Day 189

The Dangers of Pride

Wisdom Proverbs 16:18-27
New Testament Acts 25:23-26:23
Old Testament 2 Kings 14:23-15:38

Introduction

Back when I was working as a lawyer, I remember a very straightforward case that I thought I was bound to win. I was so confident I decided that it was not worth even bothering to pray about it or commit it to the Lord.

When I stood up to speak, the judge asked me whether I was aware of a case that had changed the law in the last few days. I was not. The result was a very humiliating defeat. As the passage in Proverbs today warns (Proverbs 16:18), pride had come before a fall.

In my humiliation, I cried out to God for help. I read the recent case. Then, I wrote an opinion saying I thought the decision was wrong and would be reversed on appeal. Thankfully, it was.

We were able to go back to court and win the case. The solicitor, rather than judging me for my mistake, was kind enough to be impressed by the opinion I had written and sent me many more cases. So it became a double lesson; not just about the dangers of pride but also about the extraordinary grace of God and how ‘things work out when you trust in God’ (Proverbs 16:20, MSG).

I try not to forget the lesson I learnt about the dangers of pride and self-reliance whenever I stand up to speak. I would like to say that I have never made the same mistake again but it is a lesson that I have had to re-learn several times.

In English, the word ‘pride’ can have a good sense. For example, we would not say it is wrong for a person to be proud of their children, or to take pride in their work. However, when the Bible talks about pride it means something different from this and has very negative connotations.

It means to have an excessively high opinion of one’s own worth or importance; it suggests arrogant or overbearing conduct. It is the independent spirit that says, ‘I have no need of God.’ Arguably, therefore, it is at the root of all sin. How should we respond to the temptation and dangers of pride?

Wisdom

Proverbs 16:18-27

18 Pride goes before destruction,
   a haughty spirit before a fall.

19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
   than to share plunder with the proud.

20 Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
   and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.

21 The wise in heart are called discerning,
   and gracious words promote instruction.

22 Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent,
   but folly brings punishment to fools.

23 The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,
   and their lips promote instruction.

24 Gracious words are a honeycomb,
   sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

25 There is a way that appears to be right,
   but in the end it leads to death.

26 The appetite of laborers works for them;
   their hunger drives them on.

27 A scoundrel plots evil,
   and on their lips it is like a scorching fire.

Commentary

Cultivate humility

God wants you to learn to walk in humility and kindness, not arrogance and pride. Pride comes before a fall: ‘First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall’ (v.18, MSG).

We are reminded that ‘It’s better to live humbly among the poor than to live it up among the rich and famous’ (v.19, MSG).

A lack of power is very frustrating at times when we think we know how best to advance the kingdom of God. However, Jesus had very little power from a human point of view. He was ‘lowly in spirit and among the oppressed’ (v.19).

‘Lowliness of spirit’, the opposite of pride, brings:

1. Prosperity

Humility means a willingness to learn: ‘Those who give heed to instruction prosper’ (v.20a).

2. Happiness

The humble trust in God: ‘Whoever leans on, trusts in, and is confident in the Lord – happy, blessed, and fortunate is he’ (v.20b, AMP).

3. Healing

As opposed to the arrogant words of the proud (‘scoundrels plot evil, and their speech is like a scorching fire’, v.27), the humble use pleasant words (‘pleasant words promote instruction’, v.21b). ‘Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones’ (v.24).

Prayer

Lord, help me always to stay dependent on you, to trust in you.

New Testament

Acts 25:23-26:23

Paul Before Agrippa

23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. 24 Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. 27 For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”

26 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: 2 “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.

4 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. 5 They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee. 6 And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. 7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. 8 Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.

12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen — 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Commentary

Serve and witness

What should you do if you get the opportunity to testify about Jesus? How should you go about telling your story? We see in this passage a great example of what to do.

Paul, on trial, tells the court that Jesus gave him a commission to serve: ‘I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness’ (26:16). As Jesus came ‘not to be served, but to serve’ (Mark 10:45), all of us are called to be servants and witnesses. A witness humbly points beyond him or herself. Paul humbly points to Jesus. Here we see how he fulfils this calling.

Paul, in prison and on trial, comes face to face with pride and ‘great pomp’ as he is brought before Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:23). It must have been a very daunting experience.

Paul, once again, simply and humbly gives his testimony. He is polite and respectful to King Agrippa (26:2–3). He conforms to custom and social graces. He skilfully selects the parts of his story that are relevant to his audience.

In the first part of his testimony Paul uses ‘I’ messages as opposed to ‘you’ messages. Whereas ‘you’ messages can seem arrogant and patronising, ‘I’ messages are sometimes more effective, as well as being a more unthreatening and gracious way to make a point.

He says he used to be just like them: ‘I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem… I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them’ (vv.9–10).

The implicit message is, ‘I was just like you. I was full of pride, power and pomp. I did what you are now doing. I persecuted Christians just as you are now persecuting me.’

He then tells how Jesus appeared to him and pointed out that in persecuting Christians, he was actually persecuting Jesus. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (v.15).

Jesus told him, ‘I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (vv.17–18). Through this powerful ‘I’ message of his testimony, Paul is actually saying to them that they are in darkness and under the power of Satan, in need of forgiveness for their sins.

Not only does he point out their needs, he also points out the way to forgiveness: ‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’ (v.20). In effect, he is saying to these proud and powerful people, ‘You need to repent and turn to God.’

He goes on, ‘I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike’ (v.22). Paul was willing to speak to everyone, to the powerful and to the weak.

Paul’s message was always centred on Jesus, who had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He testifies that, ‘the Christ must suffer and... rise from the dead’ (v.23, AMP).

Prayer

Lord, help me to take every opportunity to tell people about Jesus and to follow his example of humble service.

Old Testament

2 Kings 14:23-15:38

Jeroboam II King of Israel

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25 He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

26 The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. 27 And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash.

28 As for the other events of Jeroboam’s reign, all he did, and his military achievements, including how he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 29 Jeroboam rested with his ancestors, the kings of Israel. And Zechariah his son succeeded him as king.

Azariah King of Judah

15 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah began to reign. 2 He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother’s name was Jekoliah; she was from Jerusalem. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 4 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.

5 The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house. Jotham the king’s son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.

6 As for the other events of Azariah’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 7 Azariah rested with his ancestors and was buried near them in the City of David. And Jotham his son succeeded him as king.

Zechariah King of Israel

8 In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned six months. 9 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his predecessors had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.

10 Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him and succeeded him as king. 11 The other events of Zechariah’s reign are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. 12 So the word of the Lord spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: “Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”

Shallum King of Israel

13 Shallum son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned in Samaria one month. 14 Then Menahem son of Gadi went from Tirzah up to Samaria. He attacked Shallum son of Jabesh in Samaria, assassinated him and succeeded him as king.

15 The other events of Shallum’s reign, and the conspiracy he led, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.

16 At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tiphsah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.

Menahem King of Israel

17 In the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem son of Gadi became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria ten years. 18 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. During his entire reign he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.

19 Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom. 20 Menahem exacted this money from Israel. Every wealthy person had to contribute fifty shekels of silver to be given to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.

21 As for the other events of Menahem’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 22 Menahem rested with his ancestors. And Pekahiah his son succeeded him as king.

Pekahiah King of Israel

23 In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekahiah son of Menahem became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned two years. 24 Pekahiah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25 One of his chief officers, Pekah son of Remaliah, conspired against him. Taking fifty men of Gilead with him, he assassinated Pekahiah, along with Argob and Arieh, in the citadel of the royal palace at Samaria. So Pekah killed Pekahiah and succeeded him as king.

26 The other events of Pekahiah’s reign, and all he did, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.

Pekah King of Israel

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah son of Remaliah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.

29 In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria. 30 Then Hoshea son of Elah conspired against Pekah son of Remaliah. He attacked and assassinated him, and then succeeded him as king in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah.

31 As for the other events of Pekah’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?

Jotham King of Judah

32 In the second year of Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel, Jotham son of Uzziah king of Judah began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. His mother’s name was Jerusha daughter of Zadok. 34 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. 35 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. Jotham rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord.

36 As for the other events of Jotham’s reign, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 37 (In those days the Lord began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah.) 38 Jotham rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David, the city of his father. And Ahaz his son succeeded him as king.

Commentary

Resist pride

If, for example, you have anyone working for you, or if you are a parent, or if you are in any position of leading as a volunteer, you are in a position of power.

Pride is a particular temptation for anyone in a position of power – whether that power comes from status, success, fame or wealth.

The history of the kings of Israel and Judah demonstrates that it is extremely difficult to become powerful and resist the temptation of pride. During this period, the kings of Judah are doing rather better than the kings of Israel. King after king in Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord (14:24; 15:18,24,28), while in Judah, Azariah and his son Jotham both ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (15:3,34).

Azariah is also known as Uzziah (v.32). We know something more about him from other parts of the Old Testament (for example, Amos 1:1, Isaiah 6:1f. and 2 Chronicles 26:16–23).

Here we read that although he ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… the high places… were not removed… The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died’ (2 Kings 15:3–5). Why did his life end in such a mess?

The book of Chronicles gives the answer: ‘His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God’ (2 Chronicles 26:15–16).

This warns us that if God has blessed us with success there is always a temptation to become proud.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for all the warnings in the Bible, as well as the encouragements. Help me always to take heed of these warnings. Lord, I am utterly dependent on you. Help me to keep my eyes always fixed on Jesus who was all-powerful and yet humbled himself, made himself nothing and took the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:6–8).

Pippa adds

Proverbs 16:18

I once managed to get into a small parking space in one manoeuvre and was rather pleased with myself. I told my mother, who was in the car with me, that I was the best at parking in our family and resented remarks about women not being able to park. Later that day, someone asked me if I'd go and pick something up in a bit of a hurry. So I jumped into the car with a friend and we returned to the same spot. And I tried to get into that spot. But could I? It took me five goes and by the end my friend was offering to park for me! It serves me right. Pride comes before a fall!

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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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