photo by Laura Evans
Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.
Galatians 6:4 NIV
Dear ICB family,
I know what it is to look into the mirror and loathe the face peering back at me. For me it's a feeling of profound disappointment. It's distain toward who I am and how I am. It's disgust at what I see in myself.
Then I start reading the Bible. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Romans 7:18 ESV) rings in my ears. Then Paul cries out, "Oh, wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24). Jesus says, "Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25). Paul counts "all things" as "rubbish," surely including himself (Philippians 3:8).
So the Bible teaches me to hate the person I see in the mirror, then. Is that it?
Words require context. Take the word fear. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). But then John writes, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). So what then? Love and wisdom are mutually exclusive?
Words require context.
Fear can mean "terror" as well as "joyful trembling." We're commanded to shake in our boots with glee before God but not to be afraid of him. Love casts out terror but not humble, happy reverence, and it's humble, happy reverence, not terror, that is the beginning of wisdom. Yet it's possible to denote both concepts with the same word: fear.
So it is with the word pride. Galatians 6:4 says that those who have tested themselves "can take pride in themselves alone" (NIV), and Paul says to his readers in 2 Corinthians 7:4, "I have great pride in you" (ESV). Yet Isaiah 2:11 says, "The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day" (ESV).
So which is it?
Of course, the answer is Yes. That is possible because the same word, pride, can mean two very different ideas. The word pride is connected to the words pleasure and delight. You find pleasure and take delight in the things or people you are proud of. For example, after Paul tells the Corinthians, "I have great pride in you," he immediately says, "I am filled with all comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy." Paul was filled with a sense of joyful pleasure when the believers in Corinth came to his mind. In that way, he was proud of them.
You find pleasure and take delight in the things or people you are proud of.
This is the feeling God the Father himself was filled with when he looked down at Jesus at his baptism and said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). It's not unlike a father watching his son score a goal in football or cast a fishing line for the first time or get a good grade on his math final. God the Father was, in essence, saying, "That's my boy, and I am so proud of him!"
And then there is a very different concept that we mean when we speak of pride. This other concept also refers to things in which we find pleasure and take delight. However, this pleasure or delight is sinister and selfish. This pleasure or delight comes at someone else's cost. It's not wrong to find delight in a job well done until part of your delight in your job well done comes from the fact that your work makes you look better than someone else.
In that sense, it's not wrong to take pride in your work until that pride costs the guy working right next to you esteem in your eyes. This is, of course, what we normally mean when we talk about pride, and this evil type of pride is intimately connected to comparison with others, the very thing Galatians 6:4 says not to do (NIV).
It's not wrong to find delight in a job well done until part of your delight in your job well done comes from the fact that your work makes you look better than someone else.
"I take pride in myself and in my accomplishments" should mean that I find pleasure in being the person that God created me to be and in doing the things that God has created me to do, and I have no need to compare myself to others. That does not mean I write off everyone else in the world. It just means that I don't have any need to measure myself against others. Satisfaction and delight in God's good gifts to you only becomes sinful when that satisfaction begins to look around at others and starts comparing.
So is it right for me to hate the person I see in the mirror? It seems so humble. Well, very simply put, it's not. God wants you to know who you are, how he's put you together, and what he's given to you, and he wants you to find satisfaction and delight in his handiwork. In that sense of the word, you should take pride in yourself. This is not self-centeredness. Such an attitude holds God, not the self, at the very center of its focus. This is not navel-gazing or self-aggrandizement. This is worship to God for what he has done in you, through you, for you, and in spite of you.
God wants you to know who you are, how he's put you together, and what he's given to you, and he wants you to find satisfaction and delight in his handiwork.
Yes, yes, you're a cracked pot for sure. No one's doubting that. But you're God's cracked pot, and he's put his greatest, most glorious treasure within you, what Paul calls "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). God doesn't hate his treasure-filled cracked pots. You really shouldn't either. Not even the one looking back at you in the mirror.
Do you delight in the work that God has done in you? Do you find pleasure in the way that he has made you to do be, without the slightest inclination to start comparing yourself to someone else? Oh that you would! In that sense, may you take pride in yourself alone.
Longing for grace to feel more proper pride,
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