Proverbs 6:16–19 is worthy of frequent meditation. In four pithy verses, Solomon catalogs seven sins that are an abomination to the Lord—haughty eyes; a lying tongue; hands that shed innocent blood; a heart that schemes evil; feet that sprint to evil; false witnesses; and one who sows discord among brothers.
Several of these sins can be classified as what Jerry Bridges calls "respectable sins." Unrighteous desires and deeds that masquerade depravity with dysfunction. Sin whose severity is dwarfed and whose presence is tolerated. Sins we commit and sluggishly overlook. Sure, lying is wrong, but how bad can one lie really be? That’s the deceptive talk of respectable sins. But make no mistake, God abhors both the murderer and the liar (Prov. 6:16).
Seeking to walk in the Spirit, my thoughts, attitude, speech, and conduct need daily correction. Minimal effort is required to recall the last time one of these sins appeared in my life. That sobering reality draws my heart back to these verses regularly. Jesus’ life and ministry were wonderfully devoid of these vices; His example is our standard.
On Haughty Eyes
Everyone is susceptible to all of these sins and dozens more, but I want to focus on just one of these sins that has undoubtedly harmed your life. No matter your age, background, intellect, status, or maturity, pride is always crouching at your door, patiently awaiting the right moment to devour you. J.I. Packer is certainly right when he observes that the battle against pride is lifelong. Spurgeon wrote that pride was born with us, and it will not die even one hour before us. Nobody is beyond its reach on this side of heaven. It lurks in the shadows until our last breath, yearning to sink its teeth into our hearts.
Pride is difficult to define. Solomon gives us a brilliant word picture though to grasp its essence—haughty eyes (Prov. 6:17). Or to use a more literal translation, eyes in a high place. This metaphor captures the meaning. Pride is synonymous with exaltation. More specifically, errant exaltation. Viewing self as superior while looking upon others with reduction. Elevating yourself while belittling anyone who is, well, not you.
Pride stems from a wrong view of self and transitions to a wrong view of others.
I love C.S. Lewis’ prognosis of pride. He wrote, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Pride blurs our vision from a proper assessment of the Creator, His creation (especially fellow man), and ourselves.
Haughty Eyes in Ministry
The sway of haughty eyes can be especially strong for those in ministry. If we aren’t alert, the mentality of a pagan king slithers into our thoughts. Look at how the king of Assyria viewed himself in Isaiah 10:13-14:
"By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
or opened the mouth or chirped" [emphasis mine].
Eight first-person pronouns in two verses. The king confuses the power and prowess of Yahweh with the work of his own hands. Hands that will one day turn to dust. Where is this king of Assyria now? What has all of “his work” become? Death has swallowed him whole.
But that foolish thinking, this epitome of haughty eyes, overtakes us in ministry if we aren’t careful. My sermon. My counseling. My teaching. My book. My interpretation. My discipleship. My preaching. My blog. My ministry. My church. I crafted the viral sermon. I wrote the bestseller. My counsel kept the couple from getting divorced. It was my presentation that converted the unbeliever. I spoke at the conference. It was my financial gift that built the church.
The digital age hasn’t helped. Social media is inherently designed to make people look at us. Our good intention to platform Jesus becomes easily entangled with selfish ambition. Glorifying God through the internet deviates to a fixation on likes, comments, followers, and subscribers. I am not saying you should quit social media. But constant caution and thoughtfulness are required when using social media for ministry.
The point is we are all susceptible to haughty eyes. And there is a particular kind of haughty eyes that can develop in ministry. It tragically substitutes the glory of God (which is real, eternal, awesome, and soul-satisfying) with the glory of self (which is pretentious, fading, and parochial), and as a result it debilitates ministerial effectiveness. You miss the entire purpose for which your gifts are to be used, namely the benefit of others (1 Pet. 4:10-11). You neglect the needs of your people and waste unique opportunities to serve them because all you think about is how you are God’s gift to God’s people.
Don’t be deceived; your giftedness is only useful upon recognizing you are God’s gift. You belong to Him, and minister to serve and glorify Him. Like the king of Assyria, you are simply a tool in His masterful hands (Isa. 10:15).
1 Corinthians 15:10 — “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
A Remedial Outlook
In His grace, God has given us many strategies through which we can replace haughty eyes with humble eyes. It’s a beneficial exercise to ponder the nature of that transformation. Beholding Christ and His example is undoubtedly a good starting place (Phil. 2:3-11).
But as I daily assess my own vision, fighting to make my own haughty eyes become blind, Psalm 119:36-37 has served as a prayer. I trust it will nourish your soul as well:
"Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
And give me life in your ways."