Pride will destroy you. Pride is an ugly ministry companion that doesn’t let go easily. Pride will undo years of ministry and preaching and leading. If a friend has the courage to say, I think you’ve become proud, listen to that loving correction. Let God break that chain before it breaks you. Let us daily immerse ourselves in the humbling grace of God in Christ, that we might avoid the route taken by Uzziah and instead walk the one taken by the Lord Jesus
You may be familiar with this famous saying, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”. It comes from the Bible, Proverbs 16:18.
We have mixed feelings about pride in Australia. On the one hand, we like to run over any tall poppy with the lawnmower. And yet pride is splashed across Instagram and Facebook pages all the time: pride in achievement and success, pride in people, pride about identity. Pride has become an idea or slogan to embrace and celebrate.
We have a discombobulated relationship with pride.
To quote Pride and Prejudice,
“[Mr. Darcy’s] pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, every thing in his favor, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
I think Australians are selective about the pride we denounce and the pride we embrace.
As a Church last Sunday we looked at the reign of King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26. In the account, the theme of power and pride rears its ugly head in devastating form.
Uzziah comes to the throne at the age of 16 and he starts well. While most teenage boys are gaming and playing cricket and using their testosterone for all manner of quick fulfilment pursuits, Uzziah was ruling a nation. He begins well,
4 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.
Uzziah rebuilds military towers and rebuilds towns. He organises and leads the army well. He brings people together. He led the army in battle against the Philistines, verse 7, ‘and the Lord helped him’. It’s not difficult to imagine the excitement surrounding this positive beginning. Uzziah is doing what pleases God and he’s looking after the people and protecting them. He oversees State run building projects that run on time and to budget.
Then it goes horribly wrong. Verse 16 spells out the downward progression,
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.
Power – pride – downfall.
While power is usually spoken in negative and abusive ways today, power isn’t inherently bad or wrong. God is all-powerful. By his powerful word, God created the universe and he made you. By his powerful word God exercises justice and administers mercy. In this strength, he stops nations and cares for the hungry. God also gives people strength – physical, mental, and spiritual strength.
Power can achieve much good and also much sin. In the hands of sinful people, which is all of us, power and strength is a present temptation. We have the creative ability to twist and misuse power in all kinds of ways.
Power doesn’t inevitably lead to pride but when it swims in the bathtub of humanity, it’s like putting an egg in boiling water for 6 minutes; the outcome is pretty likely.
1. Pride grows in all kinds of soil
We mustn’t think of pride in a one-dimensional way. Pride can grow in all kinds of soil: in success, in power, in failure, in suffering. Pride is adaptable and fits snuggly in all different sizes.
Pride is having that concern for yourself and your reputation over and above God and his glory and the good of others. Pride is a belief that I am better or that I deserve better.
Pride includes but isn’t limited to boasting and feeling big about yourself.
John Piper is right when he observes,
Boasting is the response of pride to success.
Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering.
Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.”
Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have suffered so much.”
Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong.
Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak.
2. Pride redefines reality, defining identity and worth against other people.
In Uzziah’s case, his pride is fed by power. He came to believe that power justifies freedom to live on one’s own terms. Uzziah comes to believe that power is a road to autonomy and freedom for defining life’s norms. He no longer felt the necessity to follow God’s laws. He had the liberty to take licence. He thought, I can even enter the Temple ignore the law and relate to God as I decide.
This pride exhibits itself in a shameful act in God’s Temple.
16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.
Of course, the reality is Uzziah was never independent. All the good he achieved only came about because of God’s help. As verse 5 reminds, “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” The Lord blessed his endeavours. The Lord was his helper. Not only that, the people he serves are God’s people. And this is God’s Temple and yet Uzziah’s self-confidence persuades him to strut about on his terms.
It’s here that I think it’s worth seeing how the story plays out and in doing so displays the stupid stubbornness of pride and its ability to destroy.