THE SIN OF PRIDE
Luke 18:9-14. Psalm 131
Did you ever see the cartoon of the two automobile manufacturing plants? There is a Japanese factory and an American factory. Out of the American factory comes a slow trickle of a two or three cars. Out of the Japanese factory comes an endless stream of cars. On the American side there are 6 men leaning on the car in front of them. There are six text balloons over their heads that indicate their thoughts. These 6 balloons read Envy, Avarice, Sloth, Anger, Gluttony, and lust. And the caption to the cartoon has one man saying to another, “What’s he got that we don’t?!” And our eyes go over to the solitary Japanese man who is wiping off a speck of dust from one of the cars and over his head is a single balloon, “Pride”.
St. Augustine in his catalogue of sins places pride first. He calls it the queen of sins and mother to them all. It is the root out of which all others grow. It is the sin that is the ground of being of all the other sins. It is the vice that the ancient Latin theologians called Superbia!
It can actually be likened to the Mafia boss. He is the authority behind the petty criminal on the street. Pride, like the Mafia boss, is particularly insidious. It looks very respectable. It is the sin of the successful, the sin of the winner. In fact it is so insidious that it often goes about disguised as humility.
WHAT IS PRIDE? Often images shoot to our minds of someone who is conceited or vain, a person who is arrogant and haughty. But these images are dim reflections only. What is Pride? In a word it is the self put into the most prominent place in one’s universe. It is:
in a word it is SELF-ISH-NESS
Perhaps you are familiar with the ancient myth of Narcissus. He was the beautiful young man who one day gazed into a still pool of water, and saw reflected back the most beautiful face he had ever seen. He fell in love with that face. He jumped into the water to be closer to it, and lost his life. Modern day psycho-analysts call the illness “Narcissism” – The undue love of oneself. The story of Narcissus is, of course, a parable as are all myths. This one tells us that the unbalanced love of self will lead to tragedy.
The apostle Paul, in writing to the churches places in direct contrast the work of the Holy Spirit and the works of the FLESH. (Romans 8:1,3,4,5-9) The word flesh offers difficulties to most of us because it raises all sorts of false images – such as “our bodies are evil” or sin is primarily sexual, or that my sinfulness is primarily a genetic condition. The NIV translation has certainly not helped out when it translates flesh as “the sinful nature”.
But this is not what Paul intends to communicate. We would get closer to Paul’s mind if we were to take the word FLESH, drop off the final H and read the word in reverse. SELF. To be fleshly minded is to be selfishly minded or self-oriented. To be spiritually minded is to have one’s thoughts instead upon God, and the will of God, the Word of God, the Work of God, and the world that belongs to God.
The theologians have had little difficulty naming the children of PRIDE. Some of them are: vanity, arrogance, conceitedness, and immodesty.
condescension, selfish-ambition, and independence of spirit,
presumption, insubordination, scorn of others, and being patronizing,
egotism, boasting, aloofness, and all other sins that arise out of an unhealthy
On a more elementary level, sin is a three letter word with “I” at the center.
Early theologians recognized that all virtues were reflections of love. They then looked for the one sin that was parent to all other sins. They found all sins sprang from the fountainhead of pride.
There is pride in our envy. “I deserved it.”
There is pride in our anger. “I must protect myself”
There is pride in our avarice. “But I need it.”
There is pride in our gluttony. “But I really enjoy it!”
There is pride in our sloth. “I could not care less!”
There is pride in our lust. “Sex for me.”
The older theologians had no difficulty tracing the history of pride. It began for humanity in Eden. The tempter said “You shall be as god”. It was the sin of Babel and of Nebuchadnezzar, the sin of the Pharisees and of all Laodicean churches. It is addressed scathingly through Biblical literature in both testaments. In the Sermon on the Mount it is addressed in the first beatitudes that speak of meekness and poverty of spirit and mourning. The Biblical writers knew of its great danger to us all.
PRIDE AS A GOOD THING.
Of course there is a valid pride, for all of the seven deadly sins are really perversions of good things. These sins would find no lasting residency in us if they could not be attached to our very createdness. Pride too has its roots in normal personality. There is a legitimacy in being proud of one’s workmanship, proud of one’s children, proud of one’s country. Its OK to feel pride in your favourite sports team.
Self esteem is a vital necessity for all of us. We need to feel good about ourselves “God does not make garbage”. When a person has low self esteem it usually means that he presumes God and the world hold the same opinion – “We were as grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in theirs.” (Numbers 11:33) People with low self esteem rarely offer themselves for service to God and his church. Persons with low self-esteem allow relationships to become lop-sided and therefore unhealthy.
BUT. There are trends in our culture that pervert normal pride into a self-cult. Self-actualization, self-assertiveness, looking-after-number-one are dominant in our thinking. The appeal to vanity is endless whether it deals with the latest Aerobics class, or the cosmetic industry or the current fashion. Cars are no longer mere vehicles for transportation. They are status symbols. They tell the world that you are a person with exquisite taste and significant wealth.
PRIDE IN THE CHURCH.
Over the past two decades there has occurred a strange interpretation of the Great Law of Love. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength & mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” The outlines for the message usually read:
1. Love God.
2. Love your neighbour.
3. Love yourself.
And yet the strange thing is that Jesus felt under no compulsion to tell us to love ourselves. He presumed that most of us managed that rather well. But in the church of today we have adjusted the stress on this command by suggesting or outright stating that before one can love God and neighbour, one must learn to love oneself. And so the sequence appears to be self love will lead to the love of God and neighbour. But, perhaps if I were to forget myself temporarily, I would find that love of God and neighbour would could flourish better.
Young people are still crying “Who am I?” If they were to ask “Whose am I?” they would find their identity more quickly. We find ourselves in relationship more than in solitude. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and grandfather, a friend, an uncle, a neighbour, and on the list goes. But pride places us into relationship primarily with ourselves.
I have noticed in some of the recent trends in Christian Spirituality our moving towards a self-orientation which spends its devotional time asking “How am I doing?” instead of “How is my neighbour doing?” We keep our fingers on the wrong pulse.
The quest to be holy may come from the disease of perfectionism, which finds its true roots in pride. Luther reminds us “beware of the wish to be holy!” Being always concerned with my own spiritual progress, always trying to be more spiritual, is often the placing of undue attention on my own relationship with God instead of the well being of my world. The antidote to pride is not to think increasingly less of myself, but to think about myself not at all.
But I believe that the chief indicator of pride in life does not lie in boasting about successes, or dressing to feed vanity, or desiring to be known as a member of the fastest growing church around, though these are certainly reflections of undue pride. The real indicator is revealed in the matter of private prayer.
The person who is the victim of pride will see this reflected in their inability to pray in private. He will give some of the most eloquent prayers in public. But when he and the Father are alone, prayer is an exercise in failure, futility and frustration. Prayer and pride are mortal enemies. They cannot coexist long, before one surrenders to the other.
The great failure of many of us in being effective in our work for God may be due to our self-sufficiency. We go out day by day to serve in His name, but without his enablement, and so the fruit is small. Our work ends up more as the result of perspiration than inspiration.
But prayer is intended to bring about the death of pride. Who can spend significant time interceding for people and give place to pride of heart? Who can worship God through adoration and thanksgiving and still worship himself? Who can spend time in the confessional before our high priest and allow this insidious sin residency in the heart? Love for God and neighbour alone are the expulsive affections that will banish pride in your life and mine! Private and prolonged worship may be the only thing that can crucify self-adulation. Only private and prolonged intercession will cause me to actually believe that the needs of others are just as important as my own.