Finish this sentence: God hates …

What is the first thing that comes to your mind? Adultery? Murder? Blasphemy? If you were to rank sins in terms of heinousness, what would your list look like?

It is true, of course, that Christians should hate and seek to avoid all forms of sin. It is certainly true that God does so himself. Habakkuk said that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (1:13). He takes no pleasure in wickedness and evil cannot dwell with him (Psalm 5:4). Holiness is intrinsic to who God is. He is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

Sin, on the other hand—sin in general—is described as putrefying sores (Isaiah 1:6), defiling filth (Titus 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:1) and a scarlet stain (Isaiah 1:18). These pictures warrant loathing, and clearly indicate that God hates all sin.

And yet Solomon found it necessary to write of six things—indeed, seven—that the Lord specifically hates. These seven things are not intended to be an exhaustive list of what God hates, but they do constitute sins that, in some respect at least, are particularly heinous. And if God explicitly hates these seven things, surely God’s people should hate them too. And what tops the list of things that God hates, according to the inspired writer? Not adultery, murder or blasphemy, but “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:17).

“Haughty” is not a word that we use with great regularity today. The English word speaks of pride, arrogance and conceit. A dictionary definition would be something like “arrogantly superior and disdainful.” “Haughty” and “disdain” go hand in glove.

The Hebrew word translated “haughty” literally means “to be high” or “to rise.” One who has “haughty eyes” considers himself to be above, and consequently looks down on, others. He considers himself to be better than others. He is arrogant and self-focused. In an age in which pride and self-esteem is prized, it sounds counterintuitive to suggest that we should hate pride.

You may wonder why this is the first sin listed among those that God hates. Is pride really that bad? Worse than other sins? If we are tempted to excuse pride, we perhaps need to think a little more biblically about its nature.

Pride was the first sin committed in God’s creation. Satan was an angel, who sinned against God before Adam and Eve did. Adam introduced sin to the human race; Satan introduced sin to the creation in general. According to Jude, Satan was among “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 6). Satan’s sin was pride: He was not content with the position that God had given him. He looked down on others—even God—and tried to usurp divine authority.

Pride was also at the heart of the first human sin. We are taught in Sunday school that the first human sin was eating the forbidden fruit. It is perhaps more accurate to say that eaten the forbidden fruit was the outworking of the first human sin. Satan, who himself had fallen through pride, tempted Adam and Eve with the same sin. He tempted them to leave their own position of authority. God had commanded them to abstain from the forbidden fruit, and as long as they recognised God’s authority, they remained free of sin. But when, in their hearts, they challenged God’s authority, the fruit became desirable to them and they ate it. Their sin was committed in their hearts before it was displayed in their actions.

Pride is at the root of most sin. We sin when we reject God’s authority—when we say, think or do anything contrary to what God says we must (or must not) say, think or do. When we sin, we choose our own desires over God’s. We look at God with haughty eyes and reject what he commands. Is it any wonder, then, that pride is the first thing listed that God hates?

However, the words written here by Solomon are in the more direct context of interpersonal relations. That is, what is condemned here is the sin of arrogance toward others more than arrogance toward God. “Haughty eyes” describes an attitude in which we think we are better than others.

Those with haughty eyes are always focused on themselves. They are not necessarily brash in their arrogance, but are self-focused nonetheless. “Low self-esteem” is as much evidence of haughty eyes as those who obviously think too much of themselves. If you constantly seek affirmation, rather than affirming others, be sure that you are guilty of pride.

Proverbs 21:4 describes haughty eyes as “the lamp of the wicked.” Those who have haughty eyes see everything in light of themselves. They want to be served rather than serve. They take offence when they feel they are not getting the attention they deserve. They react sinfully whenever something happens that does not go quite their way. Ultimately, they end up leading the kind of life that God hates.

If you will overcome pride, you must first recognise your guilt. No one is entirely guiltless in this respect. C. S. Lewis was correct:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

How do we combat pride? C. J. Mahaney offers a long list of practical suggestions in his book Humility: True Greatness. It’s a worthwhile read. For our purposes, however, I want to briefly make four practical suggestions.

First, know God. Those guilty of haughty eyes think too much of themselves. The best ways to produce humility is to have a greater vision of God. Lewis Smedes says that “pride in the religious sense is the arrogant refusal to let God be God. It is to grab God’s status for oneself.” But if we work on knowing God—by immersing ourselves in Scripture, by taking advantage of opportunities to hear good biblical teaching, by forming relationships with those who know God—we will be less tempted to grab God’s status for ourselves.

Second, invite and pursue correction. Haughty eyes do not do this. Pride resists correction—because correction hurts our pride. Those with haughty eyes get irritated and angry when they are rebuked and corrected. If you will overcome pride, invite others to speak into your life and correct you when they notice haughty eyes.

Third, actively serve others. The natural human tendency is to seek to be served rather than to serve, but the New Testament instructs us to live counterintuitively. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but un humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4). Show interest in the lives of others. Ask how they are doing. Ask about their struggles. Ask how you can pray for them. Look for ways in which you can practically serve them rather than only expecting them to serve you. If you are not doing something for others, don’t feel slighted when they don’t do it for you.

Fourth, and ultimately, daily reflect on the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, in fact, is the very rationale that Paul uses for the verses cited immediately above. Why should we count others more significant than ourselves and look to the interests of others? Because that is what Jesus Christ did (Philippians 2:5–8). Jesus had every right to equality with God, but he did not insist on his rights. Instead, he became a servant to His Father, willing to submit himself to further the interests of others. The cross of Christ is the ultimate display of humility, and the gospel of Christ is the ultimate cure for haughty eyes.

Do you hate haughty eyes? Do you despise pride and arrogance in others? Do you despise it equally in yourself? Will you do what is necessary to kill pride and cultivate humility? That is what Christ did, and it is what God calls all Christians to emulate.