Pride comes before a fall - Proverbs 6:16
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Let me read you something: ‘There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves. I have heard people admit they are bad tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have seldom met anyone who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it, the more we dislike it in others.’ What is the vice or fault of which C.S. Lewis is writing? It is the vice of Pride. What is its opposite? It is the virtue called humility. And both the vice and the virtue are addressed by the Book of Proverbs.
Now before we turn to look at this particularly nasty parasite, and by the way, it is the one vice which is especially always nearby to the religious person; for example didn’t you feel slightly proud when Lewis said he had seldom met anyone who was not a Christian who showed the slightest mercy towards it in others? It is that subtle. But before we look at this problem and the antidote, it will be helpful if I spell out what we are not talking about when we speak of Pride.
Sometimes we can use the term ‘proud’ in a rather loose way when in fact we mean something else. For example, we might say to one of our children, ‘I am very proud of the way you performed in the school concert.’ What we really mean is that we admire they way they performed or was exceedingly pleased. That is quite a legitimate feeling, if it is true. That is not what God has in his sights when he declares that he ‘opposes the proud.’
Let me also say that taking pleasure in being praised is not pride either. Again, for a child to be praised for a good performance or a student for a good essay and for them to take delight in the adulation is not a sin. And the reason why it is not sinful is because the child or the student has pleased someone they wanted to please. The focus is on someone else- the parent, the friend, the teacher. The kind of Pride which is pernicious and hateful to God is when we take delight solely in ourselves. We want to perform well or produce a good piece of work, not because it is our duty or brings pleasure to others, but primarily so we can think so well of ourselves and ensure that others do too. And the more we delight in ourselves the less we delight in praise. To some extent, while we still value the opinion of others there is hope, but as C. S. Lewis says, ‘The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you.’ The person infested with this kind of Pride doesn’t think that the approval or applause of others is worth having because they are beneath them. Do you see the difference?
So first of all let’s take a look at the anatomy of Pride, Proverbs 6:16ff: ‘There are six things the LORD hates, seven are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to shed innocent blood, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up dissension among the people.’ The use of the numbers ‘six’ and ‘seven’ might be a poetic device to underscore the fact that these things characterize human beings at every level of their lives from their creation (‘six’ paralleling the six days in Genesis) to their purposes and intentions (‘seven’-the number of completion). This is the spiritual physiology of all of us, if we are honest, and although some people may be worse than others, it is a matter of degree and not kind. And notice that God is not indifferent to these things; he is vehemently opposed to them. In this picture a pairing of the body parts is taking place. So you have hands paired with feet and lying tongue with lying witness. And this causes us to notice what lies on either side of them. And heading the list is Pride- ‘haughty eyes’- literally ‘rising pair of eyes’, it is the look of the pompous, the supercilious look, whereby you look down your nose at someone and so is an expression of the unmasked contempt for God’s authority and the well being and rights of others. In terms of the body symbolism here it is placed at the top because it is from this dreaded disease that all moral diseases flow, such as lying, murder, scheming and slanderous talk with the end result of social disruption in v19. Proverbs 11:2 says, ‘When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’ One writer (Kidner) says that the Hebrew word for pride here is ‘from a root that suggests boiling up’, and it is used of ‘the arrogance of those who must have everything their own way, and will not be “kicked around”’. Who wants to be near a person like that? You see, Pride is not only ugly in a person; it is fatal to all decent relationships- such a person ‘stirs up dissension’. Why this is so comes out in the analysis of Pride.
Why should the proud person, the one with the haughty eyes, lie, get rid of opposition, or put other people in a bad light and spend hours plotting and scheme to get their own way according to Proverbs 6? It is because the Pride within us cannot brook any rivals, it has to be out front all the time. In short Pride is vigorously competitive. Pride is really based upon a myth: the myth of self-achievement, self-sufficiency, self-aggrandisement that is the problem. Such thinking inevitably excludes God. Instead we begin to believe too much in ourselves as our wants, our plans, our feelings begin to fill our horizon-individually and as a nation. In short we begin to see ourselves as mini-gods- independent and autonomous. We say, don’t we ‘It is my life, I will do with it what I want.’? In some cases this is even encouraged, ‘Believe in yourself, you can do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be’- not so much the power of positive thinking but the folly of wishful unthinking. And when we have achieved things, more ‘stuff’ and occupying lofty positions, it does feed that delusion that we are in control, we think ‘If I have done this, what is to stop me achieving more in the future? And if other people get in my way, well, tough on them.’
Here is a test to apply if you want to know how proud you are; ask yourself: ‘How much do I dislike being snubbed, put down, or patronised by others? Or feel irksome when you think that you have been shown up in a Bible study for your lack of knowledge (even though this is not intentional)?’ If the answer is ‘quite a lot’, then you have a serious Pride problem. The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride by its very nature is competitive. It must have someone else to look down on to thrive. You see, why is it that an incredibly rich person wants to get richer? After all you can only enjoy an finite number of cars, dresses, homes and so on. Well, it is because in order to feel really good, you have to be richer than someone else. And on and on it goes- I must beat that person in the exam, this person at sport, shine over him in the church-not because it is the aim of the game, but because it makes me feel better knowing there is someone down there who is not up to my level.
CS Lewis puts it this way: ‘Pride has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together; you may find good fellowship and friendliness amongst drunken people. But Pride always means enmity-it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which in every respect is immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud person is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.’
And to find yourself in that position is to find yourself in an extremely perilous state- Proverbs 16:18, ‘Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.’ Sure, we can all think of people who in their Pride have overreached themselves and have come a cropper- we can think of President Nixon who eventually admitted to David Frost that he had done wrong and paid the price of public disgrace, the only President in office having been forced to resign- Proverbs 11: 2, ‘When Pride comes, then comes disgrace’, it’s like an accompanying partner at a party. But the one whose judgement we should fear the most is not our friends or our family but God’s, what is his verdict on the Pride would exclude him from their lives? Well, we have already seen what his judgement is- it is hate according to Proverbs 6:16. God is quite uncompromising in this.
I mentioned earlier that of all the sins which can ensnare us, Pride is the most subtle. Dorothy L Sayers offers the warning in these words: ‘The devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not in our weakest points, but in our strongest. It is pre-eminently the sin of the noble mind.’ Like an expert Judo champion, it will use our own energy against us to destabilise us. In other words, the devil will take good things, good aspirations and desires to lure us into the grip of Pride. So let me bring this a little close to home. Think of ‘Mr Valiant for Truth’ which might be a fair description of some of us here tonight. Rightly we are concerned about God’s truth and the cause of the Gospel in a denomination which seems to be unconcerned about such things. In a society which seems to be sliding further and further into a moral quagmire, we express moral outrage and support the Christian Institute- all good things. But that is when ‘the sin of the noble mind’ quietly sidles up to us- Pride. We begin to feel ourselves to be morally superior over those who are not as ‘sound’ as we are; whose love for the Bible is perhaps not as warm as ours, after all we are real Evangelicals; that is when Pride has taken us in its grip. When we look upon a society which appears to be going to hell in a basket and instead of weeping we find ourselves inwardly gloating; that is when Pride has taken us captive. Is that just me or do you not catch yourselves doing these sorts of things? And if left unchecked without us even being aware of it we have become the ugliest of creatures- the Pharisee.
The Pharisee is the good person par excellance, the religious superman, the one who by definition is the one person people look up to- and by virtue of all these things he is the one person who is for ever looking down on others and never looking up at God. That is the devastating point of Jesus parable in Luke 18. The analysis of Pride is given by an analysis of this prayer: , ‘I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' . His so- called pray is nothing but a lengthy self-advertisement- ‘I thank you that I am not like other men….I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ – I, I, I. Can you imagine someone going to the doctor and saying, ‘I just came to let you know Doctor how healthy I am. I am in brilliant physical condition you know. My pulse is 70 beats per minute, with a blood pressure 120 over 80. I run 30 miles three times a week, swim 200 lengths twice a week and what makes me feel really good is taking a long look at some of the miserable specimens in your waiting room.’ That is what this man is doing, but not in the doctor’s surgery but God’s house. And yet, how easy it is for us to do this.
God’s verdict on such Pride- driven religion is clear, such a person leaves the presence of God condemned, or as Jesus puts it ‘not justified’. And what is the case now if we persist like this, even as active religious people, will simply be confirmed at the end- Matthew 7: 21, ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ And then we have the words you never ever want to hear: ‘I never knew you, away from me you evil doers.’
You see, it is not because of their profession, ‘Lord, Lord’ that these people are Jesus disciples. Nor is it because of their ministry, it is ‘Christian’ ministry, at least nominally, ‘we did it in your name.’ Nor is it because of the success of their ministry, they performed ‘many miracles.’ They claimed they had prophesied and exorcised and healed in the name of Jesus. And that claim is not contradicted by Jesus. Sure they have done all of those things, but they are the ones to whom Jesus says, ‘I never knew you. So who are the people Jesus does accept? He tells us, those who ‘Do the will of my Father.’ And what is that? This brings us to the antidote to Pride.
The answer is given in Proverbs 11:2, ‘When Pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’ If any man had reason to be proud it would have been Moses. He was in his eighties when he led the people of Israel out of captivity. He performed miracles that no one had ever performed and it was to be centuries before any one else was to perform miracles which came anywhere near matching his. He had met God ‘face to face’ on Mount Sinai. Yes, if anyone had cause to be proud it was Moses. And yet the Bible commends him as ‘the meekest man on earth.’ How as that? Fast forward 1500 years and we meet another man. He was to lead a world out of captivity to death and the devil. His miracles surpassed all of the other miracles recorded in the Bible put together. His words were electric and captured the imagination of the most erudite men that have ever lived. And yet he can describe himself as ‘gentle and humble of heart’. That man of course was the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw himself as the Servant of the Lord, and in that he found his true identity and security so he was never fazed when the attempted ‘put down’ came from the religious authorities. He never felt he had to denigrate his disciples so that he could feel superior. His humility gave him tremendous strength. This is not a hand wringing, head bowing false humility which we can so easily put on, ‘Oh, I am nothing really, don’t look to me’. This is a genuine resting in God’s goodness and acceptance.
And so for our Pride to be cured we have to continually return to the one place where human Pride has no place at all- the cross. For what we see there is what human Pride actually does, in the most brutal way imaginable it thinks it can get rid of the ultimate competition-God, by murdering him. It is also the place where we see that all our religious and moral self-achievement are pathetic in the extreme, for it is here and here alone that God achieves for us what we could never achieve in a millions years- our salvation. You cannot look upon the cross with haughty eyes; tear filled eyes yes, but not haughty eyes. So whenever we are tempted to think of ourselves as better than we are or others worse then we are, then it is to that cross we must go and exchange our Pride for humility which is the gift of grace.
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