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Fountain of Life

Jun 21, 2020 | Dave Gustavsen

Humility & Pride

Proverbs 9:7-10

Good morning Chapel family. Great to be with you today. We are taking the summer of 2020 to walk through the book of Proverbs, which is all about wisdom. Four different times in Proverbs, wisdom is referred to as the “fountain of life.” And that’s such a beautiful image, because so many of us are feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Some of us are feeling spiritually empty and dry. And it’s like God is inviting us, personally, to come and drink from this fountain.

So today we’re going to talk about one of the major themes in Proverbs: Humility and Pride.

Back in the 4th Century, the church came up with a list of the Seven Deadly Sins. And they said of all the seven, there’s one that sort of undergirds and energizes all the other sin. You know what one it is? Pride. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine called pride “the essence of all sin.” It’s the sin that got the angel, Lucifer, kicked out of heaven and turned him into Satan. And let’s get more personal: pride is the sin—more than any other—that destroys relationships. When I see parents and kids that aren’t talking to each other; when I see husbands and wives either screaming at each other or giving each other the silent treatment; when I see siblings or friends whose relationships have gone sideways; the most common culprit is pride. Pride messes up our relationships with people, and even worse, it destroys our relationship with God. Pride is a big deal.

On the other hand, humility has the exact opposite effect. As powerful as pride is to destroy relationships, humility is every bit as strong to heal relationships. When you understand what biblical humility is, it is the most appealing, attractive, beautiful thing. When you meet a new person, and you walk away going, “I really liked that guy,” or, “She was a great person,” it’s probably because they were humble.

So…humility creates strong relationships  with people and with God, and pride does just the opposite. And Proverbs has a lot to say about both.

You know why pride is such a hard subject to deal with? It’s like bad breath: most people who have it don’t realize they have it. I don’t think anyone as written on pride more insightfully than C.S. Lewis. Listen to this quote: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

So, are you willing to admit there might be pride in your heart? Let’s allow the Word of God to speak to us. And we’re actually looking at four short passages from Proverbs today. Let’s read them together, starting with Proverbs 9, 7 through 9. This is the Word of the Lord…

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
    whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
    rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 13:10…

Where there is strife, there is pride,
    but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

Proverbs 27:2…

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
    an outsider, and not your own lips.

And finally, Proverbs 25:6-7…

Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
    and do not claim a place among his great men;
it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
    than for him to humiliate you before his nobles. This is the Word of God.

So today let’s talk about two things: Recognizing Pride and Becoming Humble. Recognizing pride and becoming humble.

So, first: Recognizing Pride. Proverbs gives us four main ways to recognize pride.

The first one is: Hates correction.  Look at Proverbs 9, verse 7:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
    whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8a Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you…

How do you respond when someone tries to correct you? When somebody points out a mistake, or a way you could do something better? If you are a prideful person, look what it says: you will insult, and abuse, and hate the person who corrected you. Why? Because you feel threatened. You feel personally offended by what they said. Do you see that in yourself?

In John chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who was born blind, and after he’s healed, the guy gets interrogated by the Pharisees—the religious leaders—who were very suspicious of Jesus. And at one point in the conversation, the guy says, “Look—if this man who healed me were not from God, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did for me.” And the Pharisees say, “How dare you lecture us!” In other words, “Don’t you realize who we are? We are certified experts in religion, and you’re going to tell us something about God?” They were deeply offended. That’s pride.

A few years ago I had just finished preaching the last service, and I was talking to some people in the worship center. And a guy came up to me; I had never met him; and he introduced himself. And he thanked me for the sermon. And then he pointed out a few things in the sermon that he felt were mistakes. I love that. Don’t you just love when people critique you right after you do something? So he told me about these couple of inaccuracies in the sermon. And I responded out of pride. I basically minimized what he was saying, and dismissed his comments. I just didn’t want to hear it. And I walked out that day feeling a little wounded and self-righteous—like, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s never met me before, and he thinks he can just start correcting me?” That’s pride.

Think back to the last time someone tried to give you some constructive criticism. Did you gratefully receive it? Even if you didn’t agree with all of it, were you able to hear it and learn from it? Or did you find yourself getting defensive and angry, and maybe lashing out at the person so they’d feel guilty for challenging you?

Here’s the second sign of pride: Clashes with others. Look at Proverbs 13:10…Where there is strife, there is pride… “Where there is strife”…in other words, wherever there’s and drama and fighting, it’s because there’s pride. Now: this comes out different ways in different families. My family is of Northern European heritage. So when there’s strife in our house, it usually doesn’t come out in yelling and screaming. I have a friend from an Italian background, and she said, “When there’s conflict in our house, you can’t miss it. We go at it, and we argue and scream, and everything just gets vomited out.” That’s not the way it works in our family. When we’re mad, our instinct is to withdraw. Disengage. Show your anger by silence. Anybody have that strategy in your family? That’s called passive aggression. Some people say, “We never raise our voices at each other.” Oh, you don’t have to. Sometimes silence and avoidance are just as violent. Are you with me?

So Proverbs says, “Where there is strife”—whether it’s loud or silent—is ultimately pride. Someone, or both people, are feeling wounded in their ego, and they’re acting out of that woundedness.”

So let me ask you: what is the strife level in your family? In your marriage? Are you willing to see how your pride might be contributing to the strife?

Here’s the third sign of pride: Manages image. Oh, man. This is so spot-on. Look at Proverbs 27:2…

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
    an outsider, and not your own lips.

Why would you praise yourself with your own mouth? First of all, do people even do that? Praise themselves? All the time. We do it all the time. Just look at social media. “Here’s my new, improved body, since I’ve been exercising and doing Keto.” “Here’s me, finishing the Tough Mudder race. I don’t know how I’m going to get all that mud out of my shorts. ” “Here are my beautiful children, who are also very smart.” “Here’s me, participating in the march for justice, or for Life,” or for whatever cause you march for. Social media really has provided a vehicle for us to share our lives with lots of people—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But because of pride, it quickly becomes a way to carefully market a certain image of ourselves. That’s how you praise yourself with your own mouth.

You know where I sometimes see pride in myself? When somebody posts a picture on social media, and the first thing I check is how I look. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was doing the bucket challenge to raise money for ALS? You film yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head, and post it online, and you donate money to ALS research. So I did that, and it was supposed to be this unselfish moment of helping the less fortunate. So I watched my video, and you know what my first thought was? Man, I look flabby. I’ve got to get to the gym! I’m kind of embarrassed for people to see this. Isn’t that crazy? So when Proverbs talks about praising ourselves, it’s not just about putting forth positive images of ourselves; it’s also about hiding negative images of ourselves. Most of us care about our image more than we’d like to admit.

But listen: this is not just a social media thing! If you are easily embarrassed when you make mistakes, that’s rooted in pride. If you are very self-conscious, that’s rooted in pride. Because pride makes us ultra-concerned with our image and how people are looking at us.

Fourth sign of pride, according to Proverbs: Demands Recognition. Proverbs 25, verses 6 and 7:

Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
    and do not claim a place among his great men;
it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
    than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

Pride is the force in us that wants to be recognized. It makes us want to be given the best seats. Here’s a great diagnostic question: When people don’t give me the recognition or the honor that I feel I deserve, how does that affect me? When there’s a big wedding, and I don’t get an invitation, how do I react to that? When I hear about a New Year’s party, and I’m left out, how does that affect me? When there’s a Christian conference, and nobody asks Pastor Dave to speak at the conference, how do I feel?  Do I fly into a rage?  Or maybe I just pout quietly, because I’m Scandinavian. Either way, it’s pride…and it’s poisonous.

So those are four signs that Proverbs calls out: pride hates correction, clashes with others, manages its image, and it demands recognition. As you look at your life, where do you see signs of pride?

Now, here’s the thing: sometimes we don’t recognize pride because we don’t realize there are actually two kinds of pride. Did you know that? Two kinds of pride. The first kind is called “arrogance.” That’s the kind we can spot pretty easily. Because it’s the boastful, kind of in-your-face kind of pride. But there’s another kind of pride, called “insecurity.” And usually we don’t recognize this as pride, but it is. If you are very down on yourself; if you are very self-conscious; that’s actually a kind of pride. Why would I say that? Why would I say that arrogance and insecurity are both forms of pride? Well, what do they both have in common? They’re both obsessed with self. They’re both fixated on self.

Let me share with you what I think is the best definition of pride, and this is from C.S. Lewis. Are you ready? Pride is a “ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” Oh, that’s painful to even read that—it’s such a sad thing! It’s so miserable. Pride is a ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self. It’s all about me! It’s never about the thing I’m doing—whether it’s shopping for groceries or going to a staff meeting on Zoom or preaching a sermon. It’s about how I look in the grocery store or if people respect what I say in the staff meeting or if people think I’m doing a good job of preaching the sermon. No matter what the thing is, it’s always about me! What an exhausting, sad way to live. 

And ultimately, pride is not just sad; it’s disastrous. Listen to what Proverbs says about where pride leads:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace.

The Lord tears down the house of the proud.

Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.

This is a consistent theme all through Proverbs: pride will mess you up, and ultimately ruin you. So…if we can recognize this in ourselves, and be disgusted by it, how do we rise above it?

Let’s talk about Becoming Humble. When you read the book of Proverbs, one of the secrets to humility is something we talked about last week: The fear of the Lord. Look again at the passage we started with today—Proverbs 9, starting in verse 7…

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
    whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
(so that’s all about the prideful person, right? That’s how I reacted when the guy corrected my sermon. But now it pivots, and talks about a humble person…)
    rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
    teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. (So that’s how a humble person responds. And then, it tells us what makes the difference between pride and humility—here it is…)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

When you have a healthy fear of God—a reverence and awe of God—and you realize that one day you will answer to God, you will start to become humble. On Tuesday mornings, when I meet with my men’s group, we always begin our meetings by getting on our knees before God. Even when we’re meeting on Zoom—we physically lower ourselves befreo God. I think that’s really good for us. Last week we said that when you fear the Lord, God gets bigger and everything else gets smaller. And that “everything else” includes you. So humility starts with the fear of the Lord.

But it can’t stop there. If all you have is the fear of the Lord, you might be humble—but you’ll also be kind of terrified. So you also need The love of the Lord. This God that we kneel before with a reverent awe is also a God who loves us deeply and personallhy. And Proverbs touches on the love of God, but to get a fuller picture we need to go to the New Testament. Look at 1 John 3, verse 1: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Do you hear the amazement in those words? Like, “Can you believe this? We actually get to be called God’s kids? And not just to be called God’s kids, to actually be God’s kids!” This is the great news of the gospel. That because of the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross—which completely covered the cost of our sins (including the sin of pride, by the way), we can become children of God. Simply by believing and receiving him.

Very often, in the morning, after spending time in the Word and prayer, before I head into my day, I will stand before God and receive his blessing. And very often, the words I hear from my Father are the same words he spoke to Jesus: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Because of the cros, I get to hear those words spoken over me. You get to hear those words spoken over you. “You are my beloved daughter—my beloved son. In you I’m well-pleased.” I need to hear that every day.

So we kneel before him in awe, and we rise up before him in love. We need both the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord. True humility comes from knowing God.

C.S. Lewis said it like this:

The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightfully humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once gotten rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.”

True humility comes from knowing God. And when we have humility, good things start to happen.

So—last thing—let’s talk about The happiness of humility. You know, we get our English word “humility” from the Latin humus, which means “earth, or soil.” So when you’re humble, you have your two feet planted on the earth. You’re grounded in reality. You know who you are.

So in all those examples we used of pride, you’re able to act very differently. Instead of hating correction, we can start to welcome it. Let me finish the story of the guy who critiqued my sermon. I went home that day, and the Holy Spirit started speaking to me. I realized I had been a jerk. So I found out his email, and I emailed him and said, “I’m really sorry for the way I responded. I was reacting out of pride, and that was wrong. Would you forgive me?” And he was happy to forgive, and he later told me, “That was the first time I visited The Chapel, and after your initial response I was never coming back. But after you sent that email, I was in.” And he’s part of The Chapel family to this day.

Instead of constantly clashing with others and causing strife, you become very willing to own your contribution to a problem. Tim Keller said this: “If each spouse says to the other, ‘I will treat my selfishness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect for great things.” It’s so true, and the only way both spouses can act that way is through God-given humility.

Instead of carefully managing your image, you can lighten up. So what if someone posts a picture that makes you look flabby. Or tired. Or whatever. You realize it doesn’t really matter that much. Which is why I still have that video on my Facebook page. And when you make a mistake, instead of becoming embarrassed and angry, you can truly laugh at yourself. Because it’s just not all about you.

And instead of demanding recognition and accolades and invitations to all the best events, you become very content with the recognition of God.

I’ve been quoting C.S. Lewis a lot in this message, because no one speaks to this issue like he does. Listen to what he said about humility:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

You want to hear the best part about humility? It frees you. It frees you. Because it takes all the energy that you used to focus on yourself, and it frees that up so you can focus on God and others.

One of my favorite stories of humility was told by a college football coach named Chan Gailey. Back in the ‘80s he coached this little college called Troy State. They were having a great season, and right before the final game, he was headed out to the practice field. And his secretary said, “You have a phone call.” And he said, “I’m going to practice. Take a message.” And she said, Ahh—its Sports Illustrated.” He said, “I’ll be right there.”

So as he was walking to his office, he started thinking about what they would write about him in Sports Illustrated. And he was thinking about what he would wear for the photo shoot, and he was wondering whether they’d make it the cover story. He realized this could be the turning point in his career. So he got the office and picked up the phone. The person asked, “Is this Chan Gailey?” He said, “Yes it is.” And they said, “This is Sports Illustrated, and we’re calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Would you like to renew?”

And Coach Gailey concludes this story by saying: “You are either humble or you will be humbled.”

I think he’s right. We are either humble, or we will be humbled. So this week, let’s humble ourselves before God. Whether we struggle with arrogance or insecurity or both, lets’ allow the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord to free us from ourselves.

Series Information

Life can be so confusing—especially in a pandemic. At a time when everything seems to be changing, let’s root ourselves in the unchanging wisdom of Proverbs. Throughout this 3,000-year-old book, wisdom is referred to as “the fountain of life”—exactly what we need when we’re exhausted, empty, and dry. Come and drink deeply from the fountain of life.