In Ephesians 4, Paul lists five characteristics of the Christian’s walk. These characteristics are five attitudes that you won’t be surprised to learn begins in the inner being.
I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with (1) all humility and (2) gentleness, (3) with patience, (4) bearing with one another in love, (5) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
All five go very much hand in hand, but it’s worth noting the subtle distinctions between them, starting with humility.
Humility is the foundation of this list. It’s a compound word that means to think or judge with lowliness or have lowliness of mind. Interestingly enough, neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a specific word for humility. The concept was so abhorrent to them that they never created a word for it. Humility is simply unnatural, they thought. Pride was a virtue to them, and self-satisfaction was a noble goal. Humility, on the other hand, was a weakness.
As for Christians, we can’t begin to please God without it. Christ himself couldn’t please God without it. Christ emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Php 2:7, 8).
Most of us not only struggle with overcoming pride, but we also tend to justify it. If someone mistreats us, for instance, we fight back, claiming we have a right to fight back because the other person is in the wrong. Maybe so. Those who crucified Christ were also in the wrong, but Jesus didn’t fight back. He didn’t even defend himself. Instead, Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He remained humble from beginning to end. What makes us think that we can justify our pride?
The world applauds pride. Unfortunately, so do many Christians. At the very least, we often overlook it. We minimize it. We excuse it. Let’s not forget from where pride comes. Take a moment to read Isaiah 14. Lucifer exalted himself, saying:
I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. (Isaiah 14:13, 14)
How did Satan then tempt Adam to sin? He said, “For God knows that when you eat of the forbidden tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Ge 3:5). He appealed to man’s natural desire to know more, to improve himself. Ever since that first sin, our propensity is to lift up ourselves in pride. How many warnings does the Bible give? Proverbs 11: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Pr 11:2). Proverbs 16: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pr 16:18). Proverbs 21: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin” (Pr 21:4).
Isaiah delivers a somber warning that we should take very seriously. He said, “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isa 2:11). Only God deserves to be exalted, and God will personally see to it that he is only one who is exalted in the end.
Whenever we wrestle with sin, chances are, pride is at the root. Do you realize what pride is? Pride is when we willingly enter into a competition with God. We’re essentially competing for his glory. Who do you think will win?
Oh, I’m not competing with God, we think. Maybe I’m competing with others, but I’m not competing with God. Yes, we are. Let’s not forget the context of this passage in Ephesians. Is Paul limiting his encouragement to be humble only in regards to God? Look at verse 5: “Bearing with one another” (Eph 4:5). Paul would never suggest that we should be humble before God but no one else. No, we are to be humble. From our inner being, we are to be a meek, submissive people even before our enemies. Why? Because pride is pride, and pride is always a sin. It is a competition for God’s glory, which he refuses to share with us.
“I’m not proud,” you might say. Let’s test that presumption. Sit down with someone with whom you vehemently disagree. It’ll only be a matter of time before your blood is boiling because you can’t convince the other person that you’re right. What makes that situation so infuriating? Is it not pride? Is it not your inflated ego? You may be right about whatever you’re arguing, but that’s not the point. Was Jesus a blasphemer? Of course not, but he was just as humble when persecuted as he was when lying in a manger as a newborn child.
Pride in the church is a strange phenomenon. The thing that qualifies us to be members of the church is when we readily confess that we are unworthy sinners. Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3, 4). We so proudly fight and bicker over viewpoints and interpretations of Scripture. Rather than feel anguish in our souls for the lost and respond accordingly, we berate and judge. We leave our tempers unchecked like the heathens. We speak with arrogance even we share the gospel of our humble Savior.
Do you know where humility begins? It begins with an accurate view of yourself. Reread the beginning of Ephesians 2:
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Second, we need an accurate view of God. Consider the time that Isaiah stood before the throne of God. How did he react? He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa 6:5). According to the King James Bible, he said, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” Knowing his sinfulness and the perfect holiness of God, his immediate response was to assume that his worthless existence was over. God would surely annihilate him forever.
If we have an accurate view of ourselves and God, we have all the ingredients we need for humility. Success, fame, education, wealth, personality, talent, power, good looks, good works, or anything else that might make us proud won’t make us worthy to stand before God. We bring nothing before him but our sin. Our attitude should be that of the tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18:13).
If we have nothing to be proud of, and we know the dangers of pride, then it stands to reason that humility would be the foundation of Christian living. I encourage you to examine yourself. Don’t focus so much on what you do or what you say. Instead, think about why you do what you do. Think about how you say what you say. When you dig deep enough, what do you find? Is it pride or humility? Does it honor God or honor yourself?