Do I Have a Problem with Pride?

No Australian likes to think we are arrogant. We value pride in our nation, pride in our football club, pride in our family, but we look down on arrogant pride. Australia is a very egalitarian country, we do not like people who put on airs, or pretend they are better than we are. For an Aussie a compliment is 'he's just one of the blokes' or 'she's just one of the girls.'

Because we do not view ourselves as an arrogantly proud people, it can be difficult for an Aussie to admit they are proud in the negative sense. It's a bit like trying to look at our own eyeballs, we are quick to see arrogance in others but it is very difficult to see that sort of pride in ourselves. Unfortunately, psychological studies indicate most of us tend to have a more inflated opinion of ourselves than warranted. A study by the University of Waterloo showed that both spouses usually give themselves more credit for household chores and child-care responsibilities than the other spouse is willing to give them. Most American business people think they are more ethical than the average business person. Of course, we Aussies would say that would never be the case for Australian business people'is that pride too? Most drivers hospitalized for accidents think they are better than the average driver. Most college students think they will live longer than their actuarially determined life expectancy. In a survey of 1 million high school leavers, 60 percent thought they were better than average in sporting ability, 70 percent thought they were better than average in leadership ability. Zero percent thought they were below average in getting along with others.

It is true that from time to time, most of us go through periods where we have a very low opinion of ourselves. Some of us can also suffer from depressive tendencies where our evaluation of ourselves becomes negatively distorted. Nevertheless, in the majority of normal every day situations we tend to think we are better than the other person is, or at least better than average. Is that what the Bible means when it says, 'the heart is deceitful above all things' (Jer 17:9). Is that also why Jesus only commanded us to love our neighbour? He assumed we loved ourselves (Mt 22:39). What do you think? Do we have more of a problem with a poor self-image or an inflated self-image? Maybe it is some combination of both.

The Damaging Effects of Pride

Unrecognized arrogant pride can be extremely damaging. The Bible tells us clearly that 'pride comes before a fall (Pr 16:18-19), and 'God resists the proud' (Jms 4:6).

Pride can have a number of deadly effects:

  • Pride can cause us to look down on others who we do not think are as talented or successful as we are, even unconsciously. This haughty pride can be very hurtful to others and can isolate us from meaningful relationships.
  • Pride can also cause us to over-rate our abilities and become over-confident. We may then cause damage to our lives and those we influence by taking unnecessary risks or becoming presumptuous in our faith.
  • Pride can also prevent us from doing something that we should because we are afraid that we may be criticized or embarrassed or we have some hidden resentment. I call this inverted or introverted pride.
  • Finally, pride can also cause us to demean, ignore or even harm people who we think are more successful or prominent than us because we think we deserve the attention they are getting too. We sometimes call this form of pride the tall poppy syndrome in Australia. It is closely related to envy.

What times can you think of in your life when a prideful attitude or action has caused harm or damage to yourself or others?

Pride's Remedy

The remedy to pride is humility. The Bible tells us three times that while God resists the proud He gives grace to the humble (Jms 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5 and Pr 3:34). We can picture this through the analogy of a trapeze artist and their safety net. An arrogant trapeze artist will say, "I do not need the net". Then their whole life is in danger in the rare instance that they make a mistake and fall. However, a more humble trapeze artist will recognize that, even though they are very talented, they could still make a mistake. They keep the net in place and it sets them free to fly and be everything that a gifted artist can be without the same fear of falling. If they fall, they fall into the net and while they are still possibly hurt, they can recover and 'fly' again later. In the same way, a humble person is able to draw on the grace that God gives when they blow it or make a mistake. However, a proud person has no access to God's grace when they fall. Humility is, therefore, the antidote to the damaging effects of arrogant pride.

If humility is the safeguard to the deadly dangers of pride, how do we become humble? The Bible tells us that we should humble ourselves (Jmes 4:10). It is something we can do to ourselves. The scriptures surrounding James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5 suggest at least four ways of 'humbling' ourselves and becoming a less pride filled person.

  • Submit to God (Jms 4:7). As a young man, I remember talking arrogantly to God and saying, 'God if you are there, I still want to do it my way'. That was a very dangerous 'prayer'. Ultimately, God's ways are best for us. He is not a killjoy; he wants to protect us from the 'joys' that kill. Humility begins with acknowledging that an all knowing and all loving God also knows what is best for us. We humble ourselves by submitting ourselves to His will.
  • Submit to your elders (1 Peter 5:5a). I once worked for an employee who asked me to do a role in a consulting project with which I was not happy. I was after a more prominent role. He chatted with me and told me, 'No, you are the one best suited for this task.' After I begrudgingly accepted, and began the work, I found it was one of the most enjoyable secular work experiences I have had. It also taught me a lesson in humility!
  • Lament, mourn and weep! (Jms 4:9) To me this means to be real with God and others about our struggles and shortcomings. It means confess. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to tell others that we are struggling or we have failed or we need help. However, it is fundamentally necessary if we are to become a more humble, grace-filled person.
  • Be clothed with humility (1 Pet. 4:5). The picture here is of someone clothed in the garments of a servant, as Jesus was when he washed the disciples' feet. A great lesson in humility is to make conscious efforts to serve others first. This is especially the case if no one else will see, and the act of service will do nothing to further your career or your ministry. Such an act of service directly confronts our ingrained tendency to do things for ourselves and to our own ends.

In what ways can you take a positive step this week to grow in humility and help avoid our natural tendency towards arrogant, self-serving pride?

The End Result

CS Lewis suggests that a truly humble person will not be thinking about humility, 'they will not be thinking about themselves at all.' Ultimately, I think the sign of a humble person is someone very gracious with a huge heart to serve others. They will not be serving reluctantly but with a smile because they genuinely love others at least as much as they love themselves. What do you think a really humble person would look like?

Sample Discussion Questions

In these notes, there are four key questions that you can discuss as a Life Group.

  • Do most people have a problem with a poor self-image or an inflated self-image or a combination of both?
  • What times can you think of in your life when a prideful attitude or action has caused harm or damage to yourself or others?
  • In what ways can you take a positive step this week to grow in humility and help avoid our natural tendencies towards arrogant and self-serving pride?
  • What do you think a really humble person would look like?
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