I had a great friend in college named John. Although John was a business major by trade, he enjoyed having “deep-thoughts time” regularly throughout the semester. (Even if those deep thoughts came at 2:00 A.M. when I had a test the next day.) Probably most of these talks came from sleep deprivation, but one of them still stands out to me.
John began college four years earlier, went to work for a few years, and came back to finish. Because of this, he had a completely different student body with a completely different group of popular people. But when we talked more about it, those popular people were either long gone, or not working in the most glamorous positions. So many that sought popularity were forgotten within years of graduating. For my own life, I doubt more than a handful of people in Pensacola even know who I am now.
It’s ironic how highly we can think of ourselves. So often we seek fame, recognition, or notoriety from other people. We want others to say, “Look how smart he is!” “She really got her act together!” “I wish I could be as [pretty, smart, rich, spiritual, etc.] as they are!” We want to be special and known, whether in our talents or even in our humbleness. Consider Percy Shelley’s poem, “Ozymandias,” and the grandeur and pride that this long forgotten king had: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” But Shelley explains that nothing remained but desert and those words.
We want to build our empires in this life, whether that be in our wisdom, our riches, our piety, or whatever idol that captivates our heart. We all have a little Ozymandias in us. You want to imagine how much you got it together, but I promise you that your pride does not last for long.
Directly opposed to our pride, Scripture commands us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV). If I were to ask what you think about humbleness, I doubt you would think of exaltation. For you, humbleness means weakness and vulnerability. Sometimes even our own humbleness can be prideful. Yet Scripture turns that framework upside-down, saying that the only way you can be exalted is through humbleness. You can only go up when you bring yourself back down. Our pride will bring us nowhere; we are not as special or as great as we think we are.
Even though we fail in our own humbleness, we have our Lord Jesus as the greatest example: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6). Jesus had no obligation in coming to save us, but in humility, he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (2:7) and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8). Christ’s death was the exemplary moment of all humility. The Son of God died a criminal’s death because of our arrogance and pride.
Why is our pride so counter to the Bible? We put ourselves at the center of our universe; we make ourselves the god of our universe; we call for all to look on our uniqueness and despair, forgetting that all our claim to fame (or even our prideful piety and humbleness) will never help us. Humbleness is difficult to learn; I would say it’s impossible without the work of God. We all struggle with pride and arrogance. It is a part of our culture and who we are. But the Gospel calls us to tear down our own sense of superiority and specialness.
Jesus saw what you think makes you special, and he died for you anyways.