One summer, years ago now, a friend and I backpacked through Europe. We got Eurail Passes and traveled by train to most of the countries on the continent. Naturally, everywhere we went, sooner or later someone would ask us what kind of work we did.
I had taken a leave of absence from IBM to attend seminary. So, when people asked about my work, I would tell them that I was an electrical engineer working for IBM. After seeing me respond this way several times, my friend told me something about myself that pretty much astounded me. She said that whenever I told people I worked for IBM, I took on an air of pridefulness.
That was hard for me to believe. At that time I considered IBM to be perhaps the most elite company in the high-tech world. Apparently what my friend detected was an unconscious conviction that working for such a company made me elite as well! Yet, I was entirely unaware of having that kind of pride, and certainly had no idea that I was communicating it to other people.
As I think back on that episode, I see it as an example of how subtle our pride can be. To C. S. Lewis it is the vice we most easily overlook in ourselves. He put it this way in Mere Christianity:
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else… There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.
That’s why the Bible warns over and over that our hidden pride is extremely dangerous.
James 4:6b (NKJV) … God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
James 4:10 (NKJV) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
The Scripture tells us that if we want God to lift us up, we must first humble ourselves in His sight. We can’t humble ourselves in God’s sight without humbling ourselves in the sight of others. Since it’s so easy to overlook my own pridefulness, being truly humble before the Lord requires that I specifically watch out for it in the way I relate to others. Again, C. S. Lewis provides great insight about detecting my own pride:
Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.
If I am to avoid hidden pride in my life, the first step is to prayerfully ask God to reveal it to me whenever that insidious vice begins to take root. Then I need to examine my own thoughts and motives. When I find myself taking pleasure from seeing myself as ahead of or over other people, that may indicate that pridefulness is once again rearing its very ugly head in my life.