Running the Race Without Stumbling
1. Why does Jehovah set down certain rules in his Word, and what rule appears repeatedly?
RULES for running the race come from Jehovah through his Word: “I will instruct you even in the way of wisdom; I will cause you to tread in the tracks of uprightness. When you walk, your pace will not be cramped; and if you run, you will not stumble.” To help Christians avoid stumbling, Jehovah has caused certain rules to appear repeatedly in the Bible. One of these is the injunction to put off pride, which is a cause of stumbling; to put it off as an oppressive weight, as something that will make progress in the Christian race difficult or impossible. “Let us,” said Paul, “put off every weight.”—Prov. 4:11, 12; Heb. 12:1.
2, 3. (a) Why is this an apt time to know why Jehovah detests the proud in heart? (b) What is this pride the Bible condemns, and how does the possession of it affect one’s running?
2 It is appropriate, in this “time of the end,” that we understand why pride is so detestable to Jehovah and such a stumbling block to running well “in the right contest of the faith.” Indeed, it is this very “time of the end” that would see an abundance of “lovers of themselves,” persons “haughty” and “puffed up with self-esteem.”—1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 3:1-4.
3 What is this pride that leads to stumbling? It is thinking too highly of oneself. It is running in a course opposite to that marked out by the apostle: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.” “Do not become discreet in your own eyes.” It is a heady draught of self-importance that induces a kind of intoxication. The proud person is drunk with self-flattery and self-esteem. For such a person, running the Christian race “according to the rules” is as difficult as it is for a drunk man to run without stumbling, because “before a crash the heart of a man is lofty.”—Rom. 12:3, 16; 2 Tim. 2:5; Prov. 18:12.
4. How do Jehovah and Christ look upon the proud? With what result?
4 “Pride is before a crash,” because Jehovah hates the proud person. He detests them. He opposes them. “God opposes the haughty ones.” Among the seven things listed as detestable to Jehovah’s soul are “lofty eyes.” Christ Jesus, the one who is wisdom personified, says: “Self-exaltation and pride and the bad way and the perverse mouth I have hated.” When on earth Christ stated the inflexible rule: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” The result of pride, then, is opposition from Jehovah and Christ and eventual humiliation for the self-exalting proud ones. —Jas. 4:6; Prov. 6:16, 17; 8:13; Matt. 23:12.
WHY DETESTABLE TO JEHOVAH
5, 6. Why are the proud in heart something detestable to Jehovah?
5 It is easy to understand why those who are proud in heart are “something detestable to Jehovah.” They are not seeking God or the truth that comes from God. “The wicked one according to his superciliousness makes no search; all his ideas are: ‘There is no God.’” The thoughts of such persons are on how they can exalt themselves. They refuse to give the glory and praise to Jehovah.—Ps. 10:4.
6 Pride, arrogance, haughtiness—all these are characteristics of the wicked: “Haughtiness has served as a necklace to them.” “Haughty eyes and an arrogant heart, the lamp of the wicked ones, are sin.” The proud in heart not only fail to seek God but they oppose God and his servants. This opposition engenders a persecuting spirit: “In his haughtiness the wicked one hotly pursues the afflicted one.” Proud Pharaoh hotly pursued the Israelites and thereby suffered the consequences of his haughty action. Pride lays a foundation for all kinds of wickedness, yes, to the reprehensible wickedness of teaching false religion: “If any man teaches other doctrine and does not assent to healthful words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to the teaching that accords with godly devotion, he is puffed up with pride, not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words. From these things spring envy, strife, abusive speeches, wicked suspicions, violent disputes about trifles.” No wonder the proud, those puffed up with pride, are detestable to Jehovah! Such persons are offensive even to man; how much more so to God!—Ps. 73:6; Prov. 21:4; Ps. 10:2; 1 Tim. 6:3-5.
7. Why should Bible warnings about pride concern the Christian runner, and who well illustrates that pride is before a crash?
7 But why so many warnings about pride if it is the characteristic of wicked ones? Why should it be a matter of concern to the Christian runner? Because pride can crop up in a Christian’s life and prove disastrous, because pride is part of the “old personality” that must be put off by the Christian runner if he is to run “according to the rules.” The reason a newly converted man is not to be recommended for the office of overseer, the apostle says, is “that he might get puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment passed upon the Devil.” Yes, the spirit creature now the Devil himself started out well, but pride led to his downfall; a humiliating crash awaits him at Armageddon: “Thy heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I have cast thee to the ground; I have laid thee before kings, that they may behold thee.”—1 Tim. 3:6; Ezek. 28:17, AS.
8. What may make one susceptible to pride, and how does history confirm this?
8 From the case of Satan the Devil and the warning about a newly converted man’s serving as an overseer, it becomes apparent that the possession of authority and responsibility makes one susceptible to pride. There was proud and powerful Haman, whose pride led to his own downfall. (Esther 3:5; 7:9) There was proud Nebuchadnezzar, who lost his sanity after glowing with pride, saying: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling-place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30, AS) There was proud King Belshazzar, to whom Daniel said: “And you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself.” (Dan. 5:22, AT) He lost a kingdom and his life. There was the pride of Herod, who arrogated glory to himself instead of giving it to God and so was “eaten up with worms.” (Acts 12:21-23) Indeed, history is a long record of crashes of powerful men and nations, testifying to the fact that “pride is before a crash.”
PRESUMPTUOUSNESS PRECEDES DISHONOR
9. What act of unfaithfulness did King Uzziah commit, and what prompted him to such folly?
9 The possession of riches heightens the susceptibility to pride. “A rich man is wise in his own eyes,” declares God’s Word. Look what happened to King Uzziah of Judah. He was a faithful worshiper of Jehovah, but he stumbled when pride entered his life. In his later years he became strong and prosperous: “As soon as he was strong, his heart became haughty even to the point of causing ruin, so that he acted unfaithfully against Jehovah his God and came into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” Puffed-up King Uzziah had no business doing this. So the priests reproved him: “Go out from the sanctuary, for you have acted unfaithfully and it is not for any glory to you on the part of Jehovah God.” Did King Uzziah benefit from this reproof? No, for “Uzziah became enraged while in his hand there was a censer for burning incense, and, during his rage against the priests, leprosy itself flashed up in his forehead before the priests in the house of Jehovah.” Stricken with leprosy in his forehead! A leper until the day of his death, Uzziah lost his royal duties and his son ruled in his place. What a sad crash! And it befell one who had served Jehovah faithfully for so many years. But the rule is certain: “Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come.”—Prov. 28:11; 2 Chron. 26:16-21; Prov. 11:2.
10. How can we benefit from Uzziah’s experience?
10 Jehovah’s servants today, even those not in positions of responsibility, can benefit by Uzziah’s experience. Do not be among the people that are never convinced about a thing unless they have experienced it. There is no reason to experience the crash that follows pride. How does one benefit, then? By guarding against presumptuous actions, saying or doing things out of self-importance that one has no business to. Keep your place in the theocratic organization, never letting pride cause you to run in the wrong course, one leading to a crash.
PRIDE HINDERS BENEFITS OF REPROOF
11, 12. What did King Uzziah fail to benefit from because of pride, and what lesson should we take from it?
11 Do not be like Uzziah. He did not benefit from reproof and correction. He could have taken the priests’ reproof and left the sanctuary immediately. Such a course undoubtedly would have averted the humiliating crash he suffered. But he let pride be a hindrance to taking reproof. “Have you seen a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for the stupid one than for him.” Puffed-up Uzziah belittled reproof, even became enraged by it. Pride blinded him to the benefits of reproof.—Prov. 26:12.
12 Since correction and discipline come to all of Jehovah’s servants, we need to remember Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “You have entirely forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines, in fact he scourges everyone whom he receives as a son.’” If a Christian belittles the discipline that comes from Jehovah through his organization, refusing to take reproof in harmony with God’s Word, then such a person is like Uzziah; he is letting pride deny him the benefits of reproof. “True,” the apostle explains, “no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” So when correction comes from Jehovah’s organization, benefit by it. Do not let the colossus of pride stand in the way. Discipline, though at first grievous, yields peaceable fruit, righteousness and life. “Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.” “The reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Heb. 12:5, 6, 11; Prov. 4:13; 6:23.
13. How can pride cause misunderstandings and stumbling?
13 It is not surprising that pride sometimes causes misunderstandings in a Christian congregation. If pride is there, pride’s offspring are likely there—anger, contentiousness, sensitivity, envy, etc. “He that is arrogant in soul stirs up contention.” Pride is a barrier to peace and unity. Misunderstandings can readily be remedied if pride is not allowed to get in the way. It is so easy to let pride cause hypersensitivity,. The overly sensitive person, when he feels his pride has been wounded, may do things that lead to stumbling and a crash. For example, it has happened that a professed servant of God has severed a vital relationship with God’s organization by ceasing to attend meetings. And why? Often because such a person has had his pride wounded by an unbecoming action on the part of another. It may actually be only an imagined wrong, pride puffing up the whole matter into an inflated misunderstanding. But even if another servant of Jehovah has failed to run the race “according to the rules,” even if that one is a servant in the congregation, never let pride knock you out of the race. Is the prize of everlasting life worth less than one’s pride? Reflect some on that question. Whenever we allow pride to hinder our running, stumbling is ahead. “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”—Prov. 28:25; 16:18.
14, 15. How may pride lead to rotten bones, and what should we do in view of pride’s effects?
14 Pride may lead to a dangerous competitive spirit and the envying of others who may have superior gifts. Envy, in turn, leads to coolness and lack of harmony. So “let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” Remembering that “jealousy is rottenness to the bones,” we will not let pride rot our sturdy spiritual bones for running the Christian race set before us. And who can run well with rotten bones?—Gal. 5:26; Prov. 14:30.
15 Seeing some of the evil offspring of pride, how perilous pride is to a Christian runner and how detestable the proud person is in Jehovah’s eyes, guard against pride. But how can one guard against pride? God’s Word shows the way.
CURING PRIDE WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY
16. Why is love strong enough to conquer pride, and what kind of love is needed for humility?
16 Love is powerful enough to conquer pride and all its evil offspring. “Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.” Love will be victorious over pride if we have the love Jesus pointed to when he answered the question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus said: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’” This kind of love is certain to lead to victory over pride because it leads to true humility.—1 Cor. 13:4, 5; Matt. 22:36-39.
17. What garment do we need for running to win the prize, and why?
17 How opposite are humility and pride! “Before a crash the heart of a man is lofty, and before glory there is humility.” Pride leads to a crash, humility to glory. To win the glorious prize of life we need humility; we need it to run well. Humility, then, is the garment for Christian runners to wear: “All of you gird yourselves with humility of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones. Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”—Prov. 18:12; 1 Pet. 5:5, 6.
18. How do many worldlings view humility?
18 What is this humility that precedes glory and exaltation? In this modern world humility is little understood, as well as being scarcely exemplified. Many worldlings hold humility in low regard. They confuse it with cowardice and weakness: it is a virtue for the weak and cowardly, they say. Humility is also viewed as a cloak for concealing lack of energy or lack of ability.
19. How did some of the ancient pagans view pride, and how were some of the Colossian Christians apparently deceived by a mock humility?
19 Today’s misunderstanding and unpopularity of humility is nothing new. In Paul’s day true humility was not understood or practiced by the worldlings. What was glorified was either pride or a mock humility. Among the virtues catalogued by Aristotle, pride and high-mindedness is called “the crown of the virtues.” Others taught that material things are inherently evil. It appears that some of the Colossian Christians had been deceived by a form of mock humility, a burdensome asceticism. This had a double danger: it led one to believe that the prize of life was awarded to those who merely adopted the negative practice of renouncing material things. Secondly, it spawned a subtle form of materialism, since ascetic prohibitions focus one’s interest and attention on material things. Hence, asceticism defeated its purpose: it caused one to concentrate primarily on that which one professed to despise, on things “that are all destined to destruction by being used up.” To warn the Colossians that such a form of humility could stumble them, causing them to be deprived of the prize of life, Paul wrote: “Let no man deprive you of the prize who takes delight in a mock humility . . . a severe treatment of the body.” No, true humility is not asceticism.—Col. 2:18-23.
20. What is humility, and what results from a false view of it?
20 The word “humility” comes remotely from the Latin word humus, meaning “earth.” Humility, literally, is lowliness of mind; it is being down to earth. It is this quality that Christians must wear as a garment: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind,” or, as the footnote shows, “humility.” Humility, then, is the opposite of high-mindedness. Yet “lowliness of mind” has nothing to do with servility, groveling, cowardice or lack of energy. The false idea that humility is weakness deprives one of the rich blessings of true humility. Let us see how true humility is cultivated.—Col. 3:12.
THE FOUNDATION OF HUMILITY
21. With what does humility begin, and what is its foundation?
21 Humility begins with the knowledge, the love and the fear of God. Humility is born of the realization of how small we are and how great God is. Humility takes root when the creature man realizes that he is merely the flickering glow of a candle but that God, “the everlasting King,” is brighter in glory than the blaze of sun at noonday. (Jer. 10:10, AT) Yes, this is the foundation of humility: the realization of God’s infinite majesty and of our own littleness. Such a realization comes from knowledge, the kind of knowledge Jehovah imparted to Job, as recorded in the book of Job, Job 38-41 chapters thirty-eight through forty-one; that knowledge aided Job to humble himself “under the mighty hand of God.” We need this kind of knowledge. It enables us to place ourselves in the right relationship with God and to obey the words at James 4:10: “Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.”
22. Humility of mind toward one another rests upon what foundation, and how will such humility aid the Christian runner?
22 By humbling ourselves in the eyes of Jehovah we also lay a foundation for humbleness of mind toward our fellow man, for true humility toward man rests ultimately upon true humility before God. With true humility one gains the ability to see himself as he really is; likewise he is able to see others as they are. Being free from any need to belittle their qualities and successes, he can heartily appreciate what they are and do. By reason of humility, then, one thinks of himself no more highly than he ought to think. Though “knowledge puffs up,” true humility will keep even persons with superior education from puffing up and stumbling by reason of their own pride. The Christian with true humility is able to run the race according to the rules, “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.”—1 Cor. 8:1; Phil. 2:3.
WORLD’S VIEW OF HUMILITY FALSE
23, 24. How does Christ expose the falsity of the world’s view of humility, and so what should be our view of it?
23 How distorted the world’s view of humility, that it is weakness or a cloak to conceal weakness! Actually pride is weakness; humility is strength. Christ Jesus was the humblest man that ever walked the earth. Yet he was the strongest of the strong, the most courageous of the courageous, the wisest of the wise, the only man who knew no weakness or sin in himself. What great works he did, yet he disclaimed all personal credit! (John 5:19) Was there ever a leader so great as he and yet one who could wash the feet of his disciples and say: “I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also”? What authority he had: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father”! And yet how humble he was: “I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart”!—John 13:15; Matt. 11:27, 29.
24 Far from being a cloak for lack of intelligence or energy, humility is true strength and health. It is the steppingstone to glory. “Everyone that exalts himself will be humiliated, but he that humbles himself will be exalted.” “The very haughtiness of earthling man will humble him, but he that is humble in spirit will take hold of glory.”—Luke 18:14; Prov. 29:23.
25. What was Christ’s mental attitude and the result of it, and so what should we do?
25 All that the Bible says about humility is illustrated and confirmed in that one great example, Christ Jesus. We must pattern our mind and life after him. So vital is this that the apostle commands: “Keep this mental attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What attitude? “He humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position.” Yes, “for this very reason,” because Christ humbled himself and showed it by being submissive and obedient to God, he has been exalted to the highest place that can be occupied by any creature in the universe. How true it is that “before glory there is humility”!—Phil. 2:5, 8, 9; Prov. 15:33.
26. How does God regard the humble in spirit, and with what loss to the proud?
26 Yes, humility is strength. It is the kind of strength we need for running the race set before us. God gives strength only to the humble: “Yet to this man will I have regard—the one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at my word.” “For thus says the high and exalted One, who dwells enthroned for ever, and whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell enthroned on high, as the Holy One, but with him also that is contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble.’” How foolish for the runner to deny himself God’s reviving strength because of pride! How can the proud receive strength from God? Even if they pray their prayers are hindered, as Jesus showed in the case of the Pharisee whose prayer reflected the pride that originates in self-righteousness.—Isa. 66:2; 57:15, AT; Luke 18:10-14.
27. What will humility enable us to do, and what should those reaching out for an office of overseer remember?
27 Running the race according to the rules is no burden when one has true humility. The truly humble are teachable; they benefit from reproof. They realize that they are not competing in the race and that all must run unitedly for God’s loving reward; so they help one another, encourage one another. Humility enables one to “preach the word” to all men, under all circumstances. It enables one to train for the Kingdom ministry, to benefit from the counsel in the ministry school, to learn how to tell the good news from house to house. Humility enables those in positions of responsibility to be like Jesus—humble and always approachable. If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, let him remember that pride is a barrier to usefulness and greater service privileges in God’s organization, because God detests the proud and opposes them. Let him remember that “before glory there is humility.” Let him remember Jesus’ words: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”—Matt. 20:26, 27.
28. How does the Christian runner clothe himself for the race, and with what result?
28 So off with pride, the weight that causes stumbling. On with the garment tailor-made for the race. “Gird yourselves with humility of mind toward one another.” “Clothe yourselves,” commands Paul, with “lowliness of mind.” This is the garment for running without stumbling; for “the result of humility [and] the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.”—Prov. 22:4.