You’ve all met that guy before, haven’t you. He swaggers and struts, telling you how great he is, never realizing how nauseating his arrogance really is. He’s got a problem, but he probably doesn’t see it. It’s that terrible “p” word. It’s pride.
Now you see a guy like that and you wonder, “How can any human being possibly get so full of himself? Surely,” we think, “he can’t possibly be that stuck on himself. How is it possible to be so boringly self-important?” Well, it’s much easier than we realize. It’s so easy that everyone wrestles with it in one context or another. In fact, whether we realize it or not, pride is cyclical. The sin of pride follows a predictable pattern.
Chan Gailey experienced it. He coached the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech, but his lesson came when he was the coach of Alabama’s Troy State and that small college was playing for a National Championship. The week before the big game, he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back to take a phone call.
Somewhat irritated, Gailey told her to take a message because he was on his way to practice.
She responded, "But it's Sports Illustrated."
"I'll be right there," he said.
As he made his way to the building, he began to think about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office, he started thinking that he might be on the cover. "Should I pose or go with an action shot," he wondered. His head was spinning with all of the possibilities.
When he picked up the phone and said hello, the person asked, "Is this Chan Gailey?"
"Yes, it is," he replied confidently.
"This is Sports Illustrated, and we're calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?"
There’s at least part of the cycle of pride: Humility leads to blessing which leads to pride which leads eventually back to humility.
And the truth is whether we coach a football team or work for the Sanitation department, pride is a problem for everyone of us. No one you know doesn’t, at some point, struggle with their pride. Now, one reason that it is such a struggle is because we don’t really understand its cycle. That’s why I want you to listen this morning. You may be in the middle of the cycle, just about ready to explode into full-blown arrogance. Your head may already be starting to swell and you don’t even know it. Listen and see if the cycle of pride might be working in your life.
And, quite honestly, when some of us hear the cycle, we’ll find it very familiar. We may have intrinsically known for a long time that we rode the rollercoaster of pretension but we have failed to get off. You see, the purpose in our time together this morning isn’t just to understand the cycle of pride. We want to break it.
The question really is how. How can we break the cycle of pride that operates in all of us. There was a king of Judah that can really show us how. You can avoid the cycle of pride when you
DIV 1: UNDERSTAND IT.
Four steps define the cyle of pride and you see them all in this chapter we are looking at this morning. It’s 2 Chronicles 26. There we meet a king named Uzziah. He cycles through pride in a very telling fashion and his story helps us understand its steps.
In this cycle of pride, humility leads to blessing. Uzziah has a humble beginning. He starts his reign at the tender age of 16. V 1 says: “Now all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah.” This seems to have happened even though his father was still alive. From this unlikely beginning, he rose to power and God blessed him. V 3 tells us that he reigned 52 years . . . quite a feat in such days of instability. The Bible also adds in v 4 that God “made him prosper.” God greatly blessed him. For one thing, God made him successful in war. V. 2 says that he subdued Elath which had been lost since Solomon’s reign. This was a strategic port at the head of the gulf, critical to the control of seaborne commerce. V 8 tells us that His fame spread as far as the entrace of Egypt and he became exceedingly strong. In fact, if you combined the territory that he conquered with that of the northern tribes under Jeroboam it equaled what Israel had possessed at it’s highest prestige gained under Solomon
And the reason he was so militarily successful was because of the talent God had given him. He excelled in organizational leadership. Vv 11-15 tell us that he organized and equipped an army of 307,500 that “made war with mighty power” and was led by 2,600 “mighty men of valor.” He equipped that army with both offensive and defensive weapons which must have been the envy of other nations.
And he did more than fight. V 10 says:
Also he built towers in the desert. He dug many wells, for he had much livestock, both in the lowlands and in the plains; he also had farmers and vinedressers in the mountains and in Carmel, for he loved the soil.”
You might say that Uzziah was a “Renaissance” man. He was the complete package. He had a humble beginning, but he was greatly blessed by God.
But an interesting verse interrupts all the good news. It’s v 16 which says, “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction . . .” You see, the first step in the pride cycle was that his humility at the beginning led to blessing. God greatly blessed him, but that blessing did not lead him to more humility, but to pride. His heart was lifted up. Those really are the two options you have, you know: When God blesses you, you do one of two things. On the one hand, you may recognize that you’ve really done nothing to deserve that blessing and then give Him the glory, or, on the other hand, you begin to take credit for the success and believe that you are somehow smarter, stronger, better, or more diligent than everyone else. You begin to take credit for your own success. And the moment we take credit for anything, pride has entered! That’s the cycle: Humility brings blessing, blessing brings pride, and then
Pride brings sin. V 16, again, reads: “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction,for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” This was a clear violation of the law. Only priests were supposed to burn incense, no matter how important the king might have thought he was. One commentator wrote:
. . . as is often the case with strong leaders, this virtue gave way to a headstrong, I-can-do-no-wrong attitude. It was precisely his strength that blinded him to the effrontery of his action. Uzziah’s pride was expressed in usurping the role of the priest.
Mark it down, my friend, the reason the Bible says that pride goes before destruction is because pride always goes before other sins. Pride brings sin and then sin brings judgment. It happens immediately to Uzziah. When he enters the temple to offer up incense, he is immediately confronted by some brave priests. VV 17-18 read
So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord—valiant men. 18 And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God.”
Wow! That’s strong and it’s also dangerous. To tell King, especially one in the throws of a pride cycle to get out of anywhere could cost you your life, but they have the courage to do it. The reaction is predictable: Uzziah is angry. V. 19 says, “Then Uzziah became furious . . .” Can’t you imagine him standing there staring at this Azariah, blood rising in his face, about to show this upstart priest the business end of a sword when God’s judgment comes upon him. The Bible says in v 19, “And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar.” While this was probably not what we, today, call leprosy, it was serious and it meant that he had to immediately be removed from the temple because the appearance of leprosy meant he was unclean. V. 20 concludes:
And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him.
Even Uzziah, angry at his humiliation, realized that God had judged his sin. And you see, that’s always the way the cycle of pride works: humility brings blessing, blessing brings pride, pride brings sin and sin brings judgment.
And not just for ungrateful kings like Uzziah. It also brings judgment to the believer who allows the cycle of pride to work in his life too. The truth is that the believer’s life is almost set up for pride. Here’s the way it works:
Let’s say an alcoholic comes to Christ. When he gets saved, his life is in shambles. He’s drunk himself out of a job. His wife’s about to leave. He’s about to lose his home and his kids, but then, he turns to Christ and Christ breaks the chains of his addiction. Things begin to come back together. His new freedom gets him his old job back. Since he’s imitating Christ, he’s got a new attitude and a new work ethic. Pretty soon, he’s advancing at his job and pulling in more money than he ever did. His wife sees the change and decides to stay. He pays his mortgage and his kids even start liking him.
Now when he looks in the mirror, he no longer sees a loser but a winner. At first, he give the glory to God where it belongs, but it’s not too long before he begins to think, “You know, I’m pretty good. I work hard. I’m a leader at work. I’m a great husband. I’m a cut above other people who are struggling like I used to struggle.” And instead of leading him to humility, his success leads him to pride and the cycle begins. Before you know it, his pride leads him to think he can take a social drink now and then, “after all,” he says, “the Bible doesn’t absolutely forbid it.” Soon he’s right back where he started: An alcoholic, about to lose his job, his family, and his home. He’s a victim of the cycle of pride, and the most amazing thing of all will be this. If he comes in to talk to his pastor or some Christian counselor, he’ll probably say something like this: “I don’t understand what happened. I had everything going right. What happened to me?” I’ll tell you what happened: You followed the cycle of pride. The tragedy is, we can be so blind to it.
One pastor said he recently took a 45-minute drive in an old, beat-up van with a guy He barely knew. Along the way they ended up talking about Jesus and whether this man would give his life to Christ. His response laid out humanity's resistance to the gospel with striking clarity. He said, "My biggest problem is pride. I can't humble myself. And you wanna know the reason I can't give up my pride?" He leaned up onto the steering wheel and paused for effect. "Because it's brought me so far."
The pastor said, “I couldn't believe my ears. I knew that his pride had brought nothing but great pain. It was all he held onto while growing up in gangs—while his father died of a drug overdose and his mother was in the mafia. I knew that this self-made man beat his wife regularly, that he was unemployed, that he had just gotten out of prison. In fact, I found out a week later that he was on his way back into prison!”
In a separate conversation, this pastor said that the man’s wife had told him that his young daughters are terrified of him, that he is an alcoholic, and that she is planning to leave him. She even told him that the old van the guy was driving was going to be repossessed in a week.
The pastor went on to say,
Yet despite all our differences, I couldn't help but notice that in some ways, this guy and I are similar. I struggle to lay down my pride, because it's brought me so far—or so I think. What it's really brought both him and me—and you, no doubt—is pain, isolation, and ruined relationships.
It’s a cycle that is almost inevitable if you don’t realize it. We remember Jim Bakker and his scandal in the 80's. He built an empire claiming God as his benefactor but ended up ripping off grandmothers who sent him the money they should have spent on medicine. His senior vice-president, Richard Dortch, said pride, arrogance and secrets led to the PTL scandal. While most people never face temptations on the same scale, the ingredients for seemingly smaller failures are the same, he said. Dortch said the men in PTL's leadership felt they were above accountability. They felt specially called by God and accountable only to Him. He said they didn't plan the scandal; instead, it was the natural result of living for oneself, rather than for God.
Your name may not be Jim or Tammy Fae, but the same cycle of pride works in your life.
You might say, “Well I recognize the cycle Rusty, but how can I deal with it? How can I avoid this cycle of pride?” Well, you must first understand it, and then you must
DIV 2: BREAK IT.
I want to give you five principles from this story that will help you break the cycle of pride in your life:
First, if you want to break the cycle of pride, remember your source. That’s really what Uzziah forgot. Victory by victory, tower by tower, blessing by blessing, he forgot where all of this was coming from. V 15 of this chapter says that “His fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong. You seee, his problem was that he focused on his fame and his strength, but not on his marvelous help. God had warned them way back in Deuteronomy 8 when they were first entering the promised land:
“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 17 then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’
That is the temptation of pride: to credit myself instead of God. Uzziah fell because he did not remember the source.
Second, if you want to break the cycle of pride, refuse other’s praise. Refuse to believe it when people tell you how great you are. It is interesting that vv 15-16 makes a direct connection between the spreading of Uzziah’s fame and his pride. It is hard for us as sinful people to hear praise without it going to our heads. I’ve told you the story of the pastor who fancied himself to be a glorious expository preacher of scripture. After what he thought was a stellar message, several of his members told him how wonderful he was comparing him to some of the pastors they heard on the radio or tv. He was feeling his oats when he got in the car to go home, and wanting to milk a little more praise out of his wife, but not wanting to seem too obvious, he casually asked her on the way home, “Hon, I wonder just how many really good expository preachers there really are in this country.” His wife replied, “Well, I don’t know, but there’s obviously one less than you think.” It is hard to hear praise without it going to your head. Break the cycle of pride by remembering your source and refusing other’s praise.
But then you can receive other’s warnings. King Uzziah is warned by Azariah in v 18, “It is not for you to burn incense to the Lord . . .” Now I don’t want to manipulate scripture here, but I think that it is possible that if the King at that moment would have humbled himself and admitted his wrong, that, perhaps he could have been spared leprosy. We’ll never know the answer to that because humility was not what happened. Instead he became angry.
May I tell you that your anger is always a red flag? There is a very direct connection between anger and pride. Mark it down! Arrogance begets anger! Find me an angry man and you’ll have found a proud one. So when you find yourself angry, ask yourself, “What am I being proud about?” Very often the answer will be that your pride relates to advice you’re receiving that you do not want to hear. In those moments the very best thing to do is to stop, humble yourself before the Lord, and pray. In many cases you will then find that the advice you received made you angry because it stepped on a problem in your life that needed to be fixed and the advice you received was right! You break the cycle of pride when you remember your source, refuse others praise, and receive other’s warning.
There’s one more. You break the cycle of pride when you renew your focus. This is the most important step. Pride enters when I forget Who God is. Pride enters when I begin to lift myself up to the place that God deserves. That’s what Uzziah did. When he was 16 he knew he was nothing and that God was everything. When he was blessed, he gradually replaced his picture of an awesome God with a crude portrait of himself. He began to focus on his strength, his accomplishments, his ability. The way back to humility for all of us is to take our eyes off of ourselves and place them on Christ.
So where are you in all of this? Is your heart proud? O you may not be boasting like our guy in the first video. In fact, you’ve learned to fake humility really well. You are filled with pride in a humble sort of way. I tell you, it is critical that you deal with it! Let me give you four questions to ask yourself to evaluate where you are with this:
First, what praise have you started to believe? Have you started to believe it when others tell you you’ve got it all together? Do you believe your boss when he tells you that you have to take the promotion because you really are the only one who can handle it? Are you buying into your secretary’s flirtations that tell you that you’re a much more appealing man than your wife gives you credit for being? If so, my friend, you may be in danger of pride. What praise are you starting to believe?
Second, what warnings are you choosing to ignore? Are you ignoring the suffering of your family because of your career choice because all you can see is the prestige or the money that comes with that new position? Are you ignoring the clear warning of scripture that calls refusing to tithe robbing God? Are you ignoring the invitation of messages like this and pastors like me who call on you to swallow your pride and give your heart to Christ before it’s too late? What warnings are you choosing to ignore. You may be in danger of pride. What warnings are you choosing to ignore, what praise are you starting to believe and
Third, To what resentments do you need to react? What are you mad about? What makes you angry that reflects a proud heart? Is is a lack of recognition for something you have done. You did it for the Lord, you say, but you’re really ticked that no one has acknowledged it. Is it a correction for some wrong you have committed. The preacher, or your Christian brother confronted you on something and you just reacted. You feel judged and you’re mad. Is it some unfair criticism of something you’ve done? What are you mad about? Remember, there’s a direct connection between pride and anger. What praise have you started to believe; what warnings are you choosing to ignore; to what resentments do you need to react, and:
Fourth, What focus do you need to renew? Perhaps it’s a focus on God’s character. Maybe you’ve begin to see only yourself, your needs, your frustrations, and your ability and you really need to take a fresh look at God. Maybe you need a renewed focus on God’s word. You’ve become proud because you’ve neglected the Word of God. Perhaps, its because you’ve stopped praying. Quiet time is only a distant memory. Your heart is lifted up in pride because your knees haven’t bowed down in prayer. What focus do you need to renew?
Whatever the change, may I tell you that Christ isn’t asking you to make it alone. It was Christ who led the way. Phil 2 tells us that He made himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant. He went to the cross and died for proud, cold hearts like yours and like mine. And I tell you, it is an encounter with that cross which will humble your heart:
Helen Roseveare, a medical missionary in Africa, was the only doctor in a large hospital. There were constant interruptions and shortages, and she was becoming increasingly impatient and irritable with everyone around her. Finally, one of the African pastors insisted, "Helen, please come with me." He drove Helen to his humble house and told her that she was going to have a retreat—two days of silence and solitude. She was to pray until her attitude adjusted. All night and the next day she struggled; she prayed, but her prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling. Late on Sunday night, she sat beside the pastor around a little campfire. Humbly, almost desperately, she confessed that she was stuck. With his bare toe, the pastor drew a long straight line on the dusty ground. "That is the problem, Helen: there is too much 'I' in your service." He gave her a suggestion: "I have noticed that quite often, you take a coffee break and hold the hot coffee in your hands waiting for it to cool." Then he drew another line across the first one. "Helen, from now on, as the coffee cools, ask God, 'Lord, cross out the "I" and make me more like you.'" In the dust of that African ground, where a cross had formed, Helen Roseveare learned the master principle of Jesus: humility comes by releasing our ego at the cross.
And that’s what I’m asking you to do today. In the final analysis, pride is really a function of focus. When I’m focused on me, my view selfishly narrows until me is all I can see. When I focus on Him, my proud heart melts and I find the joy and freedom that humility always brings.