THE SNARE OF PRIDE
Adapted from a sermon preached in the PCC evening service on 20 August 2000


“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
(Proverbs 16:18)


Pride is a universal syndrome. It was pride which brought about the fall of Satan in the first place, because he said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…” (Isa 14:13–14; cf. Ezk 28:14–15, 17).


It was pride that brought the fall of man because Adam and Eve, too, wanted to be like God. They gave in to Satan’s temptation, and brought about the ruin of mankind. Sin, death, pain, sorrow, all came in to all man because of the Fall.


Pride continues to ravage the hearts of fallen man so that it is the common denominator between the worst of man and the best of man. Some of the most evil men in the Bible were condemned for their pride: Cain, Pharaoh (Neh 9:10), Absalom, Belshazzar (Dan 5:22–23), Haman (Esth 3:5), Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:21–23), etc. Some of the best men were also afflicted by pride: David (2 Sam 24:1ff.), Hezekiah (2 Chr 32:25), Uzziah (2 Chr 26:16), etc. Nations too were condemned for pride: Israel (Hos 5:5–9), Judah (Jer 13:9), Moab (Isa 16:6), Tyre (Isa 23:9), Babylon (Jer 50:29, 32), Assyria (Ezk 31:3, 10), etc.


But the fact that it is so universal does not make it any less wicked and dangerous, for the Word of God tells us: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).


Nature of Pride


The nature of pride can be seen quite clearly in our text. To see it, you need simply to know that the proverb is structured with a poetic device known as parallelism. The book of Proverbs makes extensive use of parallelism. Usually the parallelism involves two phrases which are either complementary or contrasting. In the verse we are considering, the parallelism is obviously complementary or synonymous. That is to say that “Pride goeth before destruction” means the same as “an haughty spirit before a fall.” In other words, “pride” is the same as a “haughty spirit.”


Now, from the phrase “haughty spirit,” we can say three things about the nature of pride.


Firstly, we see that pride is something internal. It refers to a state of mind, and not to the outward bearing of a person. It is an inward sentiment or feeling. Sometimes it manifests itself in the look, in our language, or our deportment. We call this manifestation arrogance. But arrogance is not pride. Arrogance usually comes from pride. But pride is in the heart.


Secondly, the word translated “haughty” (Hebrew: gobah) literally means “high,” “exalted” or “lofty.” In other words, pride involves the attitude of looking at ourselves more highly than we really are. It is an overestimation of ourselves; of our own powers; of our own merits; or of our own importance. It involves a looking down upon others.


Thirdly, it may be surprising to some of us, but the word rendered “spirit” (Hebrew: ruach) does actually refer to our spirit or soul. Let me put it this way, it is not an abstract noun referring to our personality, character, disposition or temperament. No, it actually refers to the soul. In other words, pride is equivalent to having a haughty soul. Or, in other words, pride is spiritual. We must never excuse ourselves and say: “I’m born this way: this is the way I’m constituted. I can’t help it. It is in my genes.” No, pride is not located in the genes. It is located in the soul. It is a sin. So Solomon says: “ An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin” (Prov 21:4). Pride, in other words, must be dealt with spiritually.


Causes of Pride


From the fact that pride arises from a “haughty spirit,” or soul that has too high an estimation of itself, we may derive several causes of pride.


Firstly, pride may arise from ignorance about self. The proud soul fails to recognise that it is a mere finite creature, that it cannot exist in and of itself, and that nothing added to it by man,—whether by himself, or by others,—is permanent. He is puffed up by his ancestry, titles, status, authority or wealth (cf. Lev 26:19; Ezk 30:6; 2 Kgs 20:13). And he forgets that these things are temporary. They do not survive death even if they are retained for an entire lifetime. Yet, these things do tend to increase pride in man. This is why the Apostle Paul, writing to the young pastor Timothy, taught him to: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded [or proud]” (1 Tim 6:17). This is why the Scriptures do not allow novices or new believers to be made elders in the church “Lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6).


Secondly, pride may arise from mental superiority, whether real, supposed, or imagined. This is intellectual pride. It is a pride that is fed by unsanctified knowledge. But “Knowledge puffeth up,” says the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 8:1). Those who are proud in this way not only look down on those they consider to be less intelligent than them, but regard the ways of God to be foolish. This is the kind of pride that characterises the Greeks of Paul’s days, the liberal rationalists of today, and the unbelieving philosophers of every age. The intellectually proud soul believes that his assessment is always right, and he often relies on his power of reason to the point that he is unwilling to submit to the revelations of God in His Word. Thus, they say: God could not exist; or there could not be miracles; or there could not be such things as angels and demons; or the virgin birth could not have occurred; or the resurrection could not have occurred. So the intellectually proud would not heed the preaching of the Gospel. They say of the preacher it is his opinion. It may be good for him, but I know what is good for me.


Thirdly, pride may arise from an undue estimate of our own goodness or righteousness. This is religious pride. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, had this kind of pride. They regarded themselves as so much better than other men, that they said: “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou” (Isa 65:5a); and they prayed: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Lk 18:11). This is a pride that, I have no doubt, is found in varying degree in every religious person, including ministers of the Gospel; for we all have a tendency to compare ourselves with others and think ourselves better than others. Often, we would see the speck in other’s eyes but fail to see the beam in our own eyes. Even acts of self-abasement can become means of self-exaltation as we begin to regard ourselves as more humble than others. I have even heard one man said: “I am proud of my humility!”


Fourthly, pride may arise from ignorance of or apostasy from God. The proud soul underestimates the holy requirements of God. He judges by false standards of excellence. He judges according to his own standard. Ultimately, pride is I-dolatry. It places self in place of God, and makes self god. It is the most subtle way of breaking the first commandment, but it is such a breaking of the first commandment that brought about the fall of Satan and the fall of man.


Danger of Pride


Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The ultimate danger of pride is that if it is not checked, it will lead to destruction or fall. Let’s consider these two terms.


To fall is to be brought to shame or to be brought low or humbled. Another two proverbs say: “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom” (Prov 11:2), “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit” (Prov 29:23). In other words, pride does not only result in shame and lowliness, but pride will actually bring these about. The proud man with an over inflated ego will be humbled when men discover that he is not as great as he puts himself to be. The ultimate fall occurs when the proud man comes face to face with his Creator. On that day, he will surely fall on his knees as he acknowledges his nothingness and nakedness.


What about destruction? It is synonymous with a fall. But it is more descriptive and intense. It speaks of devastation. It speaks of more than being brought to shame or being humbled. It speaks of punishment. Pride is extremely hateful to God. Proverbs 16:5 makes it very clear: “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.” The wages of sin is death. God will punish every sin. How much more a sin that is specifically called an “abomination to the LORD.” We need not doubt that every proud person who remains proud will one day face eternal damnation and destruction. Pride, in other words, must not be looked at lightly.


How does pride lead to such terrible consequences? It does so because it is a snare. It gets a person more and more entangled as long as he remains proud. How so? Let me suggest three ways:


Firstly, the proud heart would not listen to the Word of God through God’s ministers. There is a very sad incident recorded in Jeremiah 42–3 in which the leaders of the remnant of the Jews in Bethlehem came to Jeremiah to consult him on whether they should go down to Egypt. They said to Jeremiah: “The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God” (Jer 42:5–6a). Ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the answer from the Lord that they should not go down. But what happened? The leaders refused to believe him. We are told: “Then spake Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men, saying unto Jeremiah, Thou speakest falsely: the LORD our God hath not sent thee to say, Go not into Egypt to sojourn there” (Jer 43:2; italics mine).


You see, pride had shut their ears. They had already made up their minds, and they were not at all prepared to listen to anything contrary to what they had already decided. Such is the danger of pride. The proud soul listens to a sermon and will only receive what is not against him and what he can agree with. Tell the proud man that he is living his life wrongly, and he would reject the teaching a priori. Tell the proud man that he is a sinner heading for damnation, and he would shut his ears.


Secondly, pride hardens the mind so that it is no longer open to hearing reason or hearing the Gospel. It was said of Nebuchadnezzar that “his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride” (Dan 5:20). The more proud a soul gets, the more hardened will be his mind to reason. Preach the Gospel to a proud mind. Reason with him that his pride will bring him to doom, but it will not move him. This is why one who is rich or self-sufficient despises the Gospel. But was there no pride in all of us? Were it not for the grace of God in Christ, we would all have perished in our hardness of hearts and minds.


Thirdly, pride deceives a person as to his true spiritual condition. This snare of pride is mentioned by two prophets, Jeremiah and Obadiah: “Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the LORD” (Jer 49:16); “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?” (Ob 1:3).


The result is that the proud soul does not think he needs salvation, and so will not seek after God. He is self-confident and self-reliant. He does not need God. So we are told: “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Ps 10:4).


Remedies Against Pride


Having seen how pride deceives and blinds, I do not ask you to consider if you are proud. I believe that even the best of saints are, more or less, afflicted by pride because of the remnant of their corrupt nature. And ironically, the proudest persons are often those who think themselves to be humblest! May I therefore urge the application of the following remedies upon you regardless whether you consider yourself to be proud:


(a) Cultivate a sense of insignificance, dependence and unworthiness. Do not think yourself too highly. Do not dwell on your own superiority, real or imaginary. Always humble yourselves. Remember that no matter how good you may be, you are never good enough. Remember that you are but dust and made of the same material as earthworms. Remember that you will die one day. Ask yourself these two questions: Who made you to differ in your riches and honour? How long will there be a difference?


Take heed to the call of the Apostle Paul: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think; but to think soberly. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. In honour prefer one another. Be not wise in your own conceits (Rom 12:3, 10, 11, 16). In other words, learn to become like little children, for the Lord Jesus says: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).


Unless you come to appreciate your nothingness, your soul will be in danger of final destruction, for by your pride you testify of your allegiance with Satan for he was condemned for his pride (1 Tim 3:6). Humility, on the other hand, is a necessary quality of every soul that enters the kingdom of heaven, for our Lord, when He was painting a portrait of a true saint, begins by saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).


(b) Consider the glory of God in all that is done. Seek not your own but the things of Jesus Christ, and how you may do good to others. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:3–5). And learn to “be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). The proud person who considers his own good above the glory of God or the good of his neighbours immediately becomes the enemy of God.


(c) Bear in mind God’s hatred for pride. If God hates pride so much that He spared not the angels, but cast them into hell, when they lifted up their hearts in pride; how much less shall He spare proud dust and ashes which we are? Joseph Hall has well said: “Let us be cast down upon our knees, that we may not be cast down upon our faces.”


(d) Pray: Grant me a humble heart to know my nothingness and Your greatness. Grant me a lowly mind to see that I am nothing, have nothing and deserve nothing but Thy wrath and curse. Pray:

Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before thou throwest it down. Make it totter a while before it tumbles. Let me be summoned before I am surprised (Thomas Fuller).


And take heed to the exhortation of Richard Greenham:

The more godly a man is, and the more graces and blessings of God are upon him, the more need he hath to pray, because Satan is busiest against him, and because he is readiest to be puffed up with a conceited holiness.


(e) Seek to know Christ. Listen to the words of God to Habakkuk: “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4). The proud soul is not upright. It will be cast down. It will die. Only those who recognise their nothingness and humbly trust in the Lord will be justified and have eternal life.


In other words, the ultimate remedy for pride is the fear of God and knowing Christ. If you do not fear God in this life and so be humbled to dust and so to embrace Christ as your Saviour and Lord, you shall be brought to your knees in fear one day before the God of Wrath. Therefore count all your achievements and all your self-righteousness as dung so that you may attain unto the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (see also 2 Corinthians 10:5).


Conclusion


There are some sins which are against self, some against men, some against God. But pride is against all. It is self-destructive, it tends to tear down others, and it exalts itself above God. May the Lord deliver us all from pride and its dire consequences. Amen.


 J.J. Lim