I’d like us to talk about pride.
I once heard someone express the sentiment that pride was the root of all sin. The more I think about that the more I see a lot of truth in it. It was a proud king that acted on the notion that he had a right to take Bathsheba for Himself1. Pride preceded the fall when Eve’s desire to “be like God” opened her to temptation2. And every day pride is at the center of what leads neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation.
Our culture maintains condemnation of pride when it is overtly and crudely expressed, such as the arrogance of the wealthy or the ugly boasting of a poor winner, but much more normal than that is the silent conceit that rests in a person’s heart and the frivolousness of ardent devotion such as seen in the #1 fan or the nationalist.
Therapists in the modern culture strongly encourage people to take some time for themselves or to build their own self-esteem. These themes are regurgitated by the culture at large—as if thinking highly of one’s self and providing more comfort for ourselves would cure the person and the world of the most significant problems. A prominent “Christian psychologist” expresses in one of his publications that the one thing women in the country need more than anything else is self-esteem—silly of me to imagine that he might mention something of the cross before that.
Along with feeling good about ourselves we are naturally inclined, and yet encouraged more still, to not only love ourselves but to love anything we associate with ourselves. I am apparently supposed to have pride for and allegiance to my family, my town, my school, my local sports team, my state, my country, and my ethnicity; not because there is necessarily any intrinsic reason that any of those things are better than the next but simply because they are mine.
No, the issue is not thinking too little or too much of ourselves, but rather thinking of ourselves. We all love ourselves. Even the ability for someone to feel poorly about their self for some perceived fault or failing requires that person to love their self enough to care. I’m not suggesting that self-love is a bad thing, but when it is put out of its proper place it develops into a sort of self-worship. Or more simply: pride.
In Luke 22 when Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee as to the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied that it is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and that the second greatest was to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Did you catch that? Jesus didn’t say to love yourself, but rather He took it for granted that you already do. Our inherent self-love is the standard for which we are to love others. And I would say pride is us moving our love for self past our love for others and especially our love for God.
All throughout scripture we are warned against pride and encouraged towards glorification of God and denial of self. Luke 9:23 tells us to deny ourselves daily. Again and again Jesus tells us that “the last will be first, and first will be last”3. The wild man John the Baptist joyfully proclaimed that “He (Christ) must become greater; I must become less”4. And as our example, Jesus himself shows us the purest form of humility:
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very naturea]">[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very natureb]">[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Certainly we might remark that if any man has a right to his pride, it would be the only man who was also God. But instead, He did the exact opposite. While God was here among us He lowered himself to a degree that we are incapable of comprehending. The distance between a corrupt creation and an eternally perfect God is infinite—that is, we’re infinitely less than Him. God’s example was to cross that chasm and become “nothing”, or as we know it, human.
Our pride takes innumerable forms. Worship of self is normative and widespread throughout the “pagan” world. It comes in big ways and small ones, in colorful boasts and in secret conceits. But it is not our position, we who are followers of Christ, to condemn the pagan culture. The distressing thing, though, is that in too many ways there is no counter to it in our Christian culture. We accept without question many of the self-serving values that are found in this world we are domiciled in. I think we are tempted to tone down the intensity of the expression of our conceits as if by that, in contrast to the world around us, we can claim a degree of humility.
But maybe worse yet are the ways in which pride is dividing and conquering the church from the inside out. I might call myself a Baptist and you might call yourself a Methodist, and might both of us be quite happy to identify ourselves in this manner. But why? Is there any better reason for me to take pride in a certain denomination than there is for me to feel good about myself for wearing a Redskin’s jersey on football Sunday? Am I likely to be so adamant about the superiority of the local church that I associate myself with because doing so would bring honor to God or bring honor to me? Can we seriously believe that anyone standing outside the church ever looks in on this mess and finds our disunity in Christ to be attractive or the answer to their problems? Did not Paul have something to say about this when he asked the church at Corinth “is Christ divided5”?
All across this country we will find churches sitting across the street from each other filled with true brothers and sisters that will never fellowship together in unity under the name of Jesus Christ. I posit that it is, at the heart of things, our pride that keeps us there. Imagine how the church could be used if we who profess to follow Jesus could set ourselves aside long enough for God to make a difference.
Of course I say all this as “we” and “us” because we believers are truly tied in together on all this. We rise and fall as one church and if there is a problem in this body it is one we all have the responsibility to fix. My perspective is not from the outside but as a young man that has already contributed more than my share into making the problem what it is.
I would like to finish my comments by taking a look at the best example of conceit and humility that I can think of. At Luke 23:39-43, we see the ultimate contrast between the pride natural to man and Jesus’ example of obedience and humility. Here we read of Jesus hanging on a cross between two other men:
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.]” 43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Can it be anything else but the fruition of pride that could allow a guilty man, who is hanging on a cross moments from death, to still find it within himself to mock the man next to him? Even here conceit has welled up inside of him as with his last energy he yet still attempts to glorify himself by tearing someone else down. To think that the man he mocked was the only innocent man that’s ever lived. A man who sis God. A man whose very existence was a constant state of humility just simply for being here as a human. A man now allowing himself, in obedience to the Father, to die the death of a nobody. The picture of pride and the picture of humility.
And what of the third man? Well here is where we see the response to Jesus on the cross that will save us, too: “Remember me when you enter your Kingdom”. There was no pride in this man, only a simple understanding of the reality of his situation and of the realty of who Jesus is. But still, his humility is not quite that of Jesus’, nor could it have been. For this man’s humility was not that of a king bringing himself down to the level of a peasant, but rather that of a peasant coming to terms with his actual lowly position.
We too are peasants; criminal peasants. We deserve to have a cross reserved for each and every one of us. The option for every person is this: we can respond like the fool and try to exalt ourselves above God and curse him as we’re perishing, shaking a fist of defiance until our last. Or we can simply acknowledge our position and give to Him, whom would take us off our cross and give us our lives back, everything that he deserves: everything that we have.
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1 2 Samuel 11
2 Genesis 3:4
3 Matthew 19:30
4 John 3:30
5 1 Corinthians 1:10-17