She said it to me at the end of bible study, after we had finished our discussion and prayed, and were getting ready to head home in the dark to our families: You know, I didn’t like you when we first met. You seemed stand-offish. Snooty.
My heart beat hard with surprise as the words clanged in my head. Shocked, I mumbled self-deprecating words to my long-time friend. I know first impressions can be misleading, so I tried to force my brain to move on from her words, but my heart could not let go. I kept thinking about it all that night and the next day.
How had I conveyed this to her? Could it be that this was the impression I was giving people regularly? Did I come across as prideful? Was I prideful?
A Definition of Pride
God hates pride. It’s that simple. In Proverbs 8, wisdom cries out:
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Proverbs 8:13 (ESV)
What is pride? I like this explanation from Gerald Cohen in The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:
Pride is easier to recognize than to define, easier to recognize in others than in oneself. Many biblical words describe this concept, each with its own emphasis. Some of the synonyms for pride include arrogance, presumption, conceit, self-satisfaction, boasting, and high-mindedness. It is the opposite of humility, the proper attitude one should have in relation to God. Pride is rebellion against God because it attributes to oneself the honor and glory due to God alone.
There are many Greek words used in the New Testament that are synonyms of pride. Several of them can be translated “puffed up” or “inflated”.
When we are prideful we might look substantial, but in fact we are like blow up beach toys – filled with emptiness and puffed up with air.
The Deception of Pride
Can you imagine going to Jesus and asking Him to make your sons the most important people in His kingdom? That is exactly what James and John’s mother did:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28 (ESV)
Wanting the best for our children is human nature, isn’t it? And Zebedee’s wife was obviously willing to risk the embarrassment of begging from Jesus. But the woman had it all upside down. Her pride in and for her children (and by extension herself) drove her to ask the inconceivable from the Lord Himself.
Her request displayed a complete lack of understanding of Jesus’ message. She had been deceived by her own pride into thinking that the best thing for her sons was power, when in God’s economy, that was the worst thing.
I’m afraid that many parents (yes even Christian parents) can identify with the mother of James and John. We want our children to do well. And we make the worldly mistake of thinking that what things look like on the outside has real value. We forget about eternity
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:16-17 (ESV)
Pride deceives us into valuing what God does not value!
The pride of your heart has deceived you Obadiah 1:3a (ESV)
Pride separates us from God. When we puff up with pride, we rely on ourselves – on our abilities and our circumstances – to guide and sustain us. How little it takes to prick that balloon and deflate us!
For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar. Psalm 138:6 (NASB)
God’s Solution – Humility
The world bases its priorities on feelings and customs which change. The only antidote to pride is to align myself with God and His priorities. Pride makes me in charge of setting the priorities. Humility means allowing God to be in charge.
Living in alignment with God’s will means having a true perspective of ourselves. It could be argued that understanding our place in the world and who we are in Christ is in itself humility.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (ESV)
My children learned a little ditty years ago in Sunday School class: First is worst, second is best, third is the one with the treasure chest. In God’s world order, the smallest and the weakest, the one who receives the least honor… this is the one who is greatest.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4 (ESV)
Rest is the Result of Repentance from Pride
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
If we are to model our lives after Jesus, we have no choice but to be humble. I just love what Jesus says is the result of choosing to be gentle and humble like Him:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (NASB)
Rest! Don’t we all want more rest? Rest from worrying about our positions, rest from fretting about what people think of us, rest from the endless proving that we are smart or beautiful or powerful. Blessed rest.
When we turn away from navel-gazing and our puffed up desires to follow our own worldliness, we turn toward our gentle and humble Lord, Who lightens the load and gives rest to our exhausted souls.
And what about my friend’s initial impression of me? Eight years have passed since that first meeting, so I can’t rightly say what was at the root of it. I do know that I struggle with pride in some areas of my life, and I know that God often confronts me with the uncomfortable parts of myself. Painful as that is, it is a grace to me, for it humbles me and reminds me how desperately I need Him. He pricks my balloon and lets out all my prideful air!
As I have thought through the whole situation, I have had to roll my eyes at myself – even my reaction to finding out my friend’s first impression was prideful. The chains of people pleasing are heavy indeed. What joy that our Lord is a bondage breaker!
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (ESV)
I am thankful for the love and friendship my friend and I share, and that I can walk in the grace that God gives as He grows me in humility… more and more and more grace.