Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble (1): The First Sin
Intro – If God chose to come into our congregation and zap one sin into oblivion what sin do you think He would choose? Discouragement – that great destroyer of hope? How about gossip – that sin which causes so much damage and leaves such ugly scars behind? Perhaps harboring grudges – clearly one of Satan’s greatest weapons? What would it be?
Well, I don’t claim to know God so well that I could predict with certainty what He would choose. But I have a suspicion. I suspect that He would choose the first sin – first chronologically and first in its prominence in Scripture. This first sin has great relevance to our passage this morning, and we will deal with that next week, but I think this is such an important subject that I want to give some introductory background on it today before looking at it in Luke.
I. The First Sin Identified
So where did sin originate? In the Garden of Eden? Among human beings, yes. But there was a tempter there who had already fallen into sin. That first-of-all sins (at least as far as revealed to us) is found in Ezek 28. Here God pulls back the curtains of time and the physical universe to give us a keen insight into sin’s origin. This chapter, written around 600 BC, prophesies against the prince of Tyre – an influential Phoenician city on the coast of the Mediterranean just NW of Palestine. But beginning in v. 11, God moves to the power behind the scene and gives us a brief insight into one of the greatest if not the greatest of His angelic creations. V. 11: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” But something happens before v. 15: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.” And there it is – the first sin. It is found in the heart of this great Angel. He abused his God-given ability to choose. He chose rebellion. He is responsible for introducing evil.
So what was the nature of his sin? V. 17: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground.” This angelic being became enamored of his own beauty and splendor. Pride was the sin. Pride is at the heart of all sin. Pride is nothing less than setting up shop in opposition to God. It assumes that we are smarter and more sophisticated than His commands, that we do not need Him, that He is immaterial to our existence. Pride is a killer. Look where it led this Angel. Isa 14: 13) “You said in your heart, ‘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; 14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Satan set out to be his own God, and when God rejected him, he set out to see how many he could take with him. What was the gist of his temptation of Eve in Gen 3:5? “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eat from that tree, Eve and you will be just like God. Pride is at the core of human rebellion. It all started with Satan. And it always leads toward self and away from God. We’re nothing but blind mimics of Satan. So the first sin is alive and well in our world and in us.
II. The First Sin Defined
So what exactly is pride? One dictionary definition is “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect” – like someone who takes pride in their work. That’s not bad –people doing their best. That’s not the pride that is sinful. Another dictionary meaning is “inordinate self-esteem.” That’s helpful, but it still doesn’t get at the root of why pride is sinful. The Bible never actually defines pride, but let me suggest a definition that shows the ugly side of pride. Pride is esteeming myself apart from God. Pride is inordinate self-esteem, but not primarily because I have overestimated my worth or abilities, but because I see myself as anything apart from God.
We all need self-esteem. It is not healthy to deal with pride by thinking of myself as nothing. But when I understand that I really am nothing apart from Christ – BUT that I am a certified, bonafide, loved, honored and respected child of God in Christ, then I get my self-worth in proper perspective. Eve wanted to be like God apart from God. That’s pride. Pride is nothing less than playing God, something we are so prone to do – even the best of us.
Look at Moses in Num 20. He had 2,000,000 people out in the Sinai wilderness and no water. So God instructed him in Num 20:8, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.” On a previous occasion, Moses struck a rock to bring forth water. This time God says, “Talk to the rock.” But Moses is mad. The people have complained in an ugly, ungrateful way, so v. 10, “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.” Despite Moses’ disobedience God did give water, but Moses paid dearly by not being allowed to go into the promised land. Why? Look at Moses’ comment. Shall we bring water. Who was bringing water out of the rock? God was. Moses was no more able to do that than you or me. But He took credit. Making himself to be something apart from God. Playing God.
III. The First Sin Condemned
So, how does God view this sin that declares independence from Him? How do you think? Isa 42:8 answers, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” – a challenge He repeats in Isa 48:11. Would you share your glory and you created everything? Anytime we touch the glory of God we do so at our own risk, and nothing takes glory from God more than pride.
Did you know pride is #1 on God’s most wanted list? Turn to Prov 6:16-17: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes”. There it is. Number one on the list ahead of a lying tongue. Arrogance. Playing God. There’s a telling example in II Samuel 6. King David is moving the ark of the covenant from a temporary location back to Jerusalem. Everyone’s rejoicing that it’s on the move. Now notice in II Sam 6:6, “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” Seems harsh, doesn’t it? Struck dead for trying to steady the ark.
But before we judge God, we need to ask some questions. Why was the ark on an oxcart in the first place? Numerous times God had instructed that the ark be carried by poles as in Exod 25:14-15, “And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” Further, only men from the tribe of Levi and family of Kohath were to carry the ark and tabernacle utensils; Uzzah was from the tribe of Judah. Things are going south fast. Furthermore, even the Kohathites were never to touch the ark (Num 4:15). In fact, God had decreed that if a Kohathite merely glanced at the ark in the Holy of Holies he would die – instantly!. You can’t mess with God’s holiness – Beloved – not for long. Now here’s Uzzah, wrong tribe, wrong family, wrong transportation, touching the glory. And God says, “Enough!”
R. C. Sproul points out Uzzah’s act was not an act of heroism; it was an act of arrogance. He assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is obedient. It does what God tells it to do, obeys the laws of nature God established, brings forth its yield in its season. The ground does not commit cosmic treason. Man does that. Man touches the glory; man plays God; man is arrogant enough to think he can break the laws of God for some greater good that he imagines. Every act of pride is shaking one’s fist in the face of God and saying, “I know better.” And it’s subject to the same penalty Uzzah suffered. Only God’s grace allows us time to repent. All sin is condemned, but pride tops the list – the core of the rest. How much criticism could you have without pride? Discouragement? Bitterness? Anger? Pride’s at the root.
IV. The First Sin Recognized
So most of us are sitting here thinking, “Great. So God is going to judge pride. Go to it, Lord. Get those arrogant so and so’s.” But we never look in the mirror! We are much better at seeing flaws in others. I used to have a friend who would say, “I can hardly wait for morning, cuz I get better looking every day.” And we think there – that’s the guy that’s got a pride issue. Pride is the pastor who brags, “Hey, we grew by 100% last year.” What he doesn’t say is that he started with five people – including himself and his wife. Pride is the guy getting photographed who says, “Wait, I want you to get my best side”, and he means it! Pride is the guy who can screw in a light bulb all by himself. He just stands still, holds the bulb and the world revolves around him! Pride is Mark Twain saying, “I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel that they haven’t said enough.” Yes – we know pride when we see it, right? And it’s surely not us.
But, of course, it is! We all swim together in the first sin. We’ve turned it into a church game. You have to play very, very carefully. It’s the only game I know that you lose if anyone finds out that you’re playing! There are two basic ways of playing the “Pride” game. One is, “I’m more spiritual than you are,” and the second is, “I’m beyond hope.” Both are pride in disguise!
Ever hear this: “This morning in my devotions, the Lord really gave me something rich.” Of course, that could be said with good intention – but I can tell you that often the hidden message is, “I hope you understand that I have devotions every day. Furthermore, the Lord shares special things with me.” It’s just a way of saying, “I’m more spiritual than you” are without actually saying it, right? Or someone will say, “In my humble opinion,” which translated means, “My humble opinion is better than your best shot, but I couldn’t very well say in my superior opinion or who would listen? Besides, I’d look arrogant!” How about this one: “The other day Pastor Dave and I were talking about the leadership program,” which translated means, “When the pastor needs spiritual advice, he knows who to talk to. Isn’t it great how he surrounds himself with the best people?” I’m glad to say I don’t see or hear this kind of thing here, Beloved. But it can sneak up on any of us.
I think the more prominent way the Pride game is played is the “I’m beyond hope version.” “I just don’t have any spiritual gifts.” Really? God says you do? So who you gonna believe? Or, “I’m just not capable.” Really? Have you tried, or is this your divine opinion? “I’d like to help, but I’m pretty busy right now and I know God will give you someone better.” Often those statements mean, “I’m so inferior that even God can’t change or use me. So I’m off the hook.” That’s nothing more than a backward form of pride. I’m so bad that even God can’t make me useful. Know what? He may not use you because of your unbelief, fear or laziness. But I guarantee you He will hold you responsible when your God-playing days are over. He’s not fooled.
V. The First Sin Defeated
So what is the antidote to pride? Obviously, humility, right? But humility can be hard to come by. Remember the old Mac Davis song, “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble When You’re Perfect in Every Way”? We may not go that far, but let’s face it, it’s hard not to think that we are doing better than most. The Bible warns against that. Like Prov 16: 18) Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” That’s why Paul urges in Eph 4:1-2, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” First attitude on the list – humility. Walk – in humility. That’s not hard when you’re digging a trench for a water line, moving tables around or changing a baby’s diaper, right? Humility is sort of built in to some tasks. That’s why some people won’t do certain tasks. Too demeaning. Humility comes a lot harder when we’re out front.
But Peter urges in I Pet 5:5, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Clothe yourself in humility. Put it on like a garment. Wrap up in it. Zech 2:3 simplifies further, “Seek humility.” But how do you do that? Humility is illusive, isn’t it? Like trying to grab a bar of soap. The harder you try, the more it slips away. Just when you think you are humble, of course, you are not! So how do we do this? Let me suggest three things.
First, we must confess our pride. We need to do this almost constantly. The more we confess it, the more we will see it and begin to abhor it like God does. So, as soon as it pops up, confess it. C. S. Lewis said it this way: “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.”
Second, put others before self. Pride stems from paying an inordinate attention to ourselves and our needs and desires and wants. Pride dissipates when focus turns outward! This takes discipline; doesn’t come naturally, but it can be done. In fact, God commands it in Phil 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Pride is fueled by focus on self. We starve it out when we are paying more attention to others.
Third – remember our value comes from being in Christ. To seek humility is not to say, “I am a worm”, or “I am nothing.” Rather it is to say “I derive my worth from Jesus.” This is where Satan went all wrong. He thought he had worth in himself. Failed to recognize that everything he had was from God. Had he kept that in perspective, the whole history of the universe would have been different. Instead, he saw himself as something apart from God. Paul makes a telling statement in I Cor 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” When we begin to see that everything we have, are and hope to be comes from God, the first sin is defeated. When I see that my car, my house, my wife, my abilities, my flaws, my achievements, my failures, my successes, my everything came from God --- my whole perspective on life begins to change. True humility floods me because I realize that I am nothing without Him, but in Him, I am a child of the king. But it’s all Him. When we make Christ our greatest treasure, there is no room left for pride. But we have to renew that commitment to Him every second of every day, for the enemy will be at us constantly to be our own God – to treasure ourselves above Him.
Conc – A stockbroker had made millions for an Arabian oil sheik who offered him many valuable gifts of appreciation. He refused them all, but the sheik persisted until he finally relented, “Okay, I’ve recently taken up golf. A set of golf clubs would be a fine gift.” Weeks went by before he received a letter from the sheik. It said, “So far I have bought you three golf clubs. I hope you will not be disappointed, but only two of them have swimming pools.” Way beyond anything he could have imagined. Just like God pays those who humbly fear and revere Him.
The choice is really very simple – treasure ourselves and get nothing in the end, or treasure Christ – and get everything. Let’s treasure Him – together. Let’s pray.