He that Exalteth Himself Shall Be Abased
R. V. Court, Bristol, England
These words are found in Luke 14.11, and indicate a very important divine principle. They introduce a concept so totally different from the current thinking of men as to make it clear that they were not of earthly origin. In the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, his "great souled man" was one who had a profound regard for his own excellence. To underestimate this excellence would have stamped the man as "mean-spirited". How different from the words of the Lord Jesus, as He indicates God's thoughts in relation to this. In very plain language He declares that the one who exalts himself shall be abased.
What were the circumstances in which the words were spoken? The Lord, with others, had gathered for a meal on the Sabbath day in the house of one of the chief Pharisees.
We may safely assume, in view of the language of verse 10, that the Lord took His seat at the bottom of the table—"the lowest room"—and from that position He watched the behaviour of the other guests as they arrived. He saw their eyes eagerly dart along the table in a search for the best seats, the seats nearest the top, where the eyes of all would be fastened upon them. In the process, some who were entitled to a top seat found themselves lower down the table, until the giver of the feast came in and noted the position A few words to those who had wrongly taken the upper seats led to them sheepishly making their way, in the sight of all, further down the table, while others moved up to take their place. The Lord was gazing at the outworking of proud human nature, and thus He spoke His word of warning. One thing is clear as we look at this scene—if we take the lowest place the only move must be upward.
Throughout Scripture we see how pride is hated by God. It is not a thing hated by men; indeed a "proper appreciation" of self is regarded as desirable. God sees it for what it is, and He knows the havoc that it has wrought in His universe. In Proverbs 6. 16-19 we have a list of seven things that God hates—surely there is significance in the fact that the list is headed with "a proud look". Pride would dethrone God; it is the root and essence of sin.
In Ezekiel 28. 11 -1 7 we are directed to a wonderful being whom many regard as being Satan as he was in the day he was created. We are given a description of his beauties and dignity : "full of wisdom and perfect in beauty", v. 12, "the anointed cherub", v. 14. He was perfect in all his ways "till iniquity was found in thee", v. 15. Verse 7 tells us of his inner thinking, "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty". The full development of this proud thought is seen in Isaiah 14. 13, where, speaking of the same exalted being, God says "thou hast said in thine heart, I will". The contemplation of his own wisdom and beauty led him to thoughts of grandeur for himself, with subsequent positive rebellion against God. In verse 15 we hear the One who had established the principle "whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased" saying to Satan, "thou shall be brought down to hell".
Pride is still a main weapon in the armoury of Satan, as he seeks to frustrate the purpose of God. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was tested by appeals to human pride: "a tree . . . to make one wise", "ye shall be as gods", and so sin came into the world. In the wilderness, where He who was "meek and lowly in heart" came face to face with Satan, the temptation brought to the Lord was in the realm of self-exaltation. Human and Satanic pride will come to its head when the man of sin shall oppose and exalt "himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God", 2 Thess. 2. 4. But the Word of God makes it clear that this display of pride will be brought to nought, and those involved in it will be abased.
The main thrust of our article up to this point has been to show that pride is Satanic in origin and is directed against God in deliberate opposition. Someone may ask, "Can this principle operate in such a way in a Christian who has been given a new nature? Surely that new nature will make such a spirit impossible". We need hardly look beyond our own hearts to obtain an answer to this question, but what saith the Scripture? They were disciples, followers of the meek and lowly One, who disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest, Mark 9. 34. Surely it was this spirit, persisting among them, which led to there being not one among them who would wash the feet of his fellow-disciples, and led to the Lord Jesus undertaking the task, John 13. 4-17. There is an almost incredible passage in Mark 10. In verses 32-34, the Lord Jesus tells His disciples in plain words that He will be mocked, scourged, spit upon and killed. We do not read of any expressions of sympathy in relation to all this, but the Holy Spirit immediately directs our attention to the attitude of James and John, who were surely representative of the band of disciples: "Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory". Their thoughts were centered on themselves, with the firm conviction that they were worthy of these positions. Pride in the shadow of the cross! Their thoughts were not of Him, but of themselves. Do we say, "Lord, is it I?".
In 3 John 9 we read that Diotrephes loved "to have the preeminence". The Lord Jesus had said in Mark 10. 43-44, "whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all". How far from this spirit Diotrephes had departed. Self was supreme, so that he would even reject the counsel of the beloved apostle John. Do we say, "Lord, is it I?".
In Luke 18. 10-12 we are told of a man, a Pharisee, who was very proud of his attainment. He could contrast himself with others, and claim that he was better than all. It may well be that morally he was a good man; from the standpoint of the law he may have been blameless, but he was very proud of it, forgetting that this was no more than he ought to have been. The Lord Jesus, who told the story of this man, is the only One who knows the heart, and He knows the end from the beginning; very simply He indicated His view in verse 14, "everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased".
We can even be proud of those things which are so clearly seen as the gifts of God. Uzziah the king, 2 Chron. 26, was a man concerning whom it could be recorded that he "did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord", v. 4, and God blessed him richly, so much so that everything in which he engaged prospered. Alas, there came a moment when the inspired chronicler had to say "But". Verse 15 tells us that "he was marvellously helped till he was strong". God's blessing rested in abundance upon him. How sad, then, the words of verse 16, "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction" and his pride (pride concerning all that God had done for him and with him) led him to intrude into a sphere forbidden to any but the priest, and he was smitten with leprosy. As we read this story, our minds go back to the sin of Satan, "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty", something given by God, Ezek. 28.17. Pride in a believer is a repetition of that original sin.
We have a further indication of God's thoughts concerning this ugly sin in James 4. 6 and 1 Peter 5. 5. In both of these Scriptures we are told that "God resisteth the proud". It is something in His child that God fights against, and inevitably this resistance must mar fellowship with Him. How can the proud in heart walk in harmony with the meek and lowly One? The resistance of God to something that He sees within His own people must limit effectiveness in service, and surely must spoil the sweetness of our communion with other believers; ultimately, if there is no repentance, it will bring that abasing which is the work of God. What form this will take is within His own wise judgment, and sovereign but all loving will.