Savonarola was a great Florentine preacher during the fifteenth century. One day, he saw an elderly woman worshipping before a statue which stood in his city’s great cathedral. On the following day, he noticed the same woman again on her knees before the statue. With great interest, Savonarola observed that day after day, the old woman came and paid homage before the statue.
“Look how the woman worships,” Savonarola whispered to one of his friends. His friend answered back, “Don’t be deceived by what you see. Many years ago, an artist was commissioned to create a statue for the cathedral. As he sought a young woman to pose as the model for his sculpture, he found one who seemed to be the perfect subject. She was a young, serenely lovely woman, and had a mystical quality in her face. The image of that young woman inspired his statue. The woman who now worships the statue is the same one who served as its model years ago. Shortly after the statue was put in place, she began to visit it and has continued to religiously worship there ever since.”
When’s the last time you crept out of your house to worship at the feet of a sculpture created in your own image? Never, right? While you probably haven’t done that, it’s likely that you’ve asserted your claim to the title of “Center of the Universe” in other, sometimes subtler, ways.
Ever honk at another car while driving because you thought it was slowing you down? Ever neglect a household responsibility because you thought someone else ought to do it? Ever dwell on a compliment someone paid you?
If we take an honest look at our lives, we’re likely to find evidence of pride under every rock and around every corner. I’m going to ask you some more questions to help you determine whether you have a pride problem; but first, let’s take a look at a clear example of pride in the scripture, and see its effects.
Pride on Display
In the book of Genesis we find the incredible example of a group of people who had allowed pride to become the primary motive for their lives’ work. In their pride, they had chosen to ignore a very simple set of instructions the Lord had given them twice before – once at Creation and once after the Flood.
Now, if the Lord tells us to do something just once, we need to listen. But if He tells us to do something more than once, then we know He’s really serious about it, and we had better be sure to obey.
The instruction was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28, 9:1). The Lord had commanded them to work hard, to have children, and to spread out across the earth…and, for a while, that’s what they did. In fact, we find two complete chapters in the early part of Genesis that speak about the children they had and the places they settled.
But then, we get to chapter 11, and that’s where we run into a problem.
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.
Note the problem. They had been spreading out and filling the earth, but here they stopped.
Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Note just how bad the problem was. Not only did they stop spreading out, but now they wanted to stop permanently. They wanted to build a city and a tower that would reach into the heavens.
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.
The Effects of Pride
1. Pride distorts our view
God had commanded man to do three things – to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth. They did all right with the first two commands, but they failed on the third one. They refused to fill the earth.
The idea was that parents would have kids, and these kids would grow up and get married and start their own families and then move away. They were supposed to spread out and oversee each part of the creation that God had made.
The passage doesn’t tell us why they disobeyed the command. Maybe it was because they were tired of leaving their parents and their friends behind. Maybe it was because they didn’t want their kids to leave them behind. Maybe it was because they came upon a really nice piece of land and they thought, “I don’t want to leave this behind. I may never find anything this good again.”
Whatever the reason may have been, they said in their hearts…”I don’t have to obey God.” They thought they could do whatever they wanted and that nothing could stop them. Of course, that wasn’t true, but they thought it was true because pride had distorted their thinking.
Pride is an exaggerated opinion of one’s self.
I have an uncle who tells great stories. I love listening to him because he’s so good at painting pictures and building suspense. He really knows how to engage you in the tale.
But it’s interesting to watch his kids when he’s telling one of his stories. They often chuckle and shake their heads because they know what really happened. And they know which details their dad is building up for effect.
When you listen to someone who exaggerates, it might be entertaining, but you’re not getting an accurate picture of what really happened. You’re getting the crazy version, the movie version, the “There’s no way a person could have lived through that and actually survived” version.
When someone exaggerates, they’re stretching the truth. They’re making something sound bigger, or greater, or more significant than it actually is or was.
So, if pride exaggerates the opinion that we have of ourselves, we come to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t accurate. We might think that we’re stronger than we really are. We might think that we’re smarter than we really are. We might think that we don’t need anyone else’s help.
Pride causes us to think that we’re better than we really are. It causes us to think that we’re in charge of our own lives, that we don’t have to listen to anyone, and that we can’t be stopped by anything.
Pride distorts our thinking. And in the case of the tower builders, it had given them a wrong view of themselves, a wrong view of their situation, and a wrong view of God.
2. Pride puts us at war with God
Scripture very clearly tells us that…
God is opposed to the proud
Instead of filling the earth, the people began constructing a city and a high tower. They proudly rejected God’s command. When they did that, they went to war with Him.
Maybe they didn’t like what God had commanded. Maybe they didn’t understand the purpose behind the command. Maybe they just thought it was dumb. So, they attempted to build a tower that would reach into the heavens.
But the most insidious aspect of their decision was their motive. Look at what they said.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves…”
Instead of striving to make a name for God, they chose to make a name for themselves. They wanted the world to know just how awesome they were, and they were building this city and this tower just to prove it.
Instead of being obedient to God’s commands, they attempted to take God’s place. They thought if they made a name for themselves, then they would be able to stand up to God and wouldn’t have to spread out across the earth.
Not smart. One of the things the Scriptures clearly teach is that God does not share His glory with anyone.
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God
And it’s not like God is some kind of glory hog. By staking claim to His glory, He’s not being vain or selfish. The simple fact is that He’s the only One deserving of glory.
But all of their efforts were for naught because…
3. Pride produces failure
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.
Because of their pride, God relocated many of these people. In essence, God said, “Fine, if you won’t be obedient and spread out and fill the earth on your own, then I’ll have to spread you out myself.” And He flung them to the far reaches of the earth.
Imagine what it must have been like for those people. One minute, you’re standing next to your family and friends, and the next minute, you’re by yourself in some strange new part of the world that you’ve never seen before.
In addition to that, God confused their languages. That made it impossible for them to communicate effectively or to work together.
Imagine being relocated to a place like Siberia or the Sahara Desert, and when you try to speak, strange sounds that you’ve never before heard fall on your ears. Talk about failure.
These people went from making a name for themselves, to making sure they could survive. What a humbling experience it must have been. Pride had caused them to fail, and fail big time.
Do You Have a Pride Problem?
Ok, so clearly pride is something that, if present in our lives, needs to be addressed–now. What are some evidences of pride in our lives? Consider these questions regarding your interactions with others:
- Are you more concerned with winning (a la Charlie Sheen) than you are with serving your spouse?
- Do you try to remove the speck from your spouse’s eye before removing the log from your own (Matthew 7:3-5)?
- Do you consult your spouse when making plans for the weekend, for vacations, etc.?
- How often do you pray for your spouse?
- What’s your general attitude toward your kids? Do you regard them as a blessing or as an annoyance?
- Do you treat your kids as an obstacle to the fulfillment of your desires?
- How do you respond when your kids don’t obey? Are you more concerned about their sin or about the way they’ve inconvenienced you?
- After spending time with you, do your kids want to know more or less about your Savior?
Your friends or co-workers
- Do you treat your friends and co-workers with respect?
- Do you seek to bless and serve them, or do you treat them as though they exist for your benefit?
- Do you relate to them in a way that demonstrates concern for them?
- Does the way you treat them give them a better understanding of what God is like?
Earlier we read, “God is opposed to the proud…” The rest of that verse says, “…but He gives grace to the humble.” I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather experience God’s grace than face His opposition.
He urges us to humble ourselves before Him, and He promises that if we’ll do that, “He will exalt us” (James 4:10). Our former senior pastor, Bill Goode, used to say, “It’s impossible to humiliate a humble person.”
I would urge you to take the questions laid out above, and spend some time considering some concrete steps you might take to humble yourself before the Lord.