You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Charisma House (May 3, 2011)
R. T. Kendall is author of the best-selling title Total Forgiveness. Born in Ashland, Kentucky, he was educated at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University and was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, for twenty-five years. Known internationally as a speaker and teacher, Dr. Kendall is also the author of more than forty-five books, includingThe Sensitivity of the Spirit, The Thorn in the Flesh, Grace, Pure Joy, Imitating Christ, andThe Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.
Visit the author's website.
Written in the same style as his Jealousy—the Sin No One Talks About,Kendall tackles the problem of pride, bringing out into the open the challenges a majority of people face in overcoming the pride and self-righteousness that were introduced to mankind by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He defines the various kinds of pride, including social, racial, financial, sexual, and spiritual pride, and teaches us how God uses the pride in our lives to reveal our need for Christlikeness. He demonstrates that pride lies behind the “blame game,” causing us to “pass the buck” rather than admit our guilt and thus interfering in our ability to draw closer in relationship to God.
Kendall outlines several Old Testament examples of pride. He shows how foolish pride governed most of Jacob’s life, led to King Saul becoming “yesterday’s man,” and filled Elijah’s life, even though he was a great prophet of God. Then he shows how pride surfaced in New Testament people: Peter’s pride in believing he loved Jesus most of all, the pride of the Pharisees, and the racial-religious pride that filled the Jews and was the reason they rejected Paul. Finally we take a closer look at Jesus—and Kendall teaches us the principles from the Sermon on the Mount that will lead us away from pride. He shows us that it is impossible to be Spirit-filled and self-righteous simultaneously, and he gives us biblical principles for overcoming pride and self-righteousness.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Charisma House (May 3, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“There is no limit to how far a person can go as long as he doesn’t care who gets the credit for it.” -A plaque on President Ronald Reagan’s desk
The measure of pride is essential to our self-esteem, emotional well-being, and good mental health. It is what gives us a sense of self-worth and dignity— which God wants each of us to have. We need to take ourselves seriously to some extent. But pride can push this too far as when we begin to take ourselves too seriously. In chapter 2 we will look at the good side of pride—its advantages to us and why it is not always bad. In this chapter, however, we will examine pride as it is generally understood in the Bible. As I said above, the Bible has nothing good to say about pride. Pride in Scripture is always that which is suspect and to be avoided; it is disdained. It is assumed in the Bible as arrogance, haughtiness, smugness, a feeling of superiority over others, insolence, overbearingness, superciliousness, narcissism, vainglory, conceit, egotism, vanity, and self-importance.
Pride is the opposite of humility, modesty, and meekness. St. Augustine (a.d. 354–430) said that pride is the love of one’s own excellence. People like Aristotle (384–322 b.c.) and George Bernard Shaw (a.d. 1856–1950) saw pride as a profound virtue. “I often quote myself,” said Shaw. “It adds spice to my conversation.” He also said, “Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”
Most religions of the world—certainly Christianity—see pride as a sin. There are two Greek words relevant here. Alazon (as in James 4:16; 1 John 2:16; Romans 1:30) refers to one who makes more of himself than reality justifies, ascribing to himself either more or better things than he has, or even what he does not possess at all; he promises what he cannot deliver. The other Greek word is huperephanos (as in Mark 7:22; James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5), which means arrogance. It refers to one who brags about his position, power, and wealth and despises others. In 2 Timothy 3:2 both alazon (boastful) and huperephanos (proud) are found beside each other.
We will see throughout this book that neither word for pride needs be used explicitly to describe a person’s proud behavior. For example, the writer of 1 Kings did not impute Elijah with pride. But that is what was going on. How dare Elijah say, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left” (1 Kings 18:22; 19:14)—even if it were true! But it was absolutely false. Elijah had just been told that Obadiah the prophet had taken a hundred other prophets and hid them in caves (1 Kings 18:13). Elijah felt so superior to the other prophets of his day that he did not even acknowledge them as prophets of the Lord! That is sheer arrogance. Elijah is a perfect example of a person taking himself too seriously.
Could the revered and hallowed Elijah truly take himself too seriously? Yes. Is not Elijah regarded as one of the greatest men in the Old Testament? Yes. Did his prayer before all the people not result in fire coming down from heaven and exposing the folly of the prophets of Baal? Yes. Was it not Elijah who appeared with Moses when Jesus was transfigured before the disciples on the mountain (Matt. 17:3)? Yes. And when Elijah
said, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left,” God could have aborted the whole procedure because Elijah misspoke (to put it mildly). But God didn’t do that.
This encourages me. James wanted his readers to know that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17, esv). The point is, if God could use Elijah—and if Elijah can get his prayers answered, so too with any of us! God can use those of us who take ourselves too seriously. In the final chapter of my book In Pursuit of His Glory, I listed five things I would hopefully do differently if I could turn the clock back after twenty-five years at Westminster Chapel. This list included that I should not take myself so seriously.
I therefore define pride essentially as taking oneself too seriously. Taking oneself too seriously is the common denominator in all proud people. It describes those who resent criticism, who are insecure, who cannot laugh at themselves, whose need of praise is constant, who see themselves as overly important, who fancy themselves as being very special to God (and think God bends the rules for them), who tend to blame others for their problems, who hate taking the blame, who cannot bear not getting the credit for the good they did, and who have an insatiable need to prove themselves.
Is that you? Take heart. I just described virtually every person whom God has ever used.
Categories of Pride
But pride takes many forms. Some try to prove they are not proud by trying to appear the very opposite. “Pride perceiving humility honorable often borrows her cloak,” said Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). It goes down better with people if we seem humble. The motive is the same: we are concerned how we are perceived. Our self-esteem is at stake.
There are many kinds of pride. There is social pride (keeping up with the Joneses), spiritual pride (self-righteousness), financial pride (impressing others with one’s wealth), political pride (being sure to be politically correct), sexual pride (always needing to attract the opposite sex), cultural pride (impressing people with your love of the arts), pride of pedigree (placing importance on one’s background), educational pride (impressing with degrees), intellectual pride (always needing to prove how much you know and how intelligent you are), pride of your good looks (overly concerned with appearance, whether regarding dress, figure, or hair), national pride (sometimes being overly patriotic), or racial pride (proud of the color of your skin). There is even theological pride, when one feels superior because of their rightness of doctrine. Closely akin to this is prophetic pride, when one gloats over their prophetic successes.
God Hates Pride
What must never be forgotten is that God hates pride. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes [‘a proud look’—kjv], a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet
that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Prov. 6:16–19). Note that “haughty eyes” or “proud look” heads the list of things God hates. “Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Ps. 101:5). Have you ever seen someone with a proud look—haughty eyes? I have. Certain people literally come to my mind when I think of haughty eyes and an arrogant countenance. But who am I to judge? You and I look on the outward appearance; God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). So, have I too had the same outward
proud expression I have seen in some when in fact people have had the exact same perception of me? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.
When we consider how much God hates our being proud, it is enough to drive us to our knees. We should ask, “Lord, am I like this?” “You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty” (Ps. 18:27). “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Luke 14:11). “You rebuke the arrogant” (Ps. 119:21).
But when I consider that God was patient with Elijah, I feel there is hope for me. God could indeed have stepped in and interrupted the entire proceedings when Elijah openly said, “I am the only true prophet left.” But He didn’t. God took His time and later on called Elijah to one side, as if to say, “Oh, by the way, Elijah, I have seven thousand in Israel whose knees have not bowed down to Baal.” (See 1 Kings 19:18.) God has used me over the years and then later called me to one side and gently showed me faults and flaws others saw but I had been blind to. He is such a good and gracious God.
No Guilt Trip
I will have failed in this book if I give you a guilt trip as you read. My task is to show our pride and God’s hatred of it—but to show we are all in this together. But more than that, that we will equally see His mercy toward those who repent of this folly. The worst thing you and I can do in this connection is to be defensive. That will never do. But if God kindly points out our failures, it means we are loved (1 John 4:19)—and that there is hope for us. Repentance is a grace that God grants (Rom. 2:4; Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It is a gracious gift that we do not remotely deserve. The very real possibility of being unable to be renewed to repentance (Heb. 6:4–6) should be enough to humble all of us. But if in this book you are given to see what displeases the Lord and that you are sorry, I will give God the praise.
Even Ahab, one of the most wicked kings ever, saw his folly in a most heinous injustice he committed. But when he was reproved, he “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.” God noticed it. He said to Elijah, “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son” (1 Kings 21:27–29). This means there is hope for us all.
God rebukes us to bring us to our senses. He lets us save face. He does not chasten or discipline us to get even. God got even at the cross, when the Lord laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:11–14). He sent the wind and the fish to swallow up Jonah not to punish him but, as Dr. Bruce Chesser put it, to save him (Jonah 1–2). How often God “saves us from ourselves,” as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say.
Foolish Worry: What People Might Think of Us
Taking ourselves too seriously leads us foolishly to imagine what people might think about us. As if what they think is so important! But I will never forget a day—it was pivotal in my life—when two important men had to humble me. These two men were Dr. Barrie White, my supervisor at Oxford, and Dr.
J. I. Packer, who functioned as a second supervisor. I had been at Oxford for about a year at the time. What I thought was to be a leisurely lunch with them was interrupted by Jim Packer saying to Barrie White, “Shall you tell him, or shall I?” Dr. White motioned to Dr. Packer to start. “You need to minimize your liabilities,” Jim Packer graciously said to me, showing a mastery of British understatement—and trying to let me save face. “I know you have come to Oxford to do your DPhil. (doctorate of philosophy) on John Owen.” (He was referring to the great Puritan theologian John Owen [1616–1683], whose doctrine of the priestly work of Christ had motivated me to come to Oxford, something I had told everybody back in America I would do.) Jim continued, “But we don’t think you are able to do John Owen,” then shared what they thought I could do at Oxford to get the DPhil. I was devastated. I went home with the worst migraine headache of my whole life. I went to bed. Why? I worried what people would think. It was so silly. The truth is, these people would have thought absolutely nothing about it! But I could only think of my reputation among friends back in America. Taking myself too seriously literally put me to bed. What is more, the thesis I ended up doing (on John Calvin [1509–1564] and the English Puritans) was the best thing in that connection that ever happened to me. But at the time I was utterly governed by pride and what people would think, that friends back at my seminary in Louisville might discover I wasn’t cut out to do a doctorate on John Owen. And yet it reminds me of something my grandfather R. J. Kendall used to say: “Don’t worry over what people might be thinking of you; chances are, they are not thinking about you at all.” How true.
Building Monuments to Ourselves
Taking oneself too seriously is what makes people try to ensure they will be remembered by history. They have statues made and get buildings, streets, or highways named after them while they are still alive. The notion to “let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2) seems not to appear on their radar screen. And yet it reminds me of something President Harry S. Truman (1884– 1972) would say when refusing to let anybody sculpt a bust or statue of him. He said, “I don’t want people seeing my statue years later and asking, ‘Who was he?’”
I was disappointed when one of my heroes allowed a larger-than-life statue to be made of himself by America’s greatest sculptor while he was still alive—and was even present for its unveiling! It’s true! They had planned to put the statue outside in the open air. But the preacher stopped them. “No, please put it inside. I don’t want those pigeons defecating on my statue.” But here is something I think is rather funny. I decided sometime later to use this account as an illustration in a sermon, realizing nobody in the congregation at Westminster would remotely know whom I was talking about. My point in the sermon—on rewards—was that God might have to say to this great preacher at the judgment seat of Christ, “Sorry, My son, there is no reward laid up for you now; you got it all below with that statue you let them make of you.” So far, so good. But I was shocked to learn afterward that at least six people were present from this man’s church! By the way, he
was a great man indeed. Now in heaven, if anyone deserved a statue, he did. But after he was gone.
Those in Scripture who built monuments to themselves while they were alive, however, were tragic figures. I have always been gripped by this. In fact, there are two accounts in this connection that have deeply shaped my thinking. First, King Saul had a monument built to himself while he was still alive (1 Sam. 15:12). He had already become yesterday’s man when this happened. Second, years later Absalom stole the hearts of the people and forced his father, King David, to live in exile for a while. David was later restored to the kingship and will always be regarded as Israel’s greatest king. As for Absalom, during his lifetime he took a pillar “and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, ‘I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.’ He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day” (2 Sam. 18:18).
What Matters Most of All
There is one thing—and one thing alone—that ultimately matters: God’s opinion of you and me. If His opinion doesn’t matter to you now, it will then. This opinion will be openly revealed at the judgment seat of Christ. You then will learn what God thinks of you. And you will see what He thinks of me. I can safely promise you that any accolade, humiliation, monument, criticism, put-down, compliment, praise, disappointment, lie, statue, honor, or prize here on this earth will mean nothing then. Nothing. Except how we handled such things—which will largely determine what God thinks of us. Why therefore should we ever want the praise of people here below? Why should it mean so much to us? I will come clean with you: I love compliments. A close friend (who knows me well) had a T-shirt made for my birthday that says “Compliments are in order.” But the thought of preempting what God Himself might say to me on the day—by amassing all the awards and compliments I can get below—scares me to death. I propose to live for that day—seeking no honor or praise but His.
The irony is, if the plaque on Ronald Reagan’s desk is correct—that there is no limit to how far a person can go as long as he doesn’t care who gets to the credit for it—we will accomplish more than ever in this life if we don’t take ourselves so seriously! The way up is down. He who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Pet. 5:6, esv).
John speaks of worldliness as “the boasting of what [man] has and does” (1 John 2:16). The KJV calls it “pride of life,” and the ESV calls it “pride in possessions.” It refers to our effort to impress people with what we have accumulated. This could refer to material things, achievements, awards, antiques, pottery, photographs with important people, prestigious jobs, degrees, clothes, furniture, art, carpet, cars, framed commendations, or letters—all there to impress you! I fear there are people for whom these things matter more than anything in the world. How sad. I remember going to a home of some people in Rome many years ago. The main reason they wanted me to come to their home was to see their apartment and collection of bone china. It truly was impressive. But this was all they apparently had to bolster their self-esteem. It was as though their apartment and china gave people warrant to take them seriously. They seemed to feel I would take them truly seriously if I saw these possessions. It was all they lived for—to invite people to see their apartment and china collection.
We who are Christians sometimes forget we are going to heaven one day—and will be there a long time! Have you ever pondered the depth of these famous lines?
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.1
—John Newton (1725–1807)
Think about this. After we have been in heaven for ten thousand years, it will be like the first day. Do we really believe this? I do. Why ever do we live in this present world as though this present existence is all there is? It seems to me that the thought of going to heaven one day—to be there forever—should help us on our way not to take circumstances here below—or ourselves—so seriously.