Eric Rank’s Sermonette a few weeks ago on the challenge of a prideful spirit stimulated many thoughts for me. As Mr. Rank shared his impressions, I too have allowed myself to bask in the glow of my own prideful humanity. I’ve learned that the things that I have succeeded at have been the result of God’s hand, and the moments that have not gone well were either lessons or challenges that I must learn or overcome. Still, this world celebrates success, and the pride that can accompany achievement can cause people to believe in the power of their inflated wisdom.
This is not to say that we cannot be pleased when we achieve something we’ve worked hard for. However, when being pleased becomes boastful, even with oneself, then we have indeed crossed the line in God’s eyes. We must acknowledge God’s supremacy in our lives.
I too have spoken about pride and on leadership, and the tendency for people to respond to a diligent and sincere leader, and not as much to a person who is in your face about his or her skills and victories. So, what is this factor that triggers the movement from sincerity to boastfulness? In a word: arrogance!
This editorial is not intended to be a commentary on specific leaders—but on the attitude that is so prevalent in the world, among the world’s leaders, and frankly—so many people. This is not a trait that is limited to one political party or movement. It is also an attitude that we’ve come to expect with popular sports and entertainment stars. But this character trait is not limited to the rich and famous, and to be fair, there may be humble people among them.
However, humility is not a virtue that this world generally appreciates. Society tends to consider humble people to be push-overs or worse. Yet even the Harvard Business School offers a course on the value of quiet power as a leadership skill. Now, a quiet person can still be an arrogant person, but humility and arrogance are typically opposite ends of the spectrum.
In the Book of Micah, we see the two types juxtaposed—on the one hand a boastful person suggesting that sacrifices and riches would impress God, and on the other hand a merciful, kind and just person who humbles himself before God.
We read in Micah 6, 6-8: “With what shall I come before the Lord, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams Or ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Edgar Schein, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management and an expert on leadership and culture, once asked a group of his students what it meant to be promoted to the rank of manager. They said without hesitation, “It means I can now tell others what to do.” And yet, a management column in the Wall Street Journal offered a different headline: “The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses.” The article referred to a study at Arizona State University in 2014 that reported that humble leaders “inspire close teamwork, rapid learning and high performance in their teams.” It even reported that one HR consulting firm was planning to introduce an assessment to identify personality traits that include “sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness, and unpretentiousness.”
These are traits that would be unheard of in a political campaign. Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Darth Vader and so many others are not characters that we describe as humble and forthright, but it is easy to build a movie plot around them. For some reason, this personality type is still integral in the eyes of many to the likelihood of success—whether the aim is good or evil.
In 1 Peter 5:5, we are told:”Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’”
It is troubling to witness politicians invoking God at will as a bludgeon against their rivals. Sadly, this is increasingly used as a method to illustrate superiority over the opposition. At the conclusion of the State of the Union address, the President asks that “God bless the United States of America”—but few understand that there is a contract that comes along with following God. Our part of the contract is straightforward: obeying Him and following His commandments. Can we obey God and be an arrogant person, out for him- or herself? We have our guidance in Mark 10:43-45:
“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
God requires an attitude of service in His people—not arrogance. When we think of other faiths we may think of gold, and the finest fabrics, and some of the most exclusive real estate in the world. Leaders of these organizations live as monarchs and not as humble servants of God. John 13:14 illustrates what is expected of us: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
God sent His Son to save us as the ultimate sign of His love for us. This should humble us and cause us to evaluate our arrogance and self-righteous behavior. We must recognize that we are to be humble and caring towards one another and most certainly in our relationship with God the Father and His Son. We cannot impress God with material success, anything we do to achieve fame and notoriety, or anything we possess. What God demands of us is simple: obey Him and live as He commands.