When Did Pride Become a Virtue?

Yesterday I was listening to my iPod on shuffle and the old hymn “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” sung by Jars of Clay came on. It’s a pretty good hymn, all about unity among Christians and, as the title suggests, how other will know that we are Christians by the love we show each other and other people. But there is one line in this otherwise beautiful hymn that has always kind of bothered me. In the second verse is the line, “And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.” Whenever I hear it I wonder why would we save each person’s pride? When did pride become something to save or desire? When did pride become a virtue?

At Dictionary.com I found the following about the noun “pride,” its synonyms, and its one antonym:

1. Pride, conceit, self-esteem, egotism, vanity, vainglory imply an unduly favorable idea of one’s own appearance, advantages, achievements, etc., and often apply to offensive characteristics. Pride is a lofty and often arrogant assumption of superiority in some respect: Pride must have a fall. Conceit implies an exaggerated estimate of one’s own abilities or attainments, together with pride: blinded by conceit. Self-esteem may imply an estimate of oneself that is higher than that held by others: a ridiculous self-esteem. Egotism implies an excessive preoccupation with oneself or with one’s own concerns, usually but not always accompanied by pride or conceit: His egotism blinded him to others’ difficulties. Vanity implies self-admiration and an excessive desire to be admired by others: His vanity was easily flattered. Vainglory, somewhat literary, implies an inordinate and therefore empty or unjustified pride: puffed up by vainglory.

1.  humility.

And yet, pride is often itself lifted up as a virtue. We are proud to be Americans (there’s even a song about that). We are proud of our educational achievements (with all those letters after our names). We are proud of our charitable activities (loving to pat ourselves on the back for being so generous and Christ-like). We are proud of our honor students (there’s even a bumper sticker for that). We strut our pride as if the accomplishments and characteristics we are proud of are of our own making and design.

The problem with pride, as I see it, is it leaves out God’s immeasurable contribution to the blessings we enjoy. Let’s look just at being proud to be an American. For most of us, we did nothing to accomplish this. It is a matter of where we were born, which was determined by where our parents lived at the time, which they in turn may not truly have had much control over. Rather than saying “I’m proud to be in American,” wouldn’t it be better to say “I am blessed to be an American”? Or better yet, “I am humbled to have the good fortune to be an American”? It is by God’s grace that I live where I do and to Him belongs the glory, not me.

I did a Biblegateway.com search for the words pride and proud throughout the whole Bible. Pride appears 63 times and proud appears 47 times in the NIV, and for the most part they are not viewed as a virtue but as a sinful condition of the heart. It is only in the New Testament when the pride of believers is in Christ alone and not in themselves that the word pride finds an acceptable usage on our tongues.

The prophets Obadiah and Hosea wrote of the evils of pride. Pride is deceptive, and the proud forget their God.

“The pride of your heart has deceived you,
   you who live in the clefts of the rocks
   and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
   ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’
Though you soar like the eagle
   and make your nest among the stars,
   from there I will bring you down,”
            declares the LORD.
Obadiah 1:3-4 (NIV).

I cared for you in the desert,
   in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
   when they were satisfied, they became proud;
   then they forgot me.
Hosea 13:5-6 (NIV).

But I love the antonym of pride, and that is humility. The word humble appears 71 times in the NIV. In each instance, humility brings blessing. Moses was selected by God for the work of freeing the Israelites because he was humble. Numbers 12:3. Ahab was saved from disaster because he humbled himself before God. 1 Kings 21:29. The Lord heals and forgives the sins of those who are humble. 2 Chronicles 7:14. God guides the humble. Psalm 25:9. He gives grace to those who are humble. Proverbs 3:34. Daniel was given great wisdom and visions from God because he was humble. Daniel 10:12. The Lord always lifts up and exalts those who humble themselves before Him. Luke 14:11.

It is easy to be deceived by pride, but it is not a virtue. Being prideful will not lead to blessing, but may instead ultimately lead to the loss of the greatest blessing of all. Humility, on the other hand, is a virtue that one can cling to and trust that good will come from being humble.

They will know we are Christians by our love, but they ought to also know we are Christians by our humility. We must never forget that all we have, all we are, all our accomplishments and blessings, are a gift from God and to Him belongs the glory.

I am a Jesus Freak, and I don't care who knows it. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend. My blood family is only part of the larger family of Christ that I belong to. I love to write, especially about my dear Savior.


12 Responses

  1. Just “accidentally” found your blog (though nothing is ever really an “accident”–and love your writing! Thank you! Right on and very helpful.
    Your blog came up when I was reading your thoughts on praying on our knees, with quotes by C S Lewis (one of my favorites.)

    I just finished reading your Sept 14, 2011 entry on “Pride” and I agree–with maybe a little different take on several points. We lived in Thailand for seven years and became very aware of the Oriental value of “saving face,” which can be “bad” or “good” depending on the context. It can be bad when it leads to dishonesty or it can be good when you are trying to encourage someone who feels defeated. So the song line “we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride” MAYBE could be in this sense: when talking to an abused, poor person you would never say (or more likely, imply), “You are worthless and have nothing to teach me.” But to protect their dignity (and maybe pride?), you might say, “You are a child of the King and He loves you and has given you valuable talents.” ??? What do you think? Maybe I’m slicing and dicing words too much.

    My other comment is about your statement: “pride is the basis of all other sins”–which I agree with. Maybe I would amplify it a bit by adding INDEPENDENCE and SELF-ishness to PRIDE as the sources of all other sin. When Adam and Eve sinned (and us as well), the thought process seems to run: “God says ‘this’ but I don’t have to depend on what He says or do what He says, my way is just as valid as His. I’m proud of my ability to choose, all by myself–so I independently choose ‘that’.” In America, we are so eager to foster “independence” in our children–which is good TO A POINT. Maybe we’ve just overdone it.

    Enjoy your blog and I’ll be back. Thank you!

    • Jo, Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice, thoughtful comment. I can definitely see your point about an alternative take on pride and how the line of the song could be referring to pride more as a synonym for dignity. We should definitely encourage others and guard their dignity. I think part of the reason I wrote this post is because I see the other kind of pride – the “I don’t need God to tell me what is right and wrong, or to help me with anything, I’ll do it myself” kind of pride – being lauded in our society. I do agree we have, in this country, taken the independence thing a bit too far.

      I look forward to more insightful comments from you in the future. 🙂 Peace, Linda

  2. What a great blog! This is something we all need to take note of often but a subject that is seldom heard.

    PRIDE was the original sin when Lucifer desired to be equal with and above God and I believe pride is the BASIS of all other sins.

    Why do we lie? Because of pride. We lie to protect ourselves.
    Why do we get angry? Because our pride is hurt.
    Why do we gossip? Because someone’s fault makes us look better. . . pride.

    Our own nature proves the truth of Scripture that “there is NONE that doeth good” [Romans 3:10-18]. There is absolutely NOTHING of which we can be proud. God has done a marvellous work in our lives but it is of no credit whatever to us. It is ALL His work.

    Then why do we so easily feel pride? It is our old nature trying to rise and we must “reckon it dead”. May we always recognise the first signs of pride and kill it before it takes control.

    • Angela, I can wholeheartedly agree with this statement: “PRIDE was the original sin when Lucifer desired to be equal with and above God and I believe pride is the BASIS of all other sins.” It seems that if Lucifer, who was once the greatest of all the archangels, had no legitimate basis to be proud, then what basis have we for thinking we are anything without God? Peace (and humility), Linda

  3. Linda,
    this post is so well timed. In our Beth Moore study we touched on that very word this week PRIDE! It has also been heavy on my mind and heart lately and had thought about writing about pride myself. I think God is tugging at a lot of hearts on this topic at this moment.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    • April, Once again, it wasn’t my timing! 🙂 You should write a post about pride; there certainly can’t be too many of those. You have a great weekend, too. Peace, Linda

    • Myfanwy, This was one of those hard posts to write, fear that it would not be well-received nagging at the back of my mind. But I pushed through the fear and am glad I did, and that it was what you needed to read. Peace, Linda

  4. Thank you, Linda! I am always a little leery of using that “pride” word. It always gets me in trouble and almost always is at the bottom of what a problem is in me. You gave me a big helper to use the word blessed instead of proud . . .like we are blessed by our children, instead of proud of them. 🙂
    God bless you as you stay grounded and humble in Him, for His glory!

    • Deb, Yes, using the word blessed puts the focus on God, the author of all our blessings, whether they be our children, our talents, our accomplishments, or our country of origin. I have been so blessed in so many ways, I don’t ever want to be deceived into thinking I did it all myself. Glad I could help you out by passing on God’s blessing of the perfect word to use instead of pride. 🙂 Peace, Linda

  5. Yes Yes Yes – I call those synomyms my SCARE words
    Sarcasm, Clamor (having too much going on), Anger, Resentment and Ego (thinking I can fix everything)
    Thank you for the reminder and the great Bible verses
    Prayers for your day

    • You’ve named by two biggest foes – sarcasm and anger. Hadn’t really thought of sarcasm as being in the same category, but I suppose it is. Thanks for your prayers for my day. Peace, Linda

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