As a preacher, it seems to be my job to tell people how they should live their lives. Each week I stand on a stage in front of large groups of people and tell them how they can be better spouses, parents, or followers of Jesus. It is actually my occupation to tell people how they can know God better. This both humbles and scares me.
Many weeks I find myself pacing back and forth in my office, talking to myself, and asking this overarching philosophical question, “Who am I to teach this?” Am I really a good enough husband to tell men to be good husbands? Am I a quality enough parent that I can offer legitimate parenting advice? Do I really know Jesus well enough that I can tell those around me how they can know him better?
As an ordinary man cast into the pulpit, I live in a lot of tension.
Much of the tension I feel is found in this idea that if I’m going to tell people how to live their lives, I should be living mine at an even higher standard. Thus, I find myself spending more time than I’d like in a sort of self-examining state. If I’m preaching on generosity one week I will lose sleep over whether or not I am a generous enough person.
A few weeks back I was preparing a sermon on pride and humility and the self-examining began. Here is what I realized about myself: I am incredibly proud. Sinfully proud.
Initially I thought to myself, Well, if you’re going to have a sin to struggle with, pride isn’t so bad. I honestly thought, At least it’s not a porn addiction or closet alcoholism. Or worse, at least I’m not a Nickleback fan.
So I started prepping for my message and I began reading passages like Proverbs 16:5, which says, “The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished” and Proverbs 3:34, which states, “The Lord opposes the proud but favors the humble.” Then I read 2 Timothy 3. When Paul is warning of the danger of the last days, he lumps pride in with slander, lack of self-control, cruelty, hating what is good, betrayal, being unloving and unforgiving, hypocrisy and loving pleasure rather than God.
It was then that I started to feel uncomfortable—and convicted.
In his commentary on Proverbs, Matthew Henry suggests, along with many other biblical scholars, that if one were to rank sins, pride would likely be near the top of the list. And although many would argue that sins can’t be ranked, the fact that many of us would be surprised to think about pride as one of the “worse” sins is revealing. If we’re honest, we don’t see pride as such a terrible thing after all—but it remains a sin, just like all the others.
Christ’s teaching on pride also reveals its gravity. One could argue that perhaps Jesus’ greatest frustration with the Pharisees was their pride. As seen in Matthew 6, Jesus had no problem with the Pharisees giving to the needy, spending time in prayer, or fasting. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that when they gave they did it to draw attention to themselves. When they prayed, they wanted everyone to see them. When they were fasting, they would exaggerate their appearance to once again draw attention to themselves.
For the Pharisees, the motive behind their spiritual acts was to put the attention upon themselves. They wanted people to see them and admire them and love them for their spiritual practices. The problem is that for the Pharisees, their spiritual practices had very little to do with God.
This drives Jesus crazy, to say the least. In Matthew 6, Jesus emphasizes the importance of shifting the focus from us to God, saying that when we obey instead in secret, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4).
The question is: Why does God have such disdain for the proud? In Proverbs 8, God actually declares that He “hates pride and arrogance.” Let’s be honest—there are very few things more annoying than being in conversation with someone who is obviously only concerned with themselves. But why does God hate it?
Scripture gives us a few clues, while showing us three primary reasons to refrain from pride.
Pride Steals God’s Glory
God is to be worshiped as the Creator. When we are proud, we are worshiping ourselves and stealing God’s glory. God is certainly love and grace and peace, but He’s also a jealous God, and it seems awfully arrogant to steal His glory. Isn’t it enough that He gives us life, salvation and hope?
Pride Keeps Us From Knowing God
In our pride, we often function in this mindset that we don’t need God. Pride can persuade us that the things we have accomplished have very little to do with God, and have almost everything to do with us. We begin to believe that our successes are the result of our own talents and abilities, rather than the blessings of God.
Pride Is a Gateway Sin
About a year ago one of my good friends and I were talking about how many of those we attended Bible College with were no longer in ministry. Not all left ministry because of moral failings, but some did. It’s interesting that in speaking with pastor friends who have “fallen from grace” in the ministry world, pride often finds its way into the conversation. Pride may not have been the sin that ultimately got them fired, but it was the sin that lead to the sin that lead to the sin.
The question is, especially for someone like me, who admits that pride is an issue: How do we seek humility over pride? Scripture points to a couple of things:
First, know that you’re not all that. Romans 12:3-5 says,
“Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
How honest are you in your evaluation of yourself? Are you too hard on yourself, or do you have an inflated view of self-importance?
Undoubtedly, you are special in God’s eyes. You’re special you’re made in His divine image. And as a believer, you are a part of the body of Christ. You have a specific role in the Kingdom. But notice, you are not the entire body—you’re just a part of the body. So, although you are very special to God, you are not all that.
And when we dwell in the reality that you’re not all that, you will begin to think of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 states, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”
What the world would look like if everyone believed he or she was not the most important person in the room? How would your work change if you viewed your co-workers as better than you? What if you viewed your neighbors this way? Your spouse? What if the world really didn’t revolve around you? How does this change the way you view yourself?
Ultimately, it challenges your pride. God has called us to be people who love Him and others. He doesn’t call us to be lovers of ourselves. May we pattern ourselves after a God who exemplifies humility in such a profound way that He actually left His throne to be with us, to rescue us. May we strive to point people toward Him, and not toward ourselves.
Ryan Rasmussen is a teaching pastor at Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Frederick, Colo. He is a husband, father, preacher and writer. He has also recently started cutting his own hair. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanRRasmussen.