THE THING THAT MIGHT BE KILLING YOU AND EVERYONE AROUND YOU
By Trevor DeVage
Most of us have heard more than one sermon about pride, this star among the Seven Deadly Sins. So I was a little surprised to receive such a positive reaction when I preached about pride last Sunday. More than one emailed or texted to say, “I really need to hear this.”
Maybe that’s because sooner or later, pride will be an issue for all of us. Maybe it’s because, as one preacher told me, “Pride is the soil in which all other sin grows.” Maybe some responded because my need to hear this sermon myself was under the surface when I preached it to others.
In any case, I can’t stop thinking about pride, and I want to think some more about it with you as we share this post.
PRIDE CAUSES YOU TO PERSECUTE
We can imagine how pride drove Saul to watch with satisfaction as the Jews stoned the Christian preacher Stephen (Acts 8:1). We can imagine how sure Saul was that his mission was holy as he went house to house dragging believers to prison. Pride is the driver behind most persecutors throughout history: “I know I’m right. I know they’re wrong. Their beliefs threaten my own understanding; they’ll ruin my reputation; they’ll undermine my income.”
But persecution can come from Christians as well as from those who follow other gods. In fact, Christians are sometimes the most vocal critics—even enemies—of other Christians.
I hear lots of criticism of Christian leaders these days from other Christian leaders. For example, I spoke with a circle of other preachers last week about their strategies for reopening their buildings for worship. Each of them has a different plan and a different timetable. Each of them is doing his best, considering the context where he’s serving. Each will be criticized by other Christians for opening too soon or too late or with too many restrictions or not enough of them. And every criticism will grow from the presumption that the critic knows the proper solution better than the one with the responsibility to make the decisions.
PRIDE WILL BLIND US, BUT GOD’S FORGIVENESS UNBINDS US
Too often we speak or act with pride because we’re seeking to gain or demonstrate power. But the example of Scripture shows us that just the opposite usually happens. Again we look at Saul’s story, perhaps the best example of this truth.
On his way from Jerusalem to gather Christian prisoners in Damascus, he was struck blind as Jesus himself appeared in a flashing light to rebuke him (Acts 9). Saul, the proud persecutor and leader of persecutors, could do nothing but take the hand of his companions who led him to rest in a room by himself. He suffered alone and hungry there for three days
All of this was to accomplish God’s special purpose for Saul. God told Ananias to go lay hands on Saul, for he was God’s “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (v. 15). And that promise led Paul to new power as he began to preach the risen Christ immediately after his conversion. As I said in Sunday’s sermon, “Pride renders us powerless; God’s promise brings power.” Taking a new name, Paul was freer to serve God, and to serve him more effectively, than ever before.
PRIDE IN HINDSIGHT BRINGS POWERFUL NEW SIGHT
Long after this, Paul wrote Christians in Philippi and remembered how proud he had been. “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more,” he wrote: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee: as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6).
But looking back at all his earthly credentials, Paul says he now sees the truth in new light. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ,” he wrote. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (vv. 7, 8).
Maybe it’s time for many of us to look back on how proud we have been. We church leaders have been proud of our successes. We’ve been proud of our doctrinal correctness. We’ve been proud of our methods. We need to put that pride away so we can see how God wants us to lead in this new day.
For Paul, “knowing Christ” was most important. Not knowing about Christ, but intimately knowing Jesus so well that all his decisions were driven by what he knew Christ wanted from him. If the church is to move forward today, it will be because those outside of Christ see an authenticity in his followers that they want for themselves. It’s an authenticity that comes only to those who see the emptiness in their pride of the past and live to be directed by the mind of Christ in their future.