Have you ever driven a bus or a truck with a “governor” attached to the engine mechanism? It’s an item that won’t allow the vehicle to go any faster than a designated speed, such as 5o miles per hour. No matter how far down you push the accelerator, you can’t go any faster.
My wife is glad that the moving truck we used in 1981 had a governor! Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) paid for our move from Illinois to South Carolina to join the faculty so long as I loaded and drove the moving van myself, instead of hiring a moving company. Dolly followed behind in our car while I drove the truck all the way down, a long trek that sliced through the curvy, hilly Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina.
When our two young boys boys were in the truck with me, she prayed especially hard that I’d stay in my lane. When she noticed my tendency to weave in and out of it, she was especially thankful I couldn’t go any faster. Her heart lurched at times even at the slower speed.
In His providence, God has installed a “governor” in my mind and life as well. That governor is depression. One of the benefits is that despondency restricts, or limits, the encroachment of pride. Depression keeps me desperately dependent on God, keenly aware of my emotional weakness, and less likely to take credit for achievements that depend heavily on the work of God and others.
I’m not saying that pride never surfaces in me. But I am suggesting that when others compliment a sermon, praise a book or blog I’ve written, or when students give high ratings for a course I taught, I am less likely to strut around, waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity. I’m more prone to express gratitude to a God who delights in using weak, fragile people to accomplish His work so He, not they, receive the credit (see 1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2 Cor. 4:7).
What follows is an introduction to the theme of pride as covered in the book of Proverbs, followed by study questions you can answer on your own by examining the verses I list. Use it for personal devotions, or adapt the material for a session with your small group. Pride is a dominant topic in both the Old and New Testaments, which suggests it is a common threat to all of God’s people. Perhaps God hates pride (Prov. 6:16-17) because, as John Wesley put it, “All pride is idolatry.”
By the time you finish, you’ll grasp why God favors the humble. “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
A Gruesome Demonstration
Have you ever witnessed the execution of a frog? A few folks did years ago, in their high school chemistry lab. Chances are it is no longer politically correct to perform this demonstration. The teacher put the unsuspecting creature in a beaker of cool water, one the frog could easily jump out of if he so chose. Then the teacher scooted a Bunsen burner beneath the beaker and ignited a very low flame.
The small flame heated the water very slowly, several hundredths of a degree per second, so the water temperature escalated gradually. Class members checked the beaker an hour or so later and they found a dead frog. He boiled to death!
(I’m one who’d cheer if I knew that this demonstration is now outlawed.)
Here’s the surprising part. Anyone who kept his eyes glued to the frog the whole time never saw the creature squirm, or try to jump out of the beaker. The temperature change occurred so slowly that the frog never realized he was in danger. By the time he sensed something was awry, it was too late.
Every time I recall this gruesome demonstration, I think of how gradually a person’s heart (values, affections and attitudes) can erode. Sin rarely destroys a person’s life instantaneously. Rather, the change happens slowly, over a period of time. If we aren’t careful we suddenly find ourselves in hot water with no avenue of escape.
What ignites the process of moral erosion in people? What is it that plops a person into the water and causes the temperature to rise in the first place?
There’s more than one answer to those questions, but God’s Word suggests that one attitude, above all others, serves as a catalyst for deterioration of character. When that particular flame flickers in the heart, an erosive process is inevitable.
That flame is pride.
Pride In Proverbs
Take what Proverbs says to heart, and you’ll save yourself from a lot of hot water. Following the tracks of pride through Proverbs requires keeping an eye out for terms such as arrogant, haughty, boasting, humble, as well as pride or proud. Put the following references under your mental microscope and you’ll find answers to the related study questions. (In a few instances I add references outside of Proverbs.)
Proverbs 3:5-7 16:5, 18-19 26:12
6:3, 16-17 18:12 27:1-2, 21
8:13 21:4, 24 28:25-26
11:2 22:4 29:23
15:25, 33 25:6-7, 14, 27 30:8-9, 13, 32
*What effect does pride have on our relationships?
*In what ways does pride show up in a person? (What attitudes and behaviors indicate that pride has nuzzled its way into one’s heart?)
*What words/phrases from these verses show that a proud person eventually reaps negative consequences?
*What phrases from the verses show how God feels about pride? Why is pride so distasteful to Him?
*According to Proverbs 27:21 and 30:8-9, what factors give birth to a proud spirit?
*What is the relationship between pride and a presumptuous attitude toward the future? (See Proverbs 27:1 as well as James 4:13-16.)
*For a case study that vividly illustrates what Proverbs teaches on pride, examine 2 Chronicles 26, a portrait of King Uzziah’s reign. Mull over these questions when you read this chapter: What words in the text explain the reason for Uzziah’s success as a king? What words indicate that he became proud? Why did pride surface? In what ways did pride show in Uzziah? What grave consequence did he experience?
In 2 Chronicles 26, you’ll see the sobering truth that even God’s blessings can lead to a proud spirit.
In what ways has the Lord blessed you?
Pause and thank Him right now, and ask Him to protect you from the tendency to take the credit for those blessings. Also ask Him to put a governor within you that suppresses the tendency for pride.
“For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty, and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased” (Isa. 2:12).
Perhaps God created the peacock to strut its beautiful colors. But He never intends for us to strut.