, or friends. And in that moment of perceived offense, choose to love others and consider them higher than yourself. Remember Christ’s example: ‘he committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return. When he suffered, he didn’t threaten but continued to entrust himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sine and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.’ When we were his enemy, when he had every right to destroy us in our pride, he humbled himself in love. May we follow this tactic.