I love getting good grades. Even more than that, I love getting better grades than others. There is a feeling of confidence, control, and superiority that comes with greater achievement. The flip side of this is feeling inadequate and frustrated when others do better than me. When I look for the roots of these feelings, I just find one: pride. A pride that asserts itself over other people, a pride that wants control and prestige, a pride that cannot take the lower place, a pride that loves to rejoice in seeing other people brought low, and a pride that loves to wallow in self-pity at every loss.
Let’s put some flesh and bone on this straw man. Just the other day, I was taking a phonetic mimicry test, where I had to mimic the sounds and intonation of a native Finnish speaker. There were a lot of unusual sounds that I have trouble making (especially a rolled ‘r’ between a ‘t’ and ‘v’). In the end, I did much better than I was expecting! Praise God! But over the course of the next couple days I began hearing what some other people had scored on that same test—and all their scores were better. The more I thought about it, the more my thankfulness began to decay. Instead of rejoicing with others, I began to begrudge my own gifts in this area. Can you relate?
I have to admit my response to seeing this pride in myself has not often been what it should be. Instead of going to God’s Word and prayer to realign my thinking, feeling, and acting with his word, I decide to work harder. Bad idea. Instead of fleeing pride, I worked all the harder to appease it. It’s a deadly road… and a well-traveled one at that.
The scribes and Pharisees are the first to come to mind when I think of what the Bible says to those who find pride in their studies and good works. Both scribes and Pharisees were educated men. They were literate (a rarity in those days) and they had studied, memorized, and preached through much of the Old Testament. They wore nice clothes, enjoyed greetings in the market and the best seats at banquets, and prayed long prayers to be seen by others (Mk 12:38-40). They would tithe great sums of money and spices in the Temple. As Jesus put it: they were externally clean. The outside of their cup shone bright and beautiful. But the inside of their cup was dirty. Jesus is not impressed with their useless splendor: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25). And this woe continues for all who follow in their footsteps. In James, God makes it very clear that he universally “opposes the proud” (Jam 4:6).
So what is the solution? “Submit yourselves to God” (James 4:7). And what does that look like? I love the way John contrasts pride with love in his first letter. He soberly reminds his readers that pride in life in not from God, but from the world “and the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Throughout the letter he unceasingly returns to God’s command to be love God and others. Love does not seek its own, it does not want its own way, it does not rejoice when others are put low or when it gets what it wants, but rejoices in the truth. Love does not boast. It is not proud (1 Corinthians 13).
Please pray that I would be a more loving husband, student, and father in these final weeks of school here in Canada. Pray that years of training would not be void (or even detrimental) because I did not have love in my heart for others.
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