Pride

Preaching and Worship Resources about Pride

Pride is (typically narcissistic) conceit—an overestimate of one’s abilities or worth. Pride is inordinate self-esteem. When they are narcissistic (i.e. self-absorbed) as well as conceited, the proud think a lot about themselves and they also think a lot of themselves.

In Scripture

Adam and Eve Pride shows up in Genesis 3 as the desire to “be like God,” a motive for rebellious disobedience.

Folly Pride is exhibit A of folly in the wisdom literature. “Pride goes before destruction,” (Prov. 16:18).,Pride incites God’s judgment (Prov. 16:5). Pride brings disgrace (Prov. 11:2) and strife (13:10).

Vs. humility In perhaps deliberate contrast to Genesis 3 (“you will be like God”), the kenosis (or self-emptying) hymn of Philippians 2 reveals as a signature virtue of Christ Jesus that “though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” but took on the nature of a servant. In the hymn this move is an example to those who are tempted to act out of “selfish ambition or vain conceit.” In accordance with his signature virtue, Jesus teaches his disciples “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

Virgin Mary In her song, the blessed and fierce Virgin Mary celebrates that God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51).

Jesus’ stories Jesus liked to tell stories to those who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” and to stick them with the point of his story: “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9, 14; see the same conclusion as the point of the story of places at the table in Luke 14:7-14). Again, to an expert in the law who wanted to “justify himself,” Jesus says he ought to be as merciful as the otherwise despicable Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

1 Corinthians 13 In his matchless ode to love, Paul states that love “is not boastful or arrogant or rude.” Accordingly, do not think of yourself “more highly than you ought to think” (Rom. 12:3).

Warnings Prophets warn constantly that “the Lord has a day in store for all the proud and lofty” (Isa. 2:12, NIV). See also Isaiah 16:6, 25:11; Ezekiel 28:2 (“your heart is proud and you have said, ‘I am a god’”); and Zephaniah 3:11 (“I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain”).

New Testament vice lists Pride appears prominently in the vice lists of the New Testament, as in Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2. See also the contrast between worldly wisdom and real wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and Paul’s discussion of pretension and boasting in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11.

Points to Ponder

First deadly sin Usually listed first among the “seven deadly sins,” pride is in both Scripture and the church fathers a “root sin.” What sin, after all, causes more war, envy, fratricide, tyranny, sense of entitlement, ethnic cleansing, and subversion of fellowship? What sin makes God seem more irrelevant? God wants to fill people with the Holy Spirit, but people who are proud are already full of themselves. There’s no room for God.

Debasement Augustine treats pride as the greatest political threat to the City of God, the usurper that wants to unseat God and enthrone itself. He also points to a remarkable irony: the person who reaches toward God and wants to please God gets “stretched” by this move and ennobled by the transcendence of its object. But the person who curves in on himself and tries to please only himself ends up contracting into a little wad. “There is something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride which debases it.” See also Proverbs 29:23: “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.”

Folly Pride is Exhibit A of folly; it makes a fool unteachable. Nobody can tell him anything. He will not listen. He is often in error, but never in doubt. He’s an off-key singer who still wants the solo parts.

Madness Moreover, pride is a fantasy view of the self. Our wills are not sovereign; we are not our own centers or lawgivers, and the thought that we are can verge on madness. Only a damned fool, Milton believed, would rise from his flaming ruins, look out across “a dismal situation waste and wild,” filled with “huge affliction and dismay,” and then declare: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n."

Anti-fellowship Pride aborts intimacy and trust, and therefore real fellowship. It’s a robber of some of life’s most precious gifts. It is also subject to the law of diminishing returns. Healthy people have wide interests and so absorb a constant and fresh stream of outside intelligence. The self-absorbed are on safari only within their own consciousness. The more fascinated they are with themselves, the less of any substance there is to find fascinating.

Futility Pride is, finally, idolatry. And like all idolatry, pride is finally, futile. Idolatry removes us from God’s sphere of blessing, condemning us, as Richard Lovelace once wrote, to search for fulfillment among our idols, which, instead of solid blessings, offer only “black-market substitutes.”


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.