Over the past couple of months, we’ve been talking about wisdom in the book of Proverbs, with an emphasis on the importance of making good decisions. This morning will be just a little bit different, because I’m not going to be talking about specific decisions we need to make, but rather a mindset or attitude that affects many of our choices in life.
Because Solomon has a lot to say about pride. Pride is something we all struggle with and, in fact, I think pride and selfishness are built into us from birth. From the time we are little kids, we begin to calculate how we can maneuver to put ourselves in the number one position.
I may have told you the story before about a mother who was preparing pancakes for her two sons — Kevin, age five, and Ryan, age three. The two boys began to argue about who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw this as an opportunity for a great moral lesson. She said, “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.”
Kevin then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
As we get older, our scheming becomes more sophisticated, but at the heart, it’s exactly the same as it was when we were children — as we try to find ways to put ourselves in the number one position.
I want to share with you a few things that Solomon has to say about pride, but then I want to focus most of our attention on one specific verse.
In Proverbs 13:10 (TLB), Solomon said, “Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise.” This is the kind of pride that has an over-inflated opinion of oneself that claims to know it all. The wise person is humble enough and teachable enough to take advice, whereas the proud person spends a lot of time arguing about how he’s right.
Proverbs 25:27 (TLB), “Just as it is harmful to eat too much honey, so also it is bad for men to think about all the honors they deserve!” This kind of pride says, “Look at me. I’m important. I’m better than everyone else.” But, as I’m sure you all know from experience, the more someone tries to tell us how important they are, the less important we end up considering them.
And so, Solomon says in Proverbs 11:2 (NLT), “Pride leads to disgrace.” And Proverbs 29:23 (ESV), “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” The ironic thing is that pride ultimately loses what it’s trying to get. An arrogant person is looking for honor, but he eventually finds disgrace. Rather, it’s the humble person who eventually finds honor.
Listen to this passage from Proverbs which will likely remind you of something Jesus said – Proverbs 25:6-7 (MSG), “Don’t work yourself into the spotlight; don’t push your way into the place of prominence. It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor than face humiliation by being demoted.” Remember Jesus’ parable about choosing where you sit at a wedding feast? God consistently operates on the principle that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, even in the Old Testament.
So, Solomon says in Proverbs 27:2 (ESV), “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” When we sing our own praises, we are motivated by pride and obviously feel the need to make sure everyone else recognizes our excellence. But, if there is any real merit in our lives, others will notice and they will spread the word.
I love this verse in Proverbs 27:21 (TLB), “The purity of silver and gold can be tested in a crucible, but a man is tested by his reaction to men’s praise.” Whenever we receive praise, we’re being tested. Responding with gloating reveals an arrogant spirit, but a humble spirit will accept the praise modestly, giving credit to others who have made success possible.
And so, Solomon’s assessment of the proud man is found in Proverbs 21:4 (MSG) — “Arrogance and pride — distinguishing marks in the wicked — are just plain sin.” An arrogant person may try to justify his pride by saying that a person needs to be proud in order to make it through life. But what the wicked call necessary, God calls “just plain sin”.
Proverbs 16:5 (NLT), “The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished.” Which lets us know that pride is not just a minor offense. It is a serious evil, something that God absolutely detests.
And then, of course, there is the most commonly quoted verse on pride, although it’s usually misquoted. Proverbs 16:18 (ESV), “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Usually, we hear this quoted in a shortened version, “Pride goes before a fall”, which is close enough, I suppose. But this verse is actually a warning from God that the path of pride will end in destruction.
So, Solomon has a lot to say about pride. But, I don’t know that I need to spend a lot of time this morning warning you about pride the way that Solomon has described it in these verses. I’ve never heard any of you ever try to convince me of how important you are, or argue that you’re better than someone else, or tell me that everyone needs to show you special attention because of who you are.
Now, there are some people who struggle with those things. And I think there are even some churches where people struggle with that. I just don’t think that any of you do. And so, I had planned to just skip this lesson altogether on what Proverbs has to say about pride……until I noticed one more verse.
You see, pride can manifest itself in a variety of ways. We tend to think of pride as that arrogant person who thinks he’s better than everyone else, who loves to boast and brag. But pride also has a subtler way of working itself into our lives, and that’s the way that I think most of us struggle with it.
The verse that I want us to focus on this morning is Proverbs 29:25. When I read this verse to you, you may wonder what it has to do with pride because it doesn’t even contain the word pride. So, I’m going to need to explain it.
Proverbs 29:25 (ESV), “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Now, I want to just leave that verse with you for a moment, and then I’ll come back to it in a bit.
People sometimes ask me if I ever get nervous preaching in front of a group of people. It’s understandable, because the one of the greatest fears that people have is not a fear of snakes or a fear of heights, but a fear of public speaking. Ryan Broglin recently gave a speech in front of a group of students in school, and he was telling me how nervous he was. Ryan, would you like to come up here and tell us about how nervous you are speaking in front of a group of people? (no, I would never do that to you).
So, people often ask me if I ever get nervous, and the answer is “no”……at least, most of the time. There are a few things that will make me nervous if I stop to think about them. Whenever I go to lectureships and hear preachers like Randy Harris and Rick Atchley and Josh Ross and about 20 or 30 other very, very gifted speakers, I always come back and find myself thinking, “These people don’t need to hear me. They’d be better off watching a video of one of these other guys.”
And there are times when there is this anxiety inside of me that says, just like Moses did at the burning bush, “Who am I? Who am I to stand up here and do this?”
But, if I’m honest with myself, much of the nervousness comes from wondering, “What are these people going to think about me? Are they going to think that I’m going to do a good job? Are they going to think that I’m funny, or profound, or are they just going to be bored and ignore everything I say?”
But whenever I start thinking about what you guys might think about me, I realize that all of those thoughts are rooted in pride. Now, pride is easy to recognize when someone is arrogant and they’re a bully and they’re boasting and bragging. And you say to yourself, “Man, that man or that woman is prideful. They are just so full of themselves. They think very highly of themselves, and they won’t listen to anybody else.”
But sometimes, pride manifests itself like this: “I love myself so much that I worry about what other people think about me. I love myself so much that I get insecure about who I am, about what I look like, what I say, what I do, and how well I do something.”
And so, even as I was preparing this sermon on pride, I realized that my struggle, even though it may not be as obvious as you normally think of pride being, it’s there, and it’s real, and it’s deep. And it took me a while to realize that my comparison of myself to some great teacher may seem like humility, but it’s actually pride going, “I want to be well thought of.”
I want to show you a passage in I Corinthians 4, and then we’ll come back to Proverbs. In I Corinthians 4:3, Paul said, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.”
Paul says to the Corinthians, “Some of you don’t think very highly of me. But it’s no big deal to me what you think about me. You’re not the judge of me.” Now, what’s interesting is that this is one of the most quoted concepts in our society. Our society that doesn’t really know the Bible at all still loves this concept. “You are not the judge of me.”
And people love to quote Matthew 7:1, where Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” And so, our society tends to see those of us who are Christians as being judgmental because we have a very clear message of, “This is right, and this is wrong.” And so, our culture loves to quote these verses back to us.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” “You are not the judge of me.” But what’s ironic is that whenever our society says things like, “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t care what people think about me,” what that actually reveals is a very deep-seated pride.
Because, the rest of their thought process goes something like this — “I don’t care what people think about me because I am so confident in who I am. I am so self-assured that there’s nothing you can say that could possibly affect me. I am so in love with who I am that it doesn’t matter what you think. In fact, I don’t even value your opinion enough to care what you think.” And that’s what people often mean when they say, “It doesn’t matter what people think about me.”
But that’s not what Paul is saying at all. Because right after Paul says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court”, he goes on to say in verse 4, “It is the Lord who judges me.” (I Corinthians 4:4)
Paul says, “What God thinks of me is infinitely more important to me than what any person thinks of me.” Our society would say, “Don’t judge me because I have this sense of pride about who I am.” But, Paul would say, “No. It’s about the reality that God knows me and people don’t.”
And he’s not saying that in the way we might say it. There are times when we might have the idea that “What God thinks about me is what really matters, because God knows that I’m better than most people think I am.” But, the truth is that God knows I’m worse than most people think I am. In fact, one of the reasons that you’re not a very good judge of me is because you can’t completely see what’s wrong with me.
There are things that I do that look kind and loving. For example, I try my hardest to be a good husband, which is an admirable thing. But you don’t really know what my motivation is. You don’t know whether I’m being a good husband to Sueanne because I’m selfless and sacrificial, or because I don’t want to listen to her complain all the time, or because I don’t want her to have anything to hold against me when we get into an argument, or because I like for her to tell me how wonderful I am.
You see, it’s possible for a person, it’s possible for me to have such a love of myself that it looks like righteousness on the outside, but on the inside it’s really selfishness. And God knows my heart. God knows all of my motivations, but none of you do. All you can see are just my outward actions. So Paul says, “You would all make terrible judges of me because you couldn’t possibly know all the sins of my heart.”
I might even confess to you all, “I’m a sinner. I’ve done this and this and this,” but God could stand next to me and say, “You have no idea the depths of Alan’s sin. In fact, he doesn’t even know how deep his sin goes and how deeply it’s rooted in how he behaves and how he thinks.” Which is why God is an adequate judge and I’m not. I don’t have all of the evidence I need to make a judgment. I don’t know the depths of your heart, but God does.
And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t hold each other accountable. In I Corinthians 5:12, Paul says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?” And then he says, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”
Paul’s not telling us to ignore the sin in each other’s lives. He’s not telling us that we shouldn’t point out what the Scripture says is wrong.” In fact, it wouldn’t be very loving if we saw something that was wrong in a brother or sister’s life and said nothing at all. We need to care about each another enough to help one another deal with sin.
But we don’t do so in a judgmental way. Because Scripture makes it clear that this world is broken beyond what you could possibly know. The depths of your sins go beyond what you could possibly understand. But there is a hope for us all that is found in the grace that comes through Jesus Christ.
So, Paul’s not talking about those times when we help each other to see the sin that we’re struggling with. Paul simply says that what other people think about us is not the most important thing. And when we worry about what other people think about us, there is a “fear of man”. So, now, I want to come back to that verse in Proverbs.
Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Or, as the Message translates this verse, “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” (MSG)
Solomon says that to be concerned about what other people think about you is a snare. It’s a trap. Because it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with it. In fact, it looks enticing. But when you step into it, it hurts you.
Fear of man is a snare. It may not seem like there’s anything wrong with wondering what people think about you and trying to control what other people are thinking about you, and pursuing a certain perception of yourself.
In fact, it seems like a good thing to be well-liked at work, and so you just keep your faith to yourself. It can seem like a good thing to be in a relationship with somebody where you don’t tell them your deepest, darkest secrets. You don’t tell them anything that might negatively affect the way they think about you. It seems like a good thing because there’s less conflict, and we’re both happier. But in the end, it’s a snare.
Because if I spend my time asking, “How am I going to maintain this image of myself?”, I will not be focused on doing those things that are right, those things that would most honor Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 4, we need to keep reading in that chapter. Paul said in verse 3, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.” Paul says, “I don’t even judge myself.” And he gives the reasons why in verse 4. “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.”
Paul says, “I don’t even judge myself.” While our generation loves to say things like, “I don’t care what you think about me,” the next line is, “All that matters is what I think of myself.” We live in a generation that has built up self-esteem.
But Paul says, “I don’t judge myself, because if I look at myself, I will tend to find myself innocent even though I’m not innocent at all. Because I know tend I tend to make excuses. I know how I tend to justify my behavior. I will always tend to be lenient on myself. Why? Because of my pride.”
You need to understand that you do not have an accurate appraisal of yourself. None of us do. All of us are blinded by our pride, blinded by a love of ourselves.
Have any of you ever listened to a recording of your voice and been absolutely creeped out? You listen to yourself on a recording and you say, “That’s what I sound like? That’s horrible!” I know what I sound like in here, but when I have to listen to what you guys hear, I feel like I need to apologize, that that’s what you have to listen to.”
If that’s true about my voice, how much more is it true about my soul, my spirit, and my motivations? I think I know myself pretty well, but the truth is, I don’t. I have a warped perception of what I’m really like on the inside.
And that’s why Paul says, “I won’t even judge myself because if I do, I would find myself innocent, and I know that I’m not.” And I need to hear that, because I need to understand that I don’t know myself as well as God knows me.
Which is why Solomon says in Proverbs 29:25, “…whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Our trust is not in what other people think about us. They’re not the ones who get to evaluate our lives. It’s not even what you think. You see yourself through the lens of your own self-love.
The only alternative is to trust the Lord. Trust God. What does God think about you? And even as we have a positive view of ourselves because of how much God loves us, we need to be reminded that God doesn’t love us because of how wonderful we are. Jesus Christ didn’t die for you because there’s something amazing about you. God loved us, even while we were still sinners. He doesn’t love us because of who are; he loves us in spite of who we are.
But when your love of what other people think about you is so important that it makes what God thinks about you secondary, you have a serious problem, but that’s the way most of us operate day in and day out.
I heard someone describe two ways that pride manifests itself in our lives. First of all, there’s the campaigner. This is that part of us that wants to create a good perception of ourselves, and so we campaign for ourselves. We want to tell the funniest joke. We want people to think we’re a good dresser. We want to look good. Why? Because I’m campaigning for myself. I want people to be impressed by me. So my pride manifests itself in this image of me that I’m trying to create for the world. And it’s more important to me that you believe that image.
And so, we love to tell stories about ourselves because we want to control what people think about us, and when we retell our lives, we want to create this image that we were the heroes, we were the ones who were right, we were the ones who knew all along. Those are the stories we love to tell, because we want to promote ourselves. We want to build ourselves up, and that’s pride.
On the other hand, there’s the complainer. The complainer is that person who doesn’t build himself up. Rather, he focuses on tearing others down. He sits back quietly and compares himself to other people. C. S. Lewis put it like this. He said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.” It’s not what I have; it’s what I have in comparison to somebody else. And so, we tear other people down because we think that, by diminishing others, we somehow exalt ourselves.
But, it doesn’t matter whether I’m campaigning or complaining, all I care about is what other people think about me. But my concern should not be what people think about me. My concern should not even be what I think about myself. My concern should be what God thinks about me.
God has not been silent when it comes to how he thinks about me, how he feels about me, and that’s where my identity is rooted. It’s not in what you think about me, and that’s not because I think I’m better than you. It’s in what God thinks about me, because you will tend to have a skewed perception of me. In fact, we all have a skewed perception of ourselves, so we need to trust in the Lord and what he thinks.
Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
Let me tell you one of the biggest traps that fear of man will set for us. Fear of man will lead us to be afraid of being honest about any shortcomings in our lives. And so, I’m afraid to tell you about what I’m struggling with in my life because I think it will change your perception of me. You will think less of me. You won’t love me as much. And so, I keep it all to myself.
We all need to a place where we can feel free to confess. Where we can feel free to say, “I’ve messed up. I need some help.” I need to be able to admit to people that I don’t have everything together the way I may appear to.
And maybe some of us need to admit, “I’ve been so concerned about what other people think about me that that’s where all my focus has been, and instead of being focused on God and what he has called me to be and called me to do, I’ve been obsessed with what people might think about me.”
Would you bow with me in prayer.
Father, I want to pray this morning that you would help us get over ourselves, and that you would forgive us for the ways we have been obsessed with ourselves, the way we want to talk about ourselves all the time in order to create a perception of us because we care so much about what other people think.
Father, forgive us of those times that we complain about other people and compare ourselves to other people… God, set us free from those traps and help us to trust in you.
Father, we confess our shortcomings to you this morning. And I pray that we won’t walk out of this place and go right back to where our obsession is ourselves, but rather, God, that we would fixate on you, on your Son, Jesus Christ, and on your Holy Spirit. I pray that you would move in us, that you would change us, that you would transform us, not for our own sake, Lord, not so that others will think better of us, but for your glory and for the sake of your kingdom.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.