Pride is celebrated in our world. People proudly flaunt their accomplishments, possessions, or qualities they deem admirable in expectation of praise. Yet, selfish pride is a hindrance to salvation and to a fruitful relationship with God and others. James warns us about this self-focused pride when he writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, NLT).
In warning against pride and promoting humility, James quotes the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:34. Of course, James is not referring to “pride” as in the satisfaction of a job well done (Galatians 6:4) or to the kind of pride one expresses over the accomplishment of loved ones (2 Corinthians 7:4). He is referring to the kind of pride that stems from self-righteousness or conceit.
God opposes the proud because pride is sinful and a hindrance to seeking Him. Those who insist on elevating themselves and refusing to trust God as sovereign, good, and trustworthy will find their way opposed by God. Psalm 10:4 explains that the proud are so consumed with themselves that they make no room for God. The ESV words it like this: “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’” The supremacy of God and the fact that we can do nothing to inherit eternal life apart from Christ is a stumbling block for prideful people. God will oppose those attempting to be the god of their own lives. Pride refuses to bend the knee to God or repent of sin, and that keeps many people from salvation.
In contrast to God’s opposition to the proud is God’s grace to the humble. Those who humble themselves find God’s favor: “Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble” (Psalm 138:6, NLT). God shows His favor to those with a right view—a humble view—of themselves, and He promises them restoration: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15; cf. James 4:10). Note that humility in this passage is related to contrition, or repentance.
Pride can also hinder our relationship with God and others even after we are saved. In his letter, James addresses an issue among the believers, namely, their quarrels and strife with one another. The source of the issue was selfish pride. Pride negatively affects our relationships because it inflates our view of self and deflates our view of God and others. In the midst of addressing this issue, James quotes Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV).
Exalting ourselves pushes God out of His rightful place in our lives, and He will humble us “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). As we humble ourselves, He “gives grace generously” (James 4:6, NLT). God gives us grace that is sufficient to meet every need we have and every sin we face, if we are humble enough to receive it. As we decide whether we will elevate ourselves or turn to God, we must remember that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God calls us to repent of self-righteousness, selfish demands, and proud exaltation and instead “submit [ourselves], then, to God” (James 4:7).
In a world that champions pride, Jesus commands believers to be different. Each believer is called to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, ESV). As we humble ourselves, we will experience God’s grace and the rewards He promises: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Since God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, may we live humble lives in the fear of the Lord (Micah 6:8).