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In this post as we continue our series Characters: Ordinary People Called by an Extraordinary God, we’re going to learn an important lesson. I’ve realized over the course of my life that success is not always about knowing what to do; it’s about knowing what not to do. It’s avoiding the traps, the pitfalls, the temptations; and my goal is to help us learn to avoid the greatest temptation of all—pride.
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.” Pride is the most dangerous sin the world has ever known or will ever know. It can keep us from fulfilling our life’s purpose. Over the years I’ve watched so many people start out strong in their Christian walk. They had their eyes fixed on Christ, their hearts fully committed to God; but then pride crept in and before they knew it their lives were altered. They wandered from the right path and chose to follow a different road, one that blinded them from fulfilling God’s plan. Pride tempts us to believe we know what’s best. It alters our attitude toward God. As followers of Christ, we need to be aware of the enemy’s goal—to limit or destroy our lives. John Ruskin wrote, “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes”.
Proverbs 8:13 leaves no question concerning God’s feelings about pride: “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” Of all our struggles, pride is the one that has the most devastating results and is often the one you never see coming. Pride will creep into any opening, especially when things are going well. When God is blessing us, we can become prideful over the good things He has given us—our family, our career, our church, our education, our neighborhood, our appearance, our talents. We face these traps every day, and if we are not wise and discerning, we’re easy prey. The enemy’s trap is simple: he uses our weaknesses or strengths against us. If we think we’re smarter or stronger, or better in some way than those around us, the enemy will use those thoughts to take our eyes off Christ and focus them instead on ourselves. We start thinking, “I didn’t need God to accomplish that. It was all me.” No matter how hard we try to gloss it over, or justify it, pride produces the same result: arrogance and rebellion against God.
You may be thinking, “Is it wrong to take pride in my abilities? To acknowledge that I’m smart and talented?” There’s nothing wrong with having a sense of pride in your abilities. We’ve talked about that during this series. God wants us to use our gifts and talents to build His kingdom. We glorify God when we do our best and honor Him. The problem comes when we use those same gifts and talents to honor ourselves, when we listen to the voice that tells us we could have done it without God. This line of thinking always leads us away from Christ. It blinds us and we stray from our call; we stop submitting to God’s authority.
Pride was Satan’s downfall. The Bible tells us that God created him with great beauty and ability. So often the talents that give us confidence also bring with them pride. They turn our focus inward, and my talents become all about me. The process is often slow, but once pride takes root it quickly becomes all-consuming. It begins to dominate our thoughts and then our actions. Pride encourages us to believe we’re better than the people around us. God, on the other hand, uses our abilities and circumstances to mold and shape us so we reflect His love to those around us.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The enemy [God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more or less, or otherwise glad at having done it then he would be if it had been done by another.” God has a purpose for each of us and He works through us to fulfill His perfect plan. Some lives may seem by human standards to be more significant than others, but God sees each of us as strategically important. It’s when we, in our hearts, begin to feel superior to those around us that pride begins to poison our minds and hearts and to lead us astray. We may sometimes think that we’re smarter or more capable than everyone else, but make no mistake—God uses every person He’s created to further His kingdom. Each of us has God-given gifts that help further the cause of Christ. That’s why it’s time to come back to church and reconnect with the body. The live stream is a tool; it’s not the church. Life is not about me; it’s about loving Him, and loving others. What we desire needs to come last. The goal of every believer should be the edification of His body, not the fulfillment of our individual dreams, especially when we seem to be blessed with wealth, power, titles, or talent.
This leads us to our main character today: Uzziah. At 16 he became king of Judah. The Bible says he reigned for 52 years in Jerusalem. Second Chronicles 26:4-5 tells us, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 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.” It goes on to tell us of all that he did in the power of God: he built towers; he had livestock and vineyards; he had a 307,500-man army and won many battles. Verse 15 says, “In Jerusalem he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.”
Then in verse 16 there’s a “But”: “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.” That was a terrible mistake. Why would he do something like that? Because he started to believe his own press. As he grew in popularity and strength, he gradually started to feel he was above it all. Proverbs 11:2 reminds us, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” My friends, if we’re not careful, the same attitude that changed Uzziah will infect us as well. When he realized the power and ability God had given him, he became proud and no longer relied on God’s wisdom to lead him. In his inflated sense of his own greatness, he offered a sacrifice to God, which was one of the worst acts he could have committed. It’s what Saul did that led to his ultimate downfall in 1 Samuel 13:8-14. It’s what David did when he threw the Ark on the back of a wagon. These men did something that God had anointed only the priest to do. But pride makes us think we’re above it all. Who needs a priest when you’re the king! That’s what pride leads each one of us to think—who needs this or that person when I can do it better.
In Jewish religious customs, the king was a servant of God. He was not given the authority to intercede before the Lord’s throne in this way. We need to be careful that when God gives us talents or resources, we don’t jump ahead of Him thinking we’ve been given more authority then was actually given. In this case, the priests were the only ones who could burn incense on the altar. Blinded by pride, Uzziah felt he was above the law and took his own path, and the results were disastrous. It may be subtle in some people and more blatant in others, but pride always leads us away from God’s will and favor. Solomon wrote, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23). And Proverbs 16:18-19 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Pride causes us to do things our own way, believing we know what’s best. We act like Uzziah, plowing forward without stopping to think, without seeking God’s guidance. When Uzziah was young, he had the right spirit. He asked for help. He called out to God in prayer. He listened and respected the priests’ advice. But, when he got older, he started to listen to the voice of the enemy: “Look at you, look at what you’ve done, look how everyone loves you, you’re the man! Everyone wishes they could be you; what can they possibly tell you that you don’t already know?” Pride desires only one thing—to destroy your life—and most people never see it coming. Pastors begin to think they’re above it all, then comes the fall. Politicians think their power puts them above the law, even God’s law; and by the time they realize they’re not, it’s too late. Businesspeople think their money buffers them from the consequences of their choices, until the trap is sprung. Parents think their family does it right, then comes the unexpected. Pride whispers thoughts that feed our arrogance, our conceit and self-importance. You’re the best player on the team; what does the coach know? You bring in the most money to your company; they would be dead without you. It was your idea; it was because of you; everyone else is a footnote to your greatness, bit players in your story.
Pride destroys relationships and ultimately it will destroy you. I’ve watched some of the best people I know fall prey. Ask yourself, do I give credit where credit is due, or am I always trying to build my resume? Do I see my financial resources as my own or God’s? Am I thinking of how I can build His kingdom, or promote my fame? Do I see myself as superior to others or my gifts as more important? If we are going to be the person we were created to be, we need to repent of the sin of pride. We need to ask God to humble our hearts so that He can use us. All of us.
Pastor Jeff Greer