In the Bible there are several root words in both the Hebrew and Greek language that are translated into the English words pride or proud. These Hebrew or Greek words in various forms also combine to give us other words which are similar to pride: haughty, vain, boastful, arrogant, disdainful, high-minded, etc.
There are many words used to describe the different shapes and manifestations of pride, but whatever the words they always go back to the source attitude which is pride.
The Hebrew and Greek words translated into English as the words pride or haughtiness are quite descriptive of this particular sin. For example, in the Old Testament the Hebrew words for pride meant:
- To mount up or to rise
- To be insolent
- To swell or to be high up
- To appear above
- To ascend
- To aspire to majesty
- To presume
In the New Testament the Greek words used to describe pride meant the following:
- To inflate
- To boast or brag
- To consume without fire (smoke)
All of these words were used to describe the sin of pride. The words give us a picture or idea of what pride is but not necessarily how it is a sin. Basically, the sin of pride occurs when we, in some way, leave or refuse to occupy our proper place in God's design.
Pride is usually exhibited in three ways:
1. When we improperly estimate our worth.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
- Romans 12:3
We often read or hear about people who have low self-esteem and the many problems that this personal condition causes. Pride is the opposite problem; a proud person has too high an esteem of himself or herself. This heightened self-esteem is exhibited in a variety of ways:
Arrogance – Thinking one's rights are primary over others. The complete disregard for other people's feelings or rights.
Boasting – Setting forth one's own talents, possessions and actions as superior because they are one's own.
Self-Righteousness – Assuming that our conduct, our ideas or lifestyle are better because they stem from ourselves.
Haughtiness – To assume that we are essentially more valuable because of the "position" we hold in society (i.e. royalty or movie stars).
There are other negative expressions of pride like condescension or self-centeredness, but you get the idea. Pride expresses itself, first of all, as an inordinately high estimate of our true worth as human beings.
2. When we measure our worth by the things we possess.
John calls this "…the boastful pride of life…" in I John 2:16. Whether it is a house, a car, an education, a name or a group we belong to, we feel superior because of what we possess. Another word for this type of pride is "status" or "class."
Much of the advertising on television or online appeals to this desire within people. The approach is, "If you own this (car, TV, jeans, make-up, etc.) you will be special, unique, better, smarter or cooler than those who do not possess these items." This is why some people will pay an extra 30% for a product with a particular emblem on it. This is pride by identification, vicarious pride or pride by exclusivity. We assume a "special" status by associating with someone famous or owning something that makes us better somehow than those who do not possess these things.
3. Pride as "self-sufficiency"
This type of pride exists in those who feel or believe that they are sufficient unto themselves. These are the people who believe that they, and they alone, control their own lives, and that whatever they have or have achieved is the result of their own efforts. They describe themselves as "self-made" people. They take great pride in their accomplishments and agonize over their defeats. These are the ones Paul refers to in Romans 1:22 when he says, "…professing to be wise."
This type of pride begins with self as the center of the universe and measures all else in the context of how it will positively or negatively affect self and one's sufficiency.
There may be other types of proud behavior but they can easily be fitted into one of these three categories: exaggerated self-worth, elevated status derived from things, and the desire to be totally "self-sufficient."
The Sin of Pride
Now that we have briefly described the sin of pride and how it is generally manifested, let us see why this attitude is considered sinful.
1. Exaggerated sense of worth
When we exaggerate our true value we are guilty of lying about ourselves. Pride, in this sense, is a delusion about self and who we really are. This false sense of self begins in our hearts.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.
- Mark 7:21-22
Isaiah explains that the root of pride is the desire to leave our place beneath the sovereignty of God and rise to a new and higher place, even putting ourselves above Him (Isaiah 14:12-16). Paul says that this sin is so pervasive that it infiltrates everyone's heart to some degree or another (II Corinthians 12:7).
It is the evil thought that somehow we are better than what God sees us as; or for those who don't believe in God, better because of the value we place on ourselves. It is this thought within our hearts that drives the arrogance, boasting, self-righteousness and haughtiness.
2. Pride in possessions
When it comes to pride based on the value of our possessions, the sin here is idolatry. When we draw our value and personal worth from the things we own, we are giving to these "things" the credit for who we are. This is a form of worship. If a person does this, he is investing his hope for self worth and value in something else other than God. The worship of an idol is not only confined to bowing down before a statue or image, it includes making gods out of the things we acquire or pursue by thinking they can make us better or happy.
The psalmist said in Psalm 52:7:
Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and was strong in his evil desire.
We can derive satisfaction from our accomplishments and possessions, this is normal, but when "things" become the reason why we think we are better than others, then our pride has given these things an evil life of their own.
3. Pride in self-sufficiency
Self-sufficiency is the type of pride that is most condemned in the Bible because the sin inherent in this type of attitude is that of denying God and His power over us. Exaggerating our worth, or elevating our worth through things, these are sins that are committed with the knowledge of God. Self-sufficiency, however, says that, "I don't need God," or "There is no God, there is only me. As far as my world is concerned, I am God!" This dangerous sin is condemned vigorously throughout the Scriptures. For example:
Therefore men fear Him; He does not regard any who are wise of heart.
- Job 37:24
The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, "There is no God."
- Psalm 10:4
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.
- Proverbs 6:16-17
There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, Yet is not washed from his filthiness.
- Proverbs 30:12
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
- I Corinthians 10:12
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
- I John 1:8
To think that our position, talent, health or our very existence are somehow achieved apart from God is sinful, disrespectful and ingratitude. To think that goodness is sufficient to stand before God is both spiritual ignorance and boldness. To think that we don't need God every moment for everything is the height of spiritual blindness from which few ever recover. This is why the sin of pride is so dangerous.
Dealing with Pride
So far I have described the sin of pride in it's various expressions. I have also examined how and why these forms of pride are sinful, contrary to God's will and therefore wrong. Let us finish this chapter on pride with some teaching about how to deal with this very common sin in our lives.
1. Pride as an exaggerated sense of worth.
Many times when we do things or say things to raise ourselves up it comes from an incorrect view of our true worth. Solomon says that it is foolish to brag to others about ourselves because they often see the discrepancy between what we are and what we say we are (Proverbs 25:27). It is better, he says, to let another praise us since this will be a more legitimate assessment of our worth (Proverbs 27:2). In another proverb (11:2) he says that pride, contrary to our opinion, brings dishonor and not honor to the person.
In Romans 12:3 Paul tells Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to. In other words, we should have an estimate of ourselves but it should be in line with reality. We should think no more or no less than what we really are.
In II Corinthians 10:18 Paul truly gets this issue of self-worth into perspective when he says:
For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
In other words, if the Lord approves of you, you are as worthy and valuable as anyone can ever become. As a matter of fact, for the Christian the only legitimate boasting is to boast about what Christ has accomplished in you. As Paul says:
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- II Corinthians 12:9b
So if boasting/bragging is the form of pride you struggle with, remember that others are never impressed by it; and that the only legitimate boast is how much Christ has done through you.
2. Pride of life/possessions
In our nation this is the form of pride that most affects us. We live in a very materialistic society where the pressure to judge and value others by what they wear, drive, live is very powerful. We cannot leave this society and go live in a cave or a monastery. Jesus said that we lived in the world but must not be of the world. How, then, do we do this?
We do it by keeping our priorities in order. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." This order requires you to seek first the things that are spiritual in nature; this would include God's will, God's work and God's purpose for your life. When these are the first priority God promises to provide (in His own way) the things you need. In other words, do not work for things, pray for things or be anxious for things. Instead, work for Him, pray for the knowledge of His will, be anxious to do what is right, and He will provide the things you need.
3. Pride – Self-Sufficiency
Finally, how do we overcome this most dangerous form of pride? The first step is recognizing that this is an area of concern in your life. Actually, the fact that you actually see it is a great sign of hope. Like all sins, to acknowledge it is the first and greatest step. I believe there are two ways God deals with those who struggle to resist becoming self-sufficient.
A. He warns them – For example in Psalm 49:11 it says, "For he sees that even the wise (self-sufficient) men die." And in Matthew 23:12 it reads, "And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." Through His word and His people God warns of the danger of this as well as every other sin. Some hear the warning and repent, others ignore it to their own destruction.
B. He disciples them – Sometimes God breaks a person down through trials and sorrows so that person will learn to lean on God. For example Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, went mad for several years before he regained his sanity and acknowledged God.
Another example of this is Paul the Apostle who was given a physical limitation so he would more closely depend on God.
In the end, what God wants is for us to completely rely on His word, His provision, His timing, His mercy, His Son and His church in order to become whole and pleasing in His sight. We lose our self-sufficient streak of pride when we are often in His word, often in prayer, patient for His will to be done, kind and generous toward others before self, following His Son and serving His church. When this is our lifestyle we have learned to die to self and live for Christ, and pride will no longer be our master.