Perhaps there is nothing as unattractive as pride. According to the dictionary, pride is “inordinate self esteem,” or as the Bible says, pride is thinking of yourself more highly than one ought to think (see Romans 12.3). Pride is one of those unique sins that no one champions. By this I mean that there is no one who thinks that pride is a good thing, save Charlie Sheen. Many will champion the cause of sexual immorality, drunkenness, greed, and materialism but there are precious few who give a “shout out” for pride.
The Bible is replete with the dangers of pride. Everyone with a arrogant heart is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 16.5). One’s pride will bring them down (Proverbs 29.23). God is opposed to the proud (James 4.6-10). The Lord will tear down the house of the proud (Proverbs 15.25). A prideful spirit naturally leads to destruction (Proverbs 16.18), disgrace (Proverbs 11.2), and punishment (Proverbs 16.5).
And yet, pride is an ever present danger for all of us, particularly those who have been blessed by God with rebirth and eternal life. Knowing this, it would be smart to meditate on pride, to develop a working definition of it, and to develop some kind of tool to measure the presence of pride in our own lives.
Pride is a sense of accomplishment, a belief that we have done something significant by our own power and might. Pride is what makes us forget that we never really accomplish anything by our own power or might. We have nothing that we have not already been given. Consider the words of Moses to the children of Israel before the entered the land of promise,
11“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8.11-18 ESV)
Even though they entered the land empty handed, once they had built houses and developed their herd, the temptation would be for their heart to be lifted up and to forget the Lord. Pride tells my heart that I am who I am because of me and what I have done. Humility confesses that everything I might have accomplished has only become a reality because I have received something from God. I might have graduated with a Ph.D., but God gave me the intelligence that I used to get the degree. I may have worked my way to the top of the company as the best salesman around, but God gave me an outgoing personality and a persuasive ability to close the deal. Whatever our accomplishments might be, we would have done nothing without God’s good gifts. Pride forgets this.
What a great example of pride was King Nebuchadnezzar. One day, he was walking around in his palace basking in the glow of all that he had accomplished.
At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4.28-33 ESV)
The famous last words of a prideful person is “look what I have done.”
Pride loves to compare. It is the spirit of pride that is always judging our worth and success by the lives of others. Our home is bigger. Our car is newer. Our office is larger. Our salary is larger. Our kids behave better. Our grades are better. Pride compares because our worth is tied up to our possessions and accomplishments because this is what we have done in our own might and strength.
Pride is almost never as insidious as it is in the heart of a religious person. Jesus once told a parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. For all the prideful, Jesus told this story,
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed£ thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18.9-14 ESV)
The religious righteous are the worse sort. They are judgmental, fierce, and mean. They walk the halls of our churches convinced of their own righteousness, totally forgetting that they are sinners saved by grace. They are oblivious to their own shortcomings, and all that pride is dressed up in religious garb and words.
The Bible could not be clearer of the dangers of pride. A prideful heart can look forward to disgrace, punishment, destruction, a fall, being brought low, being opposed by God, being denied grace, and being humbled by God. We see these consequences over and over again, and yet we fail to see the pride in our own life. None of us wants to be prideful, and yet many of us are. We can all see pride in others, but we fail to see it in ourselves. How can we “humble ourselves” before the Lord has to do the humbling for us? I can only offer a few suggestions.
First, humility thrives on confession. The spiritual discipline of confession is a lost art. We tend to pray weak “forgive us for our many sins” kinds of prayers instead of the more dangerous prayer of Psalm 139.23-24,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139.23-24)
How long has it been since we have done some serious confession? Read Romans 1.28-32 or Galatians 5.19-21 or some of the other “sin lists” in the Bible and ask the Lord to search your heart for any hidden sin. The spiritual discipline of confession breeds a humble spirit.
Second, humility thrives on thanksgiving. A thankful heart recognizes that every good and perfect give in your life comes from above. All that you have, you have because it was given to you by the Creator. There is no reason to be prideful when you know that you are nothing more than an empty bucket filled up with God’s grace. Again, we do not practice the spiritual discipline of thanksgiving as often as we should. As the hymn goes, we ought to “count our many blessings” so that we will remain humble.
Third, humility thrives on associating with the lowly. There is nothing more defeating to the “better than thou” attitude than spending meaningful time with those whom we are tempted to think less of. When we spend time with the homeless, we realize that but for the grace of God, there go I. When we spend time with the mentally ill, we realize that but for the grace of God, there go I. When we spend time with the less educated, less skilled, and less qualified co-workers, we realize that but for the grace of God, there go I. That is why Paul wrote, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited” (Romans 12.16).
Finally, humility thrives on a trusting heart. Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5.6-7). One antidote to pride is to cast our cares upon the mighty hand of God, laying our anxieties before Him. The prideful heart is convinced that they can solve their own problems or find their own solution. The humble heart takes all of its concerns to the only One with the power and wisdom and compassion to solve them, and then trusts the Lord for deliverance.
These may not be the final and only answer, but the spiritual disciplines of confession, thanksgiving, friendship, and trust are at least part of the answer to the temptation of pride.