Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pride and the Fear of Man

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, titled "Jesus' Authority Rejected". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

The two sentences that grounded our study of Mark 11:27-12:12 are these: (1) Jesus' authority is rejected by men. (2) Those who reject Jesus' authority will be rejected by God. This is what we see in the religious leaders confrontation of Jesus. In response to Jesus' claims of authority over the activity of the temple (11:15-19), they ask, "Who do you think you are?" That's just my paraphrase of Mark 11:28.

The religious leaders would not admit the divine authorization of John the Baptist's ministry or of Jesus' ministry because doing so would mean that they had to humble themselves and believe. Pride is destructive, and the Scripture is clear that the proud find themselves at odds with God and His purposes (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

How is it that we can battle against the often-mentioned sin of pride? What's so wrong about pride? Just this past Sunday, former president Jimmy Carter, when asked about his presidency, says he was proud of himself and what he accomplished. Is there something wrong with that? If you teach a good lesson, help a stranded motorist with some gas, offer free babysitting to a single mom who needs a few hours alone, or adopt a baby, why wouldn't you feel proud of yourself? You've done something good, something right, something meant to serve God and serve others. Why not feel pride?

A recent book by Jerry Bridges called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate included a chapter on the issue of pride. He writes, "One of the problems with pride is that we can see it in others but not in ourselves" (p. 89). In that chapter, he deals with the pride of moral self-righteousness, the pride of correct doctrine, the pride of achievement, and the pride of an independent spirit. With regard to these kinds of pride, Bridges notes, "One thing that may strike you is that some of the practices I've identified as sin in this chapter are usually not regarded as sin at all. That's because they are so common and so accepted among Christians that we don't think of them as sin."

In other words, pride is deceitful. It's so deceitful that we think it is only when my pride leads to actions that offend or hurt another person that it becomes potentially sinful (notice, it only becomes 'potentially sinful'...how deceiving!). You see, pride is often not as perceptible as adultery, theft, slanderous speech, or several other sins. Pride is not a neon sign blinking in the night...pride is unseen, it's hidden, it's beneath the surface of many things we say and do. It's beneath our thoughts of ourselves and of others. John Stott writes, "Pride is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin."

Pride can hide itself beneath actions that are benevolent or seem loving to others ("He'll thing I'm such a good person"). Pride can slither its way into the ink of a pen that writes a check for the church offering plate ("The pastor will know I'm the most generous person in this congregation"). Pride can worm its way into a raised hand and closed eyes in the midst of the congregational singing of hymns ("They'll see how spiritual I really am"). It is a sneaky beast, and it must be slayed...but how?

One of the key answers to this question is to learn to recognize the stench of pride. We have to learn to ask ourselves why we do what we do. Am I teaching this lesson or preaching this sermon so my gifts as a teacher/preacher will be recognized or to communicate God's Word to God's people for their benefit? Am I motivated to give so that I will be known as a giving person or because I want to honor the Lord and support His work? Does my motivation in my words and deeds tend toward my recognition and exaltation or toward the glory of God and the benefit of others? We can even try to deceive ourselves in answering these questions, but this is one critical step in fighting pride.

Apart from examining and testing my heart, there are things we can do to feed humility and starve pride. Let me list the seventeen suggestions given by C.J. Mahaney in his little book, Humility (p. 171-172). I will add comments to a couple of the suggestions.

1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ. What better way to humble ourselves than to be reminded of what was necessary for us to be redeemed from the pit of sin! We were helpless, hopeless, weak, and dead in our transgressions and sin, but God has called us out of darkness and into the kingdom of His glorious Son!

As each day begins:
2. Begin your day by acknowledging your dependence on God and your need for God.
3. Begin your day by expressing gratefulness to God. Gratefulness means that we the beneficiaries of God's work rather than His benefactors.
4. Practice the spiritual disciplines - prayer, study of God's Word, worship. Do this consistently each day and at the day's outset, if possible.
5. Seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture.
6. Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.

As each day ends:
7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God. This can be done for everything accomplished in a given day. All the strength and energy we have to accomplish the work we do is supplied by God Himself.
8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift of sleep from God and acknowledge His purpose for sleep. I remember hearing the author speak about this in an interview once. He said that sleep humbles him because he is a creature who needs rest, who needs sleep, and who cannot endure. God never needs to sleep or slumber. Sleep distinguishes us from God.

For special focus:
9. Study the attributes of God.
10. Study the doctrines of grace.
11. Study the doctrine of sin.
12. Play golf as much as possible. (Not all will understand this one, but I do!)
13. Laugh often, and laugh often at yourself.

Throughout your days and weeks:
14. Identify evidences of grace in others.
15. Encourage and serve others each and every day.
16. Invite and pursue correction. This is not easy to do, and it is avoided like the plague in today's culture. Yet, it is necessary for iron to sharpen iron and for none of us to grow sinfully confident in our own abilities.
17. Respond humbly to trials. Rather than shake our fist toward heaven and presume that we know better than our sovereign God, we should find ourselves humbled by His providential governing of all things and our inability to understand them.

Pride is a nasty, cancerous disease that is easily contracted by Christians who do not guard themselves against it. So, let us resolve to regularly take stock of our own hearts and lives...examining our motives in all things. In addition to that, let's be proactive in feeding our humility and starving our pride. "One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor." - Proverbs 29:23