There is sometimes confusion over what the Bible says about pride.
On the one hand we are told, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jam 4:6, 1Pet 5:5) Then on the other hand, we see the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians, saying he wants to give them an occasion to be proud of him. (2Cor 5:12, see also 2Cor 1:12-14, Phil 1:26)
As is often the case, the lack of precision in the English language adds to the confusion. We use the word pride to describe the joy we feel when celebrating accomplishments. For example, we might say: I’m proud of my child, or I have a sense of pride for a job well done. We also use the word pride to describe haughtiness or arrogance and as the opposite of humility.
It is good to celebrate that which is good and right. We are told to rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom 12:15) and to encourage and build up one another (1 Thes. 5:11). Jehoshaphat was one of the few kings of Judah whom the Lord called good, and we read of him in 2 Chronicles 17:6, “He took great pride in the ways of the LORD and again removed the high places and the Asherim from Judah.” To take pride in the ways of the Lord is certainly a good thing and this pride motivated Jehoshaphat to accomplish that which was good and right in the sight of the Lord.
At its root, the idea behind pride is to lift up, to magnify, or to glorify. The problem of pride lies in the condition of the heart that motivates the action. The kind of pride the Bible condemns is motivated by a desire is to lift up self, to satisfy selfish cravings, or to achieve selfish gain. For example we see in Scripture,
But when he [King Uzziah] became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. (2Chr. 26:16)
King Uzziah became haughty or arrogant because he had grown strong. He was exalted in his own eyes and so he placed his desire above faithfulness to God. He acted corruptly. And the motivation for his actions stemmed from the prideful condition of his heart.
Proverbs warns us:
Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; assuredly, he will not be unpunished. (Prov. 16:5)
Why is the proud heart an abomination to the Lord? I think the verse that best answers that question is found in Isaiah:
The pride of man will be humbled and the loftiness of men will be abased; and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day (Is. 2:17)
Only the Lord God is worthy of being exalted. Only He is high and lifted up. The prideful heart places self and selfish desires in the exalted position that belongs only the Lord God. God opposes the proud because they seek to occupy the place that is His and His alone. Pride is idolatry.
It is easy to think of pride as being an issue for those people who are blatantly arrogant and self-serving. But I am forced to re-consider that view. When it comes right down to it, isn’t there a modicum of pride involved whenever I knowingly give higher priority to my desires above obedience to God?
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:6-9)