6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
The devising of folly is sin,
And the scoffer is an abomination to men.
To quickly review, “scoffer” is one of the Biblical terms used to label what the secular world calls a narcissist. The modern secular terms also include narcissistic personality disorder (implying a higher degree of “bad”) and malignant narcissism (signifying the highest degree of “bad”), while previous generations used phrases like “delusions of grandeur” and “megalomania”. As discussed in the book based on this blog:
- The biblical terms are actually more precise than the secular terms
- While the psychology and pop-psychology communities attempt to define the degree of narcissism which rises to the level of “personality disorder” or “malignancy”, the cutoff lines are arbitrary. It is a continuum of insolent of pride, ranging from a little to total, 100 percent, non-stop self-obsession which dominates every thought.
While malignant narcissism is shorthand for the more extreme form, all narcissism is malignant – to a degree. A narcissist’s self-centered, self-aggrandizing, “me first-and-only”, “I’m never wrong” heart is intent on benefitting themselves with no thought of you, so that their gain typically comes at some cost to you. This could result in annoyances – like their hogging a conversation, or telling obvious lies to puff themselves up – to flattering you in order to extract something from you – to outright stealing, lying, cheating and stabbing you in the back.
As Proverbs 24:9 says, all scoffers are “an abomination”. The Hebrew word is “toebah” meaning detestable or loathsome. You really hate what they do. And not just you – everyone who sees past their fake charm and flattery. The level of loathing is a function of:
- the degree of their treachery in achieving their self-exalting aims,
- the depth of your relationship
- how deeply you are affected by it.
Being denied a promotion because of a backstabbing narcissistic coworker is far different than being annoyed by a relative stranger inflating and bragging about one of their “accomplishments”.
All narcissism is malignant – to a degree. Pride is on a continuum, and while the secular world of psychology tries to make a clinical distinction between “not too much” (not NPD) and “too much” (NPD), that distinction is arbitrary and is in the eye of the one affected.
Is it possible to love a narcissist while at the same time being absolutely devastated by the path they have chosen including the possible impact on you? When I say “love”, I am not referring to the romantic notion, but the most core definition of love – God’s type of love. To answer this, let’s look at two examples in the Bible.
Absalom was a narcissist and tried to overthrow his father David to become king of Israel. Absalom’s move was part of God’s discipline of David for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12), while God ultimately punished Absalom for his insolent pride and rebellion.
David clearly understood that Absalom had become his enemy, described in Psalm 3 “A Psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom”,
Lord, how my enemies have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But You, Lord, are a shield around me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
I was crying out to the Lord with my voice,
And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah
l lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustains me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, Lord; save me, my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the [e]cheek;
You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
May Your blessing be upon Your people!
But what was David’s response? He first told his military that, in spite of the fact that Absalom was trying to overthrow (and possibly kill) him, they should deal gently with him,
But the king commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the people heard when the king commanded all the commanders regarding Absalom.
2 Samuel 18:5
and when Absalom was killed….
Then the king trembled and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And this is what he said as he walked: “My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33
How could this be? David’s lament for Absalom was so obvious that his people complained that David would have rather them die than Absalom (2 Samuel 19).
A second example is found in Matthew 23. Jesus had just finished a “truth encounter” with the narcissistic Pharisees, clearly and bluntly outlining to them various aspects of their insolently proud hypocrisy.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who have been sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
David was a “man after God’s heart”, and Jesus was God Himself. Both showed us God’s heart for insolently proud people walking in rebellion against Him. While justice will (and should) occur, God – as illustrated by both David and Jesus – still has an underlying heart of love and care for those insolently proud recipients of that justice. He deeply mourns their outcome.
The implications for us in dealing with the narcissists in our lives are:
- Yes, we can deal with narcissists wisely and Biblically, avoiding them when appropriate and placing boundaries and judgments when appropriate. We can also ask God to deal with them and humble them
- But at the same time, we can mourn their insolent pride – not just for what it does to us, but more importantly what it does to them. They are blinded and lost, and will receive the consequences. While we may feel relief at their judgment, grieve it at the same time.
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
And do not let your heart rejoice when he stumbles,
Otherwise, the Lord will see and be displeased,
And turn His anger away from him.
Do not get upset because of evildoers
Or be envious of the wicked;
For there will be no future for the evil person;
The lamp of the wicked will be put out.
Jesus illustrated how a scoffer operates through a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple:
And He (Jesus) also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’. I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Key phrases in the story match the definition of a narcissist given in Proverbs 21:24 (“proud, haughty, scoffer are his names who acts with insolent pride”).
The Pharisee was
- Proud (of his accomplishments) – “(Jesus) told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous”, “(The Pharisee) was praying this to himself”, “I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get”
- Haughty – “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…”
- A scoffer – “Viewed others with contempt”
The Pharisee viewed himself as better than “others” (as represented by the guy standing next to him). And Jesus specifically says that he “exalted himself” and “viewed others with contempt.” The Biblical word for contempt here is eksouthenéō[i].
eksouthenéō[ii]: to cast out as nothing; “to count as nothing, to treat with utter contempt, i.e. as zero”; “despise utterly”; to regard something as lacking any standing (value).
Contempt[iii] is disapproval tinged with disgust; i.e. – to feel contempt for a weakling. Disdain is a feeling that a person or thing is beneath one’s [a narcissist’s*] dignity and unworthy of one’s notice, respect or concern. Noun – The feeling with which a person regards anything considered worthless
The Pharisee’s self-exaltation left no room in his heart for the man next to him, whom he considered to be not even be worthy of his consideration.
The term “Pharisee” was shorthand for this character type, but not all Pharisees were this way. For example, Nicodemus (John 3) was a secret believer, and Gamaliel (Acts 5), the grandson of Hillel the Elder, was genuinely open to God’s purposes. Also, John 12:42 says that “many even of the rulers were believing in Him”.
The above example is derived from a comparison of traits pointing to this Pharisee as a case study on the Biblical equivalent of narcissism, but we have an even more direct connection. The Bible called out the Pharisees in general as scoffers hundreds of years before they appeared. They provide a particularly robust case study.
[ii] From HELPS Word Studies
[iii] From dictionary.com
Many people like to read a book from front to back and wouldn’t think of starting at the end of the story. But when it comes to the Walk of Life knowing the end of the story is extremely helpful for persevering through the ups and downs. For those who are downtrodden, especially at the hands of arrogant people, it’s especially good to know that God is completely aware and will have the final word on it all.
To give an example from Isaiah 2,
The proud look of man will be abased
And the loftiness of man will be humbled,
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning
Against everyone who is proud and lofty
And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased. (Isaiah 2:11-12)
The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, (Isaiah 2:17)
In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
Which they made for themselves to worship,
21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble. (Isaiah 2:20-21)
Isaiah’s conclusion is to stop worrying about what people think, since their true standing will be revealed in the end.
Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
For why should he be esteemed? (Isaiah 2:22)
There are many similar passages, for example:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. Malachi 4:1
I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. Isaiah 13:11
In the middle of our day to day grind of dealing with people with insolent pride, it is occasionally helpful to step back and see the end of the story. In the end, God will put every proud and haughty person into their proper place, and will show that He alone deserves to be exalted.
Having a proper view now of that future state of affairs can give us the perspective needed to see the proud and haughty narcissist as they really are – and through that to give us a measure of freedom from the control they seek over us.
As we stated in a previous blog post, one way of dealing with narcissists is to fact check everything.
The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17
The ultimate fact-check will come on the day of judgment. Jesus said
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits …
“…Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:15-16, 21
While this could apply to anyone trying to get into heaven through their “good deeds” (instead of through true repentance and faith in Christ), I can envision narcissists in particular trying to talk their way into heaven through an inflated opinion of what they did on Earth – trying to pass it off as an act of faith with good motives.
We know why someone would try to do this – they’re desperate to get into heaven to avoid God’s judgement. But why would they think they can get away with this? One possibility is that they have an inflated view of what they accomplished. As Proverbs says,
Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely. Proverbs 25:14
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. I Corinthians 13:2-3
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:1-2
The hypocrites Jesus refers to in Matthew 6 are the Pharisees Jesus directly speaks to in Matthew 23.
Claiming good works as the justification to get into heaven will be the narcissist’s typical but final move. Jesus, in the ultimate fact-check, will see right through the N’s inflated view of themselves and their false boasting for why they deserve to be in Heaven.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.
We have seen in these pages that the Bible discusses consequences to insolent pride – but sometimes it is hard to see in real life since it appears that narcissists almost always “get away with it”. One area where we would expect the consequences to be seen would be in the area of job performance.
People in many lines of work get their performance evaluated through the eyes of others – thus giving the narcissist the opportunity to manipulate situations to his own advantage. However, in the field of money management the job performance is summarized in the simple final number of the investment return. This means that the ultimate job performance is not based on what people think, but on actual results.
A study was done using the field of money management as the “hard number arbiter of job performance results” which shows that narcissists (embedded in a broader group of psycopaths) in fact do have lower job performance. If you’re interested, here is the article which discusses this:
In case you have any doubt about what God thinks of those who have the heart and actions of narcissists, Proverbs 6 makes it very clear
16 There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
19 A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.
Several characteristics in the above list stand out as narcissistic traits
- Haughty eyes
- Lying tongue
- Heart that devises wicked plans
- False witness who utters lies
- One who spreads strife among brothers
The bottom line is that God HATES insolent pride. It results in much harm to others, and is the single biggest barrier to the prideful person experiencing His true love and goodness.
There is a clear warning to those who continue down path of the progression of fools
A worthless person, a wicked man,
Is the one who walks with a perverse mouth,
13 Who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet,
Who points with his fingers;
14 Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil,
Who spreads strife.
15 Therefore his calamity will come suddenly;
Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.
Proverbs 29:1 explains that this sudden calamity does not just happen at the first “mistake” the person made, but actually comes after the wicked person has repeatedly rejected God’s warnings to change his ways.
29 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.
One example of God’s gracious patience in giving many reproofs and even final “notice” was King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel 4. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream with a warning to change his ways. Then God gave him an entire year to repent and change, but Nebuchadnezzar did not. After the year God lowered the boom and took decisive action to humble him.
One implication of this for those suffering at the hands of narcissists and fools is that while in our weariness of dealing with it we want it FIXED NOW, God also is gracious and patient with them while at the same time providing grace to us. But, He will ultimately deal with them.
Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom—
We have heard a report from the Lord,
And an envoy has been sent among the nations saying,
“Arise and let us go against her for battle”—
2 “Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
You are greatly despised.
3 “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you,
You who live in the clefts of [b]the rock,
In the loftiness of your dwelling place,
Who say in your heart,
‘Who will bring me down to earth?’
4 “Though you build high like the eagle,
Though you set your nest among the stars,
From there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord.
It is easy for a proud person to think that he can build a strong enough wall through his wealth or fame to prevent himself from being humbled by God. Of course, a proud person does not consciously think in terms of being humbled by God (as he rarely acknowledges God), but in terms of “bad things happening” to him. But as God demonstrated through Nebuchadnezzar, He is able to humble anyone. And as He declares here with Edom (family line of Esau, another N), it does not matter how much an N tries to guard against it, if God decides to humble an N, He will make it happen.
- Narcissism is the modern colloquial term for what the Bible calls “insolent pride” – see here
Proverbs 13:10 – Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
Original Word: זָדוֹן
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (zaw-done’)
Short Definition: arrogance
arrogance (3), arrogant (2), insolence (2), insolent pride (1), presumptuously (2), pride (1)..
* Narcissism is the modern colloquial term for what the Bible calls “insolent pride” – see here for more