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.
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.