The Seven Deadly Virtues — 1

Dave and I are excited to offer you some things to ponder each week  Our first week is about the “Deadly Virtue” of HUMILITY, the antidote to the sin of pride.  I write this section and then we both add some ways to respond whether you are reading this by yourself or using this for a small group. May Jesus meet you on your Lenten Journey!   Mike Sares

“I’d like to be humble, but what if no one notices?”    

—John Ortberg

Humility, according to the dictionary, is “freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble.” As C. S. Lewis wrote (more helpfully), “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” How pleasant it is when we meet and talk with people who are not as concerned with their own agendas as they are with whatever is before us at the moment. Even more, what about those folks who are more concerned about us than themselves? We tend to love being with them.

Pride is an excessive opinion of one’s own importance—whether in thought, word, or deed. Pride is known as the first of the “deadly sins,” for it leads to every other sin. Not only does it destroy a proper view of ourselves, it damages our relationship with others and with God Himself. What kills pride? Humility. Humility is the way to not becoming the kind of person most of humanity despises. This is how the Bible puts it: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) 

If the choice between humility and pride is so clear, then why do humans consistently choose the vice over the virtue? Perhaps we are so insecure that we work hard to establish our worth in the eyes of those around us (and even in our own eyes). Maybe pride is just a selfish preoccupation with ourselves. Whatever the reason, pride ravages the rapport we have with anyone. It looks like this: the more pride we have, the more we despise it in other people and the more we resent any perceived neglect. Pride is a pretty sure-fire way of not getting along with folks at home, at school, at work, or in the neighborhood.

Recognizing this about us, Jesus offered instructions to those at a dinner who had chosen the prestigious seats at the table. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor,” He said. “… But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)  Jesus contends that we humans are given two choices: either humble ourselves or be humbled by others and by God. It is a strong warning from the God-man, but there is hope. 

In the same way that pride is a door to every other vice, so humility is the portal to every other virtue. Humility appears to be the foundational virtue of Christ Himself, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) 

Thinking of ourselves less and thinking of others more is the obvious basis for compassion, generosity, and love—all virtues that have humility as their foundation. Not assuming we are entitled to excessive rest and pleasure makes way for diligence and temperance. Being humble enough to accept whatever circumstances we find ourselves under (looking to the Lord for strength) brings us great peace (Philippians 4:12-13). Thus, we find that all other virtues are built upon humility.

To get us started, consider praying this prayer for humility as we embark on this Lenten journey through the Seven Deadly Virtues:

“O God, your Word says that You resist the proud and give grace to the humble: grant me the virtue of true humility. Keep me from false humility, which is only pride in dress-down clothes. Jesus, you are the perfect pattern for me; let me follow in Your footsteps. Let me learn of You, Jesus, for You are gentle and humble of heart.”

Responding to the Deadly Virtue of HUMILITY:

  • If humility is thinking of yourself less and others more, who in your life has modeled this kind of humility toward you? What is one way you hope to be more like that person? Is there one practical way you might move in that direction? 
  • If it’s true that the pride we hate in others may reflect something about ourselves, think of a very prideful person you know. Describe what bothers you the most; is any of that pride true of you as well?  Anything about that you want to ask God to help you overcome?    
  • For a creative spiritual practice, every day for the next week—when in conversation with another—do NOT say something you want to say. Resist adding something that is not necessary but makes you look good (or thoughtful, or well-read, or generous, or “humble”…)   
  • For further reflection on humility, read about Mother Teresa. What is most attractive about her to you?
  • Meditate upon and/or memorize one of the following verses of Scripture:

Ephesians 4:2, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love

Philippians 2:3-4, Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

James 4:6, But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Just for fun:

One Tuesday afternoon in the church sanctuary, a senior pastor and his associate pastor were collecting the leftover bulletins from the previous Sunday. Light was streaming into the church through beautiful stained-glass windows and playing upon the large, rough, wooden cross hanging on the wall.

Looking up and suddenly overcome by the majesty of God, the senior pastor abruptly sat down in a pew proclaiming, “Lord, I am nothing!” 

Not to be bested, the associate pastor also knelt down and exclaimed, “Lord, I am nothing!” 

The church’s handyman, working in the back of the sanctuary, joined the holy fervor. He fell onto the floor crying, “Lord, I am nothing!” Whereupon the senior pastor nudged his associate and whispered, “Look who thinks he’s nothing!”

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