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The Deceit of Pride
Thomas R. Fletcher
I am a little more intimately acquainted with pride than I care to admit. Normally, my pride would prohibit such an admission. I wouldn't want to appear less spiritual or have you think less of me. Be that as it may, I know the deceit of pride.
What is pride? Pride is an over-estimation of oneself, unreasonable self-esteem, an undue confidence in one's accomplishments, skills, possessions, or position. Pride is easier identified in others than in oneself. Pride attributes glory to self. Christian thinkers Augustine and Aquinas considered pride to be the very essence of sin. Pride contaminates virtue and turns virtue into sin. As Augustine said, "[it is] as disgraceful to make virtue serve human glory as to serve bodily pleasure." Vaunting myself above others because I consider myself spiritually stronger is sin. We will always be able to find those weaker than ourselves. Pride in my perceived virtue will keep me from the repentance I desperately need. I cannot over-value myself without at the same time under-valuing others.
Pride is something God takes very seriously. The Bible addresses and warns against pride over and over again, especially in the Old Testament. The New Testament repeatedly urges us to humility, pride's opposite. Pride is something we all face. Pride was the first sin to enter God's universe and I am convinced it will be the last to be evicted. Mark 7:22 indicates that pride is a sin of the heart, something that comes from within.
Pride is universal among humans. Much is said today about "low self-esteem" being a problem. I see a much greater problem in that far too many of us suffer from an exalted self-esteem. We must remember, we are but creatures of our Creator. It seems pride is inborn and something we must forever struggle against or else be held its captive. Just as we sense victory in an area, pride crops up, either in a self-congratulatory manner or as looking down on those yet to gain the victory. Pride is always ready to rear its ugly head. We must be prepared to lay it low.
Edom was a neighbor nation of Israel, often referred to as Israel's "brother." The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother. The nation inhabited an area of high red Nubian sandstone. Some of the cliffs were over 5,000' in height. The Edomites dwelt in caves and carved dwelling places high on the cliffs. The high mountains and deep gorges presented a foreboding landscape to would-be attackers. Enemies could be turned back before any harm could be inflicted upon Edom. At the time of Babylon's invasion of Israel, Edom rejoiced at Israel's defeat. Some scholars feel that Edom allied with Babylon during the invasion. Others feel that Edom merely stood by and watched from its rocky heights. I agree with the latter position. I think Edom stood by, assuming its own safety, laughing at Israel. However, God had a message for Edom. It was delivered through two of His prophets, Jeremiah (Jer. 49:16) and Obadiah (Ob. 3): "your pride has deceived you." In Edom's pride the nation assumed it would never face a situation like Israel, but God's message was that it would face destruction because of its pride. Edom was conquered by the Nabateans in the third century B.C. The nation presumed safety based on natural conditions. It left God out of the equation.
Pride deceives us in many ways. Pride deceives us into believing we are self-sufficient. Pride can deceive us into thinking we have a special line of communication to God because of our virtue, that we are somehow more special to God than others. Pride deceives us into believing the good we receive from God is somehow deserved. Pride deceives us into thinking we are better than others and in so doing makes us worse. Pride isolates us from those we look down upon. Pride hardens the heart. We lose compassion for others. Pride brings discontent. It makes us feel we lack the recognition we deserve. Pride brings contention--we can't all have first place, so we fight about it. Pride denies guilt, it rationalizes and justifies actions, but refuses to accept blame. Pride leads to presumption upon God. Ultimately pride will lead the Christian to disappointment with God. We go off on our own, assuming we are "God directed," only to have things fall apart. We then feel that God has let us down. No, we have let God down by going our own way while claiming His direction.
Pride is an abomination to God (Proverbs 16:5). It is abhorrent to Him for at least two reasons: one is the separation it brings between us and Himself and the second is the separation it brings between us and others. A proud Christian is of more service to Satan than to God. Such a one can keep others from Christ.
There are three Greek words translated "pride" in the New Testament and a couple more translated "proud." The word (alazoneia, alazoneia) translated pride in 1 John 2:16 means arrogance, boasting. It is almost always a form of vanity expressed before others. We all have either known or been braggarts. Another word used in Mark 7:22 (uperhfania, huperephania) is a condition of the heart. It may be concealed from others. This is the person who stands on his or her self-made pedestal and looks down upon others. Nothing has to be said, this is an inward heart attitude. This form of pride is most insidious because it is often covered with false humility.
Paul's epistles to Timothy have some sharp condemnation of pride and its potential in the ministry (1 Timothy 3:6, 6:4, and 2 Timothy 3:4). Preachers, teachers, and leaders must especially guard against pride. Pride creeps in precisely because one is used by the Lord. Some of the worst examples of pride I have witnessed have been in minister's meetings--all wanting to tell how wonderfully God is using them. All wanting to be one better. We forget that without God's gifts and enabling, we can accomplish absolutely nothing in the spiritual realm. The credit is not ours to take.
What are some steps to avoid pride? Remember who God is. He rules. I don't. God has given us a safety-net of fellow-believers. I should listen to what they have to say. If I am going in a direction counter to the consensus of believers, I need to seriously evaluate the situation. I need to constantly check my motives. When I tell of God's work in my life, I must ask myself a question. Am I sharing this so people will think I am special or is it truly for God's glory alone? I must remember that without God's grace, I am doomed. "There is no good thing in me, that is in my flesh." 1 Corinthians 4:7 asks "what do you have that you did not receive?" All that I have: gifts, talents, abilities have all been given by God and are to be used for His glory. 1 Peter 5:5 urges us to clothe ourselves with humility, and warns that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. The word translated clothe is a unique Greek word. It means more than putting on a garment. It means a close-fitting or knotted garment, one not readily removed. Let me tightly knot the garment of humility on my character.