The Deadliness of Pride

I went to visit my parents last week and thus didn't get to a newsletter. Back at it this week.

Quick Hits

  • Last week the houses next to the church came down. This will eventually make the way for an addition to our facilities, but in the meantime, we'll be working on a small playscape for kids.
  • Speaking of kids, Esther Elise Thesing is the newest New City Kid, born on July 02. Click here to bring the Thesings a meal.
  • We're HIRING. If you know a good candidate for our Student Ministries Director position, send them on over here to learn more.
  • Of all the sad closings and adjustments due to covid-19, the saddest for me is that our annual church picnic at Strickers Grove is canceled. The amusement park is closed for the summer, so we'll have to build anticipation for August 2021.

On Pride

Mike preached from Philippians 2 this Sunday -- "Love is Not Boastful or Arrogant." It was a great reminder of the ways that pride interferes with our ability to love. I was thinking about pride this week, not only as an obstacle to love, but its deadliness to our own lives.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul says, I don't want you to be "puffed up." Some translations say, “I don’t want you to be proud. I don’t want you to be arrogant.” But here Paul doesn’t use the normal word for hubris, or pride. The Greek word is physioo and it’s an unusual word. Paul uses it 6 times in 1 Corinthians, once in Colossians; and then it’s not found anywhere else in the Bible, which leads the commentators to think this must be a special theme of Paul.

The word means to be “puffed up” -- overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size. It’s related to the word for bellows. It’s an evocative word, giving us the painful image of an organ in the human body, distended because so much air has been pumped into it -- swollen, inflamed, ready to burst. This unfortunately resonates really well with our family. Crosley, our son, was born 13 weeks early, and he developed an infection in his intestines. The long-term complication was that things didn’t pass through very well, and so his belly would get distended, swollen, inflamed. It was a very dangerous condition. Paul says this is the state of the human psyche, of the human ego. This is why we can’t get along. This is why we have divisions and fights and squabbles and lack of peace. We’re full of pride. We’re puffed up, over-inflated. But this is a little more complicated than the simple concept of hubris (or thinking too highly of yourself). Let’s consider the metaphor for a moment.

First, the metaphor implies the normal condition of the human ego is EMPTY. That is, it has nothing at the center. When something’s over-inflated there is not fullness or substance at the center. It’s just air, a big emptiness.

Soren Kierkegaard, in Sickness Unto Death, says that the normal state of the human heart is to build our identity on something other than God. One commentator paraphrases Kierkegaard: “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” We all look around for something to make life meaningful, to give us worth, value and purpose. The problem is — if that place in our life (which we’re all seeking to fill) is made for God, then anything else you put in there is going to be too small. It’s not going to fill it. It’s going to rattle around. There will be an emptiness. And when you’re puffed-up, it’s just the illusion of fullness.

Second, the metaphor teaches us that this condition is PAINFUL. Tim Keller points out that you really don’t notice the parts of your body, unless something begins to go wrong. I went about 40 years without thinking much about my eyes. I didn’t think about my eyesight. My eyes just worked. And then, shortly after my 40th birthday, my retina detached in my left eye. And now I think about my eyes all the time.

When things are working right, you don’t think about it. You didn’t wake up this morning saying, “My elbow is just moving wonderfully. My pinky toe feels amazing!” You notice it when there’s something wrong. Same with your ego. Your self-concept, your identity… we obsess about these things (feeling snubbed and ignored and getting down on ourselves), we do this because something is wrong. Something is not right with our identity, with our sense of self. Otherwise it wouldn’t be drawing attention to itself.

Lastly, this puffed-up condition is DANGEROUS. It’s dangerous to community, as Mike mentioned on Sunday. C.S. Lewis wrote: "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about."

Pride is dangerous to community because it’s essentially competitive. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy a thing for itself. Rather, you enjoy because of how it elevates you over and against someone else. And thus, the boasting. That’s how you keep score. The boasting is the inflating of the bellows, the filling with air.

But the danger is not just to community. The danger is to yourself as well. The problem with being inflated is that it’s very easy to become deflated. The emptiness is eventually exposed. If you build your life around your CAREER, and you lose your job, what does that do to you? If your worth is attached to your career and the career’s over, is your life meaningful anymore? Or if you build your life on your KIDS... Even if everything goes great, they’re going to be gone in 18 years. More likely, at some point your kids will make some decisions that break your heart. Your BEAUTY is not going to last. Even the uber wealthy in Hollywood who have all the work done… they just look like older people who have enough money to get work done. The point is this — if you’re puffed up, if you’re inflated… the deflation comes. The bubble bursts, and it can have disastrous consequences.

I told you about Crosley. Fortunately, nothing burst for him, but the distension in his intestines almost killed him. His bowel became so inflated, it flipped and twisted, cutting off the blood flow. And in the scariest moment of any of our lives, he was in the ambulance, rushed into emergency surgery. He needed a radical intervention to save his life.

This is what St. Paul is doing for the Corinthians -- a radical intervention to save their lives. He warns them against being "puffed up" and instead tells them to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). 

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