How Pride Poisons the Soul1
“Pride,” wrote Jonathan Edwards, “is the worst viper that is in the heart; it is the first sin that ever entered into the universe, and it lies lowest of all in the foundation of the whole building of sin, and is the most secret, deceitful and unsearchable in its ways of working, of any lusts whatsoever; it is ready to mix with everything; and nothing is so hateful to God, and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, or of so dangerous consequence; and there is no one sin that does so much let in the Devil into the hearts of the saints, and exposes them to his delusions” (The Great Awakening, 277-78). Continue reading . . .
“Pride,” wrote Jonathan Edwards, “is the worst viper that is in the heart; it is the first sin that ever entered into the universe, and it lies lowest of all in the foundation of the whole building of sin, and is the most secret, deceitful and unsearchable in its ways of working, of any lusts whatsoever; it is ready to mix with everything; and nothing is so hateful to God, and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, or of so dangerous consequence; and there is no one sin that does so much let in the Devil into the hearts of the saints, and exposes them to his delusions” (The Great Awakening, 277-78).
The first thing, indeed the most important thing, that we need to understand about pride is that God hates it! Lest you think that’s too harsh and that I should soften my language, consider these texts:
“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:16-19).
“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (Prov. 16:5; observe that it is not merely the arrogance itself that is an abomination to the Lord; the arrogant person also is).
Of all that God hates, of all that is an abomination to him, what is first on the list? Haughty eyes, which is to say, prideful, arrogant eyes! “Haughty” eyes does not refer to how a person’s eyes look to others but how a person himself sees or views himself and everyone else. He views them as less than himself, as essentially worthless. He is arrogant and puffed up with his own sense of value.
The word “hate” is an unpleasant one that we typically instruct our children to avoid. It’s vicious, venomous, and destructive. When we experience “hatred” it usually means we loathe certain things, we seek to avoid them, destroy them; we speak ill of them and vote against them; we do everything possible to forget them. Now imagine “hatred” in the heart of God, intensified and multiplied countless times over. We are talking about righteous hatred, pure, unalloyed, unmitigated disgust and revulsion. That’s pretty potent, to say the least. Likewise, for something to be an “abomination” to God means that it is a stench in his nostrils; it is utterly repulsive and altogether putrid in his sight. Such is what God feels about pride: he hates it; it is to him an utter abomination.
Is it any wonder, then, that we read in James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”? Think about that word “opposes”. James doesn’t say that God simply ignores the proud or avoids them or keeps his distance from them. No, he resists them. He works in open opposition to them. He wages war against them and thwarts them. I trust by now you know that I’m not being unduly harsh or using exaggerated terms when I speak of how God feels about pride. Pride or arrogance is something that provokes God to wrath and indignation; it irritates him, agitates him, and displeases him beyond words.
We also see in Scripture that pride is a precursor to all other forms of sin. That is to say, pride is the soil in which all manner of sin germinates and grows. Consider these statements:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Prov. 16:18-19).
“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Prov. 18:12).
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin” (Prov. 21:4).
“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Prov. 29:23).
Notice that before those decisions and ideas that lead to a person’s destruction there comes pride. Pride is the fuel and the catalyst for virtually every sin. When Proverbs 21:4 says that “haughty eyes and a proud heart” are “the lamp of the wicked” it means that it is through an arrogant and prideful perspective that the wicked see everything and make their evaluations. Pride is the light by which they see all of life.
Now, once again, is it an exaggeration to say that pride is the underlying cause of all sin? No, I don’t think so. If you would take the time to excavate your sin, beneath it all you would discover the rotting bones of pride and arrogance. Consider this.
Envy – Envy is the resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, an advantage that you are convinced ought rightfully to be yours. But why should someone else’s success or promotion or praise provoke envy in our hearts? Why not joy, instead? The answer is because we don’t want others to appear better than ourselves; we are convinced that we are more worthy and more deserving of the advantage than they are. That, dear friend, is pride!
Bitterness – Bitterness is that sour feeling in our souls when someone has offended us or defrauded us or failed to deliver on what we thought they owed us. But why should that provoke bitterness? Again, because it makes us look bad in the eyes of others or it deprives us of something we think we deserve. Again, this is pride!
Strife – Strife flows out of a competitive desire to be number one, the desire to be acknowledged by others, the desire for power and authority and praise. And where might that come from? Pride!
Deceit – Why do we lie and mislead others and speak in fuzzy rather than forthright terms? Almost always it is because we hope to gain something for ourselves that we think we deserve, or we do it to hide something from others that we fear might make us look bad. Why? Pride!
Hypocrisy – Again, we are motivated to pretend to be something we aren’t because we fear being seen and known for what we really are. Why? Because of pride!
Slander – Why do we speak badly of others? Why do we slander them? Probably because we’ve been hurt ourselves, and we want revenge; or we want to gain acceptance with others and the only way is to diminish them in the minds of those people whose favor or respect we desperately long for. Again, all this is driven by pride!
Greed – Greed at its core is the desire to make more of and for ourselves than God wishes or permits. And pride is the poker that stokes the fires of materialism. The late Adrian Rogers, one of the greatest of Southern Baptist preachers, once said that the reason why we are going into debt is that our neighbors keep buying things we can’t afford! But why is the desire to keep up with the Jones’s so powerful? Pride! We can’t stand the thought of people thinking that we aren’t as rich and successful and talented and deserving and sophisticated as others are. Why? Pride!
I could go on endlessly, citing virtually every sin in the human soul, and at the bottom of each and every one lurks pride. Pride is quite simply that ugly part of your heart that causes you to be more concerned about yourself and your own reputation than you are about Christ and his.
If there is any lingering doubt about the poisonous effect of pride in the soul of man, consider:
Pride is the reason men why some men are afraid to be sensitive and gentle in relating to their wives.
Pride is the reason why they won’t say “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” when they are in the wrong.
Pride is the reason why some women shop endlessly lest they appear less fashionable than others.
Pride is the reason some mothers push their children beyond what is healthy, hoping they will succeed and show themselves better and more successful than the children of their neighbors.
Pride is the reason why men won’t seek counseling or help when their marriages are in ruins. They can’t bear the thought that others might think of them as inadequate to fix the problem themselves.
Pride is the reason why some businessmen won’t carry their witness for Christ to the office.
Pride is the reason why other men won’t serve in a visible capacity in the church.
Pride is the reason why some refuse to submit to the authority of God’s Word.
Pride is the reason why you respond angrily when your child’s grades are lower than the grades of the kids of your chief competitor; pride is the reason you are ashamed of your kids because they don’t keep up with the Jones’s kids.
Pride is often the reason why men in particular won’t carry a Bible to church. That’s right. It’s not because they say to themselves: “I don’t need to bring a Bible. The pastor will project the verses on the screen.” No, it’s because in their pride they don’t want others to think they are spiritually sensitive or that their Christianity is too important. For some, pride is what accounts for the desire to be seen in church; after all, that’s what all good Americans do on Sunday; but they don’t want others to get the idea that they are too interested in spiritual matters.
Yes, and it is pride that explains why some of you are offended right now by the way I’ve just attributed some of your thoughts and actions to your pride!
Perhaps the best summation is found in Proverbs 26:12 – “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 26:12).
Why? Because pride puts a person beyond the perceived need for instruction. “I don’t need the wisdom of God’s Word. I’ve already got it. I don’t need the instruction and encouragement of others; I’m beyond that sort of thing. I don’t need to be held accountable for my actions. Who are they to tell me what to do or not to do?” The proud heart is impervious to rebuke and insensitive to conviction. That’s why he’s more hopeless than the fool.
So how do we uproot pride from our hearts? How do we overcome its insidious influence in our lives? There are many answers, but none more helpful than the principle we find in 1 Corinthians 4:7. There Paul asks this of the arrogant Corinthians:
“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
It is very difficult for the person who understands the sovereignty of God’s grace to be prideful, unless of course he takes credit for understanding it! To know that all we have is a gift, that all we experience and enjoy is an expression of God’s goodness and not ours, to know that everything in our possession, even and especially our salvation, is a gift is to take the first step in defeating and dethroning pride from our hearts. Pride is taking credit for what God has done. Pride is cosmic theft! God hates pride!