Pursuing Humility

Recently Captain Sullenberger who safely landed a jet plane in New York’s Hudson River, addressed a group in Sydney, describing himself as just an “ordinary person in an extraordinary situation”. Australians tend to respect people who do great things, yet describe themselves as ordinary. We respect people who are modest or humble about their achievements.

We dislike ‘pride’ shown by people like the over the top ‘brain surgeon’ in the clip above. Yet most of us think of pride as a problem others have. The Bible shows us pride is more than thinking of ourselves as better than others, though this part of it. Pride is thinking of ourselves as knowing better than God. Charles Bridges describes pride as when we ‘contend for supremacy with God’. This sort of pride, refusing to acknowledge our complete dependence on God, is in all of us.

One reason this pride is such a problem is summarised in 1 Peter 5:5, citing Proverbs 3:34 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The problem with pride is not that others may dislike us for thinking too highly of ourselves, the problem is that God opposes the proud. Our pride sets us up against God, and makes us his enemies. What we all need is to pursue humility – God…gives grace to the humble. What does godly humility look like and how can we pursue it? As we focus on 1 Peter 5:5-11, let’s notice: 1) The need for humility 2) The enemy of humility 3) The power to pursue humility:

1. The need for humility (v5)

 V5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Pride can show itself in many ways. In his booklet, From Pride to Humility, Stuart Scott lists ways pride can show itself, including those below. See if you can relate to any of them: 

1. Complaining against or passing judgment on God

2.  A lack of gratitude 

3.  Seeing yourself as better than others 

4.  Anger / being impatient or irritable with others

5.  Perfectionism (wanting things to be just right, so that you’ll look good)

6. Being consumed with what others think 

7. Being devastated or angered by criticism  

8. Talking too much / too much about yourself (Proverbs 10:19, 27:2)

9. Being unteachable – not willing to listen to advice from others

10. A lack of admitting when you are wrong / asking forgiveness

11. Minimizing your own sin and shortcomings (Matthew 7:3-5)

12. A lack of biblical prayer

Pride shows itself in many ways, both subtle and obvious. If we want to know what it will mean in practical terms to be clothing ourselves in humility we could go through that list again:

1. Instead of complaining against God, humility means submitting to God even when our circumstances are difficult:

2.  Humility will mean an attitude of thankfulness to God. 

3.  Seeing yourself as no better than others – recognising you’re in just as much in need of God’s grace as they are.

4.  Not getting angry or irritable, but being patient and compassionate with others.

5.  Instead of perfectionism – you’ll still want to do things well, but not for your sake – for God’s glory, and that might mean other things are more important than getting something just the way you want it.

6. Caring less what others think about you, and more about what God thinks about you.

7. Criticism won’t hurt as much because as you’ve become aware of your sin, you’ll realise that your sin against God is way more serious than anything anyone else accuses you of.   

8. Instead of talking about yourself, humility means you’ll become better at listening to others, asking them questions, finding out about them, how you can pray for them, how you can serve them.

9. Willing to learn from others (v5 addresses young men – listen to the wisdom of those older than you, submit to those God places over you)

10. Admit when you are wrong / ask forgiveness

11. Be honest about your failings and shortcomings

12. Pray regularly.

Putting off pride, and clothing ourselves with humility will impact many different areas of our life. Yet to do it, we can expect a real battle…

2. The enemy of humility (v8-9)

Pride is itself an enemy – we battle against an internal enemy, but in that battle, there is another enemy: v8 Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

The devil is seen throughout the Bible as a personal spiritual being who is in active rebellion against God and who has leadership of many demons like himself.[1] The metaphor of a lion is quite graphic. I love going to the zoo and looking at a lion from the safe position this side of the thick glass, but if I knew one was prowling around outside, I’d be on the alert, like v8 says we should be. Lions are strong, they can attack suddenly, viciously and when you least expect it. Have you thought about the devil in those terms – on the prowl, looking to devour you? Look how Jesus describes the devil: …the devil…was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).  The devil (Satan), speaks lies – tempting us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, tempting us to think we know better than God.

If you’re not a Christian this morning, you may laugh at the idea of Satan – haven’t modern people moved on from this kind of primitive thinking? Yet ridicule is not a rational argument. We all have things we call right, and wrong. There are things you think of as evil – what explanation do you have for where good and evil come from? Don’t dismiss the idea of God and Satan so easily if you can’t offer a better explanation for the very obvious reality of good and evil we see in our world. The devil is a real spiritual power for us to be aware of as we fight against pride, and pursue humility, yet there is a greater spiritual power that can help us as we pursue humility.

3. The power to pursue humility (v6-7,10)

Notice three aspects of God’s character this passage points us to which help us in pursuing humility.

a) God’s greatness (v6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may life you up in due time.

The devil’s power is real, but he is subject to God’s hand – he can go so far and no further. A good example of this is in Job: The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”(Job 1:12) Satan wants to test Job, but God is in ultimate control. Though Satan is real – evil is not the ultimate power in the universe. God is the ultimate power, his hand is mighty.  

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that — and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison — you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. (CS Lewis)

We pursue humility by recognising God’s greatness, humbling ourselves under his mighty hand. If things are going well for you now – thank God, recognise his goodness, use the situation you are in to direct attention away from yourself and towards him. If things are hard for you at the moment, acknowledge God’s mighty hand even in that.

Many of you know of Joni Eareckson Tada who became a quadriplegic as a young lady. God has used her testimony and writings over many years to encourage many other Christians in trusting God through difficult circumstances. Recently she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to go in for surgery. She wrote: I know this comes as unexpected and, yes, alarming news, but you have heard me often say that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, and although cancer is something new, I want to assure you that I’m genuinely content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me.[2] After a life-time of suffering, as God allows more into her life, she still humbles herself under his hand, and is trusting him to do good with the outcome.  Like her, God wants us to humble ourselves under his mighty hand, acknowledge God in your difficult situation, be thankful for what you have in him and ask him to help you learn the lessons he has for you in this difficult time. 

b) God’s care (v7) V7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. A lack of prayer shows our pride, we think we can get through with our own abilities, and we fail to turn to God. We pursue humility, by praying, casting our anxieties on him, he gives us a great reason – because he cares for you. Peter had heard Jesus reminding his disciples of this truth: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…Look at the birds of the air, your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)  We pursue humility by reminding ourselves of how completely dependent we are on God’s care. We have no reason to be proud, without God we have nothing, but in God we have all that we need.

c) God’s grace (v10) And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 

It’s not easy to be a Christian, it’s not easy to pursue humility, when our hearts are so proud, and the world is so proud, and the devil is so active, but God by his grace is able to make you strong, firm and steadfast. God is mighty, caring and gracious. He hasn’t treated us as we deserved, he has made a way for us to be saved, he has called us to himself through Christ. His grace is most obvious in the cross:  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32) We pursue humility, by coming again and again to the cross, seeing how much in need we are of God’s grace. Christians pursue humility by recognising that it’s only by God’s grace that we’ll persevere, it’s ultimately only God who can make us strong, firm and steadfast. He can do it, and he will do it. 

V11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

(Summary of sermon on 1 Peter 1:5-11 preached at EHBC on Sunday 4 July 2010)


[1] Grudem, 1 Peter, 196.

[2] http://www.joniandfriends.org/radio/2010/6/24/jonis-personal-announcement/

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