The Problem with Pride


As someone involved in the spiritual direction and guiding others along the spiritual path, I often get the question about pride.  We hear that pride is dangerous and that pride led to the first sin, and although all of that is true not all pride is bad, in fact, some pride is good for us.

For the past several weeks, I have been engaged in a virtual bible study using the Letter of St. James. (You can sign up here if you want to jump in)  This letter, in my opinion, is often overlooked for its many nuggets of wisdom.  There is much that can be learned from this letter, and some of the ones that follow it, that I believe a further study indeed is needed by all.

One of the verses this past week was from the 4th chapter and verses 4-7 and reads thus:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James meets what is an inevitable reaction to this picture of God as the jealous lover. If God is like that, how can anyone give to him the devotion he demands?  James’ answer is that, if God makes a high demand, he gives great grace to fulfill it, and the greater the demand, the greater the grace God gives.

But the problem is that a man cannot receive this grace until he has realized he needs it and has approached God in humility asking for help.  It must always remain faithful that God sets himself against the proud and gives his grace to the humble. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34) and (1 Peter 5:5).

But what is the destructive pride?  The word for proud is huperephanos which means one who shows himself above other people. It’s real terror is that it is a thing of the heart. It means haughtiness, but the man who suffers from it might well appear to be walking in downcast humility while all the time there is in his heart a vast contempt for all his fellow man.

This type of pride shuts itself off from God for three reasons.

  1. It does not know its need. It so admires itself that recognizes no need to be supplied.
  2. It cherishes its independence. It will be beholden to no man and not even to God.
  3. It does not recognize its sin. It is occupied thinking of its goodness and never realizes that has any sin from which it needs to be saved. Pride like this cannot receive help because it does not know that it needs aid and, therefore, it cannot ask.

James is pleading for a sense of humility that has two characteristics.

  1. It knows that if a man takes a resolute stand against the devil, he will prove him a coward. The great example of this is in Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In this, we see that the Devil is not invincible when confronted with the word of God.  With the word of God, the devil can be put to flight. The Christian has the humility that knows we must fight our battles with the tempter but not with our power but with the power of God.
  2. It knows that it has the greatest privilege of all, access to God. No longer is it only the priest who can have access to God. Through the work of Jesus Christ, anyone can come before the throne of God, confident that they will find mercy and grace to help us in the time of need.

The Christian must have humility, but a humility that gives us the dauntless courage and knows that the way to God is open to the most fearful saint.

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