Every Christian has heard the verse, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In fact, it’s referenced several times in Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5. But, by default, it’s easy to see pride only in our boasting. So we think to ourselves, “as long as I don’t tell everyone how awesome I am, I’m not being prideful.” But that’s not how God sees it. There are (at least) two kinds of pride:
This is the gimme. With self-promotion, a person is exalting their virtues, their character, their actions, their abilities, etc. This is doing all you can to see that others recognize how fantastic you are.
This is deadly dangerous for a number of reasons. But at the core of the danger is this: It’s stealing God’s glory! If we understand the Bible correctly, we must see that “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Goodness comes from God, not from us.
More than this, the Apostle Paul builds a case in Romans chapters 1 through 3 as to how and why we we’re not the source of awesomeness. It culminates in 3:10-18 with phrases like “no one is righteous, not even one”, “they have become useless”, and “there is no fear of God”. It’s a pretty serious accusation. But Paul does this to knock us off our high horse and remind us that, apart from the grace and goodness of God, we’re in real trouble. In fact, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “the wages of [that] sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
The good news is that, despite our naturally self-centered hearts and our propensity to sin, God saves us. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10).
So God is willing and able to save us from our self-promotion.
This one is sneaky. Self-pity usually appears to be weakness, insecurity, helplessness, depression, anxiety, or even humility, but, in fact, it is a form of pride. John Piper does a nice job with the distinction between the two:
“Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, ‘I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.’ Self-pity says, ‘I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much. Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing.
“The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that is appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but heroes. The need self-pity feels does not come from a sense of worthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.”1
Self-pity is rooted in the frustration of not being recognized as being great. And this causes many feelings and reactions to spring up. According to Philippians 2:14-15, one faulty reaction is grumbling and disputing. The context of Philippians 2 is the manifestation of humility; first, encouraged for the church, second, by the example of Christ, and third, in the sanctification of believers. Paul says that we are to “do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach…”
In a nutshell, complaining is pride, which is the opposite of humility.
Why does Paul go from a long discourse on humility to a specific warning about complaining? Because it’s the most common and prevalent form of pride. Everyone, it seems, battles with complaining. And more than that, we pass it off like it’s not a big deal. “Oh stop being a whiner!” we’ll say to our childish friends. Or we’ll excuse ourselves by saying, “Oh don’t mind me, I’m just crabby.” But according to the Bible, the root of such complaining is very serious; it’s an issue of pride. We’re not getting what we think we deserve, and so we act out.
And we wonder why we’re under such duress during these fits of self-pity?
Because “GOD opposes the proud…”
But thankfully, “…[He] gives grace to the humble.”