My wife loves to tell the story of our first date.
For over a year, mutual friends had been telling us we should meet, so when I was home from college for Christmas break we had dinner at our friend’s house. After dinner, we decided to play the board game “Sequence.” Since my wife and I didn’t know the game, we played boys versus girls.
To this day, I regret the way I acted. I let my desire to win overpower my typically good manners, which caused me to be less than gracious when winning.
I am fortunate to have received a second date, a fact my wife likes to remind me of on occasion. To this day I still hate board games, but I realize board games were not the problem.
The problem? In one word: pride. It is not winning that was the problem, but rather, it was my response to success that was the struggle. To be fair, pride can be a positive quality like taking pride in our work, but pride can also be associated with an elevation of one’s opinion of self.
While it’s natural to desire success (at least, I hope it is), when accumulating successes becomes a source of personal pride, we are in danger of setting ourselves in opposition to God.
The Bible has a lot to say about pride. First Peter 5 and James 4 both indicate “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Think of that for a moment. God is actually opposed to the proud. I don’t think I can imagine a worse condition than having God opposed to me. The risk of pride is that when we elevate our view of ourselves, we diminish our view of God. Scripture affirms the importance of effort, excellence, and the use of our talents for God. The key, though, is recognizing that our personal gain is never the aim of our efforts, and, thus, pride is never the result of the success they yield. Scripture teaches us the proper response to success. Two of these responses are provided below.
The first is found in the I Peter 5 and James 4 passages previously referenced. The author says to “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another…” Humility is the solution to pride. A biblical understanding of humility means we have an accurate understanding of ourselves before God. It is not a lack of success; rather, it is a response to success that acknowledges our own efforts and abilities (although important) were not the sole determinant of those accomplishments.
A second response to success is remembrance, which is illustrated throughout the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament traces the history of the people of Israel, recounting the successes and failures of the nation. One of the key events in the Old Testament is the Exodus of the people out of the land of Egypt and their entrance into the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 speak to the need to train the next generation concerning the faithfulness of God involving these events.
The author warns against giving into the temptation of pride which occurs when we forget the work of God. Listen to the warning provided.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”
It is amazing to think the people would forget the miraculous work of God to deliver them, but that is exactly what they are warned about, and as the Old Testament reveals, that is what they continually struggled with as a nation. Thankfully, God is revealed to be patient with his people, just as my wife was gracious to me.
So, my encouragement to you today is work hard to succeed, but respond to that success with humility, remembering it is ultimately not our talents or efforts alone that determine the outcome.