Summary: The proud are caught up in illusions about themselves. Humility helps us submit to God’s definition of reality rather than ours.
We’re starting a new series on the Seven Deadly Sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues. With every negative command in Scripture there’s a related positive duty; for every “Thou shall not” there is a “Thou shall”. Sin is our ruin, virtue our responsibility. Christians are counter-cultural; we live in a world that celebrates vice as virtue, not seeing the damage it has on our souls. Just this morning I read that secular parents have a near 100% chance of passing on their ideals while Christians have a 50% chance, due to the influence of an increasingly secular world.
The Seven Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues grew out of monastic life during the Middle Ages; they were compiled in an attempt to help maintain order. They show us what to avoid, and what to aim for.
Sin is deadly; it affects us and others. But what is “sin”? We sin by missing what God wants for us, and by choosing something else. Sin happens when we distrust and disobey God, when we rebel against His design for life and “do our own thing.” As such, sin is selfishness. And we’re all sinners; some run from sin, others run for it. Jesus alone can save us; if we don’t take Him seriously, we won’t take sin seriously. We begin our study with pride and humility…
Tony Campolo tells of a woman who was daily found kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a Catholic church in Florence, Italy. A visiting priest noted her devotion, only to be informed that the woman had been the model for the sculptor. The essence of sin is pride. As far back as Eden, pride has caused people to put self first, above God and His Law. Pride pushes God to the sidelines. All sin comes from pride, which is why the church fathers placed it first; pride is a “foundational sin” (Mangis). The six remaining sins are the result of pride.
We define pride as arrogance, presumption, conceit, vanity, selfishness, self-trust, and self-satisfaction. Though easily defined, pride is more easily recognized in others than in ourselves. We fall prey to pride when we desire approval and recognition from others, and when we’re disappointed that our achievements aren’t noticed or applauded. Why do we strive for excellence? For some, the effort is for acceptance and acclaim. Image is everything. People fish for compliments. But gory-seekers are working for worthless goods, what Ecclesiastes calls “striving after wind.”
The proud look down on others; they always have to prove they’re right; they make demands; they wish to be served; they crave recognition and advancement, and they’re wounded when others are promoted and they’re overlooked; they’re self-conscious and critical of others--they’re quick to put people down so they’ll look good by comparison.
Henry Ward Beecher noted that, “Pride kills thanksgiving; proud people are seldom grateful, for they never think they’re getting as much as they deserve.” And they seldom acknowledge their dependence on God and others. Pride makes it difficult for people to accept God’s grace, His undeserved favor. The self-confidence of the proud is actually a weakness. A journalist observed in a book review, “We should really be much more interested in the author if he were not quite so interested in himself” (G.K. Chesterton).
A proud person is indifferent to others, with a sense of arrogant superiority that becomes a kind of self-idolatry. The proud expect special consideration. In differences of opinion, they rarely consider the possibility that they might be wrong. For people locked in pride, being wrong isn’t an option.
We can lose sight of the fact that all that we are, and all that we have, comes from God. Augustine confessed, “My sin was that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth--not in God but in myself--and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.” The proud believe they can make it on their own; they don’t need God or the church. Pride stems from spiritual blindness and results in spiritual bankruptcy.
The book of Proverbs warns that those who refuse wise counsel and advice are refusing to be helped…and that pride goes before destruction. Because pride says “I don’t need anyone”, it is self-congratulatory. It’s been observed that some “people leave meetings feeling less enlightened by what they heard than by what they said” (Alvin Plantinga).
Virtues are moral qualities; they are righteous behavior formed by wise choices. The corresponding virtue to pride is humility. Just as pride is the root of sin, the attitude of humility is the root of all virtues. Jesus noted that those who humble themselves like children are the greatest in God’s Kingdom (Mt 18:3-8).
A celebrity boasted: “If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect!” A seminary professor received a book in the mail, Humility: True Greatness. He asked his wife why he was sent the book; he didn’t know the author. His wife responded: “He must think you need it.” When we look to God rather than to ourselves, we’re practicing humility. There is no room for God in people who are full of themselves. The humble want to help others be successful, and are willing to receive help.