Wrestling with Pride

By Will Dole

There is an old fable about two roosters who fight over who would be king of the barnyard. Eventually one of the roosters gains the upper hand in the contest, as the other one withdraws and slinks away to a corner. The winner goes straight to the highest point of the yard and defiantly crows about his newly found barnyard dominance. However, his taunting is cut short when suddenly an eagle swoops down and carries off the winner, clutched in his talons. The “loser” is left to rule the roost in the end.

The obvious moral of this story is that pride comes before a fall. This is a principle we find in several places in Scripture, such as Proverbs 11:2, 13:10 and 16:18. Proverbs has much to say about the perils of a prideful attitude. Yet in our culture, pride can be perceived as good, desirable and even sought after. Far from the three R’s, schools are now teaching such things as self-worth, self-love and self-confidence.

Though not bad ideas, often the method of conveying these concepts results instead in self-pride. On the other hand, God’s word says this of pride: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” 1 Peter 5:5, which quotes Proverbs 3:34.Combine that with the many other passages regarding humility in the Bible, and it’s difficult to misunderstand God’s position on pride. Why then does our culture promote in a positive light something God so clearly opposes?

According to Dictionary.com pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” This seems like a pretty reasonable definition. Now for an example—there are so many to choose from, but for the sake of familiarity, let’s take a look at the first sin in Genesis 3. In the previous two chapters, God makes a perfect, beautiful world, man and woman; He sets them in a garden to care for it; and essentially gives them free reign of the place, adding only one rule: They are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enter Satan. In form of a serpent, he makes statements that lead Eve to question God. He convinces her that God is not looking out for her best interests. At that point she places her desires above God’s commands, eats the fruit, and gives some to her husband, who does likewise. With these acts, they set their own desires in the place of God’s plans. They become not only disobedient idolaters, but prideful, disobedient idolaters.

It’s a vivid illustration of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Adam and Eve form an inordinate opinion of their importance and superiority, putting themselves—conscious of it, or not—in the place of God. This leads to their expulsion from the garden, spiritual death, physical decay and to their sin nature, which has passed on to every one of us. These are some very real repercussions.

If God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, why wouldn’t we want to be humble? In fact, Jesus Himself says in Luke 14:11, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done. It’s not too difficult to acknowledge that we need to be more humble, but putting it into practice can quite honestly be something akin to peeling skin from our bodies. In fact, we cannot do it ourselves. We need to rely on His Spirit of humility in order to overcome our pride. If we stop at this point, it can be discouraging.

So, how can we handle this beast of pride? In my own life, pride seems to constantly overwhelm my desire to be humble—unless my focus shifts from my humility to Christ’s glorification. We are by nature prideful and sinful people. Our desire will always be to glorify ourselves, and to make much of ourselves. But Jesus calls us to humbly follow Him. He can ask this, first of all, because He is Almighty God and Creator of the universe. He is deserving of our praise, worship and obedience. But He also earned this right as a loving and merciful Savior who exemplified humility by following the Father’s rescue plan for us. As it says in Philippians 2:5-8, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus, who is God, humbles Himself not just in becoming a man, but then to die; and not just to die, but to die on a cross! That is love beyond comparison—love which we would not have experienced had Christ not humbly given of Himself. Our actions ought to be an expression of gratitude, love and worship to Him. Our goal is not to merely be humble, but further, to glorify our Savior. This means our attitudes, lives and actions must all demonstrate humility. Is this a quick fix? Are we rid of pride in four easy steps? No. But it can be an effective and God-glorifying way of dealing with our pride.

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