Ben Franklin said, “The proud hate pride—in others.” Most of us understand pride as stubbornness, egotism, or boastfulness; and, as a Church, we’re quick to condemn all the pride in the world. At least we’re trying to be humble, so Ben’s statement doesn’t apply to us, right?
I like the following definition because, to me, it’s a real eye opener: Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having your way. And everyone does that, some more than others, especially in the religious arena.
By contrast, love is the pre-disposition to not insist on having your way. C. S. Lewis noted, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Paul’s famous line that love doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, and isn’t proud (1Cor. 13:4) thus makes perfect sense.
Paul didn’t mean romantic love (eros), since romantic love does these very well. Poets and songwriters like to say that eros is noble and all about the other person, but it’s actually rather insistent on having its way. (Just watch what happens when marriage or romantic relationships go bad and egos are so terribly wounded.)
Paul was talking about agape love, the opposite of pride. Agape is precisely the great “beyond” that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and the life to the full that Jesus offers to those who repent (change).
Biblically, pride and love are treated as conditions rather than feelings, though they do entail feelings. To be in a condition of either one brings corresponding, predictable behavior because it involves both the inner and outer man.
So if I’m an insistent sort of person and you hang out with me, you’ll soon know it by the way I speak and treat you. You might consider me stubborn or egotistical and find someone else to hang out with. If you’re also an insistent person, we might even develop full-blown hatred for one another. But if we’re both loving inside, each of us will know it soon enough.
Common to Man
The human compulsion to argue and insist isn’t exclusive to scribes and Pharisees; it’s universal. It’s why we have difficulty with Jesus’ commands, “Love your enemy,” “Love as I have loved you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Winning arguments at all cost, for example, shuts down compassion and prevents the goodness and well-being that agape brings to self and neighbor. Yet, letting insistent people have their way all the time isn’t necessarily love, either. That usually creates resentment or full-blown hatred, too—hardly goodness and well-being.
Christ-likeness thus eludes us in either case no matter how hard we worship or confess. Hence, the common idea that it’s impossible, so Jesus died to get us off the hook. But nothing insurmountable has happened to man; sinful dispositions and temptations need not govern our lives. While it’s nice to think that Jesus came to take the wheel, it’s even better to realize that he came to teach us how to drive.
He lived to re-define essentials, and died so we can repent, learn from mistakes, and safely practice fundamentals of sound well-being. Christ-like love speaks of a pre-disposition toward goodness that permeates all aspects of the person: heart (will/spirit), mind, body, and behavior.
God Himself is love. His condition promotes our good as well as His own. Thus, we can love because He first loved us (1Jhn. 4:19). Loving neighbors doesn’t mean we have to like everyone. It simply means to promote with your whole being the ultimate good of God, yourself, neighbors, and even enemies as far as it can be obtained.
Seek and Find
But how do we get into this condition? It doesn’t happen by itself; and God doesn’t do it for us. If He did, the Church would by now be full of people who love their foes. He doesn’t insist or force anyone against their own will, but neither can anyone just will himself to be loving. Instead, it requires learning and practicing what steadily brings a loving condition into being.
Transformation, or redemption unto new life, is a process offered by Christ. “Yoke with me and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Mat. 11:29) Abiding in him, we can follow his instructions in the Sermon on the Mount.
There, he spells out six fundamentals that cultivate a prideful (sinful) condition, ruin love, and sabotage life to the full: willful anger and contempt, spiritual and physical adultery and divorce, oath swearing (insistence), score-keeping, outer appearance, and hypocrisy/judgmentalism.
Their cumulative effect, which Jesus describes as a plank in the eye that blinds, is what he says we must remove—not on our own, but with the Master of life in a solid, disciplined approach. That’s what discipleship is, which, unfortunately today, isn’t always synonymous with Christianity as it was in the first century.
Charlie Sheen demonstrated that “winning” depends on one’s definition of it. Jesus made the same point. Losing life to save it or saving it to lose it is about insistence and whose definitions we use. It does no good to gain the whole world but forfeit the self since that isn’t Jesus’ idea of life to the full.
The point is to prevail in life, not controversies. Jesus didn’t say we should never take a stand, but that we can simply let Yes be yes or No be no, let others do the same, and leave it at that. “Anything further comes from the evil one.” (Mat. 5:37) As a way of life, it’s just one strategy to disrupt pride and to practice love that’ll soon show as a more Christ-like disposition.