Pride and Humility - page 4

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Another lesson on religious pride strikes even closer to home for true believers. If we are inclined to say to ourselves, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like that proud Pharisee,” we should bear in mind that the apostles themselves were infected with pride and disputed with one another about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24–27). Sadly self-promotion, in pursuit of reputation, influence, and “success,” is evident in some ministry leaders even today. But if the apostles had to struggle with it, who are we to think ourselves exempt?

It would be easy to conclude that pride is the special problem of those who are rich, powerful, successful, famous, or self-righteous. But that is wrong. It takes many shapes and forms and affects all of us to some degree. The widespread, chronic preoccupation with self in American culture, for example, is rooted in pride and can give rise to or intensify our emotional problems. As a famous Harvard psychologist observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness… the region of his misery represents a complete preoccupation with himself. The very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride. If the sufferer is hypersensitive, resentful, captious, he may be indicating a fear that he will not appear to advantage in competitive situations where he wants to show his worth. If he is chronically indecisive, he is showing fear that he may do the wrong thing and be discredited. If he is over-scrupulous and self-critical, he may be endeavoring to show how praiseworthy he really is. Thus, most neuroses, are, from the point of view of religion, mixed with the sin of pride.4

Much more could be said about pride, but space fails us. Let’s sum up the biblical perspective and move on. Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it is an attitude of contempt and indifference. As C.S. Lewis observed, “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”5 The depth of pride can vary from one person to the next and can be obvious or concealed. In the Old and New Testaments it is a truism that God will not suffer the creature to exalt itself against the Creator. Pride provokes God’s displeasure, and he has committed himself to oppose it.

If your pride causes you to exalt yourself, you are painting a target on your back and inviting God to open fire. And he will. For he has declared his determination to bring it low wherever he finds it, whether among angels or humans, believers or unbelievers. It was pride that caused Lucifer to be cast out of heaven and Adam and Eve to be cast out of Eden. And it is pride that will be our undoing if we tolerate it in our lives. The danger of pride is a sobering reality that each of us needs to ponder. Truly, it is our greatest enemy.

However, chances are good that most of us do not see pride in our lives. For while it is easy to see pride in others, it is very difficult to see it in ourselves. C.S. Lewis observed that “there is no fault which makes a man more unpopular and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”6 But he does suggest a couple of ways to detect its presence. First, Lewis quoted William Law from chapter fifteen of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life “there can be no surer proof of a confirmed pride than a belief that one is sufficiently humble.” Also, “if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask your self, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?”7 Because it is so tricky to recognize, we are perhaps best off to earnestly seek God in prayer and ask him to reveal to us any sinful pride in our lives so we can repent and forsake it. Another step we might take is to ask those who live or work with us if they see significant expressions of sinful pride or arrogance in our life.

There is, of course, a good type of pride. Paul, for example, was proud of the churches he had established. But this was not arrogant or self-exalting pride. He made clear that his accomplishments were the fruit of God’s grace to him and through him (Rom. 15:17–19). Occasionally Paul mentions boasting, but this is a matter of highlighting what God has done by his grace, either through Paul or in those in the churches. It is never self-exalting. These days most of us will say that we are proud of our children or our favorite sports team or perhaps something we have accomplished. In cases like this, we are (one hopes) saying that we are really pleased about something good and are not engaging in the sinful type of pride and arrogance the Bible condemns.

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