Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Boastful Pride of Life

There is a pride that shows itself in the Church. It is a pride over imagined spiritual maturity, based either on the amount of time a person has followed the Lord or on what they think to be spiritual depth (this is usually much greater in attitude than in reality!). They subtly – and sometimes not-so-subtly – make sure you (and everyone else) know how much more superior they are and how relatively immature you are compared to them. They do this to have a stronger voice in the group. They do this to build themselves up in their own minds (and in the minds of everyone around them). They do this to keep you in your place (below them). I know this is discouraging, especially when you’d like to “shock and awe” them into submission publicly and memorably. But this wouldn’t help them spiritually, would weaken the Church (even more than they themselves are), and most of all would not be beneficial to your own growth in the faith.

This is a foundational flaw to the sinful human being. You are not being hurt by anything novel or unique to your own experience. You aren’t even the offended party. God is. Their boastful pride is an affront to the God Who created them and saved them. You are collateral damage.
  • “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:1-6).
  • “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15,16).

After the Exodus generation died in the wilderness for their rebellion, Moses renewed God’s covenant with the next generation. This generation had been raised in the wilderness and were now about to conquer the Promised Land. An offering of first fruits was commanded, with a liturgy built into it to give glory to the gracefully giving God and to keep spiritual pride at bay: “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders; and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God; and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Notice the language of the liturgy. All that the worshiper has is “given” from God, not from the worshiper or from the worshiper’s heritage. In fact, the patriarchs are purposefully minimized in this liturgy: “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Israel (Jacob) is not to be the source of pride to the people. God is their boasting.

They later needed to be reminded of their humble origins: “Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, ‘Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’” (Ezekiel 16:3-6). The people needed to be reminded that they have just as much in common with the ungodly pagans of the land as they do with the faithful wanderers who were their fathers. This is true for us, as well. We still have much of the old humanity dwelling in us (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9), though we have put on Christ by faith (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) and are in union in Him. The problem here is that some – God forbid it is us – have much more of the ungodly character inward, masked by a mask of mature Christianity. They can spout Scripture, have mastered the voice and language of a deep disciple (sometimes they do a good imitation of spiritual humility), but their motivation and words have a thread of serpent in them. Boastful pride of life, built on putting you down. And keeping you there. Sadly, other believers will buy their act.

This is not the attitude of true believers. If anyone would have reason to boast, it would have been Paul. He wrote significant portions of the New Testament! Top that! What was Paul’s character? Boastful? “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

Jesus taught that this attitude is the heart of what it means to be God’s faithful servant: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done”’” (Luke 17:5-10). Notice that Jesus taught this to the disciples in response to their request to grow in faith. A deep faith doesn’t seek honor or glory for service to God. This is deep faith: a faith that obeys God without expectation of reward, blessing, or honor.

May those who are boastful in their spiritual pedigree, imagined maturity, or history of service take heed to the warning of John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’” (Matthew 3:7-12). God creates His children. They do not earn this badge through their own efforts. They do not keep this label through their own efforts. He creates us, as it were, from mere rocks. He will not permit it that we boast in our own spiritual self-creation.

Pray for them. It doesn’t work out well for those who are taking pride in their spiritual standing. Eve. The Jerusalemites to whom Ezekiel was speaking. The scribes and Pharisees to whom John the Baptist was railing. We don’t wish this upon people, even those who are hurtful and damaging to other believers. We don’t desire to see them fall away, but pray that their eyes are opened to their pride: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Remember that God takes stumbling blocks in the midst of His people exceedingly serious (Matthew 18:1-10).

Use their example of pride as a warning and continual opportunity to take stock of the remaining pride in your own life. You have pride. I know you are being hurt and oppressed by those boastful souls who are being prideful, but this doesn’t make you a pure innocent. Prayerfully dig deep. It’s there.

Stay focused. These boastful ones have got it into their minds that we are gathered by God as the Church for their self-esteem and their social agenda. Trying to put them in their place or continually trying to counter their barbs, attitudes, and sneaking whisperings will only distract the Body from its calling. When these try to push the Church off-track, consider doubling down on the Commission of the Church to pursue missions, evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. These who are doing the work of the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) must be opposed by weapons – but not physical weapons. Get on-mission even more than you are. Encourage other believers. Pray. Stay in the Word and under its faithful teaching. Get out there with “the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20), even if “out there” is your own household. How far can you go for the proclamation of Christ?

Give God praise for all that He has done in saving you and adopting you as His child through Christ. Give Him thanks for His Spirit and the Bible. Through the words of your mouth and meditation of your heart get the focus where it needs to be – on your great God. This is the needful discipline for you in this moment of trial. His Church will prevail and grow stronger, but only if the true disciples in its midst live in simple, faithful obedience to His Word, by the power of the Spirit, through the lordship of the Son, to the glory of the Father.

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