How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!
The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.
Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.
The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.[
– Proverbs 16:16-21
“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 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 wanted to be the big noise at the party that 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. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way that the other vices are not.”
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (emphasis the author’s)
How absolutely right can Solomon and C. S. Lewis be? The tenth commandment would not be necessary if we did not look over the fence and see something that we feel we are more deserving to have. The first commandment would not be necessary if we did not think that we are deserving of praise, too. The two bookend commandments that lead to all the others in between both hinge on pride.
Have you ever had a spat, snit, or cross words with a friend or family member? If you haven’t, are you a hermit? What started it? It probably boiled down to comparison. The comparison could have been about possessions, friends, relatives, or even ideas. Whatever it was, you maintain the angst until someone backs down. Ahha! The more stubborn of the two always wins. Truth has nothing to do with it. ‘Right’ has nothing to do with it. Justice has nothing to do with it.
I am sure that you have an acquaintance that is always right. If they say that the sky is purple, everyone in their presence is tormented beyond the limits of the Geneva Convention’s rules regarding torture until everyone else has bowed to them and agreed that the sky is purple. Is the sky purple? NO! But you must worship the person who is ‘right’ and tell a lie just to have a moment of peace, until the always-right person has their next notion. Then the war starts again.
I have been guilty of pride my entire life. I overachieved to hear my mother say, “Job well done.” She refused to ever say it. Was that her ‘tough love’ concept of motivation? I don’t know, but I went through most of my life wanting the impossible, while God loves me regardless of my accomplishments. Did I waste my entire life? Okay, the Apostle Paul says for us to do our best for our masters. The Apostle Paul never said, ‘do your best unless your master did not praise you for the last best effort.’
Does this mean that we should never praise others? No. People need praise just like they need air to breathe and food to eat. But there is a line within each of us in which we cross from self-esteem to pride. When the realistic concept of doing your best becomes “I am the best.” I thought I was unique, but beyond the C. S. Lewis quote above, he goes on to say the same thing. We need to hear, “Job well done,” but at some point, we get puffed up too much, pride in accomplishment becomes conceit.
Looking at the Scripture, the proverb regarding pride is in verse 18, but verses 16-21 are given. They all go together. If we seek wisdom instead of gold and silver, we break the mold cast by pride that says the one with the most gold and silver wins. The last verse talks of promoting instruction. Promoting instruction is to be willing to learn by admitting someone else knows something that would be valuable in your own life. I have learned some very valuable lessons from people who have had no formal education and have little means upon which to live. Those moments can become very humbling moments in life.
The one area in our lives where we can improve continuously and never become a source of pride is our journey of faith. Some may argue, but once we become prideful, we slide back down the slope. As we eliminate sin in our lives, we do so only by the Grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we see someone and reach out a hand to help them along their journey, we only do so with the prompting of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. When we study Scripture and come upon a notion that we have not heard from the pulpit or from a Sunday school teacher, was it our intellect (that God gave us anyway) or the Holy Spirit revealing it to us?
That reminds me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Leonard and Penny are talking to Leonard’s mother. Leonard laments at how his siblings are the tops in their fields. Penny tells her future mother-in-law that she must be so proud. Leonard’s mother replies (rough quote), “Why should I be? They are not my accomplishments?”
While Leonard’s mother is portrayed as being very self-absorbed, do we ever have an accomplishment that is truly our own? We work with the sweat of the brow, but God gave us those abilities. We have gotten help from family, friends, and colleagues. The wind blew just the right way for all the pieces to fit.
Here are some examples for sports fans, the pitcher is praised for a perfect game in baseball, but to get 27 consecutive outs, there is usually at least one miraculous catch or throw by a teammate. In American football, the quarterback is given the most praise, especially in recent years (MVP consideration, Heisman Trophy discussion, etc.), but the same quarterback would accomplish nothing if the offensive linemen quit blocking for him.
We never do anything on our own in a vacuum. Even if we could, God is there with us.
As for Lewis’ comments about competition, I think that competition will be absent in heaven. No one will want to be better than their neighbor. Everyone will be looking upon that one neighbor who IS the best, Jesus.
Forgive me for my pride. I owe God my very life. And as always, may God be Glorified Alone.