The Dangers of Pride
The Dangers of Pride
Back when I was working as a lawyer, I remember a very straightforward case that I thought I was bound to win. I was so confident I decided that it was not worth even bothering to pray about it or commit it to the Lord.
When I stood up to speak, the judge asked me whether I was aware of a case that had changed the law in the last few days. I was not. The result was a very humiliating defeat. As the passage in Proverbs today warns (Proverbs 16:18), pride had come before a fall.
In my humiliation, I cried out to God for help. I read the recent case. Then, I wrote an opinion saying I thought the decision was wrong and would be reversed on appeal. Thankfully, it was.
We were able to go back to court and win the case. The solicitor, rather than judging me for my mistake, was kind enough to be impressed by the opinion I had written and sent me many more cases. So it became a double lesson; not just about the dangers of pride but also about the extraordinary grace of God and how ‘things work out when you trust in God’ (Proverbs 16:20, MSG).
I try not to forget the lesson I learnt about the dangers of pride and self-reliance whenever I stand up to speak. I would like to say that I have never made the same mistake again but it is a lesson that I have had to re-learn several times.
In English, the word ‘pride’ can have a good sense. For example, we would not say it is wrong for a person to be proud of their children, or to take pride in their work. However, when the Bible talks about pride it means something different from this and has very negative connotations.
It means to have an excessively high opinion of one’s own worth or importance; it suggests arrogant or overbearing conduct. It is the independent spirit that says, ‘I have no need of God.’ Arguably, therefore, it is at the root of all sin. How should we respond to the temptation and dangers of pride?
Cultivate humilityProverbs 16:18-27
God wants you to learn to walk in humility and kindness, not arrogance and pride. Pride comes before a fall: ‘First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall’ (v.18, MSG).
We are reminded that ‘It’s better to live humbly among the poor than to live it up among the rich and famous’ (v.19, MSG).
A lack of power is very frustrating at times when we think we know how best to advance the kingdom of God. However, Jesus had very little power from a human point of view. He was ‘lowly in spirit and among the oppressed’ (v.19).
‘Lowliness of spirit’, the opposite of pride, brings:
Humility means a willingness to learn: ‘Those who give heed to instruction prosper’ (v.20a).
The humble trust in God: ‘Whoever leans on, trusts in, and is confident in the Lord – happy, blessed, and fortunate is he’ (v.20b, AMP).
As opposed to the arrogant words of the proud (‘scoundrels plot evil, and their speech is like a scorching fire’, v.27), the humble use pleasant words (‘pleasant words promote instruction’, v.21b). ‘Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ (v.24).
Lord, help me always to stay dependent on you, to trust in you.
Serve and witnessActs 25:23-26:23
What should you do if you get the opportunity to testify about Jesus? How should you go about telling your story? We see in this passage a great example of what to do.
Paul, on trial, tells the court that Jesus gave him a commission to serve: ‘I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness’ (26:16). As Jesus came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ (Mark 10:45), all of us are called to be servants and witnesses. A witness humbly points beyond him or herself. Paul humbly points to Jesus. Here we see how he fulfils this calling.
Paul, in prison and on trial, comes face to face with pride and ‘great pomp’ as he is brought before Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:23). It must have been a very daunting experience.
Paul, once again, simply and humbly gives his testimony. He is polite and respectful to King Agrippa (26:2–3). He conforms to custom and social graces. He skilfully selects the parts of his story that are relevant to his audience.
In the first part of his testimony Paul uses ‘I’ messages as opposed to ‘you’ messages. Whereas ‘you’ messages can seem arrogant and patronising, ‘I’ messages are sometimes more effective, as well as being a more unthreatening and gracious way to make a point.
He says he used to be just like them: ‘I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem… I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them’ (vv.9–10).
The implicit message is, ‘I was just like you. I was full of pride, power and pomp. I did what you are now doing. I persecuted Christians just as you are now persecuting me.’
He then tells how Jesus appeared to him and pointed out that in persecuting Christians, he was actually persecuting Jesus. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (v.15).
Jesus told him, ‘I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (vv.17–18). Through this powerful ‘I’ message of his testimony, Paul is actually saying to them that they are in darkness and under the power of Satan, in need of forgiveness for their sins.
Not only does he point out their needs, he also points out the way to forgiveness: ‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’ (v.20). In effect, he is saying to these proud and powerful people, ‘You need to repent and turn to God.’
He goes on, ‘I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike’ (v.22). Paul was willing to speak to everyone, to the powerful and to the weak.
Paul’s message was always centred on Jesus, who had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He testifies that, ‘the Christ must suffer and... rise from the dead’ (v.23, AMP).
Lord, help me to take every opportunity to tell people about Jesus and to follow his example of humble service.
Resist pride2 Kings 14:23-15:38
If, for example, you have anyone working for you, or if you are a parent, or if you are in any position of leading as a volunteer, you are in a position of power.
Pride is a particular temptation for anyone in a position of power – whether that power comes from status, success, fame or wealth.
The history of the kings of Israel and Judah demonstrates that it is extremely difficult to become powerful and resist the temptation of pride. During this period, the kings of Judah are doing rather better than the kings of Israel. King after king in Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord (14:24; 15:18,24,28), while in Judah, Azariah and his son Jotham both ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (15:3,34).
Azariah is also known as Uzziah (v.32). We know something more about him from other parts of the Old Testament (for example, Amos 1:1, Isaiah 6:1f. and 2 Chronicles 26:16–23).
Here we read that although he ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… the high places… were not removed… The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died’ (2 Kings 15:3–5). Why did his life end in such a mess?
The book of Chronicles gives the answer: ‘His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God’ (2 Chronicles 26:15–16).
This warns us that if God has blessed us with success there is always a temptation to become proud.
Lord, thank you for all the warnings in the Bible, as well as the encouragements. Help me always to take heed of these warnings. Lord, I am utterly dependent on you. Help me to keep my eyes always fixed on Jesus who was all-powerful and yet humbled himself, made himself nothing and took the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:6–8).
Once I managed to get into a small parking space in one manoeuvre and was rather pleased with myself. I told my mother, who was with me in the car, that I was the best at parking in our family and resented remarks about women not being good at parking. Later, someone asked if I could go and pick something up. I jumped into the car with a friend and we returned. The same space was free. But could I get into it? It took me five goes and by the end my friend was offering to park for me! It served me right. Pride comes before a fall!
Verse of the Day
‘Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ (Proverbs 16:24).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.