You don’t have to read much of Proverbs before you understand the writer likes to use contrast to make his point. He tells us in 1:7 that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” He does the same kind of thing in v. 32-33. Then there are sections (chapters 10-15), where this is the dominant form of expression. Some of the things contrasted in Proverbs are wisdom and folly, righteousness and wickedness, and what we’re interested in: pride and humility.
Pride is a distorted sense of self. It’s when a person thinks too much of themselves. There is no one is like them. They are the center of the universe, the star of the movie—everything revolves around them. God loves everyone, but they are His favorite!
There are two huge problems with prideful distortion.
One is that God Is not treated as God. If He is on the prideful person’s radar at all, it is usually only as a genie who exists to grant their wishes. Their prayers aren’t about God’s kingdom coming as Jesus taught us to pray—they are about their kingdom coming. The prideful person does not allow themselves to be made over in God’s image, instead they make God over into their image.
The second problem with prideful distortion has to do with how other people are viewed and treated. All people are not created equal. Some are more valuable than others (i.e., those who are pleasing and helpful to them). The prideful person not only uses God, they also use those who are made in God’s image.
The prideful person is ultimately not in touch with reality. To center things around your self is the ultimate not just in self-absorption, but in self-deception. It is Pharaoh asking, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). It is Nebuchadnezzar strutting around of the roof of his palace boasting about his power and the glory of his kingdom (Daniel 4). It is Herod basking in the people’s acclaim that his was the voice of a god and not a man (Acts 12).
Things never end well for the person of pride. God gave Pharaoh a ten-lesson correspondence course on who He was. Nebuchadnezzar ended up munching grass on the back forty. Herod was eaten by worms. When the writer of Proverbs tells us “Pride goes before destruction”—he knows what he is talking about!
But the truth is, most who are reading this don’t suffer from pride to anywhere near that degree. Our problem isn’t that we’re head over heels in pursuit of an arrogant and prideful lifestyle—God is present in our lives too much for that!
No, our problem is that from time to time we develop little pockets of pride—tendencies that can get the best of us under the wrong circumstances. Someone else acts arrogantly toward us and we’re tempted to do the same toward them. Perhaps it’s success in a certain area that has swelled our head. a little. Or maybe it’s simply a stubborn refusal to see something from any other point of view than our own. The point is, no one is immune to prideful flare ups like these. As someone noted, “There are only two kinds of people, those who will admit to struggling with pride and those who are liars.”
We need some help to maintain humility.
God understands that and has built some safeguards into life if we will just pay attention and allow ourselves to be shaped by them. One safeguard is the Lord’s Supper. On the first day of the week disciples come together and participate in communion. In eating the bread and drinking the juice together, “we proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). We start each week confessing our dependency and our gratefulness for the redemption we have through Christ. It is difficult for pride to exist in an environment of dependency and gratitude.
Another safeguard is Jesus’ teaching that we are to pray for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). He didn’t say we are to pray for tomorrow’s bread or next week’s—just today’s bread. Jesus is quite clear on the matter. This means the prayer has an expiration date of 24 hours. If we want God’s provisions for tomorrow, we have to take it up with Him then, not today. Again, it’s difficult to be proud or self-sufficient when we are asking God daily for our sustenance.
There are other safeguards, but the last I want to mention is the practice of fasting. Jesus didn’t talk about “if” His disciples would fast, but “when” they would (Matthew 6:16-17). Fasting is connected with humility throughout the Scripture (Ezra 8:21; Psalm 35:13; Isaiah 58:3, 5). The practice of sincere fasting (as opposed to what so many of the Pharisees did), is like prayer—it naturally draws us closer to God and further away from arrogance and delusions of grandeur.
In praying for our daily bread, communion, and fasting, we have daily, weekly, and “as needed” safeguards to help us to remain in God’s orbit and not shoot of on our own. These can help us maintain our spiritual balance and humility before God and others.