The Bible says we must fight against the flesh, and people usually understand this to mean our sexuality, or perhaps excessive food and drink. But that is not the only meaning of the word “flesh.” Certainly, sexual impurity and a luxurious lifestyle are “of the flesh,” but so is the ego, and so is spiritual pride and everything else in us that is not of Christ.
We must ask God that the flesh in us – particularly our pride – may die. If we are proud, God cannot come to us. Pride is the worst form of the flesh, because it leaves no room in the heart for God.
Jesus warns us very sharply against false piety – against wanting to be seen by others as “spiritual” or “good.” All who want such recognition will find no reward in heaven. In being honored by others they have their reward already now. The same applies to people who do deeds of love and make a show of it. Christ says that the left hand should not know what the right hand does.
We all have within us the desire to be liked, respected, or honored for our goodness. But Jesus warns us against this temptation and says that our piety should not be paraded before men. God sees what is hidden, and he will reward it.
As soon as we feel that we are something special or that we have something special to represent to others, we are in danger of losing everything we have received from God. No matter what we have experienced of God, we ourselves are still spiritually poor. There is a religious truth in Jesus’ words, “Woe to the rich; woe to those who have much.” As soon as we hold to our own recognitions of truth instead of to the living God, our religious experience will become like a cold stone in our hands. Even the deepest or richest spiritual experience will die if it becomes a thing in itself.
From a letter: Dear brother, you have been proud of your work; you have thought little of your brothers and sisters, and you have lived in false humility, which is the deadliest form of spiritual pride. There is no question that you are gifted, that you are strong, that you are smart, and that you can get a lot done, but that is not the issue. We do not live together on account of these gifts. They are all mortal and will pass away. What lasts forever is humility and love – love, the incorruptible “treasure in heaven” of which Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount.
When John the Baptist did not eat, the people despised him, and when Jesus ate and drank, they despised him too. Looking at one’s brothers and sisters as if through a microscope to find something to criticize can bring complete destruction to a community. Let us not expect of others what we do not expect of ourselves.
From a letter: Dear sister, turn away from your opinionatedness and your need to be in the right. How different things would be if you had a humble, listening ear. When we speak, let us be open to the heart of the other. Let us share with one another and listen to one another. Ultimately we have to see that we are all stumbling blocks. Only God is good.
From a letter: Your way of judging people to be either great or insignificant, weak or strong, is completely unchristian. Do you think the apostles were strong? They were poor in spirit. Peter was without doubt a coward when he denied Jesus three times, and his story has been told through all the centuries. He was not ashamed that his betrayal was recorded in each of the Gospels, even though he repented for it his whole life long. You want to be great; you want to be strong, but by it you do an injustice to your brothers and sisters.
When Jesus comes close to people, he looks at what is in their hearts. He has compassion with the sinner. But he never calls sin good; he judges it. You must cleanse your heart of all critical thoughts, all jealousy, and all hatred, and you must stop classifying people. I think of you with great love.
From a letter: Do not fear that you can never be freed from pride and envy. You can be freed. But first you must see how much greater Jesus is than all your sins, and then he can take them away. Ask yourself, “What is there still in me that hinders Jesus from overwhelming me fully?” For Jesus to fill your heart, it must first be empty. Read the Beatitudes: they begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That means becoming completely empty and powerless before Jesus.
From a letter: The more deeply you recognize that your pride cuts you off from God, the deeper the peace you will find. The pride you have in your wealth of knowledge is your greatest enemy. If only you would recognize how poor and miserable you actually are, dear brother, and how wretched you are in your sin! I wish you true repentance.
From a letter: I cannot say it strongly enough: your spiritual pride – your listening to God’s Word in order to be exalted, instead of to be judged and given new life – is completely opposed to the way of Jesus. Give up your religious vanity. It leads to death.
From a letter: I believe that your bondage to sin has its roots in a terrible self-righteousness and pride. When you see little wrongs in others you feel spiritually great. It should be the other way around. As Christians we should be lowly and remember that whoever is forgiven much loves much. Pride is a poisonous root that draws love to itself and away from Jesus and our brothers. If we are humble, the root will die, because it will find no food and water in our hearts.
In Paul’s time some believers proclaimed Christ out of jealousy and a quarrelsome spirit, not out of goodwill. This was terrible, and it came about because they wanted human honor. Let us become humble and recognize that all human honor takes honor away from God, to whom alone it belongs. Let us honor no one but God, and let us never accept honor for ourselves.