Ethics, Morals, Behavior
The Pride Battle
by Ed Vasicek
The subject of pride and its counterpart, humility, is a complex one indeed. My plan for today's column is to share a few thoughts about a subject that could take volumes to expound. Although I am not addressing pride systematically, perhaps you might find a few of my meandering thoughts helpful.
It can be tough to define pride. In its negative sense, we can list synonyms like "arrogance," "smugness," "conceit," or "self-importance." But any thesaurus will suggest some positive meanings for our English word "pride," including "satisfaction (from a job well done)" and "self-esteem."
Most of us probably agree that it is good to savor a job well done (or, at least, a job we think we have done well). I'll admit to being a person who enjoys savoring. When I paint a room and return its items to their proper places, I look over and savor my work. Some of you say, "On to the next room." I love you anyway.
And most of us will agree that a reality-based self-esteem is a good thing. If you can sing well, then admit it. If you are good at basketball, don't lie to yourself about it.
But when it comes to the first type of pride (arrogance, smugness, conceit, self-importance), well, we are clearly into the heart of sin central! Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Just as many stubborn people believe deep down that their stubbornness is a virtue, so many agree with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes who said, "I disagree with those who list humility among the virtues." Millions of people believe that this sort of pride is a virtue. Some, like Sherlock Holmes, are unashamedly proud, while the majority savor their pride more discreetly.
But what is so bad about pride anyhow? Why does the Bible constantly warn of the dangers of pride and extol the virtues of humility? I could offer many suggestions, but I want to keep this simple and brief. Pride is contrary to the two great commandments, to love God and our neighbor. The curious among you asks, "How so?" (I love it how you ask those questions just when I want you to! Makes me feel proud.) Pride gets in the way of our relationship with God because God is the one who always deserves all the credit. When we think we are hot stuff, we lessen what we think of God.
Although I could fill up the Body Builder with verses, this one should make the point: Isaiah 2:17, "The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day…"
In order to deal with God, we must acknowledge our helplessness and dependence upon Him. This is especially true regarding salvation. God saves us in such a way that we can take absolutely NO CREDIT, but all the glory... not 99%, but all... goes to Him. Here are a few more verses:
Ephesians 2:8-10, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
When Paul writes, "it" is the gift of God, he is referring to salvation in its totality, grace, the faith we exercise, the works that follow salvation—they are all part of a gift God gives to those who will receive it. Unfortunately, pride keeps people from recognizing their own helplessness and bankruptcy before God. The first century unbelieving Jews were a case in point. Paul writes in Romans 10:3: "Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." Millions today are in the same category. They fail to realize that Jesus is the Savior, not 85% Savior while we are the other 15%.
Paul reinforces this in Romans 9:16: "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." The same principle is true in the realm of spiritual growth. Note what Paul writes in Philippians 2:13: "…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
What this means is that God predisposes His true children to have an appetite to grow in Him and serve Him. I sometimes wonder if we are trying to get lost people to act like Christians against their wills. I sometimes fear the possibility that some professing believers do not really possess salvation. Ultimately it comes down to this, "the Lord knows them that are His" (1 Timothy 2:19).
But in the life of the genuine believer, God is working to create desires in us for Him. We can nurture those or submit to them, but they do not merely come from our own wills. God is working in us. When we humble ourselves and realize what He is doing, it gets mighty tough to hog the credit!
But pride also keeps us from loving others. Although we may not think of it, the status game is not a game of compassion for others. If we invest our entire supply of emotional energy by pursuing wealth, prestige, recognition, or climbing any ladder (even the "let me impress you with my holiness" ladder), we are slighting others in the process.
If I live my life in competition with others, I am seeking to exalt myself above them. If I am out to impress, I am also suppressing others. Spiritual realities should be our priority ("seek ye first the kingdom of God") and take precedence over the quest for career success, education, status, wealth, dexterity, or expertise. It is great for Christians to try to excel at whatever they do, and it is fine to enjoy life's legitimate pleasures in a balanced way—when all of these are truly aligned under the Lordship of Christ.
Jesus put it bluntly in Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." This is true in relationship to others as well.
Since pride blocks our relationship to God and hinders our ability to love others, it is nasty stuff. Isaiah 14 tells us that pride transformed the brilliant and pure angel Lucifer into the dark and evil fallen angel renamed Satan, the adversary. Odds are that pride has repeated this ugly trick in varying degrees in your life.
"Humble yourself," the Scriptures urge us time and time again. Reflect often upon the nature of God's grace and your bankruptcy without Him. Limit pride or your pride will limit you.
Reprinted from the September 2003 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church