The topic of idolatry summons up different meanings for many of us. Many of you who read this would consider yourselves to be Christians or followers of Christ. For the Christian, the topic of idolatry often conjures up images of statues or images worshiped in other religions. We think of the many references in the Bible to the gods of the nations that God warned Israel against. There were the constant warnings from the prophets, calling the people of God to forsake the worship of gods and return to the Lord.
At the heart of idolatry, though, are not the objects being worshiped. Primarily, it is the attitude of the heart. Therefore, idolatry could involve not only objects, but people, aspirations or pursuits, possessions, or even our own convictions and belief structures, if they are not grounded in the Truth. For the unbeliever, these things keep the person from finding their ultimate joy and satisfaction in God. For the believer, though, it can have the same result. Though we have found freedom through Jesus Christ, we repeatedly return to the pursuit of the things from which we were redeemed. We seek to find joy and satisfaction from those things which will never truly satisfy.
So, as I continue to examine the impact of idolatry on our lives, I will focus on an analysis of the attitudes of the heart. One of the primary, if not the primary, indications of an idolatrous heart is pride.
2 Chronicles 26 details the reign of King Uzziah in Judah. Uzziah started off well. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:4). However, his life and reign did not end well. “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Uzziah set out to do something that God had forbid him to do. The priests in the temple tried to stop him and, rather than listen to their warning, he became angry with them. At that moment, God struck him with leprosy, and he remained that way until his death, living in seclusion (2 Chronicles 26:21).
Pride can be a very strong influence in our lives. We use the phrase commonly in our language. We take pride on our work. We are proud of our children or our accomplishments. There is a sense of pride in being a part of a worthwhile cause. It means that we esteem or value something as dear or important to us. I believe God calls us to excellence in our relationships and pursuits. We should value these things. However, when the value we place on these things reign higher, in our hearts and lives, than the place only God deserves, it becomes idolatry.
How do we know when this point arrives? What are the telltale signs of idolatrous pride? I have seen it in the lives of others. I have seen it in my own life, although not as often as I should. It usually takes intervention from God to humble, teach, or remind me of my proper place in things. Nevertheless, here are some ways I have seen sinful pride revealed or on display.
Taking credit for God’s work. When we begin to take too much ownership or credit for something we have done, we are taking credit for what, ultimately, God has enabled us to do. We become self-sufficient in our own abilities and wisdom. Whether it is having a successful marriage and home life, raising godly and well-balanced kids, succeeding in careers or ministry, and many other things we could list, there is always a danger of forgetting the source of our abilities and what we are able to accomplish in life (John 15:4-5; 1 Corinthians 1:25-31. We need to remember that apart from Christ, we can do nothing lasting or of eternal value. Apart from Christ, we have no hope. We should direct all praise to God, Who has graciously allowed us to participate in the work He is doing.
Craving praise from others for our value and accomplishments. When we crave or glory in the praise of others, we are valuing their recognition and approval more than God’s. Their praise of us, rather than glorifying God, becomes our pursuit and pleasure. We work or advertise our efforts, in self-promotion, so that we will be acknowledged by others. We steal the glory that God alone deserves and He has told us that He will not share His glory (Isaiah 48:11). We also receive the only reward we will get, which is the fleeting approval and praise of others (Matthew 6:1-5). Instead, we need to live and work for the glory of God, receiving from Him an eternal reward, which will never fade, and the joy and delight that come from resting in His will and provision. And we need to do this regardless of the amount of recognition that we receive from others, if any.
Arrogance and easily taking offense. This arrogance is displayed when we value our opinions and our work so highly that we boast and build up our own importance. Or, we demean or tear down the work and value of others. Whether it is related to our position, ministry activities, our interpretation of Scripture, or any number of ministry, political or social issues, this arrogance often reveals itself through the belittling of other ideas or individuals. Pride also reveals itself when we are easily offended. When we hold ourselves or opinions too highly, any critique or comment can be viewed as an attack. We take offense, rather than listen and evaluate the opinions of others. Bitterness, rage, verbal attacks, and withdrawal are common responses when we are easily offended. We need to be quick to listen and slow to speak (Proverbs 19:11; Galatians 5:22-26; James 1:19-20). Humility and longsuffering should guide our actions.
Not teachable and submissive. This is closely tied with arrogance. When we are not teachable, we value ourselves, our agenda, and our positions too highly. None of us are God. There is only One Who knows truth perfectly. This does not diminish the importance of our convictions and holding to the truth of God. However, if we are unwilling to listen to the instruction and wisdom of those who God has placed in positions of authority over us, we are guilty of the sin of pride. Ultimately, we may be in the right, but we must approach these moments with humility and openness to what God will teach us. By remaining teachable and humble, we honor those in authority and allow for a dialog to take place that can help us and others grow. Also, this heart attitude glorifies God (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
There is no way to touch on all of the aspects of how pride impacts our life. It is sometimes brazen and out in the open. Sometimes it is subtle, twisting itself around our hearts and minds, impacting our relationships with God and others. The sin of pride is basically the result of setting up an idol to ourselves. It is bowing down to our own importance and accomplishments. It is the valuing of ourselves more than God and His work in our lives.
I wish I could see how much this permeates my own life and how this impacts those I love and those I work with. I have a long way to go, but God is so gracious and patient. I pray that He will remind us all of the joy of resting in His sufficiency and salvation, forsaking our own glory and praise. The world tells us to hold on. God says let it go. We don’t need anyone’s approval but His. He is sufficient. And in His marvelous grace and power, He has equipped us to do His work, for His glory and our joy in Him.
Together for His glory…