Sometimes pride looks an awful lot like humility. There are times that our pride convinces us to put on a great show of what looks to all the world like humility so that we will be seen and acknowledged by others. We swell with pride when we hear, “He is humble.” It is a tricky thing, the human heart—prone to deceive both ourselves and others.
The Apostle Paul was a genuinely humble man. He had a deep awareness of his own sin and a profound sense of his own unworthiness before God. When he wrote to the church at Philippi, he went to great lengths to explain that he knew himself to be the chief of sinners. He remembered with shame that by persecuting the Lord’s church, he had persecuted the Lord Himself (Phil. 3:6; Acts 9:4). He had much to humble him.
Yet when he wrote to that church, Paul also told them, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). These might have been the proudest words he ever spoke. He might have been verbalizing the inclination of every heart, that the world would be a better place if everyone was just a little bit more like us. “Imitate me! I have this Christian life all figured out. Do things my way and you’ll be OK.” But was it pride that spoke? I don’t think so.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” These might have been the humblest words Paul ever spoke. When Paul looked at his life, he saw undeniable evidence of God’s grace, and all he could do was marvel. Once a Pharisee, he now saw the beauty of grace; once a persecutor, he was now willing to be persecuted; once proud of his lineage as a Jew of all Jews, he now knew that this gave him no advantage. His life gave evidence of God’s grace in its every part. Paul knew it, and Paul rejoiced.
As he looked at God’s transforming grace, he could humbly say, “Be like me.” He was not calling attention to his own innate skill or his own zeal. He was simply looking at what he had become through the mercy of God and telling the people he loved that they should display that same grace.
And how about you? What keeps you from calling upon that new Christian to use your life as an example in following Christ? What keeps you from speaking to that person you love and saying, “Follow my example here”? Could it be humility? It is possible, but unlikely. It is far more likely that pride is holding you back, that you are too proud to see grace where it exists, to acknowledge that grace as a work of God, and to call others to imitate it.