Pride: When Will We Ever Learn?

This is based on an article I wrote a while back on the subject of being teachable and the danger of pride. Since I often need to be reminded of this issue myself, I thought I would share these thoughts again. Misery loves company, right?

Each evening, our family gathers together at the dinner table to enjoy the evening meal and some stimulating conversation. I distinctly remember an evening some time back that was typical. The setting was early winter. The holiday season was upon us. Discussions that evening ranged from shopping adventures, the wild weather we’ve had, and upcoming birthday dinners on our schedule.

Then, one of my daughters brought up a new topic. She asked me if I had seen a particular video that was making the rounds on the internet. She said it was a musical performance of a young man singing the Christmas carol, “O, Holy Night.” However, the young man did not sing well. It seemed he was either under the impression that he had an amazing voice, and thus put the clip up for the world to hear; or, he was purposely howling and moaning into the microphone as if he were in pain to get a few laughs. My daughter thought the video was hilarious. There were a number of chuckles around the table as she shared her opinion on the video.

But I was not laughing. I told her I had not seen it, but I was troubled she found it amusing. She asked me why, so I offered her my thoughts. First, I recited the words…

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices…

Then, I reminder her, and all the rest of the gathered family, that this is a song of high praise written to commemorate the birth of our Savior. Even if the young man was sincere, and felt he was singing praises to the Lord, there would be nothing to laugh about in that.

On the other hand, if this young man was purposely mocking the song, then he was (whether or not he mean to) scorning the Lord of glory. And again, there would be nothing to laugh about. There’s just something sickening about the words “It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth” being sung in mockery, while even Christians laugh.

I could tell by my daughter’s countenance she was not receiving what I had to say. She thought it was funny and wanted to keep it that way. Her demeanor revealed that she thought I was overreacting. She was not being teachable. I wondered if she indeed couldn’t see my point, or if she “got it,” but was embarrassed because she had thought it funny. Sometimes pride keeps us from admitting we were wrong.

As I look back over my own life, I can see that in my youth I was often not teachable. I was headstrong and confident, sure of my positions on many issues; and, quick to grab my soapbox to pontificate what I thought were high and noble ideals. I was also less than willing to listen to the thoughts of others. And even if I discovered I was indisputably wrong on an issue, I would rarely never admit it. I just moved on to the next thing I could be “right” about.

Reflecting back, I can see where I was often prideful and hard-hearted. I was less inclined to consider the positions of others, and being right was far more important than learning something from someone else.

We Reformed folk tend to be a little set in our ways, you thing? Indeed, I know our tendencies. I am a pastor in a Reformed denomination. I have been blessed to speak at many Christian conventions around the nation and feel passionate about the topics I teach. I have written many articles for Christian publications. I am a biblical conservative who looks forward to the day when, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And I am confident of my positions and enjoy a good debate. Folks like me can be a bit, shall we say, obstinate?

But here is the Achilles Heel. It seems the more we know ourselves to be right on the big issues, the less likely we are to admit we have a problem on small, seemingly insignificant issues. You can see this in the paragraph above. Note the number of times I used the word, “I.” The issue is pride—we are a prideful people. I see this at times in my children, and I see this at times in the Church, I see this when I look in the mirror. When a brother or sister points out an area where we are wrong, we are often reluctant to admit our error. We look for a loophole; we grasp excuses, we blame others. We may even search to find a speck in the brother’s eye who has corrected us, thinking that nullifies his correction.

Yet, it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). It was James who advised, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10). And the writer of Proverbs challenges us directly with this, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15) “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1)

Now if that last verse doesn’t hurt, I am not sure what will. I remember a time when God drove that one home to me. I was being confronted by a brother for something I viewed as insignificant. And because I knew I was right on the macro scale, I was unable to see how wrong I was in the area my brother pointed out. I focused on all the “wrongness” of the situation. I focused on how my brother had sinned against me in other areas. And my “rightness” was a big neon sign in my own eyes. I was unable to see my own sin because I was so caught up in making sure everyone saw my neon sign. The best way to describe is as we see in Proverbs 12:1 – I was stupid.

But God, in His grace, opened my eyes then and there. I saw that I was letting my pride blind me to a real weakness in my life. It was the Lord who helped me see. It was the Lord who helped me repent. That was a humbling moment, a painful moment. Yet, that was a freeing moment.

Many of the folks who read these words can be infected by this same sin, this same tendency. We are those who “know better.” We have a handle on orthodoxy and orthopraxy – right doctrine and right practice. Our camp does not need to be taught. We are the “teachers!”

But stop for a moment. Have you considered these words from the Apostle Paul?

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

(Philippians 3:12-16)

The Apostle Paul had not attained perfection! Even this man, who was used of the Lord to pen much of the New Testament, was seeking to be teachable! He admitted he was not perfect. He was willing to be transparent here, and to seek the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to conform him into the image of Jesus.

And so, I ask you, do you think you have already attained? Are you a paragon of biblical knowledge and virtue? Are you here only to teach and not to learn? If so, if that is what you think, let me tell you as gently as I can – you’re stupid. If you have a problem with this statement, argue with the Bible.

Are you still teachable? Are you willing to learn from others—even those who may believe differently than you, those you see as below your “level”? Are you often sarcastic or abrasive in your speech when conflict arises? Are you trusting in what you know? Are you aware of your own tendency to sinful pride?

Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored. (Proverbs 13:18)

Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:8-9)

And so, friends, I encourage you to consider your attitude when you are challenged. Don’t allow pride to stiffen your neck. Seek the Lord to see what you can learn from each situation, and from the words of those with whom you have contact – maybe conflict. Remember that the Lord is still working on you. I am thankful He is still working on me. Look to learn something from the fellow believers you meet. And, in addition to speaking the truth in love, seek to be teachable.

Oh, and as for the daughter I discussed at the beginning, she is a true joy. God is working in her heart daily. It is a blessing to see her growing in the Lord.

And to make it legal, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the other elders or members of Providence Church.

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