By Pastor Glenn Pease
Ignorance may be bliss, but it is a fools paradise when others are in the know. General Motors learned this the hard way back in the early 60's when they launched a campaign to sell their new compact, the Chevy Nova, in Mexico. It was a flop, and the sale figures were appalling. That is when their investigation discovered that Nova in Spanish means "No go."
History is filled with the blunders of big corporations who act first and think later. Back in the 1950's the Pepsodent Corporation decided to export their toothpaste to Southeast Asia. They took their success winning slogan from America with them. "You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent." When nearly nobody was buying their product a vice-president was sent to investigate why. He discovered that the people in Southeast Asia chewed Betel Nut like Americans chew gum, but Betel Nut is much more expensive, and it stains the teeth. The stain teeth are a prized symbol of affluence. There was little demand for a product that promised to eliminate this status symbol. It would be the equivalent of trying to sell a product that would make gold look like copper.
Man, in his pride, is constantly trying to impose his ideas and values on others without knowing the others and their needs. Love listens before it speaks. It is patient in striving to understand the other. It is kind in seeking to meet the needs of the other. Non-love is just the opposite. It comes to conclusions about the other based, not on the other, but on the self. I think this is what is good for them, or bad for them. I think this is the way they should go, and the way they should be. It does not ask what others feel, but operates on how the self feels, and it seeks to impose those feelings on the other. Not only is this a disaster when business does it, it is a tragedy when tyrannical governments do it to their people, and it is a catastrophe when the church does it to people.
When Jesus came into the world He did not come in pride to dominate, and to have His own needs met. He came in love to serve and meet the needs of others. He knew what those needs were. People did not need more religious laws, and they did not need more religious ritual. They did not need condemnation, what they needed was to know that God loved them in spite of their sin. They needed to know God cared, and that He cared enough to find a way out of the dilemma of a holy God relating to sinful man. They needed to know that God had provided a way to forgive sin. They needed to know that God wanted them to have life, and life abundant. No wonder the common people heard Jesus gladly, and flocked to be near Him. He gave the sinner a sense of self-worth.
Pride does not do this, but love does. Pride seeks to take from others and not give. Pride does not care to serve, but to be served. Pride is always self-centered, whereas love is always others centered. This is why the people flocked to Jesus. They knew He loved them. This is why they fled from the Pharisees, for they knew they loved only themselves, and they thanked God that they were not as other men.
A test was given to 676 students at the University of Illinois. They found that the number one characteristic that both males and females did not like about another student was conceit. The person who thinks too highly of himself is the only one who turns everyone else off. A sophomore said to a freshman said, "The trouble with you is that you are to conceited. I use to be that way too, but now I'm the nicest guy on campus." His progress in overcoming pride is very questionable.
People are constantly talking about finding themselves, but the Bible keeps telling us that the self is not something you find. The self is something you create by the choices you make. If you choose the path of pride, yourself is headed for the pits. If you choose the path of love, yourself is headed for the peak. Being proud is the refusal to accept the truth that without love you are nothing. Pride says I am something, and I am somebody on my own, and independent of God and His love. It is the spirit of defiance that says I need nothing of the image of God to be of worth.
Being loving goes the opposite way and says I am nothing without love. I am dependent upon God for my self-worth. I only has worth because God made me in His image and gave me eternal value. Which person really feels best about himself? The loving person is the one who does, for he knows his worth is not just in how he feels, but it is in how God feels. His self worth is not in subjective feelings, but in the objective promise of God. He knows that what is done to the least of God's children is done to God, and so even if he feels he is the least of the lot, he is still of infinite worth to God, and so he can have love for himself.
This self-love which is based on the love of God for you is also a form of pride, but it is not sinful or destructive. It gets somewhat confusing when we use the same word for both the terrible and the tremendous, but the fact is, we do. We are proud of our children and grandchildren. We are proud of our school, team, or church. We are proud to be Americans, and proud to be Christians. So before we look at what love is not, we need to see that there is a positive pride which prevents the pits.
The Bible and psychology are in full agreement that self-esteem and self-respect are essential to a healthy personality. It is not dangerous or damaging to recognize the worth of the individual. It is, in fact, a Christian duty. Paul says we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and start boasting in conceit that we are really something. But it is also true that we need to think high enough of ourselves so that we have a sense of self-worth. The Christian is one who has enough self-worth to feel he does not want to loose his reputation by doing what is foolish or sinful. I think of myself too highly to tell a dirty joke from the pulpit. It is a sense of pride that would keep me from damaging my self-image that way. There are things we are all kept from by our sense of pride. Pride keeps us from being dirty and slovenly. We would not wear a dirty shirt with big holes in it to church. We comb our hair, shave, and try to look presentable because we have a sense of self-worth, and we want to be acceptable in appearance as well as behavior. This is all a part of praiseworthy pride.
It is important that Christians see the positive side of pride, for if all self-worth is bad, it forces the Christian into the intolerable position of not being able to be honest about values and excellence. If you bake the best cherry pie in your circles, it is not pride to know that, or to be told that. It is legitimate to accept compliments and praise for your skill, and not have to think that Christian humility demands that you act like your pies are not fit for the pigs. All gifts, talents, and skills are to be recognized for their excellence and value, and each one who possesses such should feel good about what God has blest them with, and feel pride in their cooperation with God in developing their gift. This kind of pride is a virtue. As long as pride is cooperative, and is an aid to uniting people, it is on the side of love, and is that necessary ingredient in the Christian life to obey God's command to love your neighbor as yourself.
It is only when this self-love leads you to the pride that seeks self-glory to the detriment of the body, and which leads to competition and division within the body, that it crosses over to the negative side. Pride is a good thing that can go bad, and that is why it needs to be constantly checked and evaluated in the light of love. Love is always the greatest because it is love that helps us keep all things in balance. Here is a poem that expresses a popular idea I have heard many times.
Sometime when you are feeling important,
Sometime when you ego is in bloom,
Sometime when you take it for granted
You are the best fellow in the room;
Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow the simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul:
Take a bucket, fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out, and the hole remaining
Is the measure of how you will be missed.
The problem with this idea is that it goes too far, and it fights pride by damaging the self-image. It reduces the person to nothing, and makes the self of zero worth. That is as anti-Christian as the pride which makes the self a god. Love gives us balance, and it helps us see the self as of great worth to God and to man. But it keeps the self-worth limited so it does not soar beyond its bounds, for love loves God as well, and in loving God it comes to know that He is the source of all worth, and He has placed worth on all by His grace. He has made the salvation of all possible by the gift of love, which is the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. All legitimate pride is pride in God and His love, and the worth He has placed on all people.
Some are proud of their face; Some are proud of their race, Some are proud of their lace, but Christians are to be proud of God's grace. This is God's favor which is given because He loves us, and because we are of infinite worth to Him. Self-love is a virtue as long as it is balanced, and as long as it is only one aspect of love. If you love God supremely, and love your neighbor as well as yourself, then you have the balance that prevents the vice of pride taking over. Self-love becomes the vice of pride by making the self the only object of love, and all other loves are excluded. God is cut out, and so are all others, and it becomes a love perverted, and like all perversions of good things it becomes a bad thing. The higher the value that is perverted, the worse the evil of it, and because pride is a perversion of the highest virtue of love, it is the worst of vices. It is the king of the 7 deadly sins. Now let's look at the other side.
The path of pride leads to the pits. It is considered the parent of all other sins, for it was the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. You shall be as God's is the appeal of the tempter, and it is hard for anyone to resist the opportunity to play God. That is the essence of pride. Pride exalts the self to the level of the supreme authority. It says, I am the master of my fate, and the captain of my soul. Pride not only puts its possessor in competition with God, and leads him to the pits, it is so offensive to others that it leads the world to the pits. Pride is the number one cause for the revolutions of history. The ruling class becomes a pack of proud snobs who consider all who are not in their class to be of little or no worth.
Madam Roland was once visiting an aristocratic chateau in France, and the lordly owner of the place said, "Show her into the servants hall." This snub made her so angry that she became a leader of the French Revolution. It is a story repeated over and over through history. People who are treated like dirt by the ruling class tend to want to bury that class. We saw it in South Africa. It was in that part of the world where Gandhi was made to feel sub-human, and where he began his fight for human rights and dignity, which he took back to India, and by which he began a revolution that changed the course of history. Pride which puts others down will inevitably put you down. Hitler and his Aryan pride destroyed millions of innocent people, but it also destroyed him.
People and powers of all kinds have always loved the idea of playing God. It was Satan's first, and man's first, sin. Pride led most of the rulers of Israel to their fall. The Roman Emperors loved to do the same thing. Caligula built a temple in his own honor. He sacrificed peacocks and flamingoes to his own statue. He even took a gold statue of himself with him. He had the most famous images of the gods of Greece brought to Rome where he lopped off the heads and substituted his own. Nero made a statue of himself 120 feet high, and did all manner of evil, for he felt he was god and could do as he pleased, for he answered to no one. These and many others demonstrated that pride goes before a fall, and that a halo can quickly become a noose as it slips down, and men are hanged by the folly of their pride.
Pride is primarily competitive, and love is primarily cooperative. This is not to say all competition is bad, for it is not so. It can be good in many ways, but when the goal of life becomes proving that you are superior to others, you are on a God-displeasing road that is heading for the pits. This is what leads to those personalities that are so obnoxious. They are all the time boasting of their superiority, and comparing themselves with others. They become conceited bores, and destroy the chance of being loved and loving. Pride's goal is to ever widen the gap between the self and others, for this magnifies the superiority of the self. The man with a million dollars is seldom happy if he is proud, for he lives with and associates with men with 10 million dollars, and they make him feel that gap. Love is just the opposite of pride. It's goal is to narrow the gap between self and others. The gifted person who loves does not make others feel inferior. He brings himself down to their level to be one with them, and to be a blessing to them.
Jesus is the greatest example of love narrowing the gap. He was infinitely above us, and He had the riches and glory of the universe at His disposal. He was on the top, and among the most intelligent creatures. Yet Jesus narrowed that gap-that infinite gap-and became a man on our level, and with our weaknesses. That is what love is all about. He did not use His superiority just to lord it over us, but He used it to lift us. He brought His power and glory down to our level that we might be saved and lifted to His level. His life and death reveal cooperation, and the stooping of the loftiest to lift the lowliest. Envy says, "I am less if you are more, and so I must seek to bring you down." Pride says, "I am more if you are less, and so I must seek to keep you down." Love says, "I am more if you are more, and so I must seek to lift you up." Love seeks to make life an adventure where everybody wins.
Pride says, "Why should I stoop to life others. I am above that. If others are too inferior to climb to my heights, that is their problem. I will enjoy my mountain air without them." Pride says, "I am superior because I am made to be served by others who are inferior." Love thinks just the opposite, and it says, "If I have a gift that makes me superior to others it is because God has selected me to be a blessing to others by means of this gift. I will use my gift to help and lift and encourage others so that they feel my gift is God's gift to them."
Those who are truly wise are humble about their gifts. Michaelangelo as an old man would be seen studying the works of the ancients, and when asked why he responded, "I go yet to school that I may continue to learn." Mozart on his death bed said, "Now I begin to see what might be done in music." Sir Isaac Newton after his life of fame and discovery said, "I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
Paul in the realm of spiritual truth says in v. 12, "Now I know in part..." He knew we are still only children in comparison to what infinite light God has for us. Let us not be proud of what we have attained, but be humble because we know we are just tasting of the riches that God has for us, and let us in love share what we have that others might enjoy the taste. Love is not proud that it has what some others do not have, but it is proud that it has what it can share with others so that all can have the pleasure of God's love in time.