Hubris and Humility

What are these? And why it is vitally important to know the difference. We are marking the 16th Century Reformation in the month of October, and today I’d like to share a theme related to it with you. But first, let us define the two terms – “hubris” and “humility”.

Hubris means “excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance, an exaggerated or inflated sense of self-importance.” It might best be understood as “deadly spiritual pride”. On the other hand, humility, from a spiritual perspective, can be defined as “a realistic assessment of who you are in the eyes of God.”

In Luke 18: 9 – 14, Jesus tells a delightful story of two people who go to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee and the other a publican (a tax collector). Only one left the temple justified, the other was not. How come?

There is a contrast in the story between two powerfully charged spiritual concepts. The one is humility and the other hubris.

As defined earlier, humility is a realistic assessment of who you are in the eyes of God! Did you catch that last phrase – “in the eyes of God”? That is the key!

Who are you – in God’s eyes?

Humility is at the heart of Christian living. The beginning of an authentic spiritual life is to connect with who we are – in the eyes of God! The remainder of the journey of Christian living is to stay in touch with who we can become – with the help of God.

Humility is the foundation of spiritual vitality. Hubris lies at the centre of spiritual deadness.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ story is filled with himself. He begins his “prayer” with himself – by looking at how terrible other people are. He is not a thief or a crook. In fact he is not even “as this publican.” He considers himself good because he sees others as bad.

Hubris! The fellow is filled with self. The tragedy is, he is so religious and so impressed with his religiosity such that there is no room for a relationship with God!

The story of the tax collector is quite clear. There is no pretence. He knows who he is – not in his own eyes, but in the eyes of God. He feels unworthy and dare not even look up. He shows the attitude of humility. Indeed, the word humility itself comes from “humus” (Latin for earth).

The tax collector knows that it is God’s mercy he needs. If there is hope, it will have to come from outside of himself and so he gains the righteousness of God. Unable to offer anything of his own righteousness, he can only throw himself on the mercy of God and thus finds the grace of God.

Pastor Robert Chew