Often times when we try to define something, we end up doing so by simply comparing it to it’s opposites. If something is dead then it is known by it’s opposite — it isn’t alive! If there is no light then it is dark. If you are not dry then you are wet. You can’t be both at once and you only know the one in relationship to the other.
So, what about humility? What is the opposite of humility?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought of pride as being the opposite of humility. Any others here considered pride to be the opposite of humility?
The thinking goes something like this: If humility is a lowly estimation of one’s capabilities and value then pride is an overly high estimation of one’s capabilities and value.
But there is a problem (actually a few) with this understanding of humility as a lowly estimation of one’s capabilities and value.
First, we remember back to Genesis 1 and 2 that God made men and women in the image of God. God blessed them, pouring out his adoration and invoking their prosperity. God also made men and women to steward and care for all of creation, so if we define humility as having a low estimation of our capabilities and value — we dishonor God who designed us with such lavish dignity, who gave such value to our work that he would entrust all of creation to our care, and we would live in denial of God’s original blessing.
There are even more problems with understanding humility as a low estimation of one’s capabilities and value. What about people who are told that they are worthless? What about people who are held as emotional, sexual or physical slaves? What about people who have lived lives of constant oppression and violence? Is it the will and justice of God to tell oppressed people that they should live their lives with a continually low estimation of one’s capabilities and value?
I certainly hope not! We will come back to this more in the next few weeks as we explore the prophets Isaiah and Micah, as well as when we get to the Gospels and hear from Jesus.
For now, let us agree that a low estimation of one’s capabilities and value is not a Biblical image of humility. So, if that isn’t humility — what is?
This morning we are going to hear a bit more about Humility from Kings David and Solomon.
Hear the word of the Lord from Psalm 25, a Psalm of David, and Proverbs 15:32-16:2:
Psa. 25:0 Of David.
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Psa. 25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Psa. 25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
Psa. 25:8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Psa. 25:11 For your name’s sake, O LORD,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the LORD?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
Psa. 25:13 They will abide in prosperity,
and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Psa. 25:16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Psa. 25:19 Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
Psa. 25:22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all its troubles.
Prov. 15:32 Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
but those who heed admonition gain understanding.
33 The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility goes before honor.
Prov. 16:1 The plans of the mind belong to mortals,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
2 All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
David and Solomon both use language of a “way.” David says in vs 9 “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” Solomon says, “All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”
This word, “Way” in the Hebrew language, in which the Psalms and Proverbs were written, is the word “Derek,” just like we would say the name in English. And it is a word that means a path or a road; a place where you tread or walk.
In college, Jaimi and I both worked at Inspiration Hills, a church camp in western Iowa. Most of our summer was spent walking the trails with campers, heading from chapel to the wilderness camp, up to the dining hall, and spending most of our afternoons at the swimming pool. Everywhere we went, we walked, and 95% of the time, we walked on the trails. Those old dirt paths that wind and weave through the brush and timber, leading you to the place where you need to go.
Camp was a joy for us to work at. One particular love of mine was when the 7-8th graders came. They were so much fun because we got to do a lot more running, they were fun to goof around with, and we generally had a great time. Well, one of the games that we played with 7th and 8th graders began once it was good and dark outside, and each bunk group was a team given nothing more than a flashlight and the courage of their bunk partners. The game began at the main lodge with every team present, when suddenly…. a great howl was heard somewhere off in the distance of the camp.
The goal was to be the first team to catch the wolf, who happened to be my friend Dave. Once the wolf was found, the winning team would sit with the wolf until the other teams all found them. Think of it as a late-night, trail-run version of Marco Polo.
On one particular week when we played this game it happened that I only had two campers. They were a hearty and adventurous pair and were up for about anything. I knew my friend Dave (the wolf) would be highly evasive of all the groups because he was fast and knew all the trails on camp, even the secret trails that only a few counselors knew about.
This was my big chance to win the game, so I turned to the boys and said, “Boys, the wolf is going to be on the exact opposite end of the camp and the only way we can win is if we run — are you up for it?” “Oh Yeah!” they replied. So, we chased, we ran, we listened for the howl. And we got closer and closer to that wolf’s howl. The trail we were on had no outlets and it was becoming obvious that the wolf had to be trapped between us and one other group, but we had to be the closest. Victory was in my grasp, I could feel it pulsing through my bloodstream.
We howled, and Dave howled back — now closer than ever. We ran the few short steps to where we thought he would be. Suddenly another team howled behind us. We waited to listen for the wolf’s howl, expecting him to be right underneath our feat somewhere. Suddenly we heard the howl, but he wasn’t in front of us anymore, now he was behind us, and he had gained distance! It sounded like he was near the climbing wall. But how? There was no path from where we were to the climbing wall?
I probably cursed under my breath, knowing that Dave must have cut through some tall grass and gotten around us.
Now I must let you know that as camp counsellors, we have a rule that campers are to stay on the trails. We remind the campers of this rule frequently throughout the week, but on the night of the game, I told my campers we only had one way to catch dave — we had to go off the path and make a B-line for the climbing wall. “Are you up for it?” I asked my two teenage campers. “Yeah, let’s go!” They took off running into the grass.
Tall grass was easy to run through, but it soon turned into thicker bushes, and the bushes turned into a very soggy thicket of prickly bushes. We scratched and clawed our way through, but by the time we got through the misery of thorns and found our way to the climbing wall — three other groups had gotten there first. And there was Dave, surprised to see us all scratched up and haggard.
Psa. 25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Stay on the path, was the rule. With scratches and torn t-shirts, we paid the price for not heeding it.
Hold onto this concept for a moment: The concept of “Stay on the path.”
Now turn with me for a bit. Did you know that in the development of a human being, the brain grows up much faster than the rest of the body?
“The brain has already attained 25% of it’s adult weight at birth; 50% at 6 months; 75% at 2.5 years; 90% at 5 years; and 95% at 10 years…” What this means is that a 10 year old has 95 % of their adult brain, fully functional.
So, what’s the difference between a mature and wise adult and a 10 year old? Biologically, not much, but we all know that there is a great deal of a difference. There is experience, wisdom, maturity that makes all the difference. Here is what happens in the brain: as you live longer, have more experiences, and think more thoughts, your brain begins to make more connections. Imagine your brain is a summer camp, and every time you have a thought a little camper walks down a trail, making a connection, going from one place to another, and pressing the trail down harder and more firmly. The more you think about a certain idea, the more campers walk down that trail, and the more firmly that path gets worn. Over time, these connections form into more and more permanent pathways.
Sometimes this can be wonderful. We want our brain to have worn paths that lead us to feelings of joy and gratitude every time we see our grandchildren. We want our brain to have worn paths that lead us to feelings of sympathy and care when someone we know has experienced a tragedy. These trails in our brains can be incredibly helpful because they can lead to powerful responses of love and compassion.
Our brains are amazing gifts like that.
But there is a downside to this gift as well. There is a downside to being able to walk and create trails in your brain. Sometimes the trails can lead us to love of God and compassion toward our neighbor. But what if we create trails that forget about God, what if we create trails that seek to use and abuse our neighbor?
It came as a great surprise to me to learn that in the Christian Tradition, the opposite of humility is not pride. Saints from Augustine to Bernard of Clairveux, describe the opposite of humility not as pride, but rather, as Curiositas, or what I call “Unbridled Curiosity.” Or, “Curiosity apart from Christ.”
Curiosity can be a real gift, right? We should seek to explore new subjects, seek to learn about the planets, ancient history, new cultures, etc. Curiosity isn’t the problem because curiosity can be a great gift. But what about Unbridled Curiosity?
What about thinking any thought, entertaining any idea? If your brain is a summer camp, do you really need to explore every inch of that land? The thorny bushes and soggy lowlands are not healthy places to be. Like taking the filter off of your internet search, you will get every result and you certainly get more than you need.
Is every thought helpful? Does every idea build up?
Here is what Unbridled Curiosity sounds like in the mind:
“I wonder what it would be like to have a bigger, better house than my neighbor….”
“I can’t stand my parents, I wonder what it would be like to ditch them all together, or what if they were dead!”
“I wonder what she would look like without clothes on? I wonder what it would be like to have him as a lover?”
“I wonder if I can work 7 days a week without a break and get ahead with my finances.”
“I wonder if I can get away with stealing from my employer without anyone noticing…”
“I wonder if I can cheat on my test, do so little work, and still get an A…”
Unbridled Curiosity. This, according to our Christian forebears, is the opposite of humility.
Humility knows that it needs to stay on the path because it is painful to leave paths that are willed by God.
Here is how unbridled curiosity works. Unbridled Curiosity begins with God’s will and it says, “I wonder what it would be like to let my mind wander somewhere else.”
This is what it means to trespass — to enter a space that is not intended for you to enter.
Remember that saying from camp: “Stay on the path” it was the rule and we paid the price for not heeding it.
Every time we let our mind wander off the path of God’s will, we tread down the path a bit more firmly. The connections in our brains grow a bit stronger, and the thoughts become a bit more ingrained.
What began as a question about a bigger and better house becomes an obsession and a despising of your neighbor.
What began as wondering what it would be like to be free from your parents becomes a mocking and ridiculing of your parents, and relationships that are broken and hard to repair.
What began as wondering about that woman, or that man, and what it would be like to be with them, turns into an affair, destroying families and the trust of such sacred relationships.
What began as getting away with stealing from your employer, takes larger and larger strides, until one day you are caught and end up in prison.
What began as a question about cheating on a test, ended up enjoying this easy way through school, until you are caught and you fail your classes and are kicked out of school.
Humility knows that it needs Godly paths because unbridled curiosity takes you into the tall grass, the bushes, and into a soggy thicket where you will be lucky to escape with only a few scratches and some exhausted campers.
Friends, what you think about matters because every time you think it, you tread down the paths in your brain.
That is why David says, Psa. 25:4 “Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation…”
We need Godly paths in our brain because without them we will be creating paths that bring us to our own destruction.
So, how do we stay on the paths of the Lord?
- The value of spending time in the word of God. The words and thoughts that you put into your brain change you. So what words and stories are going in? If God’s word isn’t a registering in your brain regularly, then don’t count on being able to follow it when you need to.
- It can be so tempting to try to resist sin by trying to will ourselves to stop. But it doesn’t work. Here’s why. You say to yourself, “you don’t need that new house, stop thinking about that new house. Be happy with the house you have, you don’t need a new house. New houses are for people who want to show off.” But every time you try to will yourself to stop, you are constantly bringing it up again! You keep thinking about that new house, or that lustful thought, or how much you are fed up with your parents, or whatever it may be! You can’t get to God by running away from evil, the devil can keep you running in circles for all eternity.
What happens when we veer off the paths of the lord? We are human and prone to wander, so we should expect this. What happens when we start making trails of evil thoughts?
I want to close today with a story from Luke 15
“Luke 15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Friends, the good news for today is that there are paths that we are designed to follow that lead to our health and salvation. But, even as we are “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” Christ Jesus is always coming to find us when we have lost our way. Trust in his deliverance and rejoice in the trails of the Lord. Amen.