“The horror you inspire has deceived you, and the pride of your heart, you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s, I will bring you down from there, declares the Lord.”Jeremiah 49:16, ESV
“Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded.”
There is an old proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall.” It comes from the Bible. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, ESV) Proverbs is a book of wisdom, and it has a lot to say about pride. “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13, ESV) “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV) “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” (Proverbs 21:24, ESV) “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23, ESV)
Pride is sometimes challenging to define. When I have written or preached about pride, I often get a response, “Isn’t it ok to be proud of your work or of something you have done well?” The first definition of pride in a dictionary is, “Inordinate self-esteem; an unreasonable conceit of one’s own superiority in talents, beauty, wealth, accomplishments, rank or elevation in office, which manifests itself in lofty airs, distance, reserve, and often in contempt of others.” (Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American Dictionary of the English language., 2006.) This is the definition of pride that I believe explains the sin of pride.
This is not to deny that the word pride has other meanings. Among the many definitions offered by Webster is this one, “Generous elation of heart; a noble self-esteem springing from a consciousness of worth.” (Webster, 2006) Most of the definitions, though, include the negative aspect. In Webster’s first definition, notice the words inordinate, unreasonable, lofty airs, and contempt. Not very flattering.
Theologically, the argument can be made that the sin of pride is essentially a failure to recognize one’s place in creation and status before God. As created beings, there can be no pride in who we are because everything we are is God’s gift in making us in his image. The only thing we have ever brought to our being is sin. Our joy, exaltation, and appreciation of the creation are merely recognizing who God is and results in worshipping him. However, all of that joy and worship are marred by sinful pride.
Every other sin boils down to pride. Sin declares that I am greater than God. I get to choose my destiny. Yet, the problem is there are more people than just me. These people are all influenced by pride, too. So, everyone is at odds with everyone else because our pride demands that we are each god. As Israel learned a few millennia ago, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ESV) Pharaoh was a proud ruler over Egypt. The Pharaohs were gods to the people. Therefore, the one God had to crush the little god and his followers revealing that there is no other. Each of the plagues Moses brought to Pharaoh was an attack on a specific Egyptian god.
Sadly, we humans never seem to learn. This all-powerful God who defeated Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army was their God. He had called them. He had made them a nation. So why did they whine about being in the desert, about being thirsty and hungry? The Israelites even began to say that they should go back to Egypt. (Keith Green writes a great song about this.) If you think about it, the only answer is their pride made them think they could control God. I’m hungry, so feed me!
Israel continued throughout its history to express their pride. God always responded with the principle he expressed in his Law.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”Exodus 20:2–7, ESV
Pride, it turns out, is the fundamental problem in all disputes. In our world, pride runs rampant. I used to like to play and watch sports. Not so much anymore. It used to be that some of the greatest players scored a touchdown without some kind of display, saying, “In your face, man, I’m better than you.” End zone dances, flips, stunts took the joy out of watching for me. When the NFL wanted to curtail such demonstrations, the fans complained about it along with the athletes. Now athletic pride shows itself in athletes thinking that their opinions outside of sports should be more highly valued than those within the field they are talking about. Colin Kaepernick knelt during the traditional Star Spangled Banner. LeBron James brought Black Lives Matter to the NBA.
Even the idea of Critical Race Theory rests upon some kind of prideful belief that one race should be treated better. Ok. Aside from the fact that race itself is a human construct dividing people, is it really reasonable to claim that all white people are inherently evil racists? Even the President, with hubris, declared that white supremacy is the greatest threat to America today. I say the greatest threat to America is pride. Too bad I don’t have an athletic platform to exploit.
Please excuse my sarcasm. Some things need the light of the Gospel to highlight them. Paul had a great solution to pride, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV) That is the test for pride. The word more significant means “to be of surpassing or exceptional value—‘to be exceptionally valuable, to surpass in value, to be better.’” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, 1996, 1, 620.)
Just think. If we all saw everyone else to be of surpassing or exceptional value, there would be no disputes, no theft, no covetousness, no crime. We would never worry that we are getting ripped off. There would be no pornography, very different television, and music and books without adult content labels. That day will come. In the meantime, we can turn to Jesus Christ.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:4–8, ESV