The funny thing is, the kids were so shocked and unsure about proper behavior that they looked upon me with compassion, and awkwardly looked away. Even the more vociferous, back-row boys, were kind and never said a word (that I could hear).
How did this happen? It started in high school, when I got a hard-kicked soccer ball in my face. My tooth broke off at the gum line. All of these years later, the root became infected. Many antibiotics and a root canal all failed, so the tooth had to be pulled. Then the stitches became infected and I could not cover the area for a few days. I had to teach on one of those days because it happened to be the first week of school, and I could not call in “toothless.”
Like most people, I do not want to have to be humble. I swallowed a lot of pride that day. I think God was warming me up for deeper spiritual lessons that would soon come.
Some forms of pride can be subtle, and many of us would be shocked to understand that they have a hold on us.
Some forms of pride are even encouraged in some ways, because we sometimes watch one another and judge one another by outward appearances and actions, even in the church. We can feel good about ourselves when we think we are following all of the rules perfectly, even when the rules are self-made.
For example, a person may worship in a particular way. His or her method of worship may become the “standard” for sincere and humble worship in that person’s mind. Even if the Bible does not set this standard, other people who worship differently may be encouraged and pressured into this kind of worship to be accepted. The person or people who set this standard are pleased with the fact that they satisfy their own standard. They are also pleased when others seem to be maturing by following their example.
Sometimes, even when our rules and expectations are extra-Biblical, we still expect others to abide by them. When we put ourselves in the judgement seat and decide that certain religious practices or behaviors are superior, or indicate spiritual superiority, then we become vulnerable to spiritual pride. We may not even realize that we are doing this. In the words of Cindy Jacobs, “Spiritual pride is like bad breath; you are usually the last person to realize that you have it.”
In the words of Cindy Jacobs, “Spiritual pride is like bad breath; you are usually the last person to realize that you have it.”
I have battled with pride a long time. Sometimes we try to compensate for rejection that we have experienced by doing things that we think are important and becoming pleased with ourselves. Other times we begin to think we are wise and know more than other people. Or, like the Pharisees, we become showy about our spiritual disciplines like fasting, praying and worshiping in public. Pride is rampant in the church. It was in Jesus’ day, and it still is.
The Pharisees, scolded passionately by Jesus in Matthew 23, were poster children for pride.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
Matthew 18:2-4 provides a contrasting scene to the passages with the Pharisees. In this passage, another population demographic receives approval and a welcoming reception from Jesus;
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”
Jesus is clear about His criterion for entering the kingdom of heaven. He is concerned about our positioning ourselves humbly, taking “the lowly position of this child.” When we are in a lowly position, we do not impose our standards on other people. When we are childlike, we are dependent and vulnerable. We are meek, not overbearing. We are positioned to learn, receive and trust.
When we are childlike, we are dependent and vulnerable. We are meek, not overbearing. We are positioned to learn, receive and trust.
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
God does not tolerate pride. When we are prideful, God warns us to cut it out. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Yikes. Here is another reason to embrace humility. And God has a promise for those who heed His warning. In I Peter 5:6, we are reassured; “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This is a win-win situation. We should go for it, but that is hard to do if we remain in the dark as to our prideful stance.
The more undetected, secured pride in the church, the better for the enemy. It hurts other people and keeps us at risk for humiliation and harm.
Remember that Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not demonstrating “justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Have you become focused on how other people should act, or what they should do? Or do you have a genuine respect for people? Do you exhibit compassion, patience and forgiveness when it is in your capacity to do so? Are you devoted to your brothers and sisters in Christ, despite their outward appearances and changing circumstances? Or do you force your traditions, disciplines and priorities on other people? Do you operate under love and acceptance? These practices were unknown to the Pharisees. These are the things that concerned Jesus.
In Luke 18:11-12, we see spiritual pride at its best;
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”