John Flavel, one of the great Puritan writers, famously said, “They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud.” We add our “amen,” but our agreement would be in spite of our experience. Though we long to be more like our Lord, true humility often evades us, and pride survives comfortably amidst our daily living.
There are few personal sins so pervasive in Scripture as that of the sin of pride. Time had scarcely begun when pride first reared its ugly head, and, since its inauguration, it has never fallen out of vogue. While easily identified in others, it has always been deceptive and challenging to see pride in self. Deeply rooted, dark and sinister, it does its dastardly deed, unleashing a wave of woe that inflicts untold damage upon both its host and others.
What we understand to be pride in English is derived from 10 Hebrew and two Greek words, and usually refers to having an elevated attitude or opinion of oneself. The Hebrew noun generally translated as pride is also translated as insolence, presumptuousness, or arrogance. The word structure is helpful. From its verbal root, it means, “to boil up.” This conveys the idea of being “puffed up,” which agrees with one of the Greek words which suggests “being inflated,” giving the impression of substance, while the reality is that one is only filled with air (1Cor 5:2; 8:1; 13:4; Col 2:18). In its essence, pride is a sin of attitude, a sin of the heart and spirit. The real damage, though, is readily externalized, for what is in my heart will ultimately affect my attitudes and actions, doing damage to my relationships with others. The wisdom of the Proverbs warns repeatedly against the vice of pride. Paul includes it in the two lists that are characteristic of those God will judge and the conditions prevalent in the last days (Rom 1:30; 2Tim 3:2, 4).
When we speak of pride, Satan likely comes to mind, having birthed pride in his heart, as he wished to be as the Most High. Haman and various kings like Uzziah, Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:30), and Herod (Acts 12:23) provide lessons not soon forgotten. The New Testament curtain rises and the Pharisees quickly take their place at center stage as the personification of pride. They were hypocrites – self-centered, proud hypocrites. And while we neither want to be hypocritical nor proud, we all must confess our weakness. While we desire to be imitators of that which is good, our pride often gets in the way. At times we perhaps become pharisaical, albeit unintentionally.
While the Bible makes it clear that pride is sin, and God hates pride (Prov 8:13), the Lord Jesus clearly identifies the origin of our pride – our hearts (Mark 7:21-23). Nestled deep within our very nature is the ugly tendency toward the sin of pride. Self loves self. With the new birth, though, God gives us a new heart and we are left with the responsibility to mortify the wicked flesh and its pride, to control self, and to love others. While Colossians 3 does not specifically mention pride in its list of sins, we see it as the root of almost every sin.
Its Obsession and Operation
Pride is obsessed with self, making it an idol. By removing God from His rightful throne, self is seated at the center of attention, lauded with self-admiration. As sickening as it sounds, it is increasingly prevalent in today’s “me” society, though perhaps not so blatantly identified by name. Modern psychology pays it little attention, being much more concerned with the problem of low self-esteem rather than self-directed praise. Social media has provided a platform for pride unlike any known to prior generations – the infamous “selfie.” Honest sharing of special moments can quickly degenerate into an obsession with self, seeking to project an image that is anything but real. We may not label it as pride, but honest assessment would force us to acknowledge that pride is behind it all.
While recognizing pride in others, we often struggle to see it in our own lives. What pride produces, however, cannot be hidden. Pride is an enabling sin, and as such produces envy, strife, arguments, hatred, fights, quarrels, boasting, slander, anger, malice, unjust discrediting, maligning, and contemptible treatment of others. Proud people rarely ask for forgiveness because they do not admit their sinful condition. Proud people cannot display true humility and meekness. An obsession with self inhibits an honest consideration of others, causing broken relationships and wounded believers.
“Boasting” is what we do in the presence of others, while “haughtiness” or “arrogance” is a display of how we undervalue others, placing self above them. When Paul writes to Timothy, he uses a word that means, “to wrap in smoke.” It is the sad condition of the one who is blinded by pride (1Tim 3:6; 6:4; and 2Tim 3:4). Even Israel was warned against forgetting God as a result of her pride (Deut 8:14).
The antidote to pride is humility, which frees me from obsession with self to truly love and serve others. It enables me to see the value and worth of others, to appreciate them irrespective of how they may differ from me. Humility does not worry about status or rank, but follows the example of our Lord Jesus in John 13, when he meekly served those who argued over who would be the greatest. To do this, a believer needs to understand that his sense of worth and identity is not anchored in the perspectives and commentary of others, but in his relationship with his Heavenly Father. Loved, redeemed, forgiven, and brought into the family, the believer is gifted by God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and placed in the body according to God’s plan. So what he is, he owes to God. His diversity as a member of something much greater than self enables him to maintain the unity that God has created and avoid clinging to perceived rights. Instead, he pours himself into service. This is exactly what Philippians 2 teaches in the context of the perfect humility of our Lord Jesus. “Learn from Me” (Matt 11:29), is still valid for today. As we walk with Him and learn from Him, we will learn humility and we will kill pride. This frees us to live as He lived, love as He loved, serve as He served, and bear something of the fragrance of His life to a lost world while we await His soon return.