"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18
Bill and Karen were blind to their own weakness and hypocrisy. They felt very comfortable acting as the judge and jury of their congregation as they ruled on doctrinal soundness, member behavior and moral performance. Bill and Karen exuded confidence to the point of pride. It was inconceivable to them that they could be wrong in their judgments or in their own personal deportment.
One of Bill and Karen’s chief problems was a poor memory. When Jeremy, a young man in the congregation, was arrested for possession of an illegal substance at a party, Bill and Karen turned their full attention to his case. They followed his arrest and court proceedings. They wondered if Jeremy showed enough remorse when he came back to church. Even his parents seemed a bit too casual about the whole problem. Bill and Karen didn’t like what they saw and expressed their concern and dismay to a number of members, but managed to restrain their full displeasure. But when Jeremy was asked by someone to help pass the collection plate, Bill and Karen couldn’t contain any longer.
"What is this church coming to? Here is a young criminal coming back to church before his sentence is even announced, and we welcome him back as if nothing happened? Shouldn’t something be said at church? Shouldn’t he have to make a statement of apology to all of us? When Simon the Sorcerer sinned publicly, wasn’t he publicly condemned by the Apostle? Should we do any less? I mean, we still love the boy, that is why we are so concerned. If we treat his sin too lightly, other kids in the church might start taking drugs, too. We can’t believe the church is doing this. Somebody needs to do something!"
Much of what Bill and Karen say is true. God does want confession for sin (1 John 1:8). Peter did severely castigate Simon. A bad example can lead others into bad behavior. Can anyone argue with these biblical principles?
But here is where Bill and Karen have a problem that is even more severe than that of Jeremy and his parents: they can be right in their judgment but totally wrong in their attitude and disposition. Having played the role of judge and jury for so long has deceived them into thinking that they are fit for that role by some kind of moral superiority. They simply cannot conceive that their judgment would be wrong. They cannot conceive that they could be wrong.
And they can’t remember their own past.
Twenty years ago, in this same community, Bill and Karen’s son was arrested for possession of an illegal drug. Further, he was arrested for drug use, underage drinking, and dealing. He was even guilty of repeat offenses. Over a period of several years and a couple of treatment programs, their son gained his sobriety, paid his debt to society, and began living cleanly. Today he is in a healthy marriage and is involved in his church.
But Bill and Karen forget that. They also forget that the church, the same church they are attending now, forgave their son and encouraged him in his first steps of sobriety.
Members of the congregation are speechless that today Bill and Karen would be so harsh and judgmental toward another young man guilty of a lesser offense than was their own son. Can they not remember?
How can Bill and Karen be so judgmental? Can they not remember their own families struggle years ago? Of course they can, but they choose not to. To remember would require humility and admission of their own family’s failings. Bill and Karen do not have the internal strength or moral integrity to make such an admission. Pride is so much easier. And a natural function of pride (not self respect, but haughty arrogance) is that we sit in judgment of everyone around us. A haughty spirit makes us feel safe and secure. It insulates us from moral assessment by other people and steels us to our own moral ineptness and hypocrisy.
That is why pride eventually leads to a fall. Haughty pride that sets us above others to judge and evaluate them also puts us in competition with God. The proud and haughty person is in essence trying to unseat God and do his job for him.
Does all this mean that we can never judge the attitudes or behavior of others? Of course not! We must recognize sin and name it (Rom. 1:18-32). We must call people to repentance, confession, baptism, and faithful living. But, we must remember four things as we minister to those in sin.
One, the Bible calls us to put off ungodly dispositions and actions from our own lives (Col. 3:5-9). The person who condemns sin in another while ignoring it in himself is sinful and invites God’s judgment upon himself (Rom. 2:3). His haughty spirit will lead to a fall before the throne of God.
Two, judgment must be done with a view toward restoration, reconciliation and peace (James 5:19,20). Even if the proud man’s judgment against another sinner is true, his arrogant disposition ruins any opportunity for real healing and peace to follow. "Pride only breeds quarrels ..." (Prov. 13:10), not friendship.
Three, the Bible calls for us to exercise mercy. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matt. 7:1-2). How can Bill and Karen read these verses and not feel a twinge of guilt that the same mercy and kindness that was extended to their son they now deny to another’s son? Oh that they could hear these words from Jesus: "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" (Matt. 18:33).
Finally, Proverbs is very clear about how God feels about pride: "The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished." (Prov. 16:5). How ironic that in condemning another with a haughty spirit (even if the judgment itself is correct), the proud person threatens his own spiritual security.
Bill and Karen have enough biblical foundation to what they are doing to convince them and many of their close friends that they are right, always and without fail. Yet they can only maintain that posture by exercising an excessive degree of pride to mask their sin and keep their critics at bay. Yet all they while they are inwardly hoping no one will have the temerity to ask, "Ah, what about your son? Remember twenty years ago? Can you not extend a little compassion to Jeremy and his family?" No, they can not extend compassion. That is one of the pitfalls of pride, and one of the reasons it sets us up for a horrible fall.