A great temptation faced by all is to believe our wisdom, understanding, and counsel are unquestionably better than any other. This temptation opens a door through which pride enters to prevail over our thinking and conduct. The sin of pride leaves God and His will out of the picture as we make decisions and set the course of our lives. James put it this way, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (Jas. 4:13-16, ESV). We must revere God’s sovereignty in all our preparations for success (whether in business, in relationships, politics, or any other endeavor under the sun). Our wisdom, understanding, and counsel cannot prevail against the revealed will and purposes of God. God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud – a lesson we all need to remember (Jas. 4:6). As we “fight the good fight of faith” and “lay hold on eternal life,” we must not forget the victory belongs to the Lord, not to us (1 Tim. 6:12).
20 Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. 21 She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: 22 “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. 23 Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” (Proverbs 1:20–23, NKJV)
Solomon personifies wisdom as a virtuous woman calling out in the streets to all who will stop, listen, learn, and follow her words of understanding. She seeks to bless those upon whom her words fall. Yet, in their ignorance, the naïve turn away from her insight. Others mock her perception while others loathe her knowledge. Even so, wisdom offers her spirit of discernment to all who are willing to hear. But beware. Rejecting wisdom’s call ultimately leads to ruin (Prov. 1:24-27). What is at work in the heart that refuses God’s wisdom? Proverbs 1:29 gives us an answer: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” Pride and irreverence prevent accepting wisdom’s guidance. We must choose to fear the Lord and to love the knowledge He gives us in His word. If not, we will search for wisdom and never find her (Prov. 1:28). Here is our test: Our attitude and reaction to the gospel of Christ (“the wisdom of God”) tell whether we hear wisdom or despise her (1 Cor. 1:21-25; 3:18).
23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23–24, NKJV)
This stern warning against pride in personal wisdom, power, and wealth is set against the backdrop of God’s wisdom, power, and richness. Paul wrote, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Human insight is nothing before the Almighty’s wisdom. Only the boastful would make such a foolish claim. Concerning human power, “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). Pride moves people to think they are stronger than God. Riches are temporary, and “perish through misfortune” (Eccl. 5:14). Pride in material abundance can lead to neglecting eternal riches (Lk. 12:15-21). By contrast, we can “understand and know” the Lord (Jer. 9:24). We understand He is sovereign (Lord), and accomplishes what is gracious, just, and righteous in the earth. Humility glories in God’s accomplishments, not ours. By doing so, God assures us of His favor (delight).
13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
This man knew his sins and what they had done to his spiritual condition before God. He was not bold to move close to the presence of God at the temple. Standing “afar off” from the sanctuary in the court of the men, he recognized his unworthiness before God. With lowered eyes of contrition, he beat his chest in shameful sorrow for his sins. His only hope was in God. He believed God to be a merciful God, ready to forgive a sinner like him. And so he pleaded for mercy, and God heard his prayer. Jesus declared the man’s humility before God resulted in gracious exaltation. The contrast is profound between the tax collector and the Pharisee, whose self-righteous pride prevented mercy from the throne of God (Lk. 18:9-12). Both were sinners, but only the humble was justified. We must confront our sins with honest humility when we approach God for mercy. By doing so, we will find His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).
Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease. (Proverbs 22:10, NKJV)
The scoffer introduces and produces contention and strife in relationships where there should be peace (for example, marriages, neighborhoods, churches). The scoffer mocks truth and refuses the correction wisdom offers, “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12). Pride is the trademark of the scoffer: “A proud and haughty man—‘Scoffer’ is his name; He acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24). Driven by the pride of self-righteousness, scoffers ridicule their spouse, their neighbor, their coworker, and their brethren in Christ – disrupting harmony with their poisonous disdain. The scoffer makes fun of others while satisfying ungodly lusts instead of doing the will of God (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18). The scoffer undermines peace and reconciliation by refusing to show mercy and forgiveness. Overconfidence, instead of compassion, denotes the scoffer (Eph. 4:31-32). To avoid this dreadful destroyer of peace, let us hear this warning and promise from God concerning the scoffer: “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just. Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:33-34).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
11 “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:11–14, NKJV)
Jesus, the Son of God, was humble. He lowered Himself, humbled Himself, to help the helpless, to save His enemies – sinners, like you and me. We are not humble when we only bless those who can repay us. Such conceit arrogantly judges others as it says, “I will only treat you nicely because I expect you to be nice to me in return.” That is not loving, merciful, or the attitude of God (Matt. 5:43-48). Reciprocity is not the Christian’s motivation for being kind and pleasant. The gospel goes out to all, and we must try to bless all with whom we have contact, trying to save some (Rom. 12:17-21). So, keep and show godly attitudes, even toward those who mistreat you (Matt. 5:10-12). Always treat others kindly, even when they are not kind toward you (Matt. 7:12). The Lord will repay you at the resurrection (Jno. 5:28-29). That will be enough.
12 I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion. 13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate. (Proverbs 8:12–13, NKJV)
Wisdom is the insight and discernment that applies knowledge sensibly and carefully. Solomon will go on to say that wisdom begins by fearing the Lord: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psa. 111:10). We cannot miss the point that wisdom hates evil because it fears the Lord. Wisdom does not love, endorse, or promote evil. Instead, wisdom knows and despises the evil of pride, arrogance, the path of sin, and the profane, perverse mouth. The contrast is vivid: Should we make life choices out of pride and arrogance, we are not fearing God, we are not doing His commandments – we are not wise. The gospel says, “See then that you walk circumspectly (carefully, JRP), not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15). Today, choose wisdom as your companion. Live carefully by fearing God and doing His commands, and it will be so (Matt. 7:24-25).
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17, NKJV)
The “world” of which John writes is the system of evil that opposes God. The world is the dominion of Satan and is antagonistic toward the Father, His will, and His love. Many stiffen their necks against God’s commands not to sin (like the command in verse 15, “Do not love the world…”). But, God has a reason for giving us “thou shalt nots” – He wants us to love Him instead of loving the world. God wants us to have eternal life instead of living under the control of Satan, and then dying eternally. Loving the world is set in motion by the things of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Therefore, we must arrest the cravings of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life. From godly sorrow, let us repent of loving the world (2 Cor. 7:10). Let us redirect our hearts toward heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Loving the world gives momentary pleasure (Heb. 11:25). But, the things of the world will never satisfy the heart’s yearning for completeness, contentment, and comfort. Ultimately, the world brings desolation, despair, and death.
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)
The apostle warned the Corinthians “not to exceed what is written.” His warning still applies. What does that mean? How does that happen? Another version translates this phrase, “not to think beyond what is written” (NKJV). We are not to entertain, have a sentiment for, be disposed to, or interested in reaching beyond what the apostles of Christ have written (Strong, G5426). According to today’s verse, this happens when we become arrogant. In his broader context (1 Cor. 1:10-4:21), Paul identified the “message of the cross” (the revealed mind of God) as that which we must not exceed (since it is the power, wisdom, and mind of God). By contrast, the “wisdom of this world” is the thinking that exceeds what is written. Due to pride, the wisdom of this world concludes the message of the cross is foolish. Pride’s deception rejects the apostolic traditions for the traditions that men put in their place (1 Cor. 3:18-20; 2 Thess. 2:15). The “pattern of sound words” is trampled upon as the philosophies, commandments, and doctrines of men advance, plundering the eternal treasures of the gospel in Christ (2 Tim. 1:13; Col. 2:8, 20-23). To guard against this, we must humble ourselves to the gospel of Christ. It is God’s power, wisdom, and mind (1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:6-13, 16). Thinking that exceeds it takes one into regions of doubt, compromise, and unbelief – places the Father and the Son will never be (2 John 9; Gal. 1:6-9).