Story has been told of a lion who was very proud and decided to take a walk one day to demonstrate his mastery over all the other creatures.
He strutted his way through the forest until he came across a bear, ‘WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE BEAR? ‘Why of course you are mighty lion’.
He went on until he found the tiger, ‘WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE TIGER?’ ‘Why you are great lion’.
Next the lion found the elephant, ‘WHO IS THE KING OF THE JUNGLE FAT ELEPHANT?’
The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk and spun him around a few times and slammed him to the ground.
He then stepped on him a few times and picked him up and dunked him in the water and then threw him up against a tree.
The lion staggered to his feet and said, ‘LOOK, JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER IS NO REASON TO GET SO UPSET!’
Some people are so full of pride they don’t even realise it. However, the true message of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride from the story is found in the difference between dogs and cats. The master pets a dog, and the dog wags its tail and thinks, “He must be a god.” But the master pets his cat, and the cat purrs, shuts its eyes and thinks to itself, “I must be a god.” Though Jesus in grace reached down to us, there is still a perverse human tendency to think like the cat!
King Nebuchadnezzar was a great man. In his youth he commanded his father’s armies to destroy the Assyrian empire, which was the major world power of the time. He had also beaten the great Egyptians which the Assyrians had failed to do. He became the ruler of the greatest empire of his day. He had life and death power over his citizens. He had a great and beautiful city. One of the ancient wonders of the world, the hanging gardens of Babylon was built by Nebuchadnezzar for one of his wives. He had it all. And to cap it all he had had a dream from God, which when interpreted showed him as the head of gold a vast statue representing world empires. He was the greatest, the one whom God had given vast dominion.
The Sin of Nebuchadnezzar
But he forgot or never recognised this last part of it. The fact that God had given him his empire. In verse 30 Nebuchadnezzar says “Just look at this great city of Babylon! I, by my own power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as an expression of my royal splendour.” He was certainly very full of himself and had a very high opinion of himself. It’s possible that the statue he set up in chapter 3 was in fact a statue of himself, although we don’t know for certain. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar gets the wrong point from the vision God sends him chapter 2. The message that God allows or causes nations to rise but ultimately they will all have to submit to him is completely lost and all Nebuchadnezzar seems to remember is that he was the head of gold, the king over many kings. His response seems to be have been more cat-like than dog-like.
Daniel tells him he can avoid the coming judgement, in verse 27. “Break from your wiked past by being merciful to the poor.” While Nebuchadnezzar sees his sin as pride at the end of the chapter. There two views can easily be reconciled when we look at what pride is. When we truly understand what pride is then we will see that there is no contradiction here. Nebuchadnezzar’s sin was pride.
We might not be the King or Queen of a vast empire but we can guilty of pride, just as Nebuchadnezzar was. We can be proud of our accomplishments, our gifts, our position anything really. But the heart of pride is comparison and seeing how much better we are than everybody else. C. S. Lewis said the following in Mere Christianity.
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison; it was through Pride that the devil became the devil; Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind...If you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive - is competitive by its very nature - while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”
Perhaps another little story can illustrate the point. A Texas rancher met up with a Wisconsin dairy farmer. The two men began talking about their land and the milkman told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres. The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land. He said, "Yankee, that ain’t nothin’. On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won’t reach the fence line of my property until sunset." The dairy farmer snorted, "Yeah, I used to have a truck like that."
Pride, I’m better than you. The bit within us that somehow feels that all those around us are somehow inferior and not worth as much as us. If we understand pride in this way it is easy to see how Daniel’s solution to Nebuchadnezzar’s pride worked. He could get rid of his pride by seeing the importance of those around him. But note this is a change in attitude that is required. He is required to see the poor as important and every bit as deserving as he is. It is a sad fact that even in giving to the poor we can be consumed with pride. Do we do it to be seen to be doing the right thing? Do we do it because we enjoy being magmanimus and why shouldn’t we give a little to those poor undeserving wretches since we are so great we have a surplus? Or do we do it, because they are every bit as deserving as us and we want to use what God has given us as God would like it.
Now we probably won’t be quite as explicit as those statements about the things we do, but its worth thinking about. When we do things to help those less fortunate than ourselves do we do it because we see that there but for the grace of God go I, or because we are superior and have a duty to take care of the inferior. It may be the quintessential error of the old British empire was this kind of pride. Our systems were so much better than the natives, that we had a duty to teach those savages, civilisation.
But that’s not the only area pride can creep in. Do we sometimes see ourselves as the only one who can do something or help in a situation? There are certain things that I sometimes have a hard time letting other people do, because I think I’m the only one who can do it right. That nobody else apart from me could really do it properly. OK, so I don’t think that that forcefully in my mind, but it is the core of the idea lurking there. I just don’t trust anyone else to do it properly. Is that pride rearing it’s ugly head again?
Or when we look at our talents and our gifts, we can be proud of what we can do or what we have achieved. But like Nebuchadnezzar we need to remember that all we have, including our gifts and talents are a gift from God and we are no more deserving of them than anyone else. And as God did with Nebuchadnezzar, God can take away as easily as he gives.
Perhaps the greatest example of pride though, is thinking that we can do things without God. That, thank you very much for the offer God but I’m managing quite well with out you, attitude. This can either be a rejection of Christianity, it’s just a crutch for the weak. Or it can even occur in Christian service, where we just jump in and try to do our best without ever seeking God’s guidance, wisdom or asking him to help us and be with us and we do his work.
But this sometimes gives way to a wrong and damaging idea, false humility or low self esteem. Now part of this is that sometimes we can take pride of being humble, but part of it can be that we just have a wrong view of ourselves. As a reaction against pride some think that the proper self attitude of the Christian is loathing or disgust. I am wretched worm, capable of doing nothing, I am a nobody. I have even heard it preached that this is the correct attitude we should have of our selves. How, wrong. We must not have too high an opinion of ourselves but we must also not have too low either. You are a child of God. Made in image of God. You are one that God chose to die for. You are beloved of God. Your also a sinner and completely and utterly lost without the grace of God. The two need to be kept in balance. Some need to learn to think more of themselves, others need to learn to think less. Sometimes, the same person needs to learn both of these at different times.
Its’ wrong to claim we can’t do things that we can. I have known some people who are clearly gifted in an area but they refuse to admit it. No their just average. Or, I’m not really any good. Or, I just dabble. Sometimes this is from right motives, were we want to flee pride. But it’s still wrong. If God has gifted you in an area, there’s no need to cover it up. Just give the glory to God and get on and do what God has gifted you for. Don’t hide it.
But of course there are also those who claim such things as a form of pride because they are fishing for complements. They want others to praise them and say, how good they are. This is pride. For example, if I was to say, I’m not really that good at the guitar, I can kind of make a passable attempt at most choruses but I don’t practice enough to be good, that’s the simple truth and not fishing for complements. But if I said, I’m not really that good with computers, I would be lying or fishing for complements. I am good with computers. The hard thing to do is to learn to say that without pride. But it is the ideal, to be able to openly admit both our strengths and weaknesses without pride or bitterness.
We need to have a proper self image, not distorted by pride. Seeing yourself as nothing is a sort of pride as well. If I can’t be the best then I will be the worst. Proper self image is the Biblical ideal. To know what we can and can’t do. To accept who we are. Not to trumpet our success from the roof tops. But not to deny it either. Not to always be clamouring for recognition of what we can do, but not to be afraid to admit that we can do something either. God has given us gifts and abilities. We need to recognise them for what they are and use them to their full potential. It is not pride to use what God has given us. It is pride when we think that because of this we are better than everybody else or that since God has obviously not given that exact gift to anyone else we are indispensable.
Remember, pride is not about our accomplishments but in our comparisons with others. It’s not that we can do something, its that others can’t. I remember in my school days, when it came to exams there were some for whom it was the grade that counted. I need so many A’s and B’s to get on to the university course, I want. For others, the grade didn’t matter as long as I got better results than so and so, or as long as I was the top 5 percent. That is pride. In some areas of my life, this has been and is a problem. There is somewhere inside me the desire to be, like Neo in the Matrix, the one. The one what? Well actually “the what” doesn’t really matter as long as there is something, anything, that I can do or discover that nobody else can do or discover. To be the one, the only, the first. That is pride. While we can be prideful about our accomplishments. In general it is not when we admit our achievements or gifts that we are prideful. It is when we compare them to others and are glad not that we can do something, but that we can do something others can’t. A simple question to ask, would I be as happy that I can do something, if everyone else could do the same?
Pride comes before a fall
But there is one more aspect of pride that arises from Nebuchadnezzar’s situation that we need to look at.
In a certain pond, there were two ducks and a frog who were neighbours and the best of friends. They played together all day long during the summer time. But as the cold drew near and the water dried up, the ducks realized they would have to move. This would be easy for them, but what about their friend the frog? Finally it was decided that they would put a stick in the bill of each duck, and then the frog would hang onto the stick with his mouth and they would fly him to another pond. And so they did. Just then, a farmer looked up and said to his wife, "What a great idea! I wonder who thought of that?" Proudly, the frog said, "I did!" Thus illustrating: "Pride goes before a fall!"
In general we like it when someone full of pride or arrogance comes a cropper. It is almost a national sport amongst the media to see who they can pull down or what they can reveal about someone successful to show that they’re really no better than the rest of us, and in actual fact they’re worse. And in general the public goes along. We love a scandal and we love successful people to be brought down.
Well Nebuchadnezzar was brought down, God humbled him, God caused him to fall. And what a fall, from a King among Kings to a raving lunatic you lives like an animal. But God doesn’t bring him down because He enjoys taking a pot shot at arrogant people, even though we might sometimes do stuff for that reason. He did it to show Nebuchadnezzar the error of his ways. How his pride was built on a shaky foundation. He did it to cause Nebuchadnezzar to do what he did in the end. Admit his faults, come with repentance and turn to God. The fall was not to gloat, but to correct.
Sometimes God does it us for the same reason, to teach us humility and the wrongness of pride so that we can learn. I know that God often either does this in my life or uses situations of my incompetence to the same effect. When I achieve something good and get a sense of pride, it is not long before God throws me into a situation where I feel completely out of my depth and floundering. This not only reminds me not to be prideful but also to depend on God. One minute I solve a problem on the computer systems at our Bible College in Manchester and feel like there’s no-one else who could do my job. And the next I find myself completely out of depth in a pastoral situation that I have no idea how to handle, I make mistakes, or I just plain get it wrong. And God reminds me, its not by might, nor by strength but by my Spirit.
So this last point goes out both as a warning and as an encouragement. A warning because if we go act with too much pride then we will be brought down and sometimes our errors are right out there for all to see. But an encouragement because God does not leave us in our sins, but does all he can to help us recognise them and to conquer them. We might not like the process that involves, but like any good parent God understands that sometimes children have to be taught lessons through means that the children don’t want to. Perhaps it can be best summed up, is that we will be humbled but we can chose to humble ourselves or to be humbled. From personal experience let me assure you that it is far less painful to humble ourselves, than to force God to do it.
So in conclusion 5 things we have learned about pride.
Firstly, pride is seeing ourselves as more important because of either our accomplishments or our gifts.
Secondly, pride is not false humility that refuses to acknowledge our gifts or accomplishments.
Thirdly, pride is being more interested in doing better than others than in simply doing
Fourth, the ultimate expression of pride is to think we can do without God.
Fifth and finally, either we humble ourselves or God will be forced to do it and it is much less painful if we humble ourselves.