Some view pride as a virtue, but Scripture is clear that the believer is to detest it. Charles Bridges states in his excellent commentary on Proverbs, “On no point is the mind of God more fully declared than against pride.”1 Unfortunately, in our increasingly backward culture, pride is often valued as a prized commodity.
The apostle Paul heralds in stark contrast to self-importance, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live …” (Galatians 2:20). The biblical orientation of one’s thought life more than suggests that we get our minds off of ourselves and focus instead on the One who saved us! Biblical thinking at this point—this mental exercise of exchange—is the only way to truly and completely mortify personal pride.
Read on my friend.
The acceptance of pride in our culture is so prevalent that some will argue with what I’ve said. Allow me to illustrate its prevalence.
Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way” and Whitney Houston popularized “the greatest love of all … is learning to love yourself.” Both made millions from the sale of such albums. “Taking pride in one’s work” is a commonly held axiom, and who hasn’t witnessed the myriad of “proud parent” bumper stickers or monotonous, arrogant “I did this” political speeches? Even some Christian ministries believe that engendering pride (often under the guise of infusing “self-esteem”) in a child is a good thing. But, no matter what you believe about the need for “self-esteem” or “the adult quest for meaning,” all hold in common a subtle or not-so-subtle focus on one’s self. Oh, and did I mention the “selfie” craze—look at me, here I am! These are the seedbeds of an increasingly self-absorbed culture where in conversational skills (among many other things) the subject always revolves back to me.
In relation to a fixation on self, the Bible teaches precisely here in stark contrast, the opposite: The apostle Paul illustrates the sin of boasting about his own life when he says in Philippians 3:4–9:
“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
The great apostle had more to boast about than you or I, but he exchanged what could have justifiably been a self-centered orientation for God-centered glorification.
In essence, pride is the rebel that does battle against God’s dominion.
In 1 Corinthians 1:31 Paul quotes Jeremiah 9:24, stating: “so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Jeremiah and Paul’s God-inspired thinking and attitude about the stench of pride is further revealed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The public servant is just that: a servant! But more than a servant of the people, the Christian public servant is first and foremost a servant of his Lord Jesus Christ—and honoring Him is what motivates his desire to serve with excellence his constituency.
As Christian parents, or influencers of others, we are not motivated by the same things as worldly friends, we are not on a narcissistic quest for personal meaning; I avoided instructing my children in ways others use to obtain self-esteem. Conversely, a much stronger curriculum and motive for others to attain excellence in all areas of life is to instruct them to seek after God’s glory—to pursue a lifelong quest to reflect His excellence and greatness in the world! Paul states precisely this attitude in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Instilling God esteem in your child will lead to a much more secure and humble adult than instilling and praising his pride as a child. It’s all about God’s greatness not mine!
Christian author, C.J. Mahaney puts it this way, “Paul lived a cross-centered life.” He was not absorbed with self-greatness, but something far, far more important: instead, he was all about heralding the wonderful work of God in paying for his sin. After all, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Given the reality of every human’s dependence on God for his or her very next breath, “may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). James adds, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (4:16).
Solomon had much to say about this subject in his God-inspired book of Proverbs. Study along with me further about the necessity of mortifying pride and adjusting our motives, and as you do, ask God to reveal areas of pride that not only need immediate attention perhaps at our offices, but areas in our personal lives where we need to emulate Christ’s goodness, versus self. In summary of this introduction note Proverbs 8:13:
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.”
In an attempt to define pride and better understand its manifest forms in our lives let us first examine its characteristic traits.
II. SIX CHARACTERISTICS OF PRIDEFUL PEOPLE
A. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE ARE SCOFFERS
Prideful people will often display attitudes and actions of scorn (open dislike and disrespect); derision (the use of ridicule); and mockery (a counterfeit appearance) to manifest contempt. Scoffers are quick to pass judgment on others. The Psalmist warns us not to go near them: Do not sit in the seat of the scoffer, he says, lest you learn his ways. In addition, Solomon identifies proud people as indexed by manifest scoffing in Proverbs 1:22:
“How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
What compels one to scoff? The soul of the scoffer contains an underlying predilection toward self-greatness; he fancies himself, leaving little room for the presence or thankfulness for his chief sponsor. Scoffing is nothing more than an unconscious or else clever form of self-adulation via the systematic discount and elimination of others. In Proverbs 9:7–8 Solomon states the risk others run in associating too closely with individuals steeped in self absorption:
“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you.”
Rather than add to the nobility and culture of the capital, scoffers detract from it. States Proverbs 24:9:
“The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to men.”
In Proverbs 3:34 Scripture says that God scoffs at the scoffers. Unlike fallen mankind, God has every right to do this because He is perfect!
The first characteristic then, of proud persons is that they elevate themselves by putting others down.
To the contrary, humble people center their thoughts and speech on “whatever is true, honorable, whatever is right …” (Philippians 4:8). They view others as more important than self (Philippians 2:3). They “have been crucified with Christ;” they live for Him (Galatians 2:20). Some great sound bite advice I received years ago in this regard is to learn to preoccupy my mind with ideas and the future rather than people and the past. That exercise has served me well.
B. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE ARE BOASTERS
Scripture says that to talk about our future with confidence is a form of boasting. Note Proverbs 27:1 in this regard:
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
No matter how well minded our intentions, or confident we may be, James says that, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (4:15). To talk confidently about your future is presumptuous; it presupposes that you are in control of it when you are not. It is always best to keep every thought about your future in your mind and confined to your prayer closet. Typically, inherent also in individuals who expound on the greatness of their future is a twin attitude of exaggeration. They overdo the reality of their present situation in ways personally beneficial. States Proverbs 25:14:
“Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.”
Refrain from boasting not only about the future, but learn to never speak of your past accomplishments; that too is a form of boasting. States Proverbs 27:2:
“Let another praise you and not your own mouth, a stranger and not your own lips.”
Don’t fool yourself into thinking “if I don’t tell them about my accomplishments they will never know!” They can ask someone else about you or look you up on the Internet just as quickly and easily as you telling them about yourself. Coach Wooden used to always say, “Work on your character, not your reputation.”
C. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE ARE ARROGANT
A third sister characteristic of a proud person, in addition to scoffing and boasting, is arrogance. Interestingly, Proverbs 14:16 equates arrogance with foolishness:
“A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless.”
Arrogance is defined as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” Why do you suppose that it is foolish to be arrogant? For one, it makes exactly the wrong impression than the one the prideful person desires! Resist exaggerating your own sense of importance or worth; seek to be understated, not overbearing. For instance, in times of verbal communication, learn to ask questions of others versus holding the ball in what should otherwise be a tennis match filled with long back and forth ground strokes. No volleying at the net either. It’s no fun interacting with overly aggressive and dominant people who hold onto the ball! As a public servant you can get away with dominating conversations and nobody will usually say anything, but folks go away with the wrong impression, and rightfully so. Don’t be careless in this regard. Take to heart Proverbs 12:9 and notice how it is tied to boasting, the previous characteristic of pride:
“Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant than he who honors himself and lacks bread.”
Both figuratively and mentally sit at the feet of everyone you meet.
Attempt to learn from others versus impressing others. Be characterized as someone who asks sincere questions; refrain from looking for opportunities to interject related stories. Instead be thinking how you can learn more by asking a question relative to something another just said versus not listening while you think about what you’ll say as soon as he inhales.
D. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE DECLINE CORRECTION
A fourth characteristic of pride is to think you’re always right. Proverbs 13:1 and 15:12 speak to the sin of over confidence:
“A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”
“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon generally and repeatedly organizes people into three categories: Those who do not yet know wisdom: simpletons; those who reject wisdom: scoffers; and those who are accepting of wisdom: the wise. Notice below the existence and characteristic attitudes of each of these three individuals in each of these two Proverbs, 19:25 and 21:11 respectively:
“Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, but reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.”
“When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.”
When a simpleton (termed a naive one above) observes the defiance of a scoffer, he may become wise as a result of watching the scoffer’s reaction (which is characteristically to reject reproof ). Furthermore, note in each of the two Proverbs that the simpleton is observing and comparing the contrasting responses to the rebuke of both the scoffer and the wise person—the wise take reproof and instruction and grow from it; we have already seen that the scoffer rejects it. All that to say, a prideful person is not teachable; he is in a rut, not growing as a person.
E. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE DEFY AUTHORITY
Insolence is a level of pride wherein an individual is puffed up to the degree he exhibits boldness and or effrontery. Such a heightened level of pride, states Proverbs 13:10 can be disastrous if left unchecked:
“Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.”
Such haughty and contemptuous people, if not brutal in their behavior or language, become increasingly overbearing and arrogantly critical. If their pride goes unchecked—especially in the life of an employee under your supervision in your office—wherein there is lacking proper respect for rank or position, and there exists presumptuous disrespect for equals and superiors, in the end the insolent will end up hurting you, their boss. Learn to develop an eye for insolent staff and do not tolerate it; nip it in the bud before it blooms and sets back your office, your mission. In distinct contrast, albeit, phrased in a Roman economy of employment, 1 Peter 2:18 states the kind of principled attitude God expects subordinates to possess toward their superiors:
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”
Even if you as their boss have deficiencies (and what person doesn’t?) it remains the responsibility of your staff to nonetheless be submissive to your leadership (as long as your authority is not demanding an employee to sin in some way, e.g., via both sins of omission or commission).
F. PRIDEFUL PEOPLE HAVE HAUGHTY EYES
Solomon uses the figurative picture of a lamp in his writings to convey the common idea of projection. With that in mind, notice what he says proud people project per Proverbs 21:4:
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.”
Learn to ascertain the existence of proud eyes; study, read, receive an impression of another as you interact with them. It is wise to pick up on one’s spirit; the eyes give you a view into his soul. States Proverbs 6:16–17:
“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,”
G. A SUMMARY DESCRIPTION OF PRIDEFUL PEOPLE
Proverbs 21:24 is an apt summary of Proverbs on pride; it packages up many of the previously mentioned definitive aspects of this subject.
“‘Proud,’ ‘Haughty,’ ‘Scoffer,’ are his names, who acts with insolent pride.”
States commentator Bridges,
“The proud man is proud of his pride, proud of his high spirit; counting a Christian cowardly, who in the true spirit of the gospel, yields up his right to a stronger hand.”2
Here then are the six characteristics of manifest pride as explicated in and from the book of Proverbs. Let us now turn our attention to the ensuing results that inevitably occur when one fails to punt on pride and calibrate on Christ.
III. THE FOUR RESULTS OF PRIDEFUL PEOPLE A. DISHONOR
Pride was the principle ingredient of the fall, and is therefore the native foundation of today’s human condition. Per Proverbs 11:2, when Adam and Eve fell, shame followed:
“When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.”
Be sure of this: If you fail to check pride it will lead to your eventual dishonor and downfall. A part of the fall, pride can be likened to cancer, growing worse over time. Mortify it! Surgically remove it from your life! Go cold turkey!
In Luke’s Gospel (18:14) Jesus states a promise: “‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” This one New Testament (NT) passage is a great summary of Old Testament (OT) Solomonic, proverbial wisdom on this matter. In fact, it is sad to witness the violation of this single truth repeatedly play itself out on the Hill. Notice the myriad of Proverbs (15:25; 16:18; 18:12; and 29:23 respectively) that underscore Jesus’ counter-intuitive statement:
“The Lord will tear down the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.”
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor.”
“A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
One of my sage seminary professors and a former member of the board of Capitol Ministries®, a man who has experienced (like all of us, I suppose) staff disruptions over the course of his career, advises his students to leave the employ of another quietly. Be it a ministry organization or a congressional office, it is a sign of maturity to not create strife when you disagree with your boss.
The fruit of arrogance is strife.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary define strife as “bitter sometimes violent conflict or dissension.” It is a sign of personal immaturity to take advantage of the closeness and personal insights one gains with his employer and then turn around and exploit him or her on the way out. Solomon says in Proverbs 28:25 that such is one of the fruits of pride and arrogance. Every employee should always remember that if it wasn’t for the boss who created his job, he would never have had a job in the first place!
“An arrogant man stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.”
Pride not only results in dishonor, destruction, and strife; it results in punishment.
The high-minded who in essence are contending for supremacy with the Almighty will not go unpunished by Him. This is the reminder and declaration of Proverbs 16:5:
“Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.”
Pride can stem from different things: “Some are proud of their beauty, their talents, their rank or their comparative goodness …”3 Whatever the basis for personal pride, God contends with all proud people. Why? He gave it to them and He will not share His glory with anyone. Note God’s jealousy regarding His glory as it plays out in the OT relative to the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:1–8:
“Say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God, Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the seas’; yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God—behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you. By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired riches for yourself and have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries. By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches and your heart is lifted up because of your riches—therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have made your heart like the heart of God, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most ruthless of the nations. And they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die the death of those who are slain in the heart of the seas.’”
Is it any wonder why God reacts so vehemently against man’s pride?
Man’s pride displaces God’s supremacy. Therefore, he sets himself in battle array, as against the usurper of his prerogative, the rebel against his dominion.4
God’s punishment of prideful people is echoed by Solomon in Proverbs 19:29:
“Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and blows for the back of fools.”
The arrogant culture of OT Tyre also serves to illustrate the mind of God as meted out by Paul’s words to the pride-filled believers at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul reasons why we have no basis to be prideful: “What do you have that you did not receive?” It follows that prideful individuals, be they believers or not, have forgotten that all they might find pride in is ultimately a gift from God. It follows that He is ultimately deserving of all praise for beauty, talent, rank or wealth!
Now let’s conclude by pondering some solutions to pride. How does one exchange pride for a Christ oriented life?
IV. THREE WAYS TO OVERCOME PRIDE
For the unbeliever, frying one’s pride means you must first repent and exchange the lordship of your life for Christ’s— apart from this first step there is no logical reason why you should not exalt yourself; the secular pretense of humility can be and is nothing more than an outward act for anyone who in essence believes that he or she is God! Given that prerequisite for any possibility for true humility, here is how Solomon says we can begin to slay visceral, internal pride:
A. DON’T SELF-PROMOTE
This is a difficult concept for someone who has to be elected to maintain his or her career. My best advice is that you allow others to speak of your strengths unscripted. Keep in mind the principle Proverbs 25:27:
“It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glory to search out one’s own glory.”
Further note how you can publicly manifest humility in a practical sense per Proverbs 25:6–7:
“Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; for it is better that it be said to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.”
Discipline yourself; do not self-promote. Again, heed the words of Proverbs 27:2:
“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”
Self-promotion is a bad habit; mortify this temptation and tendency. Spend your days praising others and diminishing yourself.
B. SEE OTHERS AS MORE IMPORTANT
In Philippians 2:3—and Proverbs 16:19 respectively:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
“It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
C. REALIZE WHAT IS GOOD IS FROM GOD
Isaiah 64:6 is a sobering passage for anyone who thinks he is self made:
“… righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
Similar to what Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke (18:14), James 4:10 exclaims a great takeaway promise worthy of memorization: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Be careful to always deflect praise to His glory, and remember: God will not share His glory with anyone, so be careful not to compete!
1. Charles Bridges, Proverbs, (Banner of Truth 1998), p. 41.
2. Ibid. p. 368.
3. Ibid. p. 229.
4. Ibid. p. 42.