In the New Living Version, Proverbs 21:4 reads, “Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and evil actions are all sin.” Of note is that the scribe equates haughty eyes and a proud heart with evil. While this warning seems fairly clear from scripture, I am often struck by how easily people veil their arrogance with a cloak of spirituality.
It is not uncommon to hear someone imply, via criticism, that they are more spiritually aware, mature, sensitive, or otherwise superior. They know what the Holy Spirit would prefer to occur in a given meeting (although they’ve not spent the last week laboring in prayer and preparation for the gathering). They are acutely aware of how displeased God is with an event, song, statement or idea – and uniquely so, because they are the only individuals so enlightened – until, of course, they inform several others how displeased God is. They boldly defy the reasonable expectations and requests of leadership because they must obey God and not man (this means they must interrupt a service, must speak their mind, must act out of order, must be heard or seen… because God insists on it).
I observe this type of arrogant spirituality across the board – it is not the exclusive practice of one sub-culture. There exists the church leadership culture that is too sophisticated for tongues or prophecy, and too enlightened for such barbaric practices as healing or deliverance. In contrast are the groups that view themselves as a form of the spiritually elite, carrying the deepest and most profound and quite recent revelation from heaven – or the third heaven or fourth or seventh or whatever. It pains me in ways that mix nausea with embarrassment when I hear speech or see social media that asserts superiority, self-righteousness and outright arrogance. No such boasting is the voice of the Holy Spirit, but a different spirit altogether. The voice of the accuser isn’t just shame; he’s just as happy to flood our souls with feelings of superiority.
It is grieving to witness some who seem to believe they possess the parameters of knowledge to such a degree that they can (and do) answer every question, confront every heresy, and settle any argument. It is embarrassing to behold when one’s arrogance is only surpassed by their ignorance – when they distort and proof-text their opinion with a flawed premise and consequent flawed conclusion.
It’s not enough for the arrogant to disagree with you (that is their right), they also must inform you of their disagreement and where, how, and why you are wrong. This might be the thing I least understand. I don’t agree with everyone. There are some with whom I agree very little. But rarely, if ever, am I compelled to tell someone why I think they are wrong and I (clearly) am right. I can get along with you for a long way even if we don’t agree. I don’t need you to agree with me for me to love you and be kind to you and encourage you and enjoy your company. Unless it falls under my responsibility to protect those under my care, I really don’t need to discuss why you are (clearly) wrong. And no matter what, I am going to treat you with honor.
Personally, the most significant wounds I have incurred in ministry have been from those who have presented themselves not as enemies, but as benevolent “better-thans:” those who have come into my life, weighed and measured me, and found me lacking. Their complaint is usually opaque; it’s more a general feeling without specific infraction. I just don’t measure up to their degree of spirituality (interestingly enough I am usually too crazy or too conservative).
The problem with arrogant spirituality is just that: it is arrogant; it is condescending. It has no kinship with honor or humility. Condescension is not wisdom. Arrogance is not insight. They are ugly and odoriferous both.
Further, arrogant spirituality is like the skunk which the bear must carefully consider swatting. He could swat it, but the resulting stink may not be worth the effort. When the impression is given that one is more spiritual, more aware, more discerning, more enlightened, or more sophisticated, it allows only a handful of responses: I can believe you and therefore submit to your superiority, or I can ignore you and thereby likely empower your arrogance by my acquiescence, or I can confront you (in the best way I know how) and risk the wrath of an offended spiritual giant who may act more like a toddler refused his toy. At the very minimum, the arrogant will be “hurt” by correction and refuse to accept any form thereof.
Basically, I am “done” with such arrogance. My being done with it will have no real impact on its ongoing activity.Nor will my assertion of “done” prevent further hurt inflicted by the arrogant. But I will do my best to keep my eyes on real spirituality. Spirituality should bear the character and nature of the very Spirit we claim to represent. One of the critical ways we do this is by doing “nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility [we should] value others above yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Did you see that? Real spirituality values, treats, considers others as if they were above us, not below us. Just as arrogant spirituality is an oxymoron, humble spirituality is redundant. To be spiritual is to be humble, honorable, and to treat people, even those with you whom deeply disagree, with profound respect.
Our genuine encounter with, revelation and illumination from, and ongoing influence of the Holy Spirit must absolutely produce in us a humility and kindness that is only surpassed by unfailing love and unyielding joy.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).
Thanks for reading,