Aug 30 - Self-Esteem and Humility

Self-Esteem and Humility

August 30, 2015

James 4:6



August 30th, 2015

James 4:6


The Bible has a lot to say about the evils of pride and arrogance, particularly in the book of Proverbs.  One of those verses is quoted by the NT writer of the book of James:


God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

James 4:6 (Proverbs 3:34 LXX)


James quotes from the Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint.[1]  But there are other well-known verses in Proverbs that speak of arrogance.


There are six things that YHWH hates, seven things that are detestable to Him:  Arrogant eyes, …

                                                                        Proverbs 6:16-17


Pride precedes destruction, an arrogant attitude precedes a fall.                                             Proverbs 16:18


Arrogant eyes and a proud heart … are sin.

                                                                        Proverbs 21:4


The kind of pride that Proverbs is referring to is not to be confused with self-confidence or self-esteem or feeling good about an accomplishment or a sense of one’s own worthiness. 


Rather, the pride that Proverbs is referring to is the kind that is: conceited, egotistical, boastful, and dismissive of others.  An arrogant person tends to be disagreeable, aggressive, hyper-sensitive, selfish, intimidating, and dominant.  Those who are arrogant have feelings of excessive self-worth


A feeling of superiority and self-importance are the greatest hallmarks of arrogance.  The feeling of superiority allows an arrogant person to think that normal rules don’t apply to him or herself, even if they aren’t dictators of nations.


Proverbs also speaks of proud scoffers or mockers.  Scoffing is making fun of others and laughing at them with contempt. 


Scoffers in the Bible are the arrogant who do not acknowledge God or God’s will.  After all, they know better than God what is best, in fact, they have to be the god of their lives.  And so they make fun of those who believe in and seek to live their lives for God.


Arrogant people will may make condescending remarks about others in their presence, because their feeling of superiority is reinforced when they tear others down.


They may show contempt (one side of lip corner thinned and raised).


Arrogant people will tell others how to live their lives and what they should be doing. 

They want to force their own opinions on others. 

They will glance around while talking to someone, looking for those who are of greater benefit to them than the person they are currently talking to (perhaps that’s where the expression “arrogant eyes,” that is so common in Proverbs, comes from). 

They have difficulty listening to others. 

They brush their own shortcomings aside. 

They blame others when things don’t work out as they expected. 

They are willing to sacrifice friendships and other relationships on the altar of their own success.


Quite often individuals who brag, look down on others, exalt themselves, and have to be in charge, are really overcompensating.  Arrogance is a way of covering up or dealing with their own insecurities. 


Think back to high school or Jr. High.  


Kids who had good self-esteem didn’t have to bully or pick on others.  Kids who were secure within themselves didn’t have to pretend they were better than everyone else, or were overly focused on their looks, their athleticism, or their circle of friends. 


So there is a world apart between self-confidence and arrogance.  And I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.


For example, if we like to argue with others, just to prove that we are right, what is that? [arrogance / overconfidence]

If we believe we are good at something, what is that? [self-confidence]

If we believe that we are the best and no one can do better than us, what is that? [arrogance]

If we walk with our heads up and smiling, what is that? [self-confidence]

If we think that we are almost always right, thinking we can never fail, what is that? [arrogance]

Feel good about yourself and want others to feel good about themselves? (self-confidence)

Feel we’re the best, and in order to remain so be willing to sacrifice those around us? (arrogance)


On the one hand, low self-esteem may result in arrogance, but on the other hand, it also could result in self-loathing.  In both forms it can and will stand in the way of having authentic, reciprocal relationships.  I wanted to point out just some ways that this can be true.


1. Guarded (no trust)


A person with low self-esteem is guarded, possibly because someone has abandoned them in the past, that they will simply not trust others.  They won’t be themselves or be open and vulnerable to others.  They won’t express their feelings or thoughts, afraid that others will reject them because of it – but all that leads to is misunderstandings.


2. Neediness


People who struggle with their self-image can be so clingy, needy, jealous, consumed, infatuated that it ruins any chance for friendships to form properly.  Neediness and desperation just causes others to run the other way.


3. Poor Boundaries


Those with low self-esteem often have a very hard time setting boundaries and limits with others. 


Maybe they simply want everyone to like them and so they can’t say “no.” 

They may hide their own thoughts and feelings so not to appear disagreeable. 


They may not believe that a loving person could choose them as their partner.  They may seek out partners who are abusive or damaged in some other way because deep down they don’t believe that a loving person could choose them as a partner – abusive friends treat them the way that they think they deserve. 


So those who struggle with their self-image can and will tolerate inappropriate behaviour on the part of others.  They may tolerate hurtful behaviour because they believe they don’t deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.


Some can’t set sexual boundaries in their mistaken quest to feel loved and accepted.  


Ironically, those with low self-esteem, in turn, can have difficulty setting boundaries for themselves.  They can become abusive, insensitive or demanding toward others, violating the boundaries of others. 


They can violate spatial boundaries … moving into the private sphere of the other person.  They may be intolerant of other’s interests or needs.  And they can be controlling or smothering. 


4. Defensiveness


A person who is defensive is hypersensitive to being exposed to any form of criticism, real or perceived.  If they think there is any hint of criticism they end up overreacting.  Even making a suggestion to a defensive person can be interpreted as an attack, which invites a counterattack. 


People with low self-esteem frequently misinterpret what they see or hear because they are so sensitive … for example, when someone in the room laughs, they think they are the source of that laughter when in fact they have nothing to do with it.


Being defensive can also mean never offering an opinion or never admitting a mistake, even denying the obvious.


5. Pretense and focus on image


Insecure people may follow other’s when it comes to how they act, what they wear, what they say, do, buy,  … they simply want to fit in so badly.


Also image can become very important, sometimes to the point where a person has to pretend to be someone they are not, believe in what they don’t … in other words, they end up wearing masks.


They try to look calm when they are not;

They try to hide their embarrassment when they think they've made a mistake;

They attempt to look like they understand a discussion when in fact, they don't, too embarrassed to admit that they might not know something;

They try to look confident when they feel inadequate; They don’t admit to having any problems or difficulties in their lives.

They exert a lot of energy trying to "look good."


They simply cannot be vulnerable and real.



Because image is so important, many phycologist think there is a direct connection between low self-esteem and eating disorders. 


6. Aggression or lack of assertiveness


On the one hand, people with low self-esteem can be incredibly aggressive, always trying to assert themselves at the expense of others.  They might use sarcasm, insinuations, become rude, and, in the worst cases, violent in order to impose their will on others.


Others cannot believe that they are worth being loved and so they test others every chance they get.  “Let’s find out if they will leave me if I’m mean, or demeaning.”  In this way they sabotage their friendships – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.


On the other hand, people with low self-esteem can lack assertiveness, too fearful to do or say anything that might upset others and bring about the potential of rejection.  They won’t share their opinions, feelings or preferences …


They always give in, but deep down they resent being a door mat and may be passive-aggressive.


Passive aggressiveness is being late on purpose, gossiping, agreeing to do something but then not doing it.  Passive aggressiveness is a way of getting back at or oppose the people they are deferring to. 


7. Perfectionism


People who feel imperfect and inadequate may tend toward perfectionism … using up a tremendous amount of energy into trying to achieve perfection. 


They need perfect grades, or perfect hair, or perfect clothes, or a perfectly clean home, or perfect reviews.


Perfectionism is thinking in terms of black and white.  If something is partially successful, it is still a failure. 

If they can’t do something perfectly they feel like a failure … and they end up either trying harder or simply giving up – if it isn’t perfect, might as well not do it at all.


Perfectionism is also evident in people who try very hard to appear sophisticated, educated, intelligent, … or who simply have to be the top dog, the one in charge, the one who tells others what to do and where to go.


Perfectionism may also manifest itself in unrealistic expectations placed on oneself and others.  This can be especially damaging among people of faith who think that complete perfection is expected of themselves and others. 


Some women dream about a knight in shining armour who will take them out of their circumstances and make everything better.  Some men dream of a princess who stays young and supportive forever.  These are perfection fantasies that no one can live up to. 


8. Poor communication / social skills


Communication can be a real problem for those with pride or insecurity issues.  


Those who struggle with insecurities could be afraid of stating their true feelings.

They might think that they do not have the right to ask for what they want.

They may be reluctant to confront others.

They may think they have nothing to offer, reluctant to state their opinions or venture to give their opinions, especially with people they don’t know well (or in a group setting).


In other words, they could be afraid of communicating, which also manifests itself with an unwillingness to listen or take part in a discussion in order to come to a better understanding of the issue.


Maybe those with low self-esteem find themselves paralyzed because they don’t know what to say or do in social settings.  This is particularly true if they were not popular or if they were ridiculed or made fun of by other children, that is, if they already experience social failure in their formative years. 


As a result they might be unable initiate or maintain relationships, frustrated and possibly miserable (Raj who was unable to talk to girls unless he drank alcohol).


Some dominate conversations, causing others to feel ignored and unappreciated. 


Those with poor social skills due to a poor self-image may be unable to figure out that their behaviour is inappropriate.  They continue to treat others in ways that result in negative feedback or behaviour that they cannot understand and feel is unwarranted. 


Others may make comments that others find insulting and hurtful, but they blame those people who react negatively to them as abusive.  


9. Underachieving

Some people float through life, unable or unwilling to take charge of their lives or make necessary changes in their lives. 


Fearful of failure and rejection, they stay at jobs with inadequate pay and non-existing benefits even when they have the opportunity to study or apply for better jobs. 


They avoid taking classes or courses, for fear they would fail.  If they think that they are not good students, even if they do take a course, they don’t apply themselves, resulting in self-fulfilling prophecy.


They avoid small groups because they are afraid they won’t fit in.


As a result, they rely on others to make the decisions, defer to the ideas and values of others, or act helpless.


Thus, they remain stuck, repeating their mistakes, unaware of their self-defeating behavior, and unable to do things differently from the past.


10. Overachieving


The most common of overachievers are workaholics, who have the ability and skills to be successful in their careers … but who end up devoting the majority of their time and energy in being successful, because that brings them a modicum of satisfaction and negates feelings of inadequacy. 


They are more concerned about the respect or the reward they get at work (or the respect they get from others for being successful), and end up placing work before family – the place they feel less adequate and successful.  And so they don’t have time for a personal life and ignore and neglect those who are in their lives.



If a person is self-focused, hypersensitive, defensive and the like, it may be difficult to build and maintain close, honest, mature relationships.  Instead, there are often hurt feelings, misunderstandings, blaming, unreasonable expectations, poor communication, resentment, lack of forgiveness, and bitterness.


So God opposes the arrogant, but he gives grace to the humble. 


Jesus said of himself that he is humble in heart (Matt 11:29)


Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, through humble actions that come from wisdom.                               James 3:13


I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling which you have received. Be completely humble and gentle …

                                                                        Ephesians 4:1-2


The problem is that we tend to think of humility as having a low self-esteem, of having a poor self-image.  If we are humble, then it is because we feel inadequate and inferior, we are weak and we don’t like ourselves. 


But Jesus was nothing like that and yet he described himself as humble.  Jesus did not lack self-confidence.  In fact, he was pretty sure of himself, without being arrogant. 


So what is humility? 

Humility as used in the Bible is really a combination of self-confidence and belief in God. 

Humility has a realistic self-image in light of God’s holiness, majesty, love and forgiveness.

As such, humility is not afraid to admit to failure and imperfection, without having to despair or think of oneself as unredeemable or unlovable.  


Part of being self-confident is knowing that we are worthy of being loved and that, indeed, we are loved


Those who don't receive the affirmation that they need from significant people in their lives, may conclude that they are unlovable.  The humble are convinced that God loves and forgives them despite their short-comings. 


The real solution to the problem of low self-esteem is not getting the approval of others (either by enforcing our will them, or by becoming successful, or by trying to please them all the time).  It really has to do with a reassessment of ourselves, and coming to the conclusion that we are OK.  It is being at peace with God, ourselves and others.


So those who are confident, assured, and humble … know who they are:


As a result, they do not have to “prove” anything to themselves and others.


They don't have to brag, boast and blow their own horn.


[As Jesus pointed out - one doesn’t have to clamour to be noticed (cf. Matt – the Pharisees when they give to charity) or rush to sit in a prominent place (cf. Luke 14:7-11 – do not take the place of honour … but the lowest place).  ]


They don’t have to hang out only with the “right” people.

They don’t have to point out how much or how little they spend on clothes.

They do not have to drop names of people they know.

They do not have to push themselves into the lime lite or the center of attention.

They don’t have to look down on others to make themselves feel better, to belittle others to feel bigger.

They do not have to be overly defensive when criticized, but can handle it.

They can admit when they are wrong.

They can admit to having faults and mistakes, and feel OK about not being perfect.

They know they are no better or worse than others.

They do not have to grovel in the back row.

They can insist that they are treated with respect and consideration.

They can be assertive, expressing their own thoughts, feelings, preferences and beliefs.

They can set proper boundaries.

They can be honest about who they are, they can be themselves.

They can be flexible, tolerate differences, and can agree to disagree.

They don’t have to be defensive or easily upset.

They’re not always thinking about what others think of them.

They have a realistic picture of themselves.

They are secure in God’s forgiveness and restoration – without taking it for granted, or an excuse for ongoing moral failure.


[The Papal Bull of 1521, which excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church for criticizing the sale of indulgences and calling into question the pope’s authority in the process, called his followers ’Lutherans.’


… they shall likewise share his punishments and his name, by bearing with them everywhere the title "Lutheran" and the punishments it incurs.

                                                                                                Papal Bull of 1521


This horrified him. ’Please do not use my name,’ he wrote. ’Do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians.... Why should I, a miserable bag of worms, give my meaningless name to Christ’s children?

                                Admonition Against Insurrection, 1522[2]

Although Luther knew that, when compared to God, he was nothing but a miserable bag of worms, he did not lack self-esteem and did not drag himself along the ground, groveling in the dust, wearing sack cloth and ashes. 


Quite the opposite is true.  He knew himself to be a child of God, loved and accepted by God, and therefore equal with all men, even with the pope.  He knew he was equally sinful.  He knew that Jesus died for him, as he did for all others.  He knew that he was made into a new creation through Christ.]

Do not think of yourself more highly than you should, instead think of yourself wisely, ….            Romans 12:3


Humility includes having a realistic evaluation of our condition … seeing ourselves as God sees us.  So while it is similar to having a good self-image and being self-confident, it also is the recognition that God is God, that is, it includes the willingness to submit to God. 


God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.


Arrogance and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin.  Either one can and will affect relationships in very negative ways. 


I don’t know what you were like as a child, how you were raised, what kind of self-image you carried with you into your teens and adult years.  But what I’ve found is that many, many people, including Christians, struggle with a low self-image, which often will impact in some significant ways their ability to relate to others. 


If we are boastful, or hypersensitive, or workaholics, or perfectionists, or doormats, or underachievers, or lacking the ability to set proper boundaries, or aggressive, or non-assertive, … these things will hamper us from having sound relationships.


So we need to change the way we look at ourselves, and yes, that’s easier said than done.  But I believe and know that we can make significant strides if we truly embrace God’s love for us.


Sadly, some people who become believes just become more insecure and less self-confident because they are constantly told how bad they are – the worst of the worst sinners.  They live in a constant state of guilt and self-loathing. The faith they have actually tears them down. 


But I don’t think that God wants this for us.  He wants to give grace to those who recognize him and seek to follow him … he wants them to have self-confidence in his love. 






[1] The MT reads, “He [YHWH] mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”

[2] I ask of you that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians.  Who is Luther?  The doctrine is not mine.  I have been crucified for no one.  St. Paul (in 1 Cor. 3:4-5) would not allow anyone to call themselves of Paul or of Peter, but of Christ.  How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms (or: of dust and ashes), become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name?  It should not be dear friends.  Let us extinguish all factious names and call ourselves only Christians after Him from whom we have our doctrine. The pope's men rightly have a factious name because they are not satisfied with the doctrine and name of Jesus Christ and want to be with the pope. Let them own the Pope as he is their master. For me, I have not been and will not be a master of anyone.  Along with mine, I will contend for the one and whole doctrine of Christ who alone is our master.                Martin Luther,  Admonition Against Insurrection, 1522