When personalized license plates were introduced in Illinois, the Department of Motor Vehicles received about 1,000 requests for the number “1.” The state official whose job it was to approve the requests said, “I am not about to assign it to someone and disappoint 999 people.” His solution—he assigned the number to himself! Nowhere is man’s creativity more apparent than in his ability to discover ways to commit the sin of pride.
If there is one sin that is universal, it is pride. Where is it not found? It is present in the rich as well as in the poor; in the most pious person as well as in the evilest. Pride does not care about its lodgings; it will live comfortably in a palace as well as in a hut; in a Church as well as in a bar. Unless one is in self-denial, none is exempt from struggling with pride.
What is pride? It could be simply defined as follows: “Pride is dust worshipping itself.” Pride robs God of his glory because it places mere humans on the throne that should be rightfully occupied by God alone. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that God hates pride seemingly more than all other sins. Pride heads the list of the seven sins that are an abomination to the Lord [Prov 6:16]. Even in that list, pride cannot bear to be second!
No wonder, Proverbs 16:5 says, “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” The word “detests” means that God loathes, hates and is disgusted with everyone proud in heart. So, in order to overcome this detestable sin, let’s look at: (A) It’s Characteristics; (B) It’s Results and (C) It’s Cures.
A. Common Characteristics Of Pride
The subtle thing about pride is that it exhibits itself in different forms. Here are a few examples.
1. Pride Seeks Recognition. The servant of a proud emperor said, “I cannot deny that my master was proud. He had to be the central figure in everything. If he went to a christening, he wanted to be the baby. If he went to a wedding, he wanted to be the bride. If he went to a funeral, he wanted to be the corpse.”
Many are like this emperor—desperate for recognition, be it in the home, workplace or even the local church. And they get upset or frustrated when they are not recognized. The prophet Jeremiah warns us, “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them.” Jesus also warned us of this type of pride when he noticed how people were picking places of honor at a banquet table [Lk 14:8-11]. He even condemned the Pharisees who gave money, prayed and fasted for the sole purpose of earthly recognition [Matt 6:1-18].
2. Pride Boasts In Its Religion.The Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 serves as the classic example of those filled with spiritual pride as a result of their outward religious actions. Notice the number of times “I” appears in his supposed prayer of thanksgiving in verses 11-12: “11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” He saw only the good in himself and only the bad in others. Clearly, God was not impressed and thus pronounced judgment on him [v.14].
3. Pride Trusts In Its Own Abilities. A young woman who won a coveted award smiled when her mother said, “I was praying for you to get it.” “Well, thank you,” she replied, “but I earned this by my own hard work.” Some people are so self-sufficient that they resent any implication that they owe God everything for the blessings that come their way. They feel that they are in control of every situation. Proverbs 27:1 warns, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Many even trust in their own “good works” to get to heaven and thus reject the truth concerning salvation by faith alone through Christ alone [Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5]. How sad it will be for them on Judgment Day to find out how deceived they were!
4. Pride Boasts In Its Own Achievements. The list in this category can be endless. Some are proud of:
- Their wealth, forgetting that it is the Lord who gives the “ability to produce wealth” [Deut 8:18];
- Their educational qualifications and wisdom, forgetting that it’s the “LORD [who] gives wisdom” [Prov 2:6];
- Their physical appearance, forgetting the basic truth “Your hands made me and formed me” [Psa 119:73];
- Being a Christian, forgetting that salvation is purely a result of God’s sovereign “grace [we] have been saved, through faith…it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” [Eph 2:8-9];
- Their spiritual gifts, forgetting that it is the Holy Spirit who “distributes them to each one, just as he determines” [1 Cor 12:11].
Paul issues a clear warning to such thinking: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” [1 Cor 4:7]. Proverbs 27:2 cautions us, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.” Lips are made to build others up—not to praise ourselves. Beware of autobiographies!
5. Pride Breeds Racial Intolerance. Like the Jews who looked down on Gentiles, many in the Church look down on people [including Christians] of another race. The irony is that these same people will loudly complain when they face racial discrimination from others! Racial Intolerance is a direct attack against the very people that God not only created in his image [Gen 1:27; 5:1; Col 3:10] but also redeemed through Christ. Revelation 5:9 says that Christ with his blood “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Gal 3:28]. Even when God commands separation, it is for religious purposes—not racial purposes. For example, when God commands a Christian to marry only another Christian [1 Cor 7:39], it is solely for the purpose of maintaining religious purity—not racial purity. Nowhere does God say that a Christian should marry another Christian only if he or she belongs to a particular race or sect.
As one can see, the ways through which pride manifests itself can be endless. However, let us proceed to look at the results of pride.
B. Results Of Pride
Proverbs 16:5 warns that the proud in heart “will not go unpunished.” Just as a tall tree attracts lightning and the fly that buzzes the loudest gets swatted first, pride attracts God’s judgments. Below are some of the judgments that result from being proud.
1. It Brings A Loss Of Peace. Proverbs 13:10 says, “Where there is strife, there is pride.” Pride will lead a person to criticize, be sarcastic, argue, lie, slander and even turn violent toward others. It can also lead one to harbor a very bitter and unforgiving spirit toward others, sort of a “How could they say or do this to me?” attitude. All such actions lead to a loss of peace—peace on the inside as well as around. Lack of peace in many marriages and other relationships is a result of pride! One might not realize, but a leading cause of depression is pride.
Chronically discouraged people often have an unhealthy preoccupation with themselves—how people perceive and treat them. Naturally, when situations do not turn out their way or when people do not respond in a way they like, they get depressed and thus lose the peace.
2. It Brings A Person Down. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” God rewards the proud with what they fear the most—Shame! Yet, many despite repeated experiences of being brought down, never turn from their arrogant ways. Yes, believers do struggle with pride.
However, if pride characterizes one’s life, it may very well be the evidence that one is not even a Christian. And those that fall in this category will inevitably experience the ultimate fall—God’s eternal judgment in the lake of fire. Proverbs 29:1 warns, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
3. It Hinders Effective Service. It is incredible how much can be accomplished for Christ when one does not care who gets the credit! However, many who are genuinely gifted will not serve unless their efforts are publicly recognized or unless everything happens according to their way which is another expression of pride. And since pride is a sin that makes a person unclean, it renders them unfit for spiritual service [2 Tim 2:20-21].
There are many other results of a proud heart. However, these common results of pride help us to get a good picture. The bottom line is this: God will not let pride go unpunished. God says very clearly, “3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD” [Obad 3-4].
Having seen the characteristics and results of pride, let us see the cures for pride.
C. Cures For Pride
The deceitful nature of pride is such that we can see it more clearly in others rather than in ourselves. May the Lord help us see it clearly in our own lives in order to successfully deal with it. Here are some ways that will help us kill the sin of pride.
1. Continual Focus On The Cross. Nothing crushes pride as effectively as the cross. The message of the cross crushes all forms of human pride because it reveals the futility of human efforts and achievements. Thus, a continual reflection upon the cross is absolutely essential to kill a proud spirit.
2. Continual Study Of God’s Word. The sword used by the Holy Spirit to help us kill every sin is the “word of God” [Eph 6:17]. And since Scripture is one of the God-ordained means to conquer sin, memorize and meditate on those scriptures that will be of specific help in this area [Isa 66:2; Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5, etc.].
3. Continual Prayer. Another God-ordained means of conquering pride is continual prayer, accompanied with a genuine conviction and desire to be freed from this sin. In addition, there should be a genuine trust in God’s power to help overcome this sin. The Lord Jesus said that pride arises from within the heart [Mk 7:21-22]. Therefore, we need to continually ask the Lord to cleanse us on the inside—the real source of this sin, not just the outside.
While there could be other cures added to this list, these should serve as starting points in dealing with this sin.
James 4:6 says that “God opposes to the proud.” God takes arms against the proud. That is a terrifying picture! In contrast, James also comforts us in the same verse by saying that God, “shows favor to the humble.” Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking less about ourselves. We need to get over an unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves. We need to stop being amazed by our own achievements. Apart from Christ, we are a nobody and can do nothing [John 15:5]. The words of Isaiah 66:2b should constantly remain in front of our eyes, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”
Let us examine our lives. Are we on the road of humility or on the road of pride? Perhaps this closing illustration will help, as we contrast the greatest example of pride and the greatest example of humility, by looking at two passages of Scripture. Isaiah 14:12-15 and Philippians 2:5-11.
Satan, the greatest example of pride said, “I will ascend to the heavens” [Isa 14:13]. On the other hand Jesus, the greatest example of humility, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” [Phil 2:7]. Satan proudly announced, “I will raise my throne above the stars of God” [Isa 14:13]. Jesus, however, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” [Phil 2:8].
The verdict by God for Satan’s pride: “But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit” [Isa 14:15]. However, notice God’s verdict concerning Jesus’ humility: “9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Phil 2:9-11].
Indeed, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” [Lk 18:14]. Therefore, the next time we are proud, may we remember whom we resemble and his end. That will enable us to let God alone occupy the No.1 position in our hearts as he rightfully deserves!