Never Be Wise in Your Own Eyes
Three Cries of Crucified Pride
Pride slowly, subtly, and quite surely endears us to ourselves. Often, the longer those close to us know us, the less remarkable or impressive we seem. Ironically, the opposite often rises in our own eyes. We can be prone to coddle and spoil our self-image.
When disagreement or conflict arises, for instance, I often immediately (if subconsciously) assume that I am right — that the burden of proof firmly lies somewhere on the other side. In the courtroom of my mind, my own opinion or position makes far more sense (no surprise), and surely only needs to be better articulated and defended. In any given conversation, maybe I am right, maybe I’m not, but the impulse says something about what I see in the mirror.
God, however, throws my comfortable courtroom into chaos, and with just seven simple (and devastating) words from the apostle Paul: “Never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16). Not simply be slow to think you are wise, but never be wise in your own eyes. Wisdom, of course, is not the problem, because Paul himself teaches us to pray for wisdom (Ephesians 1:16–17). But while true wisdom fuels deeper humility and joy in God, any other kind of “wisdom” only fuels horrible mutiny against him (Proverbs 26:12).
Three Cries of Crucified Pride
I might have moved on more quickly had God not repeated himself so many times. Proverbs warns, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). Isaiah writes, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:21). Anything God says should give us serious pause. How much more when he keeps extending the warning over and over again?
“True humility does not quietly despise graces that are not its own.”
So, we need God to give us a spirit of true wisdom, to teach us how to crucify our pride. Along with the command, “Never be wise in your own sight,” God says much through Paul about how to put these sinful impulses to death, including three great lessons: search for grace in someone else, know just how little you know, and savor what your weaknesses accomplish.
1. I need the grace that others have.
Thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought often begins, whether subtly or overtly, with thinking more lowly of others — or not thinking of them at all. Paul says earlier in Romans 12, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). In the next verses, Paul talks not about how unwise we actually are, but about the worth of every other member of the body (Romans 12:4–5). One act of war against pride is to marvel at the army of grace at our side, all the other grace-filled, grace-empowered members of the body of Christ.
Pride selfishly sets itself — its wisdom, its gifts, its experience, its potential — above everyone else. It focuses on its own strengths and minimizes its own weaknesses, while at the same time magnifying others’ weaknesses and downplaying their strengths. And when it is confronted, pride tends to cave in on itself in self-consuming introspection and self-pity. Paul won’t allow the proud to retreat into ourselves, though. He draws our eyes, instead, away from ourselves to the awe-inspiring grace God has given to others. True humility does not quietly despise graces that are not its own, but loves them just as much, and even more.
One way to deprive ourselves of pride is to meditate on what other believers know (or do well) that we do not — how easily they recall what the Bible says, how quickly they are to stop and pray, how boldly they share the gospel with the lost, how generously they give their time and money, how lovingly they exhort others to holiness, how they suffer with joy. While God may give us extraordinary grace in one area, he never gives every grace to one member of the body, but makes us humbly, even uncomfortably, dependent on one another (Romans 12:5). And as we mature in humility, we not only acknowledge that dependence, but relish God’s wisdom in weaving us together by grace.
Paul says elsewhere, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). If we want to think rightly, soberly, humbly about ourselves, we might begin by thinking more highly of others — by searching diligently and expectantly for the grace of God in someone else.
2. All I have, I have received.
Beyond appreciating the grace and wisdom others have received from God, we need to remember that any true wisdom we have, we would not have apart from grace. Paul writes, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Whatever knowledge, wisdom, or gifting we do have, we only have as a gift from God meant to make God, not us, look great.
God did not choose us because of our wisdom, and then add his wisdom to ours, as if he somehow needed our opinion or expertise (1 Corinthians 1:27). “The wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Any wisdom we might take credit for is not really wisdom after all, because of how horribly little it says about God. Proverbs warns, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).
“Whatever the infinite mind and imagination of heaven has shown you, remember how painfully little you still know.”
If we want to grow in humility, we must teach our pride that we know nothing truly or lastingly significant apart from God. Anything we know about God — about sin and holiness, about heaven and hell, about marriage, parenting, or ministry, about sovereignty, ecclesiology, or eschatology — we know because of God. The only wisdom that will last, and prevail, will have abandoned what the world considers wisdom — all that we thought we knew before or apart from Christ. True wisdom will look like foolishness to the world, because it looks and smells so much like the “pitiful” God-man they violently rejected and crucified. The true and tragic pity is just how little they knew about reality and eternity.
The world is filled with information masquerading as wisdom, especially in an internet age, and the vast majority of it will fade away — and fast. God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1:19). We want the rare and often reviled wisdom that will only ripen and unfold over centuries — the wisdom of God laid before us in his word. Beware of any confidence in your own wisdom, remembering that you have nothing apart from grace and know nothing apart from God. And whatever the infinite mind and imagination of heaven has shown you, remember how painfully little you still know.
3. When I am weak, then I am strong.
In one of the more mysterious moments in all the Bible, God opened up heaven for Paul, where “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). He heard and saw things no one else had. What great wisdom or revelation does he share after he had been brought by God into heaven itself?
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
With extraordinary revelations came extraordinary affliction and opposition. Why would God show him heaven and then let hell harass him? Paul says why twice in just one verse: “to keep me from becoming conceited.” Conceit teaches us to abuse wisdom, and obscures the mind and hand of God. Weakness and humility, not human power and wisdom, flaunt the grace of God. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“Weakness and humility, not human power and wisdom, flaunt the grace of God.”
Anyone who has received the wisdom of God in Christ carries some thorn — a suffering too heavy to bear, a sorrow too dark to forget, a sickness too stubborn to heal, a weakness too obvious to ignore. What are yours? While our thorns may look like swords in the hands of Satan, though, his hands are now tied with sovereign grace. If we love God, his piercing can only perform the life-saving, conceit-removing surgeries we need.
How did Paul respond when God repeatedly leveled his pride?
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
When I am weak, then I am strong. When I am foolish, then I am wise (1 Corinthians 3:18). When I am humbled, then I will be exalted (Matthew 23:12). These are the cries of crucified pride. We do not treasure our weaknesses in themselves, but the wise and humble savor the good God does through our weaknesses when we entrust our frailty and inadequacy to him. He loves to see his surpassing power perfected and put on display in the storefronts of brokenhearted souls.
When we refuse to be wise in our own eyes, celebrating the grace we see in others, admitting how little we still know, and boasting all the more in our weaknesses, God gets his glory — and we see someone far more satisfying than what we loved in the mirror.