Sarcasm drips from the words, “I just can’t wait to look in the mirror because I get better looking every day.” The song, Oh Lord It’s Hard To Be Humble, mockingly exclaims with a witty arrogance, that it is hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way. Despite its sarcasm, the song contains a truth. It is hard to be humble! Discover why in today’s message.
Interestingly enough, even though we all lack perfection, most of us try to present ourselves to others as if we are flawless. Some of us live out life in a perpetual performance of the song. Why do we do this and what must we do to change? God encourages us to be humble.
Have you ever noticed that the words humble, humility, and humiliation are all derivatives of the same underlying Latin word, humilis, which means “low”? Is it possible that the nexus between these words is one of the reasons why we find it hard to be humble?
Humble is an adjective which means having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance. Humility, in its purest form, is the quality or state of being humble. Humility is a virtue. To remain humble we must choose to have a low estimate of our own importance. On the other hand, one who is humiliated is made to feel low by others. To be humiliated means to suffer a painful loss of pride or loss of self-respect and dignity. The fear of humiliation seems to be universal.
While the song offers a humorous expression of humbleness, the reality is, most people do find it very hard to be humble. The difficulty in being humble comes from the realization that when we humble ourselves and admit our flaws and sins, we risk the possibility of humiliation.
The opposite of humility is pride and arrogance. To be prideful is to have an excessively high opinion of oneself. When we exhibit a prideful attitude, we pretend not to need God’s mercy. Let’s look at two examples of both humility and pride.
The first is the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found in Luke 18:9-14. With his arrogance and pride on full display the Pharisee proclaims, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Contrast that to the humility of the tax collector who says, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus sums up the difference with these words, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This week’s Gospel reading for the forth Sunday in Lent gave us the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. There is a distinct similarity between the humble words of the tax collector and the words of the son who said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” There is also a corresponding similarity between the prideful words of the Pharisee and the words of the older brother when he states, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.”
The two humble men were genuine and sincere. They showed no false pretense. The two prideful men were disingenuous and hypocritical. Let’s be honest, neither the Pharisee nor the older brother were perfect. No one is! What sets them apart from the tax collector and the prodigal son is their unwillingness to see and or admit any fault. Could it be possible that the fear of humiliation prevented them from being humble? Perhaps they wanted to portray perfection to hide their weaknesses and faults. Hopefully we can all see that it was the sincere humility of the other two men that led them to repentance, and ultimately to forgiveness.
Proverbs 28:13 states, “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and forsake them obtain mercy.” 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” And James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Try to make time during these remaining two weeks before Easter to reflect on your own willingness or lack of willingness to admit your faults and sins. Has the fear of humiliation ever silenced you? Has pride led you to arrogance? What will it take for you to open up to others about your shortcomings and need for the Lord’s forgiveness? Going forward let’s always keep the words of Proverbs 16:18 in mind, “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
One final interesting twist. Did you know that the words earth and human are also derived from the same Latin origin as the word humble? Earth comes from the word humus. As humans God created us from the dust of the earth. Perhaps our call to be humble also means we are being called back to the heart of God who formed us from the earth.
Truly it is hard to be humble, but we receive this assurance in James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”
Heavenly Father, please grant me the virtue of humility. Help me to always have a greater fear of my sins and short comings than the fear of possible humiliation from admitting my flaws to others. Draw me always closer to you. Amen!
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