We all know that pride, at least in most cases, is a bad thing. Humility is the thing we are to strive for. Yet as soon as we make these statements, qualifications start arising. Pride isn’t always bad, is it? There’s nothing wrong of being proud of your achievements, your children, or your country, right? And we’ve all met people who seem so humble that they can’t take a compliment. That sort of extreme doesn’t seem very appealing. So what is it we really mean when we talk about preferring humility over pride? What does the Bible say on the matter? We will look at humility tomorrow. Today, let’s start with looking at the biblical concept of pride.
The main OT word is ga’a. Its primary meaning is “to rise,” though this “rising” is used in a variety of ways. For instance, in Ex. 15:1, God is “highly exalted.” Our word is used in an intensive construction here, and the word picture seems to be God rising like the crest of a great wave and casting Israel’s enemies, in this case Egypt, into the sea. A similar usage is found in Job 38:11, where the waves are called “proud.” That is, the rise greatly, and no one can stop them but God.
It is easy to see how this concept of rising up is used to picture pride. Positively, the land of Israel is Jacob’s pride because of its excellence (Ps. 47:4, etc.), and that because of its relationship with Yahweh. Further, God’s majesty—His rising—is described by the same word (in this context, it is usually translated by doxa, “glory,” in the Greek translation of the OT). More often than not, though, pride is a negative trait. Specifically, the concept is arrogance (cf. Prov. 15:25, etc.).
The second major OT word is zid (or zud). It is a picture of boiling over, and the word picture is related to the rising water we’ve already seen (cf. Ps. 124:5, which refers to proud, raging waters that represent overwhelming trouble in life). Usually, it refers to a sense of self-importance, an attitude against which God is strongly opposed (cf. Prov 3:34; though a different word, the same concept is evident). Specifically, when I presume I have authority I do not, I will act in a manner not appropriate for me. Usually, this entails actively rebelling, often willfully, against a higher authority (cf. Deut. 1:43; 17:12-13; 18:20).
The two main NT words for pride are huperephanos and alazon. The former is often found in lists of vices (Mk. 7:21-22) and is translated as “arrogance.” The latter refers to boasting or bragging in both classical Greek and the NT. Such people are those who delude themselves by claiming to be greater than they really are. In Rom. 1:30, both of these words are listed as the outcome of idolatry.
The connection with idolatry is very revealing. The biblical concept of pride is the rising up of someone, their claiming of authority, and their boasting in who they are. If those things are done only in the Lord, then there can be no charge of arrogance. Yet when man rises up in himself and claims for himself authority he does not have, when he rebels against God and boasts in his own power, he is properly said to be full of pride. Such things necessarily flow from idolatry, for to deny our dependence on God and place it in lifeless gods is actually to place our it in ourselves. So, the question is, in whom are we glorying? To glory in God is not pride. To glory in ourselves is!
Pride is the most difficult of all sins to overcome, because it is that which focuses on and glories in the self. It is very difficult to focus on others, but that is God’s own ethic, and it is His command for His children (see Phil. 2:4-5). It is the very essence of love, which means that love for others and pride in the self cannot mix.
So, who are you glorying in? Are you a loving person or a proud one?