What Is Pride?

A wave can be an incredibly powerful, and often destructive, force. It makes a perfect word picture for human pride.

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?

What Is A Friend?

What is a friend? All of us understand the importance of friendship in our lives, but what does the Bible say a friend actually is?

The Greek word consistently translated “friend” is philos. Particularly interesting is the fact that this word is derived from the verb phileo, which is synonymous with agapao, which means “to love.” Strictly speaking, then, a friend is one who loves or is loved. This stands in contrast with enemies, who hate or have an aversion to another. A great example of this is found in Matt. 11:19, where Jesus is called a “friend” of tax-collectors and other outcasts of Jewish society. Far from wanting to stay away from them as the Pharisees did, Jesus willingly spent His time with them and demonstrated His love in very practical ways.

By extension, a friend is one who is devoted to another. Because of this, Abraham is called a “friend of God” in James 2:23. Likewise, those who devote themselves to Jesus are His friends (John 15:14ff). A good secular example of this is found in John 19:12, where Pilate is threatened with the charge of not being a “friend” of Caesar if he didn’t have Jesus crucified. This, then, helps us understand why James said that friendship with the world is enmity with God, for we cannot be devoted to both.

The word also refers to general companionship in passages like Luke 7:6, etc.

We see the word itself has a fairly broad meaning. Like any word, context helps decide the specific view in meaning. The same is true in OT usage. The main word there is rea’ and includes close, intimate friendships all the way to mere companions. In Ex. 33:11, for instance, God speaks to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend,” but 1 Sam. 14:20 finds the Philistines turning their swords on one another (on their “friends”). Sometimes, this vagueness can create interesting theological discussions. For instance, are Job’s three friends actually true friends? Though not explicit, the question of true friendship may well be a sub-theme in the book as it helps us understand how to counsel friends who are suffering.

The bottom line we can take away is that a friend, in the biblical sense, is one who loves and is devoted to another. Our friends, then, are the ones who are there for us no matter what, which is what we should be willing to do for others. That also means that a lot of people whom we think of as our friends aren’t our friends at all. Worse, it may be that we aren’t the friends we think we are to others! Most significantly, it is an amazing thing that we can be not merely God’s followers, but even His friends, and He can be ours. He is already devoted to us. The question is, are we devoted to Him? True friends always are.

Hate, A Word Study

Yesterday we studied the word “enemy” and found that it primarily refers to those who oppose, persecute, or hate someone. So what do those words mean, especially hatred? We’ve already done a study on love, so perhaps now we be a good time to discuss its opposite.

The Hebrew word translated “hate” is sane; the Greek word is miseo. Since both refer to the same idea, we will look at them together. First, however, we should make an important distinction. Just like people confuse disliking someone with being their enemy, people often confuse anger with hatred. When someone opposes us, it is natural to have ill-feelings towards them. Likewise, when we hate something or someone, anger is a naturally accompanying emotion. Anger, however, is not hatred, and hatred is not anger. If it were, then every time we became angry at a loved one we would have to admit that we actually hated them, which obviously is not the case.

Hatred is actually the lack of love (love, if you remember, is the desire to for the best interests of another). Love unites. Love brings together (1 Cor. 13). Hatred, then, is an aversion to a person or thing. Hatred sees something as undesirable and as ought to be shunned. Hatred divides.

We can further distinguish between two kinds of hatred, what we may call “cold” and “hot” hate. “Hot hatred” is that with which we are most familiar. It is an aversion that is accompanied by strong negative emotions. People often hate one another in this regard, and this is the idea the NT condemns when it says that to hate someone is to be a murder (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15). On the other hand, Christians are called upon to hate sin, just as God does (Rom. 12:9). In fact, it is our hatred of sin that will often keep us from it! (cf. Ps. 36:1-3)

“Cold hate” is an emotionless aversion and may be more clearly understood as disinterest. To “hate” someone or something in this regard is to consider it so unimportant that it is unworthy of your interest; that is, you have absolutely no desire to consider it. In this sense, people are said to hate God (although they do so in the other sense as well), a sad fact which as terrible consequences (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 1:30). In this sense, to ignore people in need is to hate them in this way.

In addition to these literal meanings, the Bible also uses the word in a figurative sense of “love less.” Thus, Jesus says that we are to hate our father and mother and even our own lives (Luke 14:26). The idea is that, compared to our love for God, all other considerations are so secondary that that simply don’t matter to a degree that they could be considered hated. The point is clear: God comes first! Another example is found in Romans 9:13, which says that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. The idea is that God chose Jacob before he was born to carry the Abrahamic blessing but rejected Esau for it.

Hatred, then, is neither good or evil in and of itself. Like love, the important question is the object. To hate people is wrong. To hate sin is good. We are capable of being angry without falling into hatred, just as God does with us. Anger rooted in love is righteous anger; anger rooted in hate is murder. Understood properly, love and hate, properly understood, help us properly define all of our relationships and ultimately will lead to a more fulfilling, and fulfilled, Christian life.

How Do I Love My Enemies?

Christians have suffered severe persecution throughout history. Those who persecuted, or opposed, them, were their enemies, and Jesus commanded His followers to love them.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Such a command seems impossible to fulfill when we understand “love” to mean having positive feelings about something and “enemy” as someone we don’t like. If that is what those words mean, then Jesus is telling us to like people we don’t like! In order to avoid a contradiction, we would have to understand Him to be saying, “stop disliking people and like them a lot instead.” Unfortunately, we don’t have that much control over our emotions. Fortunately, though, there are better ways to understand the biblical concept of an enemy (click here for our study on love).

The main OT word is ‘oyeb and the direct NT equivalent is echthros (the latter is almost always used to translate the former in the Greek translation of the OT). ‘oyeb essentially refers to hostility, and thus an “enemy” is one who is hostile to, or opposes, another. In light of this, Ex. 23:4-5 is particularly interesting. The Israelites were commanded to return the donkey or ox of their ‘oyeb if they found it wandering. Moses then says that if a person were to find the donkey of “one who hates you” fallen down, he was to help. The hating person is parallel to the ‘oyeb, which means that they have similar ideas. From this, we see that an enemy is one who hates another (the primary concept of hatred is opposition).

This meaning is demonstrated repeatedly throughout the OT. It primarily refers to the enemies of God and His people (i.e., the Egyptians, Ex. 15:9; the Canaanites, Deut. 12:10; etc.), though it also refers to personal enemies (as above, Ex. 23:4-5; of David—and ultimately Jesus, 2 Sam. 7:9-11; Ps. 110:1, etc.). Even Israel is called God’s enemy is passages like Isa. 63:10 when they fell into sin. In all of these, the idea is the same: a person or nation opposed to another, usually God.

Echthros is very similar to ‘oyeb except, due to the theological emphasis of the NT, it focuses more on personal enemies (in the OT, the focus was usually on the nation of Israel and her relationship with other nations. Thus, enemies, of individuals, Israel, or even God, are usually national in character. In the NT, the focus is greatly shifted to the individual and their relationship to Christ). Yet clear parallels are found with OT usage. We may have personal enemies, but this is especially the enemies of God becomes our enemies (Phil. 3:18; James 4:4, etc.). Every Christian was once God’s enemy in that they opposed His will (Rom. 5:10). Death is our enemy because it stands in opposition to both our will and God’s (1 Cor. 15:26).

An “enemy” is simply a person or thing who opposes, persecutes, hinders, or hates another. We naturally have ill feelings for those who oppose us. That does not mean, however, that an enemy is someone we don’t like. It just so happens that we don’t like our enemies! Further, people may be our enemies for several reasons. The main reason the Bible is concerned with is spiritual. People will oppose us because we follow Christ. Christian brothers ought not to oppose one another at all, but should live at peace in unity with one another.

In light of this, Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:44, while still not easy, make sense. He is not commanding us to have nice feelings for people we don’t like. He is commanding us to take care of even those who persecute us. After all, that is just what God did for us when we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10).

When was the last time you loved an enemy? How did you do so?

What Is a Curse?

Having discussed the biblical concept of blessing, it only make sense to look at the biblical concept of cursing. Interestingly, just as there are many words to describe sin, there are a wide variety of words used to describe curses. For now, we will look only at three of those words, two Hebrew and one Greek.

The main Hebrew word for a curse is arar, which is used as the opposite of barak. Whereas barak refers to divine favor that empowers a person, arar refers to divine bondage that renders one powerless. Thus, when Adam sinned, the earth was “cursed” (Gen. 3:17), meaning it would no longer produce fruit with the abundance it once did (cf. Gen. 49:11, a prophecy that sees the removal of this curse when Jesus returns). Another interesting example is found in the story of Balaam, where the king of Moab asked him to “curse” Israel so that he could defeat them. He recognized both that Israel was too numerous and too powerful for him, so he asked a prophet to bind them.

In the ancient near-east, curses were just as superstitious as blessings were. They were thought of as spells by which one could summon evil forces to subdue others. The OT, however, completely strips away such ideas and, like blessings, sees curses as directly related to one’s relationship with God. Thus, the person who breaks God’s law is “cursed.” Looking again at the story of Balaam, he notes that he is unable to curse those whom God has blessed (Num. 23:8).

The other major Hebrew word is qalal, which has the idea of making something small. Both arar and qalal are used by God in Gen. 12:3. Those who curse Abraham (qalal, those who make him small, to consider him worthless) will be cursed by God (arar, they will be bound by God [for destruction]). In this, we see that God, ultimately, is the protector of His people, and their relationship with them defines their relationship with Him. The exact parallel arises ultimately in Jesus Christ. Those who bless Him are blessed–they are empowered to live as God intends; whereas those who curse, or belittle, Him are cursed by God, or bound by Him.

The main Greek word that translates these two is katara in its various forms. It has the literal idea of being brought low or brought down by a prayer (from kata, meaning “down” and ara, meaning “prayer”). In Gal. 3:13, Paul quotes the Greek translation of the OT in Deut. 21:23 which says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” The Hebrew is qalal here. The idea is that Jesus was brought low or “cursed” on the Cross. He was, in a sense, weighed down by the sin of the world. It is hard to imagine a greater act of humility than for the God of creation to be willingly brought low or bound by the evil of His creation. The idea of bondage is prominent here, for Paul calls the Mosaic Law itself a curse (Gal. 3:10), meaning that those who are under it are bound by it. In this, it stands, again, in complete opposition to the idea of blessing, which points to freedom and liberation.

In the biblical sense, then, a curse is that which comes from God and binds a person or thing and prevents them from living a life of freedom and abundance. Curses come as a result of sin, that is, by rejecting God’s will. Every person today–especially Christians–can choose to live under the blessing or curse of God. By accepting His Son and walking by the Spirit, a person will reap life abundantly; by walking in sin, he will reap destruction, both in this life and the next.

What Is A Blessing?

What does the Bible mean when it talks about blessing? Like “glory,” it can be somewhat hard to define, but since understanding it will help us live in Christ’s power, we should try to do so as much as possible!

The NT word is eulegeo, which originally meant “to speak well [of someone].” That meaning, however, is absent in the biblical usage. The meaning comes almost completely from the OT word barak. Barak is used over four hundred times, so it would be impossible to do it justice in a short article, but a few ideas can be sketched out.

First, the concept of blessing in the oriental world came out of its polytheism. It was deeply tied to good and evil forces. To receive a blessing was to have divine goodness “magically” work itself out in your life, whereas the opposite was true in the case of a curse. The monotheistic Jews, however, had a different concept. For them, blessings and curses came from God alone (Deut. 28). In fact, if a person was not rightly related to God, they could not bless, and even the blessings they did offer would be turned into curses (Mal. 2:2). Two biblical stories illustrate this concept perfectly. God promised Abraham that He would bless anyone who blessed him and curse anyone who cursed him (Gen. 12:3). In this, we see that if God is the source of all blessing, then God’s blessings or curses rested in large part on men’s relationship to His chosen people. In Num. 23-24, Balaam was asked to curse Israel, but he was only able to bless them. Again, God is the source of all blessings and curses.

Second, blessing primarily had to do with divine favor, which usually manifested itself in physical prosperity (Christians should not apply this directly to themselves, as we will see shortly). This prosperity was always conditioned on men obeying God’s laws and remaining in His good grace. In the case of the patriarchs, the fathers passed the blessing to their children via prophecy, since they acted as the first prophets. Yet it is important to note that God Himself established the covenant with each of them in His own time. By the time of the kings, it became apparent that the blessings of God were available to each individual Israelite who lived righteously, and those who did not were cursed. Finally, the Bible speaks of men blessing God. In this case, the concept is one of thanksgiving and praise.

By the NT, there is little discussion of men blessing men. Primarily the references are limited to Jesus’ command to bless those who curse you (Matt. 5:44 (KJV), etc.), the idea being to pray to God for their good. In the Gospels, Jesus blesses bread, which is to say He thanked God for it. The remainder of the uses (except in Hebrews, which focuses on OT stories of blessings) reference God blessing mankind. This concept is very similar to the OT idea. It is divine goodwill. Rather than being manifested in prosperity, however, it is manifested in spiritual growth and maturity (1 Cor. 14:16, etc.). All blessings are available in Christ to anyone who receives Him. When Paul said he could do all things through Christ, he was referring directly to this concept of blessing.

To be blessed by God, then, is to be empowered to live like Christ. The rewards that come with that, many temporal but ultimately fulfilled in glory, are the visible result of walking in our blessing. This is consistent with OT usage, in which walking with God was required to be blessed. In any case, this explains why we should not confuse our blessing with physical prosperity. Though God may bless us that way, the basic concept of blessing is always spiritual empowerment. If we are “blessed” materially, to be a true blessing, it must be tied to the edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Walking in blessing, then, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian life. We don’t have to ask God to bless us. He has already done it. Now, we just have to receive that blessing, in faith, and live as He requires.

Your thoughts?

What Is Glory?

"The heavens declare the glory of God" ~ Ps. 19:1

During today’s sermon, my pastor raised the question of what exactly “glory” means. He essentially defined it as majesty or honor, in which, of course, he is correct. Yet it would be good to look at it a bit closer (after all, if pastors were to give all the insights their study had revealed, the average sermon may well be several hours long!). What, then, is glory?

The NT word is doxa. Surprisingly, though, the NT’s usage has no relationship with secular Greek. Outside the NT, it is related to the word dokeo, which means “to think,” and thus, doxa originally referred to an opinion. The difference in the way the biblical writers use the word is nearly breath taking; they consistently use it to refer to honor or majesty. In other words, doxa in the NT is completely objective, being found in the object itself. Thus man has his glory and God has His (in fact, John sets these two meanings side by side in John 12:43. We will look at that verse shortly).

The only way to understand the shift in meaning is to look at the Greek translation of the OT, where doxa is consistently used to translate the Hebrew kabod. Its basic meaning is “heavy” or “weighty,” though it is rarely used in this sense. Usually, the basic meaning is extended and is used figuratively, sometimes negatively, as when the OT discusses the “heaviness” of work (Ex. 5:9), servitude(I Ki. 12:10), warfare (Judg. 20:34), misfortune (I Sam. 5:6), sin (Gen. 18:20), etc., and sometimes positively, in which case it is usually translated “glory” or “honor.” Persons have great wealth were described as kabod (Num. 22:15), and riches were considered the just reward of a righteous life (I Chr. 29:28). Men in positions of authority were to be honored (Ex. 20:12). In any case, the important thing to note in all positive usages is that the reputation of the individual is the main idea. Whether that reputation was automatically assumed because of one’s social status or whether it was earned through one’s deeds, kabod primarily speaks of a person’s honor. Thus, Proverbs argues that the righteous are honorable whereas the fool is not (Prov. 21:21; 22:4; 26:1, etc.); likewise, God’s rebukes Israel for honoring Him with their lips but not their deeds (Isa. 29:13).

When this idea is applied to God (kabod Yahweh), it carries the same meaning with an added nuance. Since God is fundamentally invisible, the “glory of God” is the way He manifests Himself on earth. Thus, the heavens declare it (Ps. 19:1), it visibly filled Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr. 7:1), etc. God’s actions reveal His glory. Thus, when men are called upon in the Bible to glorify God, they are not being asked to give Him something He does not have, but rather to recognize the honor that is intrinsically His. All this is finally and perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14), as Jesus is the ultimate and complete self-manifestation of God.

When the NT takes up doxa, it uses it in exactly this sense. Whether of man or God, it refers to the glory or honor of the thing itself. God’s glory, then, is the manifestation of His character, and thus man’s glory pales (to understate the case!) to His. Yet, in John 12:42, men loved the “glory” of men more than the “glory” of God. Perhaps this is because it is far easier to see man’s glory. How sad that so many Christians fail to see the doxa of God in their own lives! In missing it, they are actually failing to recognize who God is on some level.

All this, then, means that to glorify God is to see Him as He is each day. To deny Him that glory is nothing less than put our faith in something other than Him, usually ourselves. It appears as though the glory of God is hidden except to those who see it through faith. Can you see God’s glory? It is evident all around. We simply need to open our eyes.