I must confess, I come to this subject with great reluctance; not because I know so little about it, but because I know it all too well. To write about it is to give the appearance of, if not actually participate in, hypocrisy. But one way or the other, it should be faced. And you may be assured, these thoughts come not only from Holy Writ, and what I have gleaned from others through the years, but also from what I have seen when I looked in the mirror.
Proverbs is replete with references to this subject. It ranks first on God’s hate list (6:16-17); and it’s the seed from which contention grows and thrives (13:10). It is no doubt at the root of all sin. I call it the primal—or first—sin, because it rears its ugly head long before Eden in Ezekiel twenty-eight. Here we read historically of the prince of Tyrus, assumed by most Bible students to give us retrospectively an account of the origin of Satan. And we hear him saying, “I am a God, I sit in the seat of God...” (v. 2).
Like Satan himself, pride is capable of taking other forms, less obvious, even wrapping itself in the garb of humility, making much of its “unworthiness.” In some cases, God is the only one able to see the prideful heart beneath a humble demeanor. Sometimes, however, it isn’t even necessary to hide it; for, in some cases, it has come to be seen as “a sin in good standing.” I am unable to find one reference in the Word of God where pride is well spoken of, yet you and I often speak of those whose life is void of any organization, ambition, or even cleanliness, as being individuals lacking in pride, as though this were a virtuous motivation. All of the characteristics mentioned should be manifestations of obedience, not pride. Any pride of life “is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1Jno. 2:16). There is only One who possesses the rightful claim to pride; yet when He took the form of man, the Bible says He “humbled himself” (Philip.2:8). And as one old writer has said, “When Majesty humbled himself, shall the worm swell with pride?”
If pride is easily disguised, then we should try to unmask some of its telltale signs. I offer the following as good start:
Pride is above criticism. This is where contention comes into play. To the proud man or woman, any hint of disagreement or correction is an indication of blatant disregard for what is perceived to be his or her superior knowledge, higher motivation, and, in some cases, greater spirituality. If the assumed affront is not actively denounced, it is at the very least disregarded. It’s far easier to spot pride in criticism than it is in the way it is received. But it’s easily there in both.
Pride is beyond instruction. Proverbs 11:2 says that “with the lowly is wisdom,” and Daniel 5:20 makes it perfectly plain that pride hardens the mind. Add to pride the characteristic of stubbornness and you find an individual who never learns and never regrets it. I’m reminded of a preacher we knew who bragged that his mind was like “cement” on certain things. But as we have seen, it’s pride—not resolve—that hardens the mind. A “truth” that is afraid to face the light of scrutiny is an imposter. Pride needs no instruction; but humility is always learning. The great genius of science, Sir Isaac Newton, said of himself, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself by now and then finding a smooth pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Pride is without gratitude. To those who see themselves as superior to others, all recognition, appreciation, and blessings, are merely to be expected. It’s only right that God should bless him or her and others want to do for them. And it’s only when they are deprived of these blessings and words of appreciation that we get a true glimpse of their sense of their own inherent worth. Such individuals find it hard, if not impossible, to be a servant, especially if the act of service is lacking in recognition.
Pride is under indictment. It’s an abomination to the Lord, says our text, and it garners the resistance of God Himself (James 4:6). It’s a chain that chokes the very life from our Christian experience (Psl. 73:6a). It is the prelude to a fall and destruction, perhaps because someone whose head is held too high is less apt to see the path ahead.
Some have attempted to portray pride as mainly a sin of youth, but it seems to me that it flourishes very well, if not better, in old age. The veneration that often comes with the “hoary head” is first-rate fodder for pride. I was moved and challenged by these words of the great Baptist preacher, F.B. Meyer, who wrote in a letter to a friend a few weeks before he died:
“I am now eighty-two, and in a nursing home. I want to tell you what the Spirit of God has been showing me lately. That I have acquired a reputation for sanctity by my books. This may grow upon me. It makes one want to creep into Heaven unnoticed.”
And you and I are in the same danger; unchecked pride will grow upon us, too.