A minor league baseball player traveling to visit his family struck up a conversation with an older gentleman seated next to him on the plane. The rookie was pleased when his traveling companion expressed an interest in baseball, so the young ballplayer began bragging about his athletic skills on the field. During the flight, the bush leaguer boasted of his daring stolen bases, the well-connected balls smacked out of the park, and those diving catches that turned a double into an out. As the plane prepared to land, the big-talking minor league rookie learned the polite gentleman who had listened so intently was Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer whose unequalled major league baseball career spanned twenty-three years. By his own admission, the boastful minor league ballplayer learned a valuable lesson in humility.
Pride is an elevated view of and a preoccupation with self. Pride is a fault we despise in others yet freely excuse and even justify in ourselves. Many theologians believe that pride, not drunkenness, adultery, or murder, is the deadliest of all sins, for it was pride that led to Lucifer’s rebellion (Isaiah 14:14) and the first couple’s attempt at usurping God’s authority in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5). Many other sins originate from pride.
God’s warning that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18) is illustrated again and again in the pages of Scripture. One particularly notable episode, the story of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, begins with his boasting, continues with his downfall, and ends with his confession. After being duly warned of his prideful nature by the prophet Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar stood on the rooftop of his palace and praised himself, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30, ESV). Immediately, God judged his pride, and for the next seven years, the once grandiose monarch groveled about on all fours in the manner of a wild beast while grazing on the palace lawn. From regal to rags and from banquet table to mouthfuls of fodder, King Nebuchadnezzar completed a seven-year course on the dangers of pride and the virtues of humility.
How, then, does one overcome the grievous sin of pride? First, we must understand that pride, like dangerous narcotics, is addictive and detrimental to our well-being. The more we feed pride, the firmer its grip. Pride is a loathsome garment that is not easily shed, and it’s deceitful: those who think they have already achieved humility are probably mistaken. D. L. Moody used to pray, “Lord, make me humble, but don’t let me know it.”
Once we admit that pride has a foothold in our lives, we confess this sin to our Savior as we would any other sin (1 John 1:9). Once we have confessed the sin of pride, the Holy Spirit can begin correcting our faults and molding us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. We may take cheer, knowing that, once God begins a good work in us, He will see that work to its completion (Philippians 1:6).
Just as the minor league baseball player learned a lesson in humility after boasting to Hank Aaron, we will understand the folly and foolishness of pride by comparing and contrasting ourselves to our Creator. Even the Henry Fords, Thomas Edisons, and Elon Musks of the world could not rightfully say they helped lay the foundation of the earth and mark off its dimensions (see Job 38:4–5). Only God can make that claim. Our greatest accomplishments are as insignificant as anthills in the shadow of God’s unfathomable creation.
To overcome pride, we must remember, as the psalmist did, our condition before Christ’s salvation: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). We must understand grace: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15:10). We must acknowledge that all we have is a gift from God: “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
And, to overcome pride, we must praise the Lord. Covered in dew and reeking with seven years’ worth of filth, a humble King Nebuchadnezzar declared, “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:34–37, ESV).
Pride is to our detriment. Humility is for our greater good. Perhaps a final component of overcoming pride is a sincere, heartfelt desire for humility. When we truly understand the perils of pride, we will flee from it. When we realize the immense blessings of humility, we will long for it.