I’ve heard it said multiple times—and I tend to believe it—that the greatest sin in Scripture is pride. More than moral failings, unbelief, or lack of devotion, pride is in a class by itself because it is elevating oneself to godlike status. There are different levels of pride, and all of us are susceptible to it. But perhaps the greatest form of pride is arrogance. Arrogance is defined as excessive pride where one feels superior or has an elevated sense of self-importance.
I was recently reading about a king in the Old Testament named Amaziah, whose defining characteristic was arrogance (2 Kings 14:10). However, this wasn’t always true. Early in his reign as king of Judah, he did what was right in the eyes the Lord and provided noble leadership for his people. But in the words of Dallas Willard, “Nothing fails like success.” And once King Amaziah became successful, he began to succumb to arrogance, which eventually led to his downfall. When I looked more closely at Amaziah’s life, I found five characteristics associated with arrogance that are still true today:
1. A Strong Sense of Overconfidence. Amaziah experienced some success early in his leadership, and with that success came a sense of invincibility and an overconfidence that led him to attempt things he could not achieve. Furthermore, early in his leadership he was very dependent upon God for strength, direction, and guidance, but the more successful he became, the less dependent upon God he was. He thought he no longer needed the Lord because he believed he could do things himself.
2. An Unwillingness to Listen to Others. As Amaziah became more powerful and overconfident, he was no longer willing to listen to people capable of advising him. Early on he listened to the prophet of God, but later in life he ignored the prophet. Even when he foolishly challenged Israel to do battle, he refused to listen and yield when he was given a way out. This led to defeat in battle and, ultimately, to his downfall. When our hearts are filled with pride, it’s as if no one can say anything to us.
3. Marginalizing Anyone Perceived as a Threat. Behind the apparent self-confidence of an arrogant person is usually a great deal of insecurity. In Amaziah’s case, when a prophet who had given him good advice in the past tried to warn him about going to battle against Israel, Amaziah told him to shut up and threatened to kill him. And even though King Jehoash of Israel wanted to mind his own business and live at peace with Judah, Amaziah wanted to go into battle and conquer him. Why? Israel was bigger and had more power. When arrogance is alive inside of us, we are easily threatened by anyone who is not loyal and fully submissive to our will. Insecurity drives us to eliminate or push away anyone who threatens the myth we have created about ourselves.
4. Asking for Trouble. Amaziah was successful and well-liked. He had much going for him, but his pride led him to pick a fight when none was necessary. Because of the inflated ego that goes along with an arrogant heart, it’s almost impossible to leave well enough alone. When our hearts are arrogant, we often feel the need to continually prove ourselves by showing our superiority over others. As a result, we are tempted to keep pushing and pushing, setting ourselves up for failure.
5. Eventual Humility. Proverbs 16:18 (NIV) says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” When arrogance is dominant within us, it will catch up to us eventually. At some point we will be humbled, realizing we are not as invincible as we thought. Amaziah disregarded counsel and common sense by engaging Israel in war. Not only did he lose, but his city was also trashed, and he was captured. Eventually he was released, but his people never forgave him for that defeat. Several years later, he was chased out of town and eventually captured and killed.
Temptations to become proud and arrogant come to all of us. In actuality, some of the proudest people I’ve met are not outspoken or visibly arrogant but appear sweet and soft-spoken. Yet inside their hearts is a defiance and a belief that they are better than others. We must guard our hearts and walk humbly before the Lord. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5 NIV). Therefore, let us walk modestly before our Lord and guard our hearts from the damnable and dangerous sin of arrogance.