“Do you have a problem with pride Dr Tan? Well, that’s your Goliath. You deal with it.” Maybe not an exact quote, but that is what one of my students said to me recently. He had been very enthusiastic about my teaching, and he had told me so. He said he had been blown away by the insights I was sharing in class. He also mentioned my strengths in communication and my pastoral heart.
Yes, I was uncomfortable. I told him that I was glad the class had helped him, but that whatever insights I had shared were there in the Word all along. All glory to God. Besides I was only passing along what I had first received from my lecturers in Regent College. I was expounding on some passages from the book of Genesis and all “my brilliant insights” were from Dr Bruce Waltke and the late Dr Klaus Bockmuehl. And I told my student so. That’s when he asked me to deal with my Goliath.
Do I struggle with pride? Yes. Why? Because I know how prone I am to pride. And because I know of its destructive power. Here is one warning from the book of Proverbs.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be lowly in spirit with the afflicted than to share the spoils with the proud. (Proverbs 16:18-19 NET)
Commenting on verse 18, Dr Bruce Waltke writes:
…the arrogant raise their eyes above God and humanity and stumble to their perdition (Bruce K. Watke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15–31, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005, 26).
Indeed, God comes right out and tells us that He hates pride. Commenting on Proverbs 8:13, Waltke writes:
…human pride (is) a self-confident attitude that throws off God’s rule to pursue selfish interests. Arrogance destroys a relationship with the Lord, perverts order, and leads to unethical behaviour against one’s neighbour. (Bruce K. Watke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 1-15, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004, 401)
I see pride as the sin that is always crouching at my door, waiting to master me (Genesis 4:7). I am not sure which particular temptation waits outside your door, but pride has a permanent camp outside mine. Which is why I am committed to constant vigilance where pride is concerned.
I believe the Lord has allowed some pain to enter my life because sometimes that is the only way pride can be exorcised. Hard to be proud when you are afflicted. Remember Paul’s struggle with the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)? Commenting on the lowly in spirit in Proverbs 16:19, Waltke writes:
(The lowly in spirit) has the noble sense of one who through affliction has had his pride knocked out of him and becomes lowly in spirit before God. With such a person God dwells to revive his spirit. (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15–31, 27.)
As many of us have discovered, success is much more dangerous to our spiritual lives than failure. And even if you have dealt with pride at some point in your life, you cannot let our guard down because pride is like spiritual lalang (Malaysian fast-growing weed). It can spring up again at any time. Hence the need for constant vigilance.
One thing I have also discovered — the antidote to pride is not false humility. If things are true they are to be accepted as such. Yes, I do have some gifts in communication. Yes I do try to care for my students pastorally. Yes, some of the insights were “brilliant” even if I had learnt them from others. So when folks point these things out, I do not pretend they are not true. I say thank you. But I always need to bear in mind two things: the source of these blessings — God — and the purpose of these blessings — to bless others.
So yes, pride is the Goliath that challenges me every day. My student was right to point out that finally this is my problem, not his. I take comfort in the fact that, with the help of the Lord, even Goliaths can be defeated.