READ : 1 Peter 5:4-5
There can only be one person at the center of your universe. And if that person is not God, then you are guilty of pride.
What’s wrong with pride? According to both the Bible and universal Christian tradition, pride is the first sin, the chief sin, and the root sin. Ironically though, many people today think of it as more of a virtue than a sin. “After all,” they ask, “What’s so bad about feeling good about yourself? Is it wrong for me to be proud of myself and my accomplishments? Shouldn’t I feel good about who I am?” In fact, we often criticize a person who’s sloppy or lazy by saying, “He has no pride in himself,” or “She takes no pride in her work.” So why is it that Christians insist pride is a sin? And the chief sin at that?
Well, let’s begin by being clear about what we mean when we talk about the sin of pride. We don’t mean a healthy sense of your own worth as a person made in the image of God. We’re not talking about the self-respect that causes you to strive to do your best, or the personal pleasure and satisfaction you take in your accomplishments. None of those things constitutes the sin of pride.
Let’s start with the dictionary definition. Pride is defined as “an inordinate self-esteem, an unreasonable conceit of superiority, an overweening opinion of one’s own qualities.” Or consider the synonyms that we use to describe those who are proud. They give us a good idea, I think, of what we’re talking about: Haughty . . . Arrogant . . . Egotistical . . . Vain . . . Self-centered. Sinful pride is a distortion of proper feelings of self-worth.
It also involves a substitution. In the Bible, pride is defined as the sin of humans trying to put themselves in God’s place. That’s why pride was the first sin. It was the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Remember how Satan drove home the temptation to disobey God? He said to them, “If you do this, you will be just like God.” That was the desire that led Adam and Eve to fall, the wish to be God themselves, for themselves, to dethrone God and to enthrone self, to usurp God’s place, to remove God from the center of life and place self there instead, to crown self and then fall down at their own feet and worship themselves. That’s the sin of pride.
Pride isn’t only the first sin. It is the chief sin. No other sin could be more fundamentally wrong because the proud man or woman worships him or herself instead of God. There can only be one person at the center of your universe, and if that person is not God, then you are guilty of pride.
And pride is the root sin. It’s the cause of all other sins. All of the other six deadly sins can find their source in this root sin of pride. Pride lies behind envy; pride makes us look around and think that we deserve to have whatever we want and that no one else ought to have what we can’t have. Pride lies behind anger; pride makes us quick to take offense at the smallest slight, and to seethe with rage whenever we are opposed or criticized in any way. Pride lies behind sloth; pride makes us think that the world owes us a living, that somehow we ought to be able to get by without working and contributing. Pride lies behind greed; pride fuels our appetite for more and more things that we can boast about and show off and thus feel superior to all our neighbors and friends. Pride lies behind gluttony – or to use the name by which we dignify gluttony today – “conspicuous consumption.” Pride convinces us that we deserve the best and most of everything in limitless self-indulgence. And pride lies behind lust; pride convinces us that other people are there to be used merely for the satisfying of our desires.
So pride is the first sin, and the chief sin, and the root sin. It is the sin that is first in our lives, and lasts longest. The temptation to any one of the other sins fluctuates, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. But pride is always with us. And the particularly devilish thing about it is that the more we are able to overcome other sins and weaknesses, the greater will be our temptation to pride.
GOD RESISTS THE PROUD
With all this in mind, perhaps we can understand why the Bible takes such a serious view of the problem of human pride. Here is what the apostle Peter said about it:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:4-5, NIV
Pride is the sin which, though attractive to us, is particularly abhorrent to God. Did you catch what Peter said? He said that God opposes the proud. Literally, he “sets himself against” people who are proud.
Now it’s a terrible thing to think of a person trying to oppose God. When the risen Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus he told Saul that in persecuting the Lord and his people he was kicking against the goads. Like an animal continually fighting against a cattle-prod, those who oppose God only hurt themselves.
But it is a far more terrible thought to consider that God might choose to oppose us. Now, there’s an idea that sounds jarring in our tolerant age. God oppose me? He’s not supposed to do that, is he? Isn’t he supposed to be kind and loving and accepting? Isn’t his job to sit up in heaven and wait for me to arrive? Or perhaps turn to him if I feel like it. And then when I get there, when I look his way, he has to open his arms and automatically embrace me. That’s God’s job, isn’t it? As a famous sceptic once quipped, “Of course God will forgive me. That is his trade.” Such a casual, unthinking assumption that I can live my life my way and then somehow automatically end up being saved in God’s way is a delusion. It’s a mark of sinful pride.
So it may come as a startling – and alarming – piece of news to learn from scripture that God resists the proud. He sets himself against them. He deliberately opposes people who think and act that way. Anyone who thinks that he can carelessly saunter into God’s presence after a life of self-centered indifference to God is in for a big shock. As Jesus himself repeatedly said, “Whoever exalts himself will be put down, will be humbled.” But the humble will be raised up, will be exalted.
So there’s the antidote to pride. Listen again to Peter: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and in due season he will raise you up.” It’s all about getting low so that God can raise us high rather than thinking that we’re so great, high and mighty ourselves. Now the interesting thing to me about this verse is that it describes humility as something we must do. We must humble ourselves. We must clothe ourselves with humility, Peter says.
This is an important command because so many people seem somehow to have gotten the idea of thinking of humility in totally passive terms. We think of it as something that has to happen to us, not as something we have to strive for. I once heard a Christian preacher say, “Don’t worry about being humble. God will take care of that. He will always see that something happens to humble you.” Now that may sound superficially pious, but in fact, it’s terrible advice. It is true that God will humble the proud. He opposes them. He will put them down. But do you want that to happen to you? How awful to go on living in pride until God finally does humble you! That’s not a very smart way to go. What scripture tells us to do is to humble ourselves first, take the initiative. Don’t wait for God to humble us. This is an action which we ourselves can and must undertake.
So how do you do that? How do you humble yourself? What’s the recipe for growing humility as part of your character?
I think there are two essential steps to take. The first step, the beginning of humility, lies in the way you think. Humility starts with developing the proper attitude toward God and others. The tax collector in Jesus’ parable had it right. Bowing his head, getting low before God, he prayed simply, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This attitude also carries over into how we think about other people. Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than yourself.” This doesn’t mean we must try to imagine that all people are the same, or that they are all equal in gifts, advantages or abilities. They’re obviously not. Nor must we persuade ourselves that everyone on earth is better in every sense than we are. That’s not true either. What the Bible is telling us here is that we must learn to reverse the default attitude we’re born with that makes us put ourselves above and ahead of every other person. Instead we must learn to regard others as being just as important as ourselves. We humble ourselves when we identify with the whole human race and see ourselves simply as one member of a family, all of whom are equally valuable in God’s eyes.
One of the worst things about pride is that it is so anti-social. Humility is essential for genuine community. We can never be at one as long as we think we are above everybody else. So humility is developing this sense of identity. It doesn’t mean hating yourself. It’s not despising yourself. It’s not self-loathing. True humility, I think, consists neither in hating nor loving yourself, but rather in forgetting yourself. The humble person is the one who doesn’t think about him or herself at all, who focuses instead upon God and the neighbor. So humility begins with the right attitude, the way you think about God and others.
And it continues in the way you serve. That’s the second step. Again, think of the example of Christ. On the last night of his earthly life, what did Jesus do? He washed his disciples’ feet, thereby giving them an unforgettable object lesson in humble service. Then he went out and endured the betrayal and the trial, the mockery, the scoffing, the spitting, the beating, and finally crucifixion itself. The apostle Paul sums all of that up in Philippians 2 with the phrase, “He humbled himself even unto death.” And he tells us to do the same thing. “I have given you an example to follow,” Jesus told his disciples (John 13:15).
He also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, turn your attention outward from yourself toward others and see them as worthy of your care. The surest and quickest way to humble yourself is simply to give yourself in service to someone in need. If you want to develop humility, then all you have to do is turn and help your neighbor. It’s no great mystery. It’s no miraculous gift. It’s simple obedience. It begins in your thinking and it grows in your serving.
Oh, and there’s one other thing. The same God who opposes the proud, he gives his grace to the humble. Just something to think about.