Pride: The sin that looks most like me

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.”

Whenever the so-called seven deadly sins are listed, pride invariably leads the parade. It’s the granddaddy 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.

My wonderful professor, Dr. Ray Frank Robbins, 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.

When British atheism advocate Christopher Hitchens died at age 62, I put on facebook something Bryan Williams of NBC Nightly News said of him. This militant atheist 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 that do not require our endorsement or need our affirmation. “They just ‘are.’

One of my “facebook friends” commented that I was doing a lot of assuming and judging. I replied that I had simply said was 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 a Supreme Being existing.

What pride does–

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 warns, “There is more hope for a fool than such a person.” Isaiah 5:21 cautions, “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.)

I suggest that pastors and other spiritual leaders should take a look at their office walls.  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 remove your diplomas from the wall. Everything in moderation and good taste is the rule.

I’m remembering two friends of mine who, after connecting on the internet, met face-to-face for the first time. One visit ended all future possibilities. The woman told me the man talked all evening about himself.  Whether it was pride or just nerves, 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 address the subject of pride:  The next party you attend, 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: Themselves.

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 the Creator.

The self-made man takes credit for his accomplishments, is usually myopic, and does not see the greater debt in his life.

Herod Agrippa I provides a good lesson here. When he spoke in the Lebanonese cities of Tyre and Sidon, the citizenry–who had been coached on how to treat this gullible potentate they were trying to win over–gave him ovations and accolades.  On cue, they called out, “The voice of a god, and not a man.” Agrippa ate it up. Scripture notes, “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. (12:3)

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor. (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. (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 today and show up tomorrow morning 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.  I would guess the same about Billy Graham and numerous others.

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).

The parable that addresses pride like no other 

Scholars disagree on whether Luke 17:7-10 is a parable.  Either way, it’s a one-of-a-kind teaching found nowhere else in Scripture. It packs a wallop with deadly accuracy.  More and more in my post-pastoral ministry of encouraging and counseling pastors, I find myself urging them to live in these four verses until they become part of the bones and marrows of their existence.

Three quick points about that little parable…

When you have done your job, when you have accomplished everything the Lord requires of you, then and only then, you are to say to yourself, “I’m only an unworthy servant; I’ve only done my job.” (Luke 17:7-10)

–This is what you say only to yourself.  In the privacy of your closet, so to speak.  Let no one else hear you say them.

–Do not speak these words to anyone else, lest they sound like a putdown.  You must not tell someone else they are an unworthy servant.  A servant stands or falls to his own master (Romans 14:4).

–Do not say these words about yourself in the presence of anyone, lest it sound like you are calling attention to your humility.

Obeying this will drive a stake through the heart of your pride.

However, after doing it today, pride will show up again tomorrow and you will have to do it again.  However, this time 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.

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