In the first two installments of Rocky—the greatest franchise in movie history—Rocky Balboa squares off against the Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. The movie has become the quintessential depiction of David versus Goliath. Also, it is a great illustration of pride versus humility. Apollo, to put it mildly, is not a humble character. He is a brash talking, sharp dressing, obnoxiously confident antagonist to Rocky Balboa, the awkward talking, modest dressing, winsomely humble protagonist. When the two boxers square off, you are clearly rooting for Rocky to put the braggadocios champ on his back. With every punch of Rocky, you watch with hopeful anticipation that the movie applies the truth of Proverbs 16:18, that in the case of Apollo Creed, “pride comes before the fall.”
Scripture says in Proverbs 8:13 that the Lord hates pride and arrogance.
I think most of us can get on board with that. Most people don’t particularly care for pride, that is when it’s the other person who has the pride problem. However, we tend to overlook pride in ourselves since pride is difficult to see in the mirror.
Pride is an overemphasis on and inflated view of self. An inflated view of self causes a deflated view of God. Psalms 10:4 says, “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.”
Pride leads us to live for self and to promote self. Because of pride, we protect self above others and at all costs. The world and our current culture actually encourage and celebrate the vice of pride. The world says live for self and love yourself. In contrast, Scripture says lose yourself in light of God.
C.S. Lewis said, “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
The opposite of pride is humility. So, how can we know if/when we are humble rather than prideful?
Humility is so difficult to attain that when you think you have arrived, you are in danger of being prideful about your humility. Again, I refer to C. S. Lewis, “If you think you’re not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
The difficulty to attain humility could make you throw up your hands in disgust. However, the answer is simple. I didn’t say easy; I said simple. John Flavel said, “They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud.” Isaiah 66:2 says, “This is the one I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” The connective and causative agent of humility is trembling at God’s Word, meaning to respect God enough to surrender to Him. Pleasing God requires humility. Humility requires obedience to God’s Word.
So, if you want to grow in humility, stop focusing on yourself. Focus on God, and grow in your relationship with Him. The more time you spend with God, the more impressed you will be with God and the less impressed you will be with yourself.
May we be the sort of people that cheers the defeat of pride in our own lives as much as we cheer the defeat of Apollo Creed’s pride at the hands of Rocky Balboa.
Blake Newsom, Ph.D. serves as Associate Professor of Expository Preaching and Director of the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as Dean of the Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as Senior Pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, AL.