For thousands of years wise people have pondered why we suffer so much misery. That misery we bring on ourselves or inflict on others they called "sin." Some sins seemed to be more miserable than others. These they called "deadly sins." In the 6th Century St. Gregory the Great listed them as seven. In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas noted that they were deadly not merely because they were serious offences morally but because they gave rise to other sins.
Standing first in line is Pride — the mother of all sins. Pride was the original sin of Satan who "did not stay within the bounds of (his) proper authority" (Jude 6). It was the sin of Lucifer who said: ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God… I will make myself like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Pride is the sin we most despise in others and least observe in ourselves. When Johnny Carson introduced Howard Cosell on the Tonight Show, he said, "Here's Howard Cosell, a legend in his own mind." There's a little Cosell in each of us. In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis calls this the "Great Sin" and devotes an entire chapter to it.
I've heard people confess sins of drunkenness, adultery, theft, and even a bad temper, but never the sin of pride. Not that we don't have it or hate it: the more we have it in ourselves, the more we hate it in others. It is thoroughly detested not by the humble but by the proud. The proud hate pride in others. Peter wrote, "All of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, 'God resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble.' Humble yourselves, then, under God's mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time" (1 Peter 5:5-6 TEV).
GOD RESISTS THE PROUD AND FAVORS THE HUMBLE
Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34 to make the point that proud people have a problem with God. God resists them because they resist him. That becomes obvious if we remember what pride is. There is much confusion and misunderstanding about pride. Some we like. And some we dislike. To begin with, consider what pride is not. Pride is not taking pleasure in being praised. A child who makes the honor roll, a woman complimented on her beauty, a saved soul to whom Christ says, "Well done!" (Matthew 25:21) are pleased. And they should be. Their pleasure, of course, should never be that their achievement can be worn like a merit badge to impress others, but that they pleased someone they rightly wanted to please.
Secondly, pride is not the admiration you feel for the achievements of your friends and family. The parent who says, "I'm proud of my children" is not confessing a sin! I hope you are proud of your children and that you let them know it. On the other hand, to be proud of your ancestry may be sinful — and it certainly is sinful if it means disdaining the ancestry of others. A Christian snob was boasting to her Jewish neighbor that one of her forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. "That's nice," her neighbor replied, "One of mine wrote the ten commandments!"
Lecturing his daughter about snobbishness a father said, "Remember we are all from the same mold."
"That may be," the daughter admitted, "but some are moldier than others."
"Never ask anyone if they're from Texas," a Texan admonished his child. "If they are, they'll tell you. And if they aren't, you don't want to embarrass them." Pride of race and pride of place is okay as long as it is appreciation of the achievements and worth of family and friends. But the moment it cheapens the worth of others it becomes sin.
Thirdly, pride is not satisfaction in a job well done. In order to do good you have to do well. It is no sin to feel good when you have done your best.
What, then, is pride? Pride is putting self ahead of God at your soul's center of gravity. To do that throws the whole thing off balance. What happens to your soul is like what happens to your automatic washing machine in dry cycle when all the clothes get clumped on one side: you're going to shake to pieces.
Pride insists, "My will be done," until God finally says to the damned, "Have it your way." The thing that burns in hell is self-will. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" not because they are lightly held and weakly abandoned, but because they are stubbornly pursued until they become self-serving ends in themselves and are deified. The prophet Amos asks, "Can horses run on rocks? Can oxen plow the sea? Stupid even to ask, but no more stupid than what you do when you make a mockery of justice and corrupt and sour all that should be good and right. And just as stupid is your rejoicing in how great you are, when you are less than nothing! And priding yourselves on your own tiny power! (Amos 6:12-13 LB)
A man took a dream tour of heaven and hell. In both places the people had long spoons strapped to their arms so that they couldn't bend their elbows. In hell the people were starving because they couldn't reach their mouths. In heaven they were feeding each other.
In this cold world there are two kinds of people: those who buy fur coats and those who buy firewood: those who warm themselves and those who warm others. In the world to come the proud will take no comfort in their selfish furs.
Pride is the most spiritual sin. Sin can be spiritual as well as physical. Lust, gluttony and anger appeal to your physical nature. Pride appeals to your spiritual nature. It corrupts every virtue into a festering vice. Whatever virtues have graced your life can be ruined by pride. God isn’t out to hurt your pride, my friend, he is out to kill it.
Pride is the sin that kept Moses from entering the promised land (Numbers 20:10-12) and it is what keeps you from being saved. God offers you salvation as a free gift. "By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). But you don't want salvation God's way. You would rather be saved by your works so you’ll have something to brag about. You don't like to think of yourself as a charity case: getting something for nothing. But the Bible says that's the only way anybody can be saved (Titus 3:5).
Pride is competitive. We often say that people are proud of being rich or clever or good looking, but they are not. What they are proud of is being richer or cleverer or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, clever or good looking, they would have nothing to be proud of. The proud get no pleasure from having anything, but only in having more than others.
God resists the proud and favors the humble because the humble rest under God's mighty hand. Just as we misunderstand pride, so we misunderstand humility. When my wife is distressed about her appearance, I can get a rise out of her by saying, "That's all right, Dear. You look humble!" How many of you want to look humble? How many of you know what humility looks like? Would you recognize it if you saw it?
Humility is not self-hate. Self-haters are probably the proudest people we know. They hide behind great walls of arrogance to keep us from seeing how cheap they feel inside. When I was a kid, I heard someone say of a proud person, "I wish I could buy him for what he is worth and sell him for what he thinks he is worth." An even better deal would be to buy him for what he feels he is worth inside and sell him for what he pretends he is worth. Pride makes people inflate their own value to compensate for feelings of worthlessness.
Humility is self-forgetfulness. It is not a low opinion of yourself; it is no opinion of yourself. It is not pretty women trying to believe they are ugly, or clever people trying to believe they are fools. What nonsense! Truly humble people are not slimy individuals always talking about how terrible they are. They are unaware of their own humility because their attention is not on themselves, but on you. They are interested in what you think and feel and do. They are the most delightful people to be around. "Humble yourselves, then, under God's mighty hand so that… "
GOD WILL LIFT YOU UP IN HIS GOOD TIME
Talent is God-given, so be humble. God's gifts are not on shelves one above the other so that the taller you grow the easier you reach them. They are on shelves one below the other so that by bending lower you get his best. Jeremiah declares, "The Lord says, 'Wise men should not boast of their wisdom, nor strong men of their strength, nor rich men of their wealth. If anyone wants to boast, he should boast that he knows and understands me" (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Paul asks, "Who made you to be superior to others? Didn't God give you everything you have? Well, then, how can you boast as if what you have were not a gift" (1 Corinthians 4:7)?
Fame is man-given, so be grateful. Flattery is like perfume: it is meant to be sniffed, not swallowed. It quickly becomes addictive. Pride enslaves us to the opinions of others. What they think controls our lives.
Conceit is self-given, so be careful. Remember the steamboat Abe Lincoln described: it had a six foot boiler and a nine foot whistle. Every time the whistle blew it took so much steam the engine stopped.
Remember the frog who saw the ducks flying south for the winter. When he asked them why, they said, "Because it is warmer there." He said, "I'd like to do that too." So he found a stick and asked two ducks to take each end in their mouth while he held on with his mouth in the middle. It worked! Then as they flew over Caltech an engineering student saw them and said, "That's amazing. I wonder who thought of that." The frog answered, "I did!"
Pride has two seasons: a forward spring and an early fall. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).
J. D. Teague wrote this prayer: "I was a child playing hide and seek with You. And You caught me hiding in the silliest, saddest places, behind old grudges under a ton of disappointments, tangled in guilt, smothered with success, choking on sobs that nobody heard. You found me and whispered my name and said, 'You're it!' And I believe You meant it." (From a wall in the House of Abba coffee house in Chula Vista.)
"Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and he will lift you up in his good time."