It is not only successful people who develop ego; often, even unsuccessful people have an ego problem. There is a universality to the human propensity toward an inflated view of self. We all struggle with this tendency in varying degrees and at varying points in our lives.
In those moments when we bask in our own perceived greatness, we are very Lucifer-like. Isaiah 14:13-14 describes Lucifer’s insufferable ego. Listen to this arrogance. “For [Lucifer] said in [his] heart, 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.'” To say those things is the height of hubris! What audacity of ego!
Yet, if we’re honest, there are times when, instead of submitting to God‘s authority, we each live our lives as if we are the arbiter of everything. Thankfully, the Bible helps us understand our sinful propensity towards ego issues. Let’s consider the Bible’s caution against ego, some common characteristics of ego, the consequences for ego, and God’s cure for an inflated ego.
1. The Caution
Consider the Bible's caution. Proverbs 16:18 warns us with words like “destruction," “a fall,” and “folly.” Using these cautionary terms, the text tells us to beware our potential towards destruction brought on by our carnal pride or ego. Beware your propensity towards “a fall.” “Folly” in this passage is the foolishness that results from arrogance and ego. The text is saying to beware because egotistical people always end up looking like fools.
The life of the Apostle Peter provides a cautionary example of how ego can lead someone to look extremely foolish. In Matthew 26:33 Peter emphatically told Jesus, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” Again, in Matthew 26:35 Peter proclaimed, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” In both of those instances, Peter’s ego was talking. Though Peter was bold and well-meaning, his statements ultimately proved to be arrogant and egotistical, for later in Matthew 26, Peter is recorded as denying that he knew the Lord Jesus. No doubt, Peter felt foolish as he wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).
Ego is our enemy! The Bible cautions us that ego leads to destruction, to a fall, and to folly.
2. The Characteristics
Let’s consider some characteristics associated with ego.
(a) Ego over-sells itself. Ego proclaims, “I know how to do this or that" but in reality, that person has never done the thing before. A person controlled by ego over-sells his abilities because he's afraid of looking ignorant or inexperienced. Ego wants to impress others even if it requires exaggerating. These big talkers pretend that they have knowledge about a topic or experiences in a trade. Yet if they’re asked to showcase their self-proclaimed knowledge or abilities, they ultimately end up looking foolish, even though that’s what they were trying to avoid in the first place.
(b) Ego cannot learn. Ego thinks it already knows. You can’t teach someone something they think they already know.
(c) Ego clings to lies. An egotistical person will make a declaration and then later find out that what he said is not true. However, this proud person lacks the humility to admit that he was wrong. His ego won’t let him admit it. Egotistical people will continue to belligerently cling to things that they know are inaccurate or untrue for the sake of their ego.
(d) Ego prevents us from doing work that we view as degrading. An egotistical person would condescend to any task he deems as menial, like cleaning a restroom. He is far too skilled to stoop to such a lowly job! Egotistical people think of themselves very highly.
(e) Ego is complacent and entitled. Often complacency leads to a lack of ability which then makes the egotistical person jealous of others. Yet, an entitlement mentality develops within the mind of an egotistical person, and his ego persuades him to think that he deserves things that he has not earned.
3. The Consequences
Consider some consequences of an unchecked ego.
(a) Ego destroys relationships. After all, when ego over-sells itself, the relationship the proud employee had with the employer is eventually terminated. The employee can’t actually do the work he claimed he could do. Married couples have divorced because of the deception of over-selling one’s self. The marriage falls apart because it was based on lies.
(b) Ego stunts intellectual and personal growth. The ego won’t receive new information because ego is unteachable.
(c) Ego lives a life full of lies.
(d) Ego leaves things undone.
(e) Ego causes conflict with others and maintains a carnally critical spirit.
(f) Unchecked ego can drive a person insane. Nebuchadnezzar‘s ego literally led him to lose his mind. Daniel 4:33 explains that Nebuchadnezzar “was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.” He went from being king to being crazy. His ego led him to spectacular destruction, to a fall, and to folly.
4. The Cure
Finally, consider a biblical cure that solves our ego problem. Most people falsely suppose that the antidote to ego is self-deprecating humility. In reality, most self-deprecation is another form of pride. People say things like, “I’m not good at this or that” but in reality, they are seeking praise from others. They purport humility, but actually, their ego craves verbal validation or approval. They want to hear how good or capable they are at a particular task. They pretend to be humble, but in reality they want their ego stroked.
Another false solution to an ego problem is for a person to behave in a way that belittles or degrades himself. However, the cure for ego is not crippling self-doubt. The antidote is not a type of carnal self-abasement. Rather, the cure involves accurate self-assessment. The cure for ego is confidence rooted in reality.
The cure for ego is to live life with God-confidence. A person possesses skills and talents and should be confident in those things but also constantly mindful that those skills and talents were entrusted to him by the Lord. God-confidence produces an accurate assessment and application of one’s abilities.
Quieting your ego requires amplifying the voice of God. The Christian should be “confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Remember, the Gospel by definition destroys the ego. Because the Gospel is a gift (Ephesians 2:8, John 3:16), Christians have nothing to be egotistical about. We have nothing wherein we should boast, apart from Christ (Ephesians 2:9). After all, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it” (1 Corinthians 4:7)? Take a close look at how God saved you and recognize the stewardship associated with the gifts that God has entrusted to you. With gospel-driven stewardship is the timeless cure to the insufferable ego.
It is easy to indulge your ego and feed your flesh. Be sure to heed the Bible’s caution. Identify the characteristics of an unchecked ego. Be mindful of the devastating consequences but be certain to embrace God’s cure!