Early in my years as a pastor, I was leading a Bible study for several college students. We were studying one of many passages in Scripture that warns us against pride. To my surprise and chagrin, one of my students challenged me: “What’s wrong with pride,” he asked. “I was taught that it’s good to feel proud about your accomplishments. Pride motivates me to work hard in school and to be successful. Why is the Bible so down on pride?”
Perhaps you’ve wondered the same yourself. Is pride necessarily wrong? Does pride have to “go before a fall”? Should I confess when I feel pride in some accomplishment? Should I be on my knees when my children graduate? What’s so wrong with pride, anyway?
When the Bible warns us about pride, it’s not talking about the sense of delight that comes when you complete a project or see your children accomplish something wonderful. Indeed, if God stepped back and saw that his creation was very good, you and I have the freedom to enjoy similar feelings. Scripture focuses on the negative sense of pride, that which we often call arrogance.
In Ezekiel 31, for example, Assyria illustrates an inappropriate and destructive pride. Our translation says that when Assyria noted its own greatness, “it became arrogant.” Other English translations speak of Assyria’s “pride” (NIV, ESV). The New Living Translation uses “proud and arrogant” together. In fact, the original Hebrew of this verse could be literally rendered, “the heart [of Assyria] became lifted up in its height.” The Old Testament uses the image of the heart being raised up as a way of describing human pride that goes beyond the temporary enjoyment of one’s accomplishments. The lifting up of one’s heart means putting oneself in the place of God. It’s not just healthy pride, but unhealthy arrogance.
So, is it wrong to be proud? No, not always. It depends on what you mean by pride. But I would offer a word of warning. I have found that healthy, humble delight in my accomplishments can easily run over into unhealthy, arrogant over-valuing of myself. If you’re inclined to think too much of yourself, let the example of Assyria be a warning to you. Remember, all that you have is ultimately a gift from God. All your accomplishments come by way of his provision. So, yes, delight in what God has done through you, but don’t let your heart be lifted up to the place of God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable pride? Do you ever struggle with arrogance? When? Why? What helps you to enjoy your accomplishments in a way that is not sinfully prideful?
PRAYER: Gracious God, help me to see all of life as a gift from you. When I pause, as you once paused, to enjoy that which I have done by your strength, may my pride become thanksgiving, my thanksgiving become worship. In all things, may I humble myself before you, so that you might exalt me in your way and your time. Amen.