By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the most common paradoxes of history is the paradox of succeeding through failure. Jesus failed to turn Israel from her sins, and they crucified Him, but He thereby succeeded in paying the penalty for their sin, and also for the sins of the world. By descending into the valley of failure, He arrived at the peak of success. The cross became both the low point, and the high point of history. There are numerous illustrations of this paradox. A contemporary example comes from the experience of Dr. Paul Tournier, the well known Christian physician of Switzerland, whose many books are very popular in America.
In his book The Adventure Of Living, he tells of a lecture he gave at a University. He felt from the beginning of the lecture that he was not going to make contact with his audience. He clung to his notes, and laboriously recited with growing nervousness. When he finished, he saw his friends slipping away to spare both he and themselves the embarrassment of meeting. On the way home in the car his wife burst into tears because the humiliation was so great. It was the most miserable lecture he had ever given. The next day a professor of philosophy called him on the phone. He said he had listened to a large numbers of lectures in his life, and had never heard one as bad as Dr. Tournier's. The very dullness of it, however, intrigued him, and he wanted to meet Dr. Tournier. This was the beginning of wonderful friendship that resulted in this professor receiving Christ as his Savior. Dr. Tournier said, this was the source of more lasting joy to him than if he had delivered a brilliant lecture. It was his impressive failure that opened the door to the thrilling success of winning a man for Christ. Praise God that He can use even our failure for His glory.
Let us not, however, strive to fail, and seek to be nothing in the hope that God will use it to make us successful and something. The Christian never deliberately aims for anything but the best. Success is always to be his goal. Set your affections on things above; press on toward the mark for the prize; run to win; fight the good fight for victory; whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord, give of your best to the Master, and no less. The Christian never chooses to run poorly, but strives always for excellence.
The result of this, of course, will be that Christians will arrive at the goal of success by the normal route of fulfilling the requirements for success. It is then that they face the danger of failure, and can become an example of the paradox of failing through success. It they let success to go their head, and become proud and boastful, they cease to be useful instruments for the glory of God, and so they fail in their highest goal. This is what Paul was warning against in verse 3. The Christian who does not fall, but has by persistence in good habits, and development of self-control, resisted temptation, can still fail if he allows pride to make him think he is really something, even too good to help the fallen brother.
Many Christians, seeing the danger of pride in success, fall into the opposite danger of a false humility, nothing is more superficial and unspiritual than when one who has done an excellent thing pretends that it is really nothing at all. This is not humility but sheer falsehood, or deception. A Christian who excels in some aspect of life cannot honestly pretend that he is a dud. If a Christian boy holds the world's record for the 100 yard dash he would appear silly if he pretended to think he was not very fast. Karl Olsson writes, "How many excellently cooked dinners have been dismissed by humble housewives as nulities, a mere hogwash-because these estimable ladies thought it sinful to admit that they were the best chicken roasters in 7 counties, which, in effect, they knew themselves to be."
Christians can even come to the point where they are proud of their humility, and get great satisfaction in pretending to be nothing, and incapable of anything praiseworthy. This pretense at failure only succeeds in making them failures while they are succeeding. This kind of humility is only a more subtle form of pride.
I am that voice which is the faint
First, far-off sin within the saint,
When of his humbleness he first
Takes thought, and I become that thirst
Which makes him drunken with his own
Humbleness, and so casts him down
From the last painful stair that waits
His triumphing feet at heaven's gates.
In other words, false humility will cause the Christian to fall just as sure as false pride. Both extremes are foolish and dangerous, for neither of them is honest, and neither is based on a realistic evaluation of one's self in relation to God.
It was sheer madness for Nietzsche, in great pride, to say, "It is only since I have come that a new hope has dawned on earth." But Madam DuDeffond did not lessen the madness when she wrote, "I hear nothings, I speak nothings, I take interest in nothing, and from nothing to nothing I travel gently down the dull way which leads to becoming nothing." This is not humility, but pure pessimism and despair which is totally unfit as a Christian attitude. The Christian alternative to self-deification is not self-damnation, but self-dedication. God does not want your self deified or damned, He wants it dedicated. Paul says, you are deceived if you think you are something when you are nothing, but you are equally deceived if you think you are nothing when you are something. Paul is not trying to get Christians to think of themselves as nothing, for that is an evil. It is unworthy of a child of God, who has been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and given eternal life. So both pride and humility can be dangerous, but both are still needed for the balanced Christian life.
Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian, stood on a hilltop overlooking the sea one summer evening, and he had this experience. "As I stood there alone and forsaken and the might of the sea and the war of the elements brought my own nothingness to mind, and on the other hand the secure flight of the birds brought to mind the words of Christ, 'Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of your heavenly Father,' I felt all at once how great and how small I was, and the two great powers, pride and humility, joined hands and became friends." This is the Biblical solution of the problem: A reconciliation of pride and humility, so that together as friends they can do what neither can do alone. Pride alone is a great evil, but mixed with humility it becomes a praise worthy pride. This is the kind of pride that keeps one from the sin of false humility.
Abraham Lincoln said, "I desire to so conduct the affairs of this administration that, when I come to lay down the reins of power, if I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, the one down inside me." Lincoln wanted to be right within himself. He preferred the approval of the still small voice within, rather than the cheers of the crowd. Lincoln may not have studied Paul's advice here in Gal. 6:4, but he was following it, and that is why Lincoln was such a great, yet humble man, of whom so many have been proud. The key to a humble, or praiseworthy, pride says Paul is self-examination. The amplified version reads, "But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test his own conduct and his own work. He can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable (in itself alone) without (resorting to) boastful comparison with his neighbor."
A legitimate pride is a completely personal matter, and does not depend upon anyone else. It is a matter of personal satisfaction in accomplishing something that is praiseworthy. False pride is dangerous for the paradoxical reason that it is not self-centered enough. False pride does not examine the self for intrinsic worth and value, but is all the time comparing the self with others. False pride finds the false, defects, and sins in others, and then by comparison exalts the self. All their boasting depends upon the falls of others, rather than any intrinsic value in themselves. If you boast because you did not fall like this brother, your goodness is only comparative, and comparative goodness is not Christian goodness. God will never judge anyone by comparison. Anybody can find someone worse than themselves, and deceive themselves into thinking they are good in comparison. This is foolish pride, and many live on a very low level just because they are proud that it is higher than others on a lower level.
Paul says, do not think you are something when you are nothing, just because, even as nothing you have not fallen as low as another. Stop this business of comparing, and get into the business of self-examination. Washington Allston said, "The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself." This is Paul's idea here. We are not running well just because we are ahead of the cripples. Our competition is to be with ourselves, and not the slowest runner we can find. Examine your own work says Paul. How does it rate in itself, regardless of what anyone else has or has not done. Paul says in Rom. 14:12, "Each of us shall give account of himself to God." It is not a comparative account. It is not, how did you do compared to so and so, but what did you do compared to what you knew you ought to do? How does your action measure up to your knowledge?
If you examine yourself, and are honest, you will likely have a great deal to be humble about. If you really are running at full speed, and are pressing on toward the mark, your reason for boasting will be legitimate, for it will be based on yourself alone, and not on the slower speed of a neighbor, or brother in Christ. Paul, like Lincoln, was concerned about living with himself, and Paul could boast publicly before the Jewish council in Acts 23:1, "Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscious up to this day." In II Cor. 1:12 he writes, "For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have behaved in the world, and still more toward you, with holiness and godly sincerity..." We could give many other examples of Paul's boasting in himself, because of this clear conscience, and self-respect. Paul had a praiseworthy pride because of his honest testing of his character and conduct against the standard of Christ, and not that of the world, or other Christians. Be followers of me as I am of Christ, Paul could say.
Paul was proud to be a Christian, and a child of God, and a servant of Christ. He was not ashamed of the cross or the Gospel, but he was proud of it, and gloried in the cross. Yet, he never forgot he was unworthy, and was only allowed to do so because of the grace of God. He called himself the least of all saints, but because of God's grace, he could also call himself one of the greatest Apostles. Paul, like his Master, was both humble and proud. Jesus did not hesitate to proclaim publicly His wisdom and knowledge, yet none was so humble as Jesus. Praiseworthy pride, and healthful humility were fast friends in the makeup of their personalities.
They could have the highest self-respect, because themselves were in harmony with God's objective revelation. They did not go by comparison with others, but by their own personal relationship to God. Jesus, even as the Son of God, had a human nature. He had personal responsibility He had to bear. He had a load to bear that none could help Him bear, and Jesus had to examine His own work, and have rejoicing in His fulfillment of His Father's will. He could say at the end, "It is finished." He did the work He was sent to do. Paul could also say at the end that he had fought a good fight, and ran a good race. This sense of personal satisfaction of a job well done, and a life well lived, is to be the precious blessing of every child of God. Arthur Clough wrote,
He who would climb and soar aloft
Must needs keep ever at his side
The tonic of a wholesome pride.
Yes, even pride, that can be the rag of rottenness, can also, by the grace of God be woven into the robe of righteousness, and become praiseworthy pride.