THE SIN OF PRIDE
Dr. A. C. George
One of the most dangerous and destructive sins of the human race is pride. It is like a cancer that spreads to the moral and spiritual fibre of our inner being. Unless arrested and treated properly, unlike some other sins of the spirit, it cannot be easily concealed.
What exactly is pride? One way of describing it is that it is the opposite of humility. We need a more comprehensive definition to understand this evil. William C. Martin describes pride as “the state or quality of being proud or having inordinate self-esteem; conceit concerning one’s talents, ability, wealth, status etc.; disdainful behavior.” According to the Bible, pride is the root and essence of sin. It may be defined further as the sin of robbing God of the glory and honor that properly belong to Him and placing oneself on the throne.
In this short article we will look at a few aspects of this deadly sin.
1. The character of Pride
In a few instances, the word pride is used in an acceptable way. When someone says, “we are proud of our team’s achievements”, or when an elated grandpa says about his granddaughter: “She is my pride and joy”we have no problem with it. But when someone says “I am proud of my accomplishments” we take it with a pinch of salt.
A careful study of the etymology of the word pride shows that it is used in negative contexts most of the time. Its synonyms reveal the essential character of pride. The synonyms include such words as: ego, egoism, self – confidence, self-love, self-respect, self-sufficiency and self-worth. All of these revolve around the axis: Self. And self, the Bible affirms, was the cause of human fall.
When put under the microscope of God’s word, sin shows its ugly character. A few biblical examples will be sufficient to underscore this.
- Self or the big “I” was the root cause of the first man’s sin. Adam, the first man chose to disobey his Creator. In doing so he was exalting himself above God and His grand plan for His creation. Through his one act of disobedience he plunged the whole human race into sin and death (Rom.5:12, 17, and 19).
- The tower of Babel episode of Gen.11: is a classic example of human pride which defied all the boundaries that God set for humans. The post-flood generation challenged the sovereign God by saying “come let us build ourselves a city, with tower that reaches to the heavens…” (Gen.11:4). It was part of a human plan to escape another flood and show that they have unlimited power. All the “let us” in this text is a reflection of the deification of human self. It is pride at its highest level.
- King Saul, the first king of Israel, disobeyed God’s word and invited God’s wrath against him and the people. Prophet Samuel had to rebuke Saul and tell him that God is pleased with obedience, more than sacrifices. He added that rebellion and stubbornness are as serious as witchcraft, iniquity and idolatry (1 Sam. 15: 22,23).
- Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king became proud and arrogant because of his power and accomplishments. He boasted about them saying, “Is not his the greatest Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my majesty?” (Dan. 4: 30).
All of these examples point to the essence of the human problem of self-glorification. People who are proud about themselves, speak about themselves and lift themselves up with an arrogant spirit. They pat themselves on their back and make ego trips through their fantasies. They do not realize that they are really blind to the truths about themselves and live in a dream land. Everything about them is “I, me and myself”.
2. The Concentration of Pride
The element of pride is apparent in many human actions and ego talks. If we analyse them carefully one truth becomes clear: most of the boasting centre around a few matters. Let us consider just three of them.
Boasting about family background and racial superiority is a common tendency in humans. The descendants of Abraham would assert: “we are the children of Abraham” (John 8:33). They often boasted about their racial superiority over the Samaritans, who were a mixed race and kept themselves away from them (John 4: 9). When Apostle Paul stated that if necessary he can boast about many things (2 Cor. 11: 22-28; 12:1) and cites his background information as carnal confidence: “… “a Hebrew of the Hebrews, … a Pharisee”… etc. (Phil. 3: 4-6) he was stating the general tendency of the people to brag about their pedigree and social status.
We often forget that our Savior came to pull down barriers that divide people on the basis of caste, color, sex etc. Unfortunately caste feelings are still strong among many followers of Jesus, Pentecostals not exempted. It is high time that we lay aside the “I am better than you” attitude and treat all our brothers and sisters in Christ with respect and dignity. Instead of boasting about family connections and “Syrian Orthodox” mind set, let us accept every one without bias. What is important, after all, is our connection with and status in Christ as Paul said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3: 28).
That “money is the answer for everything ( Ecc.10: 19) is the philosophy that controls many politicians, business people and criminals. Accumulation of wealth leads people to all kinds of vices and vulgar boasting.
God knew that Israel after they were established well in the Promised Land would forget the One who prospered them and boast of their own powers: “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me”. So God gave them a solemn warning and advice not to forger their Giver – “It is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” ( Deu.8: 17,18).
When the gift becomes more important than the Giver of all gifts, it is a sure indication of spiritual decadence. God’s people should take all warnings against greed, futility of riches and vain boastings about the power of money seriously.
Many Christians are vulnerable to the temptation of boasting about their spirituality. That we are now sons and daughters of the King of kings, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) that we are standing in the grace (1 Cor. 10:12) and that we are better than others (Lk. 18: 11), all of these can cause us to develop a superiority complex and an arrogant spirit. Those who are blessed with various spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, miraculous powers etc. (1 Cor. 12: 8- 10) may tend to boast of their charismatic gifts.
Many ministers of the gospel, when they rise on the ladder of fame and success, forget their humble origins in the ministry. When their followers lift them up and put them on a pedestal almost to the point of “hero worship” they may think they are stars that will never lose their lustre. We have seen that in our own generation many ministers of God who were used greatly by God fell down from the heights and are almost forgotten by the very same people who once thought of them as mega stars. This causes us to ask: “how are the mighty fallen?” (2 Sam. 1: 25).
3. Consequences of Pride
Pride is like a virus that spreads from one person to others in the community and causes irreparable damage and ultimate destruction. The proverbial saying “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pro. 16: 18) has been tested time and time again and proved true. The builders of the tower of Babel tasted it, (Gen. 11: 8) King Saul lost his crown because of it (1 Sam. 15: 23) and Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity and was deposed from his throne and reduced to the status of a wild beast (Dan. 5: 20,21).
Let us look at a few more scriptures that high light the biblical teaching on the evil results of pride.
- Lucifer who was once described as “the morning star” ( Isa. 14: 12) fell from his position because of pride and became the adversary of God and his people with the name Satan or the Devil (1 Tim. 3: 6).
- They tend to “persecute the poor” ( Ps. 10:2)
- The proud man “stirs up strife” (Pro. 28: 25)
- The proud who try to scale the heights to establish themselves will be brought down ( Jr. 49: 16).
It is a tragic truth that in secular history as well as biblical history we can learn of the downfall of many mighty men who prided themselves about power and achievements. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussain and many others are now buried under the sands of history. Likewise, all the bible characters like king Saul, Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel and King Herod who failed to “give praise to God”, all of them suffered violent death because of their arrogant behavior (1 Sam. 31: 6; 1 Kings 22: 34-35; 2 Kings 9: 30-37; Acts 12: 1-23). Their memories ring alarm bells to warn us of the grave danger of the sin of pride.
4. The cure for pride
Is there any treatment for this spiritual disease called Pride?Thankfully there is a special balm which our great physician has prepared for various ailments. The Old Testament speaks of a “balm in Gilead” which was effective for various problems (Jr. 46: 11; 51: 8). It was a compound made up of several ingredients. Similarly, there is a special scriptural prescription for the sin of pride. It can treat even the most chronic cases. But there is a condition: it must be taken on a daily basis. The ingredients of this special medicine consist of the following.
Follow Jesus’ example
Jesus is the model for the believers. We have to follow his foot prints and show to the world we are his followers ( Pet. 2: 21). The example that He set before us is one of humility and service. He humbled himself to the point of becoming a man, served like a servant and was not ashamed to wash even his disciples’ feet (Phil. 2: 5-8; Mk. 10:45; Jn. 13: 4-12). This is the model we are called upon to follow.
When the apostle Paul said “I have been crucified with Christ … “ (Gal. 2: 20) he was stating the fact that believers are identified with Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection (see Rom.6:2-4). However, Paul also clarifies elsewhere that because of the reality and the presence of sin in our flesh, there is a need to voluntarily crucify our big I and bring it under the control of Christ, our Master on a daily basis (Rom. 6: 11,12). Put to death the deeds of the flesh is another way of saying the same truth (Rom. 8: 13; Col. 3: 5).
Be clothed with the apron of humility
The Apostle Peter exhorts the diaspora Christians, especially the youth, to be clothed “with humility toward one another” because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. He repeats the same “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5,6). These verses show that genuine humility is the antidote to the spirit of Pride and arrogance.
Pride, as I have tried to show in this article, is a sin of the spirit, which is far more serious than any carnal sin. It has serious consequences and therefore, every Christian needs to be on his/her guard to check its ugly head from rising above and causing damage to our souls. The good news is that God has promised to help us overcome all our ego related sins and live in humility and submission to God’s will. The sound advice St. Paul gave to the Roman church is for all of us too: “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you”. (Rom.12:3).