Introduction: In preaching through the years, I’ve touched many times on the subject of pride, and on every occasion I’ve preached to myself. Pride is an issue we all struggle with, and generally we think of it as something to be avoided or minimized. There’s an old quote, “Pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick but the person who has it.” But like so many subjects, there’s another side to it. There are some things of which we should be proud. And a healthy sense of self-esteem comes from boasting in the right things. There are three of them
1. The Power of the Cross – Galatians 6:14. Katrina and I were at an event last year where evangelist Billy Graham showed up, who was 93. He was asked if he was working on a memory verse. He said he was memorizing Galatians 6:14. He started quoting it and got mixed up on the first phrase then corrected himself and quoted the entire verse. It encouraged all of us to keep working on our Scripture memory. And as he quoted it I recalled a story he had told on a previous occasion. “I remember preaching in Dallas, Texas, early in our ministry,” he said. “It was 1953. About 40,000 people attended each night, but one evening only a few people responded to the appeal to receive Jesus Christ. Discouraged, I left the platform. A German businessman was there, a devout man of God. He put his arm around me and said, ‘Billy, do you know what was wrong tonight? You didn’t preach the cross.’ The next night I preached on the blood of Christ, and a great host of people responded to receive Christ as Savior. When we proclaim the Gospel of Christ, when we preach Christ crucified and risen, there is a built-in power to it.”[i]
Nearly a hundred years before Mr. Graham, another great evangelist was preaching around the world. He was Dwight L. Moody. Here’s a clipping from a newspaper account of his meetings in London. Referring to the great crowds attending Moody’s meetings, the British journalist wrote, “One cannot but ask the question, ‘What is the magic power which draws together these mighty multitudes and holds them spellbound?’ Is it the worldly rank or wealth of learning or oratory of the preacher? No, for he is possessed of little of these. It is the simple lifting up of the cross of Christ–the holding forth the Lord Jesus before the eyes of the people….”[ii]
An even earlier evangelist was St. Francis of Assisi who lived about the year 1200. He said that he once encountered a girl who was carrying a bucket of water on her head, as is common in some societies to this day. He asked the girl how she was able to carry the water without spilling it. She said that she put a piece of wood in the water, and somehow the wood stabilized the water and kept it from sloshing out. St. Francis made his application by saying we need the cross in the center of our lives because it gives us stability and keeps us from upsets.
In the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame; but in the hands of God it’s a symbol of power. The Bible says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
2. The Privilege of Knowing God. Jeremiah 9:23-24 & 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Most of us don’t know many famous people. I don’t know any country music stars, but in my early years here I met a few of them just in passing. I met George Jones while walking down a street in Honolulu thirty years ago. I met Minnie Pearl a couple of times at different restaurants, and she was always gracious to me. I met Bill Monroe at a hardware story. I met Roy Acuff, but I can’t remember where that was. I lived next to Porter Wagoner. I was on the same airplane once as Johnny Cash and June Carter. We met the comedian George Burns once at Cracker Barrel, of all things. They were all very nice, but I wasn’t close to them and some of those names have already been forgotten. It’s fun to meet someone famous; and what would it be like to really know somebody famous, to be a best friend? Nothing compares to having a relationship with the most famous person in all of human history – the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that’s something to boast about. There’s a song that says: “Jesus, what a Friend for sinners, / Jesus, lover of my soul.” He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother, and knowing Him is a matter of healthy pride for His people.
3. The Paradox of God’s Strength in Our Weakness – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. A couple of years ago I was preaching at a church in South Bend, Indiana. The moment came in the service for the Scripture reading. A man went to the podium and, at first, seemed slightly disoriented or nervous to me. I thought something was wrong with him. He reached in his coat pocket and took out a pair of glasses, which he never put on. He opened his Bible, but he never looked at it. And he began quoting the Scripture passage for my sermon that day, which he had been given in advance. It was a powerful, heart-felt, engaging presentation of Scripture. It was fresh and real and powerful. It was personal and yet deep. Then he quoted the reference at the end, and even that had a certain power to it. As the man returned to his seat, the pastor leaned over as if anticipating my question and whispered the man’s story. He had been a successful international businessman who had been hit by a car while jogging and had sustained serious brain injuries. Now he was unable to work and unable to do almost anything except he could memorize and recite Scripture. That became his life and ministry in that church. That was the one thing he could do for the Lord, and he did it well and with all his heart and with great effect. After the service I found him and told him how much his Scripture reading had meant to me, and his eyes filled with tears. Whatever our shape or condition, our weakness becomes an arena for God’s strength.
Conclusion: Humility is not a state of self-degrading or of demeaning ourselves. It’s a matter of knowing what we should be proud of and of boasting in the right things.
[i] Billy Graham, “Go in His Power,” in Decision Magazine, January 1989, p. 1, taken from a message preached at the 1983 International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists. [ii] Will Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody by his Son (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, n.d.), p. 212.