I had a dream this week that was very timely. I dreamed that I was about to speak in front of a massive crowd, the biggest audience I’ve ever spoken in front of. It was like Bridgestone Arena. I was standing offstage, ready to go and I noticed a strip of packaging plastic hanging down from my jacket. I didn’t want to go out and speak in front of that group looking shabby and so I pulled on it to remove it.
In that respect Claire and I have been greatly humbled over the past several months. It is humbling to be under the control of a disease that threatens your life. It’s humbling to be under the control of doctors and insurance companies who are determining your schedule, your life, and your finances and where you are and what you will do. It’s humbling to have your body betray you and do things that are potentially deadly and sometimes terribly embarrassing. We don’t like to be humbled.
We know that we should not be proud. And we can work diligently not to be proud, but most likely we would prefer not to be humbled as we do so. So when the Bible urges us to not be haughty or proud, we get that. But when the Bible urges us to clothe ourselves with humility, we hesitate. Can we just not be proud without being clothed with humility? What does it mean to be clothed with humility? Let’s look at Proverbs 11:2 and Colossians 3:1-14 to help us overcome pride and be clothed with humility.
The proverbs deal with pride and humility a lot and this is a good example of what pride does. The word for pride here is from a root that suggests boiling up from inside. You know that once water starts to boil, it creates pressure that must be released. Pride is like that in that it starts slowly but gradually builds until it boils over into arrogance. In fact, this word is often used of the arrogantly proud, who must have must have everything their own way and who will not be pushed around.
Here are two examples found in the Bible of this kind of arrogant pride. In the book of Nehemiah, when the people return from exile and have rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites give thanks to God and acknowledge him as the ruler of all throughout their history. In Nehemiah 9:10, they praise God saying: “You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.” Pharaoh in Egypt was very proud and very arrogant and God severely punished him. The Israelites, who rebelled against God during the Exodus, were also proud. Nehemiah 9:16 says, “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey God’s commands.” Verse 29 says, “You warned them to return to your Law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands.”
When people are proud, inevitably there follows disgrace and then often destruction. Proverbs 16:18 is clear: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” In Isaiah 14:13-15, the nation of Babylon is described as being full of pride saying, “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Yet God says, “But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.”
We can also know that if we are very proud, we may be ripe for a fall. It has happened to me on more than one occasion. I am repairing something and I think I’m doing such a great job. And almost invariably I discover that in the process of fixing something, I’ve made it worse or I end up breaking something. It is something that I suspect often happens to all of us. Being proud very often brings a downfall and often disgrace.
II. But in the second part of the proverb we see that humility brings wisdom.
The word for “humility” used here is a rare word, found only here and in Micah 6:8. In Micah 6:8, Micah writes that we are to walk humbly with our God. To walk humbly is the complete opposite of the arrogant insubordination of pride above. Humility is the recognition and the resulting actions that show that God is in control and not us. And we submit gladly to the will and leading of God in our lives.
And when we do that, this verse says that we will have wisdom. Remember what Proverbs 1 says about wisdom: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear is not terror, like being afraid of a tornado or some disease that can harm us. Fear is obedience and submission as we live with our God. And when we do that we will have the wisdom to know that God is with us and controls us. And so we submit to God in humility knowing that God is fully in control of us and all things. We learn to let go of our own control and let God lead and take full control.
We have learned and are still learning such humility in dealing with Claire’s cancer. We have certainly learned that, as much as we don’t like it, we are not in control of our lives. As I said earlier, over the last several months we went where we were told to go and did what we were told to do. We were completely not in control and we yielded to our doctors who were wiser and knew what they were doing. It would have been completely arrogant and stupid of us to listen to the doctors and then say, “Well, I think it’s something else and since I don’t like you being in control of my life, we’re going to do what we want to do.” In humility, we said that we know nothing and we entrust our lives, even if it means yielding control of our lives almost completely, to the medical staff in order to bring Claire healing. Ultimately the first step in humility is to recognize that God is God and we are not. But there is more we can do and that is what we see in Colossians 3.
Now let’s remind ourselves once again where these clothes come from. God clothes us, his holy people, with these things through the working of the Holy Spirit. I emphasize this simply because as we look at these virtues, it can become very easy for us to try to assume control of attaining these things like humility, patience or gentleness. We may start to think, “I’ve got to work harder at becoming more humble.” Now while that is true to some extent, the way we clothe ourselves is by submitting to God and by asking him to fill us with that nature so we can become the people God wants us to be.
How are we clothed practically? We should cultivate and display the qualities of the one whose name we bear: Jesus Christ. We should have the model of Jesus in front of us and pray that God will clothe us with him. That is reflected in Colossians 3:10 which says that we are to put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator. And while we must be willing to put off the old and put on the new, this happens only through the renewing that God is doing in us through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is helpful to think of it in this way. When you were a young child, your parents dressed you; much like my parents did to me. You didn’t decide what you would wear. Your parents dressed you in what they wanted. As Christians, we should be like little obedient children and ask every morning that God will clothe us with the clothes he wants us to wear.
God also wants us to put on the clothing of gentleness. This is the virtue that enables a person to control his or her anger, even when his or her rights have been violated. This virtue says that even if someone has done you wrong, you do not give in to anger but rather you pray for that person. Jesus is the best example of this in that he suffered the greatest wrong, was condemned to death even though innocent, and yet he prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him. Finally, God wants us to wear the clothing of patience. Literally this means suffering a long time with others who may have offended or hurt you. Even though a person may be most frustrating or exasperating, we must be patient and endure it a long time. We are to wear these clothes in all areas of our lives.
The clothing of humility was not a virtue that was highly thought of in Paul’s day. Much like today, humility was seen as a sign of weakness or an ineffective person. A humble person is not likely to be recognized as a great person in our culture today. Biblical humility includes viewing other people as being better than yourself. When you think of your relationships with others, you place others ahead of you. We can be confident in ourselves, but we should think of others as even better. We respect others and don’t assume that we are always right or always have to be in control.
Rather I am suggesting that you view each day as taking a picture of your life. And my suggestion is that you view it as taking a photo of the scenery without you in it. Take a picture of God’s world, his glory and look for his amazing working without you. You are there but you’re not the center of attention. God is controlling you for his purpose and his glory. If we do that, we will be clothed with humility and indeed be walking humbly with our God.