By Christopher Myers
Written on 07-08 June 2020
Link to 2000 Years Later Foreword: https://aquilitz.com/2000-years-later-series-a-foreword/
Link to Part 1, The Church: https://aquilitz.com/what-was-the-church-supposed-to-be/
Link to Part 2, Selfish Altruism: https://aquilitz.com/selfish-altruism/
Link to Part 3, Christian Submission: https://aquilitz.com/christian-submission/
Link to Part 5, Attitude: https://aquilitz.com/the-contemporary-christian-attitude/
An observer likely would walk away with two opinions after listening to and fully trusting in today’s youth, media, coaches, and pastors. First, that you should be angry and communicate that anger, and second, that you should have great pride in a multitude of things including your job, your assets, and your abilities. I believe that neither of these statements are true and that abiding by them will actually decease joy in your life and lead you down an immoral and painful path. In the following paragraphs, I’ll build both secular and Christian arguments against pride and anger, and I urge you to consider these individual traits and how you treat them daily in your own life.
Pride appears to be a murky subject at best in today’s culture. In competition, it is held high as a desirable value and within many families, parents and grandparents see no issue with taking great pride in their children and belongings. Why then, does the Bible regularly state that God opposes the proud (James 4:6)? Pride is seen as the way of evil (Proverbs 8:13) and it is said that pride leads to disgrace (Proverbs 11:2). There is more hope for a fool than one with pride (Proverbs 26:12), which is truly a greater insult than one might believe.
The word ‘pride’ means: the quality or state of being proud, such as inordinate self-esteem, a reasonable or justifiable self-respect, and/or delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship.1 As is shown in the primary official dictionary definition, pride is most often an excess of self-worth, often related to something worldly. Considered in a Christian sense, pride is incompatible with its opposites, selflessness and humbleness. The Bible also appears to support selflessness and humbleness at least as often as it speaks against pride. Christians are told that the humble will inherit the Earth (Matthew 5:5) and that the humble are the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:4).
Why then, are we told so regularly to take pride in our work (among other things)? I believe that it is often a misunderstanding by the speaker as to what exactly pride is. While many people certainly desire for their friends, families, and co-workers to have a healthy amount of self-respect for what they do, most often when they utter this sentence they are inappropriately using ‘pride’ as a synonym for ‘joy’ or ‘satisfaction’. Similar to the word ‘judge’ (which is often used as a synonym for ‘condemn’ in our society, but should be more closely related to ‘discern’ or ‘test’), the term ‘pride’ has taken on a muddled meaning that is offensive to some and desirable to others. I would suggest that individuals choosing to use such language regain an understanding of the basis of the terms they’re employing. For this discussion, I’m employing the primary and most often agree-upon definition of pride, which is an excess of self-worth.
Even removing a Biblical discussion on pride though, it has been shown again and again that having a great amount of it will only lead to great pain and distress in professional and private lives. The foundational issue of pride is that in order to have it, you must attach a sense of identity to either an act, asset, or relationship. The groups of people that most readily attach pride to their success are artists and CEOs (as the world regularly treats these individuals’ contributions to society as their entire net worth). These same groups of people are much more likely to develop mental health issues and commit suicide.
A 2014 study by the University of Sydney found that musicians and rock stars are five to 10 times more likely to die from unnatural causes than the general population.2 Over 165 talent agents and managers for celebrities noted in 2016 that a major concern of over 65% of their clients is that their success can go away at any time.3 High pressure careers often lead to mental health issues, often due to ‘enmeshment’ (a term meaning that the boundary between work and an individual’s identity has become blurred).4 Overworking and focusing on competition is more likely to make individuals depressed and less productive.5
Though enmeshment has a basis in secular culture, many Christian Organizations have unintentionally adapted this same value, often causing distress to staff and inadvertently supporting a works-based salvation. A LifeWay Research poll recently noted that 65% of pastors and part-time pastors work at least 50 hours each week, with 8% explaining that they work 70 hours or more (remember, this study included part-time pastors).6 The line is blurred even further, with staff often unsure of what is counted as official workweek hours and what is considered volunteering. With work hours regularly creeping higher as a sort of competition (after all, if another pastor on staff is putting in 65 hours a week, then why aren’t you?), today’s environment makes it far too easy to take pride in your job, even one based in a Christian Organization. Pastors and their staffs would do well to combat this culture and to remember that God can succeed no matter how many hours a Christian Organization’s staff puts in each week. After all, the Sabbath was implemented for a reason (and it was meant as a day of rest, NOT volunteering). I will also note that enmeshment, which is based in pride, has a significant negative effect (both because of the limited time for them as well as the mental anguish that’s caused by enmeshment) on relationships, which should be a pastor’s priority.
Based on both Biblical and secular research, it certainly appears that pride regularly leads to pain and death. How can one defend against prideful thoughts and actions then? Biblically, Jesus states that we must serve one another humbly (Matthew 20:25-28) and offer up our lives to Him in order to save them (Mark 8:35). In this sense, an individual must give up their identity to all earthly things and attach it only to Jesus. What Christ is stating (here and in many other places) is that if a follower can truly give up his or her pride and desire for ability, relationship, and assets, then that follower has defeated temptation and found true joy in serving Christ and the Father. Many followers though (if not all), fall regularly back into temptation and struggle to overcome worldly desires, with one of the greatest temptations (and one that some churches even suggest indulging in) being anger.
A multitude of well-known pastors have advocated in the past decade in favor of righteous anger. A common belief in society is that citizens should be angry – about politics, about injustice, and about inequality. Equality and justice are two ideals that absolutely should be considered daily and are ideals that all Christians (of all nations, races, and socioeconomic standings) should strive for, and politics is worthwhile in that it allows those two ideals to begin to be achieved through a government (in America, one for the people by the people), but unabated anger is the worst way to go about attaining them. Someone who is angry is more likely to place blame on an individual, more likely to allow their anger to affect their views of those around them, and more likely to be prejudice.7
Biblically, we’re told that we must refrain from anger (Psalm 37:8), that a hasty temper leads to folly (Proverbs 14:29), that we should not quickly become angry (Ecclesiastes 7:9), and that we should put all anger away (Colossians 3:8). We’re told to never take vengeance (Romans 12:19) and that anyone who is angry is liable to judgement (Matthew 5:22). Why though?
Many Christians attempt to offer evidence that there can be righteous anger, most often by employing verses like Psalm 10, where David speaks of his frustration (as he does in multiple verses in Psalms), or Nehemiah 5:6, where Nehemiah speaks of his anger. But in these verses, there is no allusion to an individual’s anger being good or righteous. In fact, the only places in the Bible where anger appears to be an obvious positive emotion are when God and Jesus express it. This logically make sense, considering that the definition of righteous is ‘acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin’.8
I believe that only God can truly act righteously, as only He is free from guilt and sin. Jesus Himself states that His followers should not judge, as there is no one free of sin (Matthew 7:1-29). The Bible also states multiple times that everyone has sin, and that if anyone believes that they are without sin, then they are fooling themselves. (Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8). With this consideration, no human (other than Jesus, who is also God) can be righteous. Although I believe that we can act righteously as extensions of Christ by carrying out the Father’s desires, we would be fools to believe that we can separate our emotions and thoughts from our actions. More specifically, the anger of man cannot produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20).
I must add that there is no expectation for anger to be removed and eliminated as an emotion. Anger is a required element of being, and it absolutely sparks us to incredible action. Anger is not negative in every circumstance, and it is even beneficial at times. My argument is against the belief that we must rise to anger and that we can justify anger or acts carried out in our anger. Too often, anger leads to a desire for revenge. Even without action taking place, the thoughts driven by anger can be sinful and are absolutely harmful spiritually, mentally, and physically. Given our regular close proximity to other people (both Christians and secular), it’s easy to fall into the temptation of anger and then the desire for revenge at home, on the road, and at work. How then, can we live with such an emotion in an appropriate and Christian manner?
Ephesians 4:26 is likely the best basis for appropriate anger, as it states ‘In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ Simply put, act carefully when angry, and do not let your fury last long. If you can, at the first instance of when anger arises in your thoughts, pull it out at the root and remove it. Research agrees with this, as there are a multitude of negative effects over time that all stem from anger. Even venting and complaining, often seen as appropriate acts that are driven by anger (and often lead to verbalized revenge fantasies), are shown to lead to negative thoughts afterward, both for the complainer and listener.9 We must be like the Lord, slow to anger and full of great mercy (Psalms 145:8) and forgive far more often than we’d naturally like to (Matthew 18:21-22). Proverbs 25:21-22 says it best, speaking directly against revenge fantasies by explaining, “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.”
The world is full of pride and anger, but we are told to avoid the customs and behavior of the world (Romans 12:2). Out of all of the values of the world that Christians should detest, these two appear to be the most regularly favored in the church. Prominent pastors and preachers have voiced a need for anger, and deter glory for God by suggesting that congregants take pride in their actions and lives. Based on the evidence, pride and anger are not only antithetical to a Christian way of living, but are also shown by research to degrade quality of life by destroying relationships and individual identity.
In times of frustration and arrogance, we would do well to remember and live by the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
1. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Pride. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 6, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pride.
2. Kenny, Dianna. (2014). Stairway to Hell: Life and Death in the Pop Music Industry. Retrieved from https://www.sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newsstoryid=14240.
3. Prince, Russ Alan. (2016). The Downside of Celebrity. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/russalanprince/2016/06/27/the-downside-of-celebrity/#7393adae43ff.
4. Koretz, Janna. (2019). What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/12/what-happens-when-your-career-becomes-your-whole-identity.
5. Davis M.A., Jeffrey. (2019). You Are Not Your Work. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blod/tracking-wonder/201903/you-are-not-your-work.
6. LifeWay Research. (2010). Pastors’ Long Work Hours Come at Expense of People, Ministry. Retrieved June 8, 2020 from https://lifewayresearch.com/2010/01/05/pastors-long-work-hours-come-at-expense-of-people-ministry/.
7. Litvak, Paul M., Lerner, Jennifer S., Tiedens, Larissa Z., and Shonk, Katherine. (2010). Fuel in the Fire: How Anger Impacts Judgment and Decision-Making. Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/jenniferlerner/files/fuel_in_the_fire_how_anger_impacts_judgement_and_decision_making_0.pdf.
8. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Righteous. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 6, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/righteous.
9. Stillman, Jessica. (2016). Complaining is Terrible for You, According to Science. Retrieved June 7 from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/complaining-rewires-your-brain-for-negativity-science-says.html.
Full Biblical References (given below in the New Living Translation):
Psalm 37:8; Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself, it tends only to evil.
Psalms 145:8; The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
Proverbs 8:13; The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
Proverbs 11:2; When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Proverbs 14:29; Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
Proverbs 25:21-22; If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will hap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.
Proverbs 26:12; Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 29:11; A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Ecclesiastes 7:9; Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.
Matthew 5:5; God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:22; But I saw to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fires of hell.
Matthew 7:1; Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.
Matthew 18:4; So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 18:21-22; Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 20:25-28; Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 8:35; For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Romans 3:23; For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 12:2; Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:19; Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 13:4; Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast it is not arrogant.
Galatians 5:22-23; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Ephesians 4:26; In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Colossians 3:8; But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
James 1:20; For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
James 4:6; But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
1 John 1:8; If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.