I’m pretty picky about the words I use. I try to speak clearly and concisely, and choose my words precisely.
There have been plenty of posts from me before talking about this sort of thing… from “His Name’s Not Lucifer” to “People Have Sex, Words Have Gender” to “What Does it Mean to BE Gay?” to “Yes You Are Black” to “The Dreaded A-Word” to “You’re Just Another Klansman” to “When I Criticize the Church” to “C.S. Lewis Was Wrong” to… it could go on.
Yes. I talk a lot about how we use words. I think it’s important.
Words are how we express ideas, and if you use the wrong words you might express the wrong idea, and I think the phrase “I’m proud of you” expresses the wrong idea. Here’s why.
Pride is the Chief of Sins
Pride is the chief of sins. C.S. Lewis has an amazing chapter in Mere Christianity devoted to the subject of pride, and another one in The Screwtape Letters. I’m tempted to just copy the whole thing here, but I’ll only copy a few key paragraphs.
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, 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.”
“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled, provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride, just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
Pride is, in essence, wanting to be God. Putting the self in God’s place as God. It’s wanting His job as creator and sustainer of all things, instead of your job as creature and servant. It was this very sin that began the fall. If you read chapter 3 of Genesis carefully, you will see that Eve wanted to be like God, wise, knowing (or I think a better word there might be “deciding”) good and evil. She wanted God’s job! She wanted to decide what was good instead of letting God BE what is good.
She wanted to create her own reality instead of living in the reality that God created.
That’s what pride is. It’s telling God that his way isn’t good enough. It’s doubting who God is. It’s saying, “Yeah, I know you are the ultimate definer of good and evil, and you are in ultimate control of this entire reality, but I’m going to take control now. I don’t really need you for this.”
It is this desire for control, this pride in our own ability over and above God’s, this self-magnification, that is the essential point of the sin nature. We want to make the rules. We want to control our lives. We want to be in charge of everything and determine reality as we know it. But the reality is, we can’t. You want proof? Consider this truth: Everyone dies. If you were really in control, you’d be able to stop that from happening, but you’re not and you can’t. There’s only one being in the universe with that power, and his name is YHWH, Jesus. He is the way the truth and the life, and He will judge the living and the dead.
This is why suicide is such a grievous sin, and is just another expression of pride. It is like a final middle finger to God. When you’re at the end, and He’s proving to you just how much you’re not in control of this reality and this life, instead of bending the knee and saying, “YOU are God, I am not,” you say, “You don’t get to tell me when it’s over. I say when it’s over!”
All of the sins get their sinfulness from pride, they are all just pride wearing a mask.
Greed seeks the magnification of self via materials, be it money, attention, or food. Lust is much the same. It seeks to magnify the self through pleasure. It is just pride expressed through desire. Anger, when it is sinful, is an emotional response to an offense against the idol of ME. Sloth is the magnification of self via luxury and relaxation. God said work, so we will not, because we follow our own rules. Pride is the magnification of self, as a replacement for the magnification of God, and it is pride that needs to die on Christ’s cross.
I’m trying to get you to see just how big and bad a sin pride is. It is the king sin. It is the root of all the others. Pride is the opposite of repentance, and repentance is needed for salvation. You must lay down your protest against God to be saved. You cannot be proud and be Godly. To take pride in anything is to rejoice in the very opposite of God, and there can be no salvation in that. Pride rejoices in the self. Humility rejoices in others and in God. This is why the whole of the law can be summed up in two commands: love the Lord your God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no room for pride in that equation.
For this reason, I don’t ever want to be proud. (Note, that doesn’t mean I never am proud, and when I am I feel regret for it. It is a sin. I must repent of that pride.) And since I don’t want to be proud, I don’t want to be proud of anything, even someone else. I don’t want to take pride in anything. I want to rejoice in others and my God, not myself. Since I don’t want to take pride in anything, I don’t want to say I’m proud of anything, because either it’s not true, or it is and I don’t want it to be.
What to Say Instead
Some will protest. They will say, “Yes, but when I say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ I’m not rejoicing in myself. I’m rejoicing in another.”
To this I say two things:
(1) You may be right in your sentiment. When you say, “I’m proud of you,” you may actually be simply rejoicing in another. If that’s the case, I suggest a change of phrase. Try either “I’m happy for you!” or, what I find more accurate, “You bring me joy.” “You bring me joy,” communicates the sentiment nicely. You are taking joy in someone else doing good. This is a noble endeavor. This is probably what you actually mean when you say, “I’m proud of you.” So why not say what you actually mean, instead of claiming to sin because of someone? What’s more, it’s foreign to most people’s ears, and so they might actually listen to you better when you say it.
(2) However, you may be lying to yourself. If you have a strongly negative reaction to the mere idea of replacing the phrase “I’m proud of you,” with, “You bring me joy,” then you may actually be proud of that person, and that’s a terrible thing. You may actually use the accomplishments of another to prop yourself up. You may actually be trying to steal someone else’s good deeds, commandeer their helpfulness, and take credit for charities and accomplishments in which you had no part. Maybe you subconsciously think you deserve it! They owe their success to you in some way, so you share in their good deeds. If you actually are PROUD of someone, you magnify yourself because of someone, you should not be so, and you should repent.
I’m not saying this necessarily is you, but I ask you to consider it. When your child graduates from high school and you tell them how “proud” you are of them, are you trying to slip yourself in there too? If not, I encourage you to change your phraseology. Do you ever wonder how such a heinous sin took on such a “harmless” meaning?
I realize that many will call me far too picky for this one. I can live with that; I’m used to it. I know that when you say that you’re “proud” of someone, usually it’s just good feelings of support behind it. But I know that, for myself, pride is too pernicious a sin to trifle with it in my language. It’s too easy to tell someone they bring me joy, not to do it and avoid a foothold in my phraseology for the devil to climb in.
So, if you like this post, and you tell me you’re proud of me, I promise not to judge you for it. I promise I won’t question your motives or get you to change your wording. But I think it’s something you should consider yourself. Weigh these questions in your own mind and heart. Ask yourself why you’re really “proud,” and ask if you really should be.