Scripture is replete with verses about the dangers of pride. Of the abominable sins spelled out in Proverbs 6:16–19, “haughty eyes” are at the top of the list. The Lord calls pride and arrogance “the way of evil” (Prov. 8:13), and warns that it will surely lead to destruction (18:12) and disgrace (11:2). In speaking of the sheer sinfulness of the sin, the Bible warns, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (16:5). In fact, the Lord Jesus vows to humiliate those who exalt themselves in pride (Matt. 23:12). Make no mistake, we are to heed the warning, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
However, the Bible promises while God opposes those who are proud, He “gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; cf. Ps. 138:6; Prov. 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). Humility, then, is an emptying of self; it is a dying to self (see Luke 9:23; Gal. 2:20). Paul exhorted the Philippian church to manifest humility in their dealings with one another, saying: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4). He regards humility as a lowliness of mind. Yet it’s not that God desires to grind us into the dust and never raise us up. As James tells us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). This is true for all believers, especially for those in pastoral ministry.
A Call for Pastoral Humility
The ultimate example of humility in ministry is Jesus, who labored tirelessly to point all things back to the Father (John 5:30; 12:49; 17:1–5); who declared His ministry to be that of selfless service (Mark 10:45), who even debased Himself by washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:14–15), who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). Brothers, this is our model for pastoral ministry.
But we are fallen and sinful men. We are weak and insecure. At the heart of pastoral posturing, I believe, is a warped yet earnest desire to be validated. After all, ministry is hard, and very few people seem to understand all that it entails. However, we know that our confidence and adequacy come from Christ (2 Cor. 3:4–5). Therefore, as we labor and strive, we should not seek the praise of others. Rather, the Apostle Peter warns men to “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). As to our knee-jerk desire to posture: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2). As to our insecure and competitive bent: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26). We are compelled to seek a posture of humility before others and before God.
George Whitefield was one of the greatest English preachers in history, and everywhere he went he was bathed with the praise and adoration of his followers. One classic story typifies Whitefield’s constant struggle with and godly response to the temptation of pride:
Mr. Whitefield, having delivered a discourse of rare beauty and eloquence in the city of Charleston, had just retired from the pulpit and was wending his way out of the church, when he met an acquaintance in the aisle, who, shaking him cordially by the hand, congratulated him on the splendid effort he had just made, saying, “Brother Whitefield, you have preached a most eloquent discourse. I was highly delighted.” Whitefield, instead of being in the least elated, replied in the most solemn and impressive manner, “Ah, brother, there is one in advance of you, for the devil told me so before I left the pulpit.”
Dear brothers, put off pride and posturing. Humble yourselves before God. Give all glory and praise to whom it is due. For we read, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8, emphasis added).