Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 18th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 9th verse.
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
by Rev. Richard Burkey
Vince Lombardi was the coach of the Green Bay Packers during their glory years in the 1960s. Lombardi was known for his monstrous ego, unwavering self-confidence, and gargantuan pride. Stories about Lombardi abound—some fact, some fiction. One story tells of the occasion when Lombardi was at a championship playoff game. His wife was not able to attend the game. The odds were against the Packers winning the game, but they won the game anyhow. Coach Lombardi was thrilled with his team’s winning effort. When he got home, his wife was already in bed, fast asleep. But when his ice-cold feet touched her legs, she said, “God, your feet are cold.” Quick as a flash, Lombardi replied, “When we’re in bed, just call me Vince.”
Pride has been elevated to the level of a virtue in the world of American sports and entertainment. We chuckle about stories of proud people, like Lombardi’s cold feet. But we’re nauseated when we come face to face with an arrogant person who looks down his nose at us like we’re a lower form of life.
C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) calls pride a spiritual cancer that eats up the very possibility of love and contentment and even common sense (Mere Christianity). Pride is 1 of the seven deadly sins. Pride is a spiritual cancer that damages our souls, harms everyone in its path, and breaks God’s heart.
Jesus condemns the sin of pride in the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18 because he knows what an inaccurate picture such arrogant pride can bring.
Yet, at times we have made the mistake of going too far to the other extreme as if being humble is equated with being humiliated.
True greatness in God’s eyes comes not in exalting ourselves over others. True greatness comes in humbling ourselves as servants of others. Christ exemplified humility in humbling Himself in becoming a man and dying on the cross. Stay proud. As it says throughout the Bible, pride goeth before the fall.
Did you know that the word humility comes from the word humus which means soil or dirt? God created us out of the dust of the earth. One day we all return to the dirt once again. We are what we are by the grace of God.
Yet humility is more than just a recognition of a dirt beginning. Real humility is a recognition of divine action through our lives. The danger of pride is that we defy ourselves, equating our values with God’s. Humility recognizes that what I am and what I can ultimately be is by the grace of God.
Instead of humiliation or arrogant pride, let’s look for a better way, one of humble pride that leads to eternal confidence that by God’s grace and God’s will, God has an awesome purpose to fulfill in our lives. Today let’s look at four markers of humble pride that lead to eternal confidence in living life each day.
MARKER 1. Be honest in my NEED for God. Someone in our day who has a prideful self-centeredness, we say, has the disease of Narcissism. The name comes from Greek mythology and refers to a handsome young man named Narcissus who fell in love with himself. Whenever he would come along a pool of clear water, he would look at his reflection for hours admiring the view.
One day he said to himself, “You are handsome, Narcissus! There’s nobody so handsome in the whole world!” He stooped down to kiss his reflection, fell into the water, and drowned.
To people who have fallen into that Narcissistic view of their lives, Luke tells us in Luke 18:9, Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.
In this parable, Jesus calls us to humility. The best definition I’ve ever heard of humility is: “Humility is not denying the power you have but admitting that the power comes through and not from you.” If you deny the power you’ve been given, you lie. If you have a fine singing voice, then use it and give glory to God. If you make the best chocolate chip cookies, then make some and bring them to the church office.
The challenge of the parable is not to put ourselves down but to lift our need for God up. Humble pride calls for an honest appraisal of my need for God because God knows our hearts. Earlier in Luke in, Luke 16:15, So Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Folks, God knows us better than we know ourselves. That’s the scary news. Perhaps we can fool the rest of the world, but not God. He knows the real you and me, even the darkest of our dark sides. Here’s the good news: God loves us no matter what we have done or what we do because of what Jesus has done for us. That’s why the call is, to be honest, like the tax collector in our need for God.
MARKER 2. FOCUS on God’s mercy, not my achievements. George Washington loved to tell the story of an over-zealous candidate campaigning for office. “Fellow citizens,” said the candidate, “I have fought against the enemy. I have often had no bed but the battlefield and no canopy but the sky. I have marched over frozen ground ’til every step has been marked by blood.”
This candidate told his story well until one voter came to the front and asked, “Did you say you’d fought in the war?”
“Yes!” replied the candidate.
“And that you slept on the ground with the sky for your cover.”
“Yes, many a time.”
“And that your feet bled in marching over the frozen ground?”
“That they did,” declared the candidate.
“Well, then, I think you have done enough for your country, and you ought to go home and rest. I’ll vote for the other fellow.”
The Pharisee in the parable likes to focus on all his “I do this, and I do that” achievements, but Jesus says they are worth nothing. The tax collector has a better focus. Read again what he does in Luke 18:13, The tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even look up to heaven. But he beat on his chest because he was so sad. He said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God planned for us to do good things and live as he has always wanted us to. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”
God’s incredible purpose for our lives comes from His mercy and grace. The ultimate goal is not our achievements but our relationship with God. God empowers us to fulfill this awesome purpose not to earn His love but to enjoy the love He already has for us. Humble pride doesn’t focus on titles or achievements but God’s awesome and incredible grace.
MARKER 3. Instead of comparing with others, SEE others through God’s eyes. Read again the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11. The Pharisee stood up and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
C. S. Lewis noted, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.”
That sounds like a good description of the disease Jesus is dealing with in this story. The danger is when my eye is on me. I miss the God above me.
Or, as one person put it, “If you are all wrapped up in yourself, your over-dressed.”
Life is not about how I compare with others but how I am doing in my relationship with God. James has a great solution to help us have humble pride, to see God, and to see others through God’s eyes. James says in James 4:10, “Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” (The Message)
When Ronald Regan was President of the United States, he had a sign on his desk that said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Life is not about how I compare with others. God calls us not to compete but to complete. He calls us to see others as people He sent His Son, Jesus, to live and die for. When you look at others through God’s eyes, you see people to love.
Today I challenge you to take a risk with a dangerous prayer. The prayer is: “Lord, Help Me Be Humble: A Prayer for Humility.”
Merciful Father, Your truth runs counter to our self-exalting world: humble service is the path to kingdom greatness. This truth isn’t weak or foolish as the world would think but is a blessed and honorable gospel garment donned by those who fear You, the One who exalts the humble and brings down the proud. Oh, that the entire world would live in humility before You and each other!
While I aspire to a life of godly humility, the pull of pride seems too strong to overcome. I so often desire to sit on your throne instead of bowing before You as the only true Sovereign and Holy God. I think highly of myself and my accomplishments and forget I am a man made of dust which, at best, can be called a servant of a great God. I even diminish the offense of pride by holding it lightly, forgetting that pride cast Satan from Your presence and brought the corruption of your creation. Oh, Lord, rescue me from foolish pride and help me learn from Your gentle and humble heart!
Gracious Father, reprogram my soul with your Word to remember the world is all about Jesus and not myself. Help me not think more highly of myself than I ought, but to delight in regarding others as more important. Rescue me from the self-deception of pride by giving me a realistic view of my life, talents, and relationship with you; always looking to the cross, which reveals both the wrath I deserve and Your costly grace.
In my battle against pride, keep me from a false humility that fails to recognize Your gracious gifts. Instead, help me steward what you have given me as a faithful servant—a servant ready to wear the garment of humility and serve you in whatever way would most help Your Kingdom and bring praise to Your Name.
Lord, Your Son left the pleasures of heaven for a life of service on earth—and He gave his life for undeserving and ungrateful people. Help me have His attitude, remembering that You oppose the proud and give grace to the humble. You must become greater; I must become less—only then does the glorious reality shine forth that Christ is highly exalted above every name in heaven and on earth.
May my entire being bow before You in loving allegiance, confessing You as Lord over all of my life and all of creation to the praise of Your glory.
Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Richard Burkey.
Humility recognizes that what I am and what I can ultimately be is by the grace of God. The result is humble pride leads to eternal confidence.