by Dr. Joe McKeever
God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:5)
When a British newspaper invited readers to submit their answers to the question "What's Wrong With the World?" the inimitable G. K. Chesterton wrote: "Editors: I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton."
Of the so-called seven deadly sins, pride always leads the parade. It's the grand daddy of them all, the source of the other six. Consider how this is so---
--Lust is pride expressing itself sexually, as well as in other ways. It takes what it wants, uses it, and tosses it in the trash.
--Avarice is pride in the marketplace and in our culture. It wants more and more and is never satisfied.
--Anger is pride on the highway and in relationships. It didn't get what it wants and wants revenge.
--Envy is pride casting an evil eye at its neighbor, wishing for what he has and that he had a wart on his nose. (An old childhood curse we would inflict in jest)
--Sloth is pride expressing its selfishness concerning work. None for him, thanks. He'll sit this one out. Everyone owes him.
--Gluttony is pride at the dinner table.
Pride is an exalted sense of oneself. It's that simple.
Sometimes people speak of pride as a correct and healthy sense of oneself, as in, "Take pride in yourself" and "Take pride in your work." And since there is no Czar of Correctness concerning word usage, that is as legitimate as using pride to mean an inflated, puffed up ego.
This is probably as good a place as any to quote my wonderful old professor, Dr. Ray Frank Robbins, who would tell us seminarians, "Words do not have meanings. Word have usages."
Chesterton was correct; he was the problem. But so am I. And so are you.
Examples of Pride-On-Steroids are all around us today, beginning with your bathroom mirror.
This week, British atheism advocate Christopher Hitchens died at age 62. I put on facebook a reference to what Bryan Williams of NBC Nightly News said of him on Friday evening, December 16. This militant atheist had smoked and drank all his life, until it finally caught up to him. He died of esophageal cancer. I commented that this is a reminder that there are certain realities in this world--I capitalized it Grand Realities--that do not require our endorsement or need our affirmation. "They just 'are.' I mentioned my intent to write a "deadly sins article" on pride, with Hitchens as the perfect embodiment.
One of my "facebook friends" commented that I was doing a lot of assuming and judging. I replied that all I had said was that he was a proud man, something Hitchens would confirm.
It was that conceit, of course, that ego on steroids, that inflated sense of self, that Pride, that ruled his life and would not let him admit to even the possibility of God existing.
The issue of TIME magazine that arrived at my house today carried a rather tongue-in-cheek article on the inside back where they named some guy as the "Coolest" Man of the Year, a spoof on the magazine's celebrated Man of the Year that comes the last week of December each year. In trying to define "cool," the writer said it refers to someone who is so confident they neither need anyone else nor care what others think of them.
That sounds like a lot of things, but "cool" isn't one of them.
What pride does. Let's consider that.
1. Pride exalts itself.
The proud person is "wise in his own eyes," as Scripture puts it. Proverbs 3:7 forbids it, and Proverbs 26:12 says "there is more hope for a fool than such a person." Isaiah 5:21 warns, "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight."
Paul said, "Do not be haughty in mind...Do not be wise in your own estimation" (Romans 12:16).
2. Pride boasts.
Look what I've done. How wonderful I am. How great I art. (Sorry.)
A little note to pastors and other spiritual leaders: take a look at your office walls. Have you turned it into a shrine to yourself? I've seen some that only need a small effigy of themselves to turn it into a temple of self-adoration. No one is saying you should take your diplomas off the wall. Everything in moderation and good taste is the rule.
Recently, two friends met for the first time after connecting on the internet. One visit pretty well shot down all possibilities. The woman remarked later that the man had talked all evening about himself. Is that boasting? It's definitely an indication of self-centeredness.
3. Pride cuts itself off from others.
The person full of himself has no room for anyone else in his life. His conversation and plans all revolve around himself. Pity the woman married to such a man, the man married to such a woman.
In my talks to high school assemblies, I tackle the subject of pride this way. The next party you go to, notice two people. Find the wallflower, the person sitting by themselves against the wall, staring at the floor, having nothing to do with anyone. He or she is thinking, "Nobody likes me. I don't know why I come to these things. I'm such a loser." I say to the teens, "Who is he thinking of?" Answer: himself.
Then, watch the most popular person in school breeze into the room. She hugs this one, compliments another on his test grade this week in chemistry, brags on another for the touchdown Friday night. Who is she thinking of? Answer: everyone else.
Pride may sometimes mask itself as inferiority, but its preoccupation with itself is a dead giveaway.
4. Pride insults his Creator.
The self-made man is insulting his Creator. The one taking credit for his accomplishments is usually myopic, and missing the greater debt in his life.
Herod Agrippa I gives us a good lesson here. When he spoke in the Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon, the people--who had been coached on how to treat this gullible potentate they were trying to win over--gave him ovations and accolades, saying, "It's the voice of a god, and not a man." We read, "Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:20-23).
I suspect if the Lord struck dead every person who took credit for what God had done, the population problem on Planet Earth would be forever solved.
5. Pride challenges others to topple him.
Think of a colleague who takes credit for the work or ideas of others and is given recognition and awards that belong to others. Listen to him brag; watch him strut. You would not be human if you did not find yourself secretly longing to see him fall from the pedestal where he has boosted himself.
Interestingly, God is one of those wanting to see the egotist dethroned. Therefore, Scripture tells us, "God opposes the proud." You've just made yourself a powerful enemy, friend.
6. Pride puts others down.
We think of the haughty Pharisee who stood in the temple praying, addressing the Almighty as an equal. "God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get." (Luke 18:11-12)
The correlation is strong: to the degree we put ourselves up, we put others down. To put others up is to humble ourselves.
Several verses from Romans 12 fit well here....
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. (Romans 12:10)
Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:16)
7. Pride will be a problem for you until your last breath.
Pride is persistent, the most of all our sins. Henry Fairlie calls it "a fixture in our natures." It comes early and stays late.
Don't think for a minute that you can finally conquer this monster. It will go away temporarily and show up in disguise. Think of the most wonderful, most godly and mature believers you know. No problem with pride, right? Friend, after you have done the most subservient acts imaginable, pride will then demand that you be proud of your great sacrifice.
I have no evidence for this, but I can almost assure you Mother Teresa sometimes struggled with the temptation to be proud of her humility.
Pride dons disguises, and shows up in the unlikeliest of times and places. You will devote your life to serving the last and least and lost, and then someone finds you and puts you on national television and you become a star overnight. Now, they're giving you cash prizes to assist in your work, honorary doctorates for your sacrifice, and your face on the cover of newsmagazines in honor of your service.
Pride loves that stuff and eats it up.
You are made of sterner stuff than others.
You have done more than the average guy who sits in front of the television night after night.
You are a superior being.
Watch it, buster. You are asking for big trouble.
For good reason our Lord said, "He who would be great among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:26-28).
When you have done your job, when you have accomplished everything the Lord requires of you--like that's going to happen!--then, say to yourself, "I'm only an unworthy servant; I've only done my job." (Luke 17:7-10)
Driving a stake through the heart of pride.
Do it today, and you will have to do it again tomorrow, although it will look different and will require a new approach.
Stay close to the Lord. He alone knows how to recognize that devil and to deal with it effectively.
About the Author:
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.
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