Many years ago I was asked by my neighbor to be a coach on a Little League baseball team. The kids on the team were 6 to 8 years old. Most of the kids were not great at hitting and catching. Some of them had the attention span of a goldfish. I really enjoyed working with the kids.
This age group of Little League had special rules to help tone down the competition and give everyone an equal chance. It was supposed to be about learning the game and having fun. Each inning every player was allowed to bat. We didn’t keep score on the field, but everyone knew the score, especially the parents. But of course, no one was keeping score; well not officially.
That little league experience taught me how powerful comparison and competition can be. Even when I didn’t want to compare and keep score I couldn’t help it. And neither could anyone else. We all knew.
The real problem wasn’t with our comparison; it was what we did with that information. We put ourselves and our kids in a pecking order. Parents would feel better or worse about themselves based on what their kid did in the game. If a boy hit a home run, his parents would stand up and cheer. That’s my boy! But if he didn’t notice a fly ball coming his way because he was chasing a butterfly his parents would cringe.
Little League taught me that we have a very strong urge to compare. We decide that people are winners or losers based on some of the flimsiest of reasons. This tendency is bad enough in Little League Baseball, but it is tragic when it comes to our spiritual life and our relationship with Jesus.
When we make spiritual comparisons we are just plain silly. When we compare ourselves to others, we can never know the full story. All we see is the outside. We can’t see the heart. Often our conclusions about people are absolutely wrong. 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that, “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart".
Our spiritual comparisons are biased. We have a way of comparing things in a way that makes us look good. When we think we look good, it’s hard not to look down on people who don’t measure up. It’s when we are comparing ourselves to others that pride becomes particularly dangerous.
Most of us fail to realize how dangerous pride is. We know that we shouldn't look down on others, but we tend to see it as a small sin. We think it falls somewhere between failing to floss and driving too fast. It’s something we need to work on but it’s not that big a deal. Even when we admit to having a problem with our pride, we are really thinking that it is hard to be humble when I’m so much better than most people.
God doesn’t want us to have pride in our hearts. It separates us from Him. But did you know that God says that he HATES pride. Proverbs 6 tells us, "these six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, ... Right at the top of this list of things that God hates is a proud look. That look of disgust and disdain. That feeling of arrogance when we view others. God hates it. There are a lot of things that anger God, but most people wouldn’t guess that looking down our noses at others would be at the top of the list. But it is.
Spiritual arrogance isn’t a small insignificant sin. It is front and center in the battle for our heart. It is a trap that Satan lays for those who are serious about their discipleship and their Bible study. I’ve noticed that there is something interesting about this sin of pride that God hates. It is usually found among the people who think that they love God the most.
Most of us Christians spend a lot of time and energy being proud of our accomplishments and looking down on others. We need to be reminded that we are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)
Why are we proud? We have nothing to be proud about. In 1 Timothy the Bible refers to people having a form of godliness but denying its power. Pride in our works denies the power of God.
Jesus addresses this issue in the story we find in Luke 18:9-14. “ He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
According to Jesus it doesn't matter how moral or zealous we are. Our arrogance in trusting our own righteousness and looking down on others leaves us in a lost, unjustified position.
We must turn those thought and feelings over to God and pray, "God, be merciful to me a sinner"! God hates it when we look down on others. He says that it leaves us in an unjustified position. To put it plainly he says that if we thank God that we are not like other men we will be lost.
How do we keep from falling into the trap of spiritual arrogance? The first step is to realize that we actually have no good works to be proud of. Secondly we need to regularly ask ourselves if there is any group of people for whom I am developing a response of disgust, disdain or aversion. If the answer is yes, it is a sign that we are walking the road of spiritual arrogance.
I don’t know what tempts you to feel superior. I don’t know what kind of people you are tempted to look down on. But most of us have a list. I don’t think that we realize how dangerous that list is. Unless we can get rid of the list it will nullify every good thing that we do and leave us separated from God. It can put us at the top of God’s I hate it when you do that list.
In John 3:16-17 Jesus tells us that, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved". If God doesn’t look down on the world but loved the world – every single person in it – so much that he sent His Son to save the world, who am I to make a list of people I think that I am better than.
Spiritual arrogance isn’t a small insignificant sin. It is front and center in the battle for our heart. Let’s pray today with David his words found in Psalms 51:10, "create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me". It is the only way we can overcome our spiritual arrogance.