The Big 7
Part 1: Pride
ILL: Today we’re talking about pride, and I want to start with story.
In 1996, we did our first Easter at the Arena, which had just opened a few months before. We were the first free public event in the new Arena and it was a big deal. Over 5000 people showed up, and it was the lead story on the evening TV news, and the banner headline on the front page of the paper Monday morning. I felt pretty good about it.
A couple days later, our receptionist buzzed me in my office and said that someone from our denominational headquarters was on the phone for me. I smiled to myself and thought, “They heard about our Easter service all the way down in LA, and they’re calling to congratulate me.” I thought it might be the president or general supervisor of the denomination-one of the big dogs. I could feel my head swelling. I picked up the phone and said, “This is Joe.”
“This is Barbara from the Foursquare Insurance department. I’m calling because your car insurance payment is overdue.”
Pop! Actually it gets worse. I didn’t even insure my car with them; they had the wrong church and the wrong guy. Barbara had no idea who I was. I hung up the phone and laughed out loud. “You got me, Lord!” I don’t think it was an accident. I think God saw that He needed to reduce the swelling in my head, and arranged the whole thing!
Today we kick off “The Big 7”, a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, and the first one, and deadliest, is pride.
Offering and announcements:
Easter celebration! Many thanks to all of you who were part of our Easter celebration last weekend! Over 9200 people attended our five services-we experienced major overcrowding at both Sunday morning services-it was standing room only in here and in the multi-purpose room. The only bummer was that some people left because they were unable to find a seat, so we’re already planning on adding a third Sunday service next year. 85 people raised their hands to begin following Jesus, and 347 picked up New Believer packets on their way out. It was a wonderful weekend.
- This couldn’t have happened without hundreds of you who volunteered to help in the kids’ ministry, or as ushers and greeters, or in the coffee bar. Thank you!
- Many thanks to the team that put together a wonderful service: all the volunteers and staff that built the set, ran the sound, lights, video and cameras, wrote and performed the drama (that was some technical wizardry!) and led us in worship. Great job!
- And of course, special thanks to all of you who did “Find, tell, bring”-you did the big job of loving people and inviting them to come with you.
And big thanks to Jesus for rising from the dead and showing up here! Woohoo! Thanks everyone…and I’m waiting for that phone call from headquarters!
Just two weeks to Bloomsday (item #1) – 6 PM services on Saturday and Sunday, no Sunday morning services!
Psalm 34:1-3 for worship. Let’s boast in the Lord!
How many of you have heard of the Seven Deadly Sins? Almost everyone. Without cheating (which is a sin) and looking at your outline, how many of you can name them? Almost no one. Don’t feel bad-me either! Here they are (top of your outline and on the screen-let’s say them together): Pride, greed, gluttony, sloth, anger, envy, lust. Those are the Big 7-the Seven Deadly Sins.
Some people find the list puzzling, even amusing, because these sins seem like a Sunday School picnic compared to some others. For example, if I was making a list of deadly sins, I would include murder, rape, racism, genocide, adultery, sexual abuse, slavery, drug trafficking, and polluting the environment. Those are nine deadly sins. By comparison, these seven seem like the Seven Dainty Sins! Who made this list?
A little history lesson. First, neither the term nor the specific list of the Seven Deadly Sins is found in the Bible. All seven sins are in the Bible, just not in a list labeled “The Seven Deadly Sins.” There are lists of sins, such as:
Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
There are several other places, OT and NT, where sins are listed, but none of them is called the Seven Deadly Sins. So if we didn’t get this list from the Bible, where did we get it?
In the fourth century, one of the desert fathers, a monk named Evagrius Ponticus explored why humans are so vulnerable to temptation. In his book Praktikos, a collection of short reflections and practical guidelines on living in community, he wrote that all of us are subject to certain thoughts that make us susceptible to temptation. He listed eight of these thoughts, which correspond roughly to the Seven Deadly Sins. Evagrius was writing for his fellow monks to help them live in community, and these 8 thoughts or attitudes make life in community difficult. For example, pride isn’t a problem when I’m living alone, only when I have to live with you. All of us, Evagrius wrote, struggle with these thoughts, or attitudes, and they can only be overcome by the grace of God which is received through practicing spiritual disciplines.
In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great, borrowing from Evagrius, gave us the Seven Deadly Sins in their current form. Gregory called them the seven “capital” sins. “Capital” comes from the Latin word “caput”, which means “head” (not “dead”)-these capital sins are the sins from which all others spring. Gregory spoke of them as the “leaders of wicked armies.” They are the source, the head, the necessary first step toward other sin. For example, in Matthew 5, Jesus taught that murder comes from anger, and that adultery comes from lust. Neither adultery nor murder is in the Seven Deadly Sins, but lust and anger are because they are the caput-the head, the capital sins from which others spring. And it is this-and the fact that they are so common, so universal-that makes them so deadly.
From Gregory through Medieval times, the Seven Deadly Sins were universally known, and their opposites came to be called the Holy Virtues. It was widely believed, as Evagrius taught, that the best way to overcome the sins was by developing the virtues through spiritual disciplines. By practicing humility, one overcame pride, and so on.
The Reformers of the 16th century rejected the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins because it wasn’t found in the Bible, which is why you don’t hear many series like this in Protestant churches. Which brings us to the question: why are we doing a series on the Seven Deadly Sins?
I think these early church fathers were on the right track when they identified some basic attitudes in our hearts as the source of our outward actions. To change our behavior, we need to change our hearts, and that is why Jesus came. We’re going to use the Seven Deadly Sins as a lens to look at our hearts, and invite Jesus to change us from the inside out, rooting out sin and building in virtue. And we’ll see how to cooperate with Jesus in the process of heart change through spiritual disciplines or practices. These practices make space in our lives for God to work in our hearts. The practices themselves don’t change us; God changes us; the practices make space for God to work.
With that background on the Seven Deadly Sins, let’s consider the first, and widely considered the most deadly of all sins: pride.
1. Pride: thinking too much of yourself.
Romans 12:3; Proverbs 17:6, 2 Corinthians 5:12, 7:4, 8:24, Galatians 6:4, James 1:9-10; 2 Chronicles 26:16, Psalm 10:4, Proverbs 11:2, 13:10, 16:5, 16:18, 18:12, 29:23, Ezekiel 28:2, Romans 12:16, 1 Corinthians 13:4, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5.
What is pride? Webster defines it as the quality of being proud and gives three definitions:
- Inordinate or excessive self-esteem. Thinking too much of yourself.
ILL: Muhammad Ali was arguably the greatest heavyweight champion of all time-and when he was young, he didn’t hesitate to remind us. “I am the greatest!” he shouted. And he was, so that might not have been excessive self-esteem.
But once Ali was on a commercial flight, and prior to takeoff, a flight attendant reminded him to buckle up.
“Superman don’t need no seat belt,” he said.
The flight attendant shot back, “Superman don’t need no plane.” Ali buckled up.
Excessive self-esteem. This is pride-and it’s caput-a deadly sin.
- A reasonable self-respect. We might say to someone who is dogging himself, “Show some pride.” Have a little healthy self-respect.
- Delight arising from some act, possession or relationship. For example, pride in a job well done. Or parental pride. Or grandparental pride. (Pic of Jenna)
The word “pride” is used in both good and bad ways, which raises the question, “Is all pride wrong?” As defined by Webster, no. Healthy self-respect is not sin. Being proud of your kids is not sin. Being proud of a job well-done is not sin. I found some verses in the Bible where pride is used positively-I put those verses in italics on your outline.
Proverbs 17:6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
There’s a little twist: parents are the pride of their children! I’d like my kids to be proud of Laina and me, to be proud to be our kids. I’d be proud of that!
2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.
2 Corinthians 7:4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
Paul took pride in the Corinthian believers, and wanted them to take pride in him-a mutual admiration society.
Galatians 6:4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,
Paul seemed to think it was ok to take pride in your actions, but without comparing yourself to someone else. It’s not ok to compare yourself and be proud and think “I’m better than you.” It is ok to test your own actions and think, “I did my best; I’m proud of what I did.”
So some pride is good. However, we have rehabilitated pride from a vice to be avoided to a virtue to be cultivated. We tout the value of self-esteem and being assertive. In our culture, the great sin is not pride, but low self-esteem. Love yourself. Look out for #1. Follow your bliss. We’re all about self-awareness, self-actualization, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-fulfillment, self-gratification-self, self, self. We are stuck on ourselves.
So I’ve defined pride as “thinking too much of yourself.” Here’s a verse that defines both pride and humility.
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Pride is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought-it says here, “don’t do that.” Humility is thinking of yourself with sound judgment-do that.
Pride is excessive self-esteem; thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. There is no fault of which we are less conscious than pride. I am aware of being angry or envious; I know when I lust or am gluttonous or lazy or greedy. But I’m rarely aware of my pride. I don’t think of myself as prideful; hardly anyone does. When was the last time you heard someone admit, “I have a problem with pride; I’m proud”? When we are proud, we are usually unaware of it; but we can all spot it immediately in someone else. Someone said, “Pride is the only disease known to mankind that makes everyone sick except the person who has it.” He’s oblivious.
So how do we spot pride? How is pride displayed in our lives? What does pride look like, act like? I want you to discuss this for a couple minutes in groups of 2-4, and then I want to hear what you come up with. What does pride look like? Describe its behavior.
- Taking more credit than we deserve.
- Bragging; constantly talking about ourselves, drawing attention to ourselves.
- Comparing ourselves to others and always coming out better.
- Looking down on others; being judgmental, condemning.
- Being self-righteous.
- Keeps us from God; we feel no need of God.
- Independence-I don’t need others.
- Leads to bad decisions-pride comes before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
Pride always takes more credit than we deserve. We magnify our contribution and minimize others. We forget how much help we’ve had and think we’ve done it all ourselves.
ILL: The Jewish poet and storyteller Noah ben Shea tells a parable that serves as a valuable reminder of the roles we play in life:
After a meal, some children turned to their father, Jacob, and asked if he would tell them a story. “A story about what?” asked Jacob.
“About a giant,” squealed the children.
Jacob smiled and began. “Once there was a boy who asked his father to take him to see the great parade that passed through the village. The father, remembering the parade from when he was a boy, quickly agreed, and the next morning the boy and his father set out together.
As they approached the parade route, people started to push in from all sides, and the crowd grew thick. When the people along the way became almost a wall; the father lifted his son and placed him on his shoulders.
Soon the parade began and as it passed, the boy kept telling his father how wonderful it was and how spectacular were the colors and images. The boy, in fact, grew so prideful of what he saw that he mocked those who saw less, saying, even to his father, ‘If only you could see what I see.'”
“But,” said Jacob staring straight in the faces of the children, “what the boy did not look at was why he could see. What the boy forgot was that once his father, too, could see.” Then, as if he had finished the story, Jacob stopped speaking.
“Is that it?” said a disappointed girl. “We thought you were going to tell us a story about a giant.”
“But I did,” said Jacob. “I told you a story about a boy who could have been a giant.”
“How?” squealed the children.
“A giant,” said Jacob, “is anyone who remembers we are all sitting on someone else’s shoulders.”
“And what does it make us if we don’t remember?” asked the boy.
“A burden,” answered Jacob.
Pride makes us forget that we’re sitting on the shoulders of others. A giant is someone who remembers how much he owes others and gives them credit; a person who forgets is only a burden.
ILL: Not long ago, there was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who pulled into a service station to get gas. He went inside to pay, and when he came out he noticed his wife deep in a discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him. In fact back in high school before she met her husband, she used to date this man.
The CEO got in the car, and the two drove in silence. He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke: “I bet I know what you were thinking. I bet you were thinking you’re glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant.”
“No, I was thinking if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be a service station attendant.”
Always remember how much you owe God and others. Every talent you have is a gift from God. Every success you achieve is dependent on others. Share the credit!
Perhaps the most insidious part of pride is that it keeps us from God. You cannot be proud and know God. C.S. Lewis devotes an entire chapter in Mere Christianity to pride. He titles the chapter, “The Great Sin” and in it he calls pride, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” This is true for two reasons. First, and this may surprise you, God is humble. We know that because of Jesus. Jesus came as a servant; He said that He came not to be served, but to serve, and He set an example of service. He said:
Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
God is humble; to be proud is to be the opposite of God. Peter wrote:
1 Peter 5:5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
God opposes the proud. Peter uses a military term-to oppose was to arrange your troops in battle. God is against the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
The second reason that pride is “the complete anti-God state of mind” is that it keeps us from coming to God. Augustine said, “My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner.” Pride keeps us from owning up, from admitting that we’re sinners who need God’s mercy. Jesus told this story:
Luke 18:9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus is warning us that pride is the great temptation for good people, religious people, Christian people. It is so easy to become self-righteous, and take credit for our goodness and forget that we are sinners who need God’s mercy. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Would you say that with me? “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When we pray that sincerely, we go home right with God. If we can’t pray that, our pride is keeping us from God.
But it’s not just Christians whose pride can keep them from God.
ILL: William Willimon tells this story:
A member of our faculty recently justified to me his disbelief of Christianity by saying, “With all the suffering and pain in the world, I just can’t see how you can call God good. I am very sensitive to the plight of others.”
I’m sure that he thinks of himself as a humble, sincere disbeliever. Another way of looking at him is that he considers himself better, more sensitive, and more caring than the God who would make such a lousy world. If he-with his master’s degree and his global sensitivity-had been God, he would have made a better world.
His pride was keeping him from God-“I could make a better world than God did.”
Lewis concludes, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
No sin is more deadly than pride. So how do we overcome it? By cultivating humility.
2. Humility: thinking of yourself with sound judgment.
Romans 12:3; 2 Samuel 22:28, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Isaiah 66:2, Micah 6:8, Matthew 11:28-30, 18:1-4, Luke 14:11, 18:9-14, Ephesians 4:2, Philippians 2:3-11, Colossians 3:12, James 4:10, 1 Peter 3:8, 5:5-6
I’ve defined humility as “thinking of yourself with sound judgment”, and got this from:
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
When you think of yourself with sound judgment, you see yourself as you really are, both the good and the bad. You understand that your abilities are gifts, and you’re grateful to God. You understand that many of your strengths and attributes are the result of others’ contributions to your life and you share the credit. You recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and your part in both. You have healthy self-esteem and healthy self-doubt! I know I’m good at some things, bad at others, and prone to pride and selfishness, so I am both confident and careful. I’m confident because God has given me gifts and abilities. I’m careful because I can be proud and selfish, and am capable of self-delusion! So I love myself and doubt myself.
Humility is being comfortable with who you are, the good and the bad. It is being comfortable with a measure of self-confidence and a measure of self-doubt. It is being comfortable with knowing that God loves me deeply and calls me both His child and a sinner. I am both-and I’m comfortable with that. I’m not running from or avoiding either truth. I am comfortable with both.
C.S. Lewis describes a humble person this way. “Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. He will not be thinking about humility; he will not be thinking about himself at all.” This is thinking of yourself with sound judgment. This is humility. It is not being down on yourself-“oh what a worm am I”. It is being so comfortable in your own skin that you can forget about yourself and think about others.
How do we cultivate humility? Let me quote Lewis again: “The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” (C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity.) Humility starts with the awareness that we’re proud; it starts with confession.
Earlier, I said that Evagrius and other early Christian leaders believed we overcame sin by the grace of God, and that we received this grace through the practice of spiritual disciplines. I want to recommend three spiritual practices that will help you overcome pride and cultivate humility. And the first is:
Confession. As Lewis said, the first step in becoming humble is realizing that we’re proud, and owning up. Confession is good for the soul, and yet for many of us, it’s a lost practice. We rarely take time to reflect upon our behavior and confess our sins to God. Yet it is one of surest cures for pride I know! I would encourage you, at least once this week, to take a few minutes and sit down alone and reflect and confess. God gives grace to the humble, so humble yourself before God and confess your sins and receive His grace.
And if you really want to amp up the power of confession and develop humility, confess your sins not only to God, but to someone else.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
It’s one thing to confess to God, whom you can’t see; it’s another to confess to a human being you can see! Confessing to another person is a great antidote to pride and way to cultivate humility. Which leads to:
Community. A second spiritual discipline that helps us overcome pride and develop humility is community. Alone, I can live happily in my self-delusion. But when I am part of a community, a family, a small group of friends where the masks come off and we’re real with each other, my pride is confronted. My friends help me face myself.
ILL: John Ortburg tells about psychologist Milton Rokeach who attempted to treat three patients at a psychiatric hospital who suffered from delusions of grandeur. Each believed he had been called to save the world; he was the messiah. Delusions of grandeur!
Rokeach found it difficult to help the patients accept the truth about themselves, so he decided to put the three into a little community, to see if rubbing against people who also claimed to be the messiah might dent their delusion. A kind of messianic, 12-step recovery group.
This led to some interesting conversations. One would claim, “I’m the messiah, the Son of God. I was sent here to save the earth.”
“How do you know?” Rokeach would ask.
“God told me.”
One of the other patients would counter, “I never told you any such thing.”
It’s a crazy idea, taking a group of deluded, would-be messiahs and putting them into a community to see if they could be cured. But it has been done before. “An argument arose among them as to who should be the greatest,” Luke tells us about Jesus’ followers. You know who suffers from the messiah complex? Disciples and inmates. Everybody’s in the same asylum.
Some time ago, I’d had a run of too much travel, too many meetings, too many talks. I was fatigued. One standing weekly commitment was to a friend, also involved in church work. I was complaining about my schedule, fishing for sympathy, when he surprised me by asking, “Why do you choose to live like this?”
The only honest answer was, more than anything else, I was running on pride, grandeur. I was afraid that if I said no to opportunities, they would stop coming; and if opportunities stopped coming, I would be less important; and if I were less important, that would be terrible.
Out of that conversation developed a small, “personal schedule group,” with a covenant that we would not take on any commitments without discussing them with each other and with our families. It meant giving each other permission to talk not only about our schedules, but also about the motives behind the schedules.
Living in community forces us to face our pride. Which leads to:
Worship. Another spiritual discipline that will overcome pride and develop humility is worship. When we worship God, we are focusing our attention and affection on Him. We are thinking of Him, looking at Him, adoring Him, and loving Him. Worship is all about Him. As we read in Psalm 34 before worship, we will extol, praise, glorify, exalt, and boast in Him.
Lewis writes, “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” In worship, we forget about ourselves and concentrate on Him. We see God for who He is-He’s HUGE; and we see ourselves for who we are-we’re small. This changes our boasting. We won’t boast about ourselves, but about God.
1 Corinthians 1:28-31 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Do you want to lose your pride and grow humility? Spend time each day in God’s presence worshipping Him. It will recalibrate you and help you think of yourself-and God-with sound judgment.