My daughter had some interesting questions the other day about the notions of pride and self esteem. She said she felt like she couldn’t be proud of work she’d accomplished because pride is a sin…and there was a part of her that didn’t want to be a Christian anymore if the cost of being a Christian is to constantly beat yourself up.
Wow. Talk about tough talks!
I’d love to say that I kept my cool and laid out logic for her, but that wouldn’t be true. Instead I felt frustrated and teary-eyed as I desperately tried to hang on to both MY faith and hers. So I told her that her question was a good one but that I needed time to think, study and pray about all this. I didn’t have the “ready answer” that I needed:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15
I realized as I wrestled with this question from my inquisitive daughter that I have not really allowed my faith to progress intellectually. I believe because of the faith God has given me. In other words, when I set out to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, I have the heart and soul part DOWN. But the mind and strength parts are sorely lacking. I’ve been one of those Christians who hasn’t had real reason to doubt the Truth of Jesus — I’ve been a believer since I was nine years old — but I also have not experienced the radical change that is evident in the life of Paul, Mother Teresa, and Chuck Colson.
I realized then that I needed to purposefully educate my mind so that the next time hard questions are asked of me, my eyes won’t glaze over in panic and frustration. “Because I read it somewhere in the Bible!” garners just about as much respect as “Because I said so!” in the eyes of a teen who is making her faith her own.
So I set out to determine what God wants me to know about pride. James 4 talks a great deal about pride and boasting. I already knew by memory James 4:6
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
In context, though, James’ admonition about pride is not talking about the kind of self-satisfied pride a girl gets when she sits back and enjoys her clean house (for five minutes!). When reading the entire passage from verse 1
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive,because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
it’s evident that James is talking about the kind of pride and posturing that leads to fights and arguments and quarrels. It’s the kind of pride we associate with “Mean Girls” — the ones who gossip about and put-down other people for fun. It also rears its head in us when the woman talking incessantly on her cellphone while applying mascara cuts us off getting on the toll road — and then drives five miles an hour under the speed limit. (If this was you, please accept my apologies for the loud yelling and name calling I gave you within the closed windows and doors of my car.)
Because of course nobody else on the road is running as late as I am, and it is vitally important that I get to the store before it closes because I messed around all day, so I really do need to drive ahead of everyone else going the speed limit because I’m more important and why on earth did you cut me off if you aren’t going to at least drive the speed limit? Get out of my way! (Ahem. Conscience is twinging!)
A look at Strong’s concordance shows that the word we define as “proud” in verse 6 comes from the Greek word hyperēphanos, which means:
1) showing one’s self above others, overtopping, conspicuous above others, pre-eminent
2) especially in a bad sense, with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt, haughty
A little later in James 4, we get a picture of the kind of bragging and boasting that is all kinds of wrong:
As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
I also found that the word translated as “boast” and “boasting” in verse 16 comes from the Greek word alazoneia, which means:
1) empty, braggart talk
2) an insolent and empty assurance, which trusts in its own power and resources and shamefully despises and violates divine laws and human rights
3) an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthy things
After researching these original words, I felt stronger in my mind and in my faith. I was able to tell my daughter why being a Christian does not go hand in hand with purposefully cultivating a low self esteem. Indeed, we are sons and daughters of the Creator, and His fingerprints are all over us. We are urged to act in such a way as to receive the ultimate praise — from our Savior — when we finally meet him:
Well done, my good and faithful servant!