A few years ago, one of our elders challenged the Council to be praying more for our church mission here. But he warned us that when we start praying seriously to be drawn closer to God, God will be sure to reveal the sin that we need to deal with. I thought I knew which sin I would likely have to deal with but I was wrong. God soon revealed to me that my sin was pride. I wanted things to go well in this church because of how it would reflect on me. I realized that when things went well, I wanted the credit and I was elated. And if there were problems, I felt defeated. It was all because of pride because I wanted it to be about me. The story is told of a pastor who was greeting folks at the door after the service when a woman enthusiastically shook his hand and said, “Pastor, that was a great sermon!” Flushed with pride but wanting to appear humble, the pastor said, “Oh, it wasn’t me. I have to give the credit to the Lord.” The woman replied, “It wasn’t that good!”
That reflects the sin of pride. We want it all to be about us! We want to be at the center of everything and as a result our pride shapes what we do and say. In fact, that is the problem for Adam and Eve when they fell into sin and plunged the whole world into sin. Satan knew exactly what button to push and that button was their self pride. In fact, we see the basic elements that are often found in the sin of pride in this story. Let’s read Genesis 3:1-13.
I. In verses 1-3, we see the role of pride in stage one of this drama: doubt.
The story is tragically familiar to those who are familiar with the Bible. Adam and Eve were created by God and were placed in the Garden of Eden. They were completely perfect and there were no effects of sin. In fact, they lived in a blissful relationship with God. Then Satan arrives on the scene and is very shrewd as he lures them into sin. While snakes may have an evil connotation to us, a snake was not a threat to Eve because human beings ruled and had control over all the animals. Satan doesn’t scare her but lures her by a direct appeal to her pride.
Satan begins with a tone that is incredulous.... “Did God really say...?” The tone is both disturbing and yet flattering to the woman causing her to question what God had said. Satan invites the woman to question what God had explicitly commanded. It also implies that she was in a position where she was actually equal to God. Satan then exaggerates by saying that God had said that they cannot eat of any tree. Actually God had said that they must not eat of the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but Satan makes it sound like God is unreasonable in his demands. He is carefully laying the groundwork making it seem that Eve is more equal to God and more in control of herself and her situation than what God had intended.
He appeals to her pride and Eve’s response indicates that he has found a good target. Moreover, as she repeats God’s command, she makes the command itself more severe and adds that God had said, “You must not touch it.” And she also softens the punishment a bit as well by saying that God had said that they will die; God had said that they would surely die. Eve begins to question God’s authority because she thinks she has a higher place in the created order than she really does. She may have started to think, “You’re right! That doesn’t sound right to me.” She begins to question God’s authority because she thinks she has a higher place in the created order than she does. She doubts God’s commands and plan because of her pride in herself.
We can often see the same place of pride when we doubt. There are times when we wonder, “Does God know what he’s doing?” We or a loved one gets sick; we lose our job or a relationship goes bad and we do wonder at times if God knows what he is doing! The next step is to begin to think that we could do better than God is doing. In our pride, we question what God is doing because we think we know better!
Another story is told of a church where at the conclusion of the sermon, the worshipers filed out of the sanctuary to greet the minister. One of them thanked the pastor for the sermon and said, "Thanks for the message, Reverend. You know, you must be smarter than Einstein." Beaming with pride, the minister said, "Why, thank you, brother!" However, the pastor began to think about the man's compliment. The more he thought, the more he became baffled as to why anyone would deem him smarter than Einstein. The next Sunday he asked the man, "Exactly what did you mean that I must be smarter than Einstein?" The man replied, "Well, Reverend, they say that Einstein was so smart that only 10 people in the entire world could understand him. But Reverend, no one can understand you." Doubt means we think we know better and that comes from self-pride.
Satan continues the assault and says that they will NOT surely die. This is a flat contradiction to what God had said. Now it becomes the serpent’s word against God’s. Satan tries to undermine God’s authority even more with the woman. He says that the reason God gave this command is to withhold something from them. God doesn’t want them to be like him! To be as God is as an intoxicating idea and Satan implies that it is possible. This is the height of arrogance and pride but Eve succumbed to the deception. Derek Kidner writes, “Eve listened to a creature instead of the Creator, followed her impressions against her instructions and made self-fulfillment her goal.” And then the man ate as well, which is a very curious way to achieve divinity. In self-pride, they wanted to know more than what they were content to know.
There are times when we too think that God knows more and is holding out on us. We want to know things the way God knows things; we want to be like God! It sounds like a teenage child who says that they can manage their own lives when the parents know that they don’t have anywhere close to the emotional maturity that is needed to handle life or themselves.
It is not restricted to youth, however, for even adults think they know better. During a cold spell in January 2003, the Boston Herald noted that “An estimated 200 to 300 homeless persons refused to go indoors yesterday, despite efforts by public health and safety officials, choosing to endure arctic cold and risk the fate of an elderly homeless man who died in an unheated hut under the Southeast Expressway.” Calls from a city councilor for the police to be more aggressive in forcing at-risk people into shelters for their own good led to the police admitting that they are constrained by state law from taking homeless persons living outdoors into protective custody. We all think we know better and it often stems from pride that we don’t want someone else telling us what to do. We too question God and think we know more than God does.
Let’s look at how this prideful descent continues with the great disillusionment. What became of the attractive promises of great knowledge Satan had made to them? Certainly their eyes were opened but only to the sudden realization that they were both naked; this was the sum total of the new knowledge they now had. Before their nakedness was proper and comfortable but now it was something unpleasant and distasteful. They saw their familiar world and now it was spoiled. They heard God walking in the garden and, knowing their guilt, they tried to hide. Still God’s call to man has all the marks of grace for the question of “where are you?” is a question that is intended to draw them out of their hiding place. They had desired to know good and evil from an objective stance but they ended up knowing it personally and immediately suffered the effects of having evil in their lives.
Adam and Eve didn’t want to take the blame for their sin and so the blaming begins. First Adam blames Eve because he doesn’t want to own the sin he has committed. Then the woman blames the serpent because she certainly wouldn’t do anything that would be disobedient to God. In self pride, they are trying to protect their reputations. But ultimately they are blaming God for their fall. “If it were not for that woman you gave me, things would be just fine!” “God, you put the serpent in this garden and so it’s your fault!” It reminds me of this doozy from a list of quotes from bad bosses: “I didn't say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame it on you.” Their pride leads them to blame others and prevents them from owning up to their sin.
We too try to blame others because we are proud. When we feel we are being threatened we will so easily blame others to protect our fragile reputation. In his book Wisdom of the Nineties, George Burns wrote, "When I was playing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas this year, I went to see a stand-up comedian I know who was appearing at another hotel on the Strip. He did a good show, and by the time I got to his dressing room, he was already holding court for his friends and fans. 'How about that show!' he crowed. 'I was never better. What a performance! I was sharp! I was with it! I had that audience eating out of my hand!' So just in fun, I said, 'I was out front, and I didn't think you were that good.' He said, 'The band loused me up.'" Yet when we respond in that way, we drive ourselves deeper and deeper into sin. We don’t want anyone to think that we are greedy or lustful or selfish. So it’s someone else’s fault; our parents or our spouse or our environment.
What we will see is that pride is so often at the root of so many of our specific sins. It is often why we lie or cheat or exaggerate or do whatever we do. It is often what motivates our actions because we want to guard our reputation or we want more power or recognition; we want to protect what we think is ours. In the next couple of weeks we will be looking at a few examples of how pride does this and then looking at the antidote to pride, which is humility, biblical humility.
So what do we do to combat personal pride? First, look for times when personal pride leads us into doing things that are wrong. When we question God, it is our pride at play. When we say certain things because we don’t want our reputation damaged it may be our personal pride that is involved. When we blame others instead of owning up to our sins, it is often our personal pride that is the reason.
Second, pray that in his grace God will give us true humility. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Through his Spirit, God can clothe us with humility and we will be at peace with ourselves as we live in humble submission and obedience to God. Let’s thank God that because of Jesus the sin of pride is forgiven. Now let’s pray that God will teach us humility.