The Second Sunday of Advent December 7, 2003
2 Corinthians 10:17-18
Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8
16, 71, 19, 64(1, 5)
The Savior calls.
Let every ear attend the heav’nly sound.
Ye doubting souls, dismiss your fear.
Hope smiles reviving ‘round.
Dear Savior, draw reluctant hearts.
To Thee let sinners fly
and take the bliss Thy love imparts,
and drink and never die.
Dear fellow servants of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords:
Perhaps the only thing more inappropriate than sin in the life of a child of God is the stubborn and misguided defense of that sin. It is one thing to get caught up in any of the innumerable temptations of the Devil, it is quite another to defend and attempt to somehow justify that transgression.
When, for example, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, folks were shocked and saddened. It was not until he began to defend and justify the killing of women and children in that bombing that Americans became truly outraged. It is much the same with all sins. Homosexuality has always been a perversion. It is the defense and promotion of that perversion that has so greatly compounded the offense. Pornography has always been around, but only recently has it been defended as art and force-fed to the American people.
One vital point we dare not overlook is that in all of these sins, the justification or defense is driven by internal rather than external forces. What does that mean? It means that the desire to rationalize our own personal sin as somehow good and right comes most often from our own hearts—our own sinful flesh—not from the world around us. The sinful flesh delights in sin and, therefore, longs to gain acceptance for that sin. The sin feels good and right, therefore, the defense of the sin feels good and right.
This brings us to the nub of the problem we address this morning—pride. Pride is one of those rare sins that enjoys a huge fan club within the Christian Church itself. Pride is continually defended with the rather vague argument that there is such a thing as a good pride and there is such a thing as a bad pride. It then becomes a simple thing for the Christian to imagine that all pride which he feels is rightly justified. His pride is “good.” At the same time, he freely assigns condemnation to the pride in others and declares it “bad.”
Our text for this morning speaks to the whole issue of pride in the Christian heart. Those who truly want to walk in harmony with the will of their God, and who desire to again prepare their hearts for the Lord’s Advent, would do well to pay close attention. Our text is found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Church in Corinth, the Tenth Chapter:
But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’ For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
These are the inspired words of our God. Let us hear and contemplate them in humble reverence and awe, for this if fitting and right. To that end we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
The sin of pride is indeed a hard nut to crack or a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that every single human being is steeped in pride. This makes the sin both popular and lovable. The second problem with pride is that every society since Adam has convinced itself that pride is both good and necessary. Strike three is that Christians themselves are convinced that most of the sinful pride that resides in their hearts is actually a good and valuable character trait. The result is a very robust and debilitating sin that wreaks its havoc with the spiritual equivalent of diplomatic immunity.
The Apostle Paul recognized the problem in Corinth and he addressed the problem in our text. Some background might be helpful here. This section of Paul’s letter gives us some rare insight into the great apostle. We know that Paul had some “thorn in the flesh,” as he called it, but we don’t know exactly what that was. In Chapter 12 of this same letter, Paul relates how he prayed several times to have this thorn removed. God’s answer to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Apparently, from what we learn here and in the rest of this letter, Paul himself was a rather unimposing figure and less than a polished speaker. He quotes what is being said about him in 2 Corinthians 10:10, “‘For his letters,’ they say, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’”
Do you understand the point of the criticism in Corinth and the basis for their argument? They were saying that Paul (presumably therefore his writings and teachings as well) can be dismissed because he himself is physically unimposing and demonstrates poor powers of oratory. Did their argument make any sense? Let me ask you this way. If a fireman came to your door in the middle of the night and warned you to evacuate because of a toxic gas leak in the area, would you dismiss his warning because he happened to be a skinny 5′ 4″ tall and spoke with a lisp? Would that make his message less credible, or less valuable as to content? Apparently some is Corinth thought so with Paul.
What is interesting is that Paul did not address this problem out of concern for his own reputation (which would have been the prideful thing to do). He answered out of a deep concern for the Word of God and an abiding love for souls. In truth, Paul was perfectly content to be dismissed in his person if one thing would remain true—that those who despised his person still heard and honored his message. That is the lesson the Lord taught Paul when he refused to removed the “thorn in the flesh” that bothered him so. That is what the Lord meant when he told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” What the Lord was telling Paul was this: “It is enough for you, Paul, that I love you and have declared you ‘not guilty’ of your sins. That is what I mean by ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ What I mean by for My strength is made perfect in weakness’ is that when I accomplish something through powerful and charismatic men, the credit usually goes to those men. When I accomplish something through weak and unimposing men, the credit is rightly ascribed to Me, where it belongs. In that way ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Your weakness causes men to recognize my strength, my power, and my love.”
The great men of God all demonstrated this profound humility, along with the understanding of how all things should point to God, not to man. When John the Baptizer was questioned about his disciples leaving to follow Jesus, he expressed his joy and said, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)
Yet, how, we ask, does all of this relate to you and me today as we attempt to recognize and deal with the problem of sinful pride in our hearts? The connection is made in our text for this morning: “But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’” We could here add another passage for clarification: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The clear and unmistakable will of our God is that absolutely everything we think, say, or do on this earth is supposed to be done to the glory of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This means that absolutely nothing is supposed to be done to elevate self. Nor is anything supposed to be done to elevate your son or daughter or spouse or any other family member (which in the end probably becomes another elevation of self). It is God’s will that everything, in every way, have as its motivating force the glorification of Him alone.
The problem is that while our New Man thrills to these words and shouts its enthusiastic “Amen!” in our hearts, the Old Adam in us instantly shifts into rationalization, justification, and defense mode. Like some slick old backwoods lawyer, our Old Adam tries to “grandfather in” every single bit of perverse pride already present in our hearts: “Surely God is not here condemning pride in one’s family, pride in one’s work, pride in one’s home and property. Surely pride in one’s country is not to be condemned, nor is pride in one’s school, state, church, or community.” In the end (according to our sinful flesh), there really is no pride at all in our hearts that is not good, right, and necessary for a prosperous church, community, and nation with the possible exception of pure, haughty, self-aggrandizing arrogance.
Yet that is not what God said in his Holy Word, is it? The problem is that most of the things in the list above can be acceptable to our Lord, but only if the pride or glory is “in the Lord.” Now, what exactly does that mean? It means that we are not to take pride, for example, in our work so that we are praised and honored. We are to do so in order that God is honored and glorified. Jesus himself told us in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” In all things we are to act like mirrors, not only reflecting the light of Christ to others, but also deflecting their praise and adoration to the only One deserving of such acclaim.
Christians also try to justify sinful pride as though it is the same as being conscientious. “When I say I take pride in _________ (fill in the blank—‘keeping my house clean,’ ‘having my lawn manicured,’ ‘cars spotless,’ etc.) I just mean ‘conscientious.’” The answer is, of course, “No you don’t mean conscientious. You mean ‘pride.’” You want others to see your near-perfection and to think highly of you. There is no thought in your heart about reflecting the glory to your God who has given you every gift and ability that you have. You want to bask in the praise and adoration, revel in it, and let it flow over you like the warmth of sunshine. That’s sinful pride.
The problem, again, is that we have succeeded in “dumbing down” the sin of pride to such an extent that it is almost impossible for the Christian to break it. That, however, is how the unbelieving world attempts to please God. They no longer try to measure up to God’s standard, they change the standard, and they keep changing it until they feel comfortable that they can measure up to it. This is a recipe for damnation.
The only recipe for salvation is to apply the Law in all of its rigidity to your own thoughts, words, and actions, and to thereby recognize the utter depravity and helplessness of our natural, human condition. Recognize from the Law that you have not kept the Law, and that you are therefore under the damning curse of that Law with no hope to satisfy its terrifying demands.
Then turn your eyes to Jesus Christ, and see in Him the One who has satisfied all of the demands of the Law in your place. Hear His words from the cross—“It is finished!”—and know that He means that the full payment for every one of your sins is paid in full. See the empty tomb and know that it is God, the Father’s, declaration that He has accepted the life and death of His Son as the satisfactory payment for your sins—including your sins of pride. You have been pardoned. Your sins have been covered by Jesus Christ!
Then, dear Christian, with the joy and confidence of that Gospel message filling your heart with peace and gratitude, recognize just how right it is to banish all pride from your heart. Know, too, how right it is to reflect all glory to the One True God who alone is worthy of such things! It is God alone who has given us all that we have. God alone has given us our abilities. God alone has created and even now sustains us. What do we have that we have not been given? To the God who created us, called us, saved us, and sustains us—to Him be the glory, now and forever! Amen.
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