The Babylonians overflowed with it
And they were proud they were proud they did!
God answers Habakkuk’s complaint about the injustice, self-serving-religion and violence among his own people, with the news of the swiftly coming arrogant and narcissistic Babylonians, Habakkuk 1.6-11.
It was the Babylonians, I'm pretty sure, that Carly Simon sang about, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you?”
They promoted their own honor. They mocked kings They puffed themselves up. They laughed at all fortified cities. Their own strength was their god.
Self-love is always fertile ground for self-deification.
But not just the Babylonians. Us too.
Having more. Having nicer. Smarter. Better taste. Better taste buds. More awesome kids. Bigger whatever. Cooler toys. Self-assured. Friendlier. Less problems. Mocking others beneath us. Stronger. More spiritual. Subtly reminding others of our place, and theirs. Humbly promoting ourselves.
CS Lewis, in a book I highly recommend, Mere Christianity, calls it "The Great Sin." He writes,
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.
On second thought, maybe Carly was singing about me too.
God puts it this way:
First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. Proverbs 16.18, The Message Bible
God’s good remedy?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2.3
Humility is often confused with that strange brand of self-deprecation, “I’m not a very good musician, teacher, or handy person,” when you know perfectly well you are. It might even make you proud for humbling yourself in this weird way. That sort of “humility” is really just game playing, keeping the focus on “me.”
Here’s a helpful picture of humility for humans: Being well aware of our real strengths; being well aware of our real weaknesses, but making neither too little, or too much, of either.
Such humility frees us to take the focus off me, and onto others.
God, there in Philippians tells us to “value others above ourselves.” Now, that’s good anti-pride. To see, think about, listen to, and actually treat others as more important than ourselves.
I am usually humble when someone is better than (or smarter, or above) me. That's pretty easy. It's not hard for a golfer to be humble when Phil Mickelson walks onto the tee. It's not difficult for a guitarist to be genuinely self-effacing when Eric Clapton shows up to jam. It's no stretch for an artist to be modest if Claude Monet sets up his easel next to them.
But what about when somebody really isn’t better than me?
What about when I am more talented, or I do know more than the other person about this or that, I am a better cook ormechanic, I am more deserving, more trustworthy, or more grateful? What if I am older, younger, or I’ve got my act together more, or I am more worthy?
I think in our families we really struggle with this, at least I do. Or our work places, or church. It’s really hard with those we’re closest with to really consider and value them as better than we are! We’re so up close with parents, kids, spouses, and friends. We see so clearly their failures, weaknesses, stubbornness or selfishness. And it’s so easy to look down from our place of pride.
And so Paul goes on in Philippians 2.5-6, and says:
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.
Jesus really is smarter than us. Higher than us. More worthy than us. Really. Better than any of us. Richer.
But Jesus did not clamp His arms around His rights to be worshiped, to be honored, to be adored as God. Instead, Jesus, in humility considered others better than Himself making Himself nothing, emptying Himself, pouring Himself out for others!
Jesus chose to consider others better than Himself!
Wow. Did you get that?
We are not better than Him. But His heart of love drove Him to give us preferential treatment, to consider us more highly them Himself.
The cross. The wonderful cross. The cross.
The One, above all, stooping down, pouring Himself out, considering us above Himself.
Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself, valuing others above yourself.
That’ll knock the Babylonian out of each of us.
Like Jesus, overflow with humility. For our good, and His glory.