Last week, we took a look at sin and how a life gripped by vice separates us from God. We talked about how the spiritual life is in fact a true battle, as sin desires to consume us. Remember how God told Cain, the frustrated son of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 4.6–7, “‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”
Today we discuss how we actually combat sin and vice through a life of Godly virtues. We start with the vices of PRIDE & ENVY and then examine their opposites, HUMILITY & ADMIRATION.
WORSHIP GUIDE QUESTIONS & COMMENTARY
THE DANGER OF PRIDE
The vice of PRIDE has been seen as a danger to the spiritual life because of pride’s focus on the self rather than the other. Love, which all virtues spring from, puts the good of the other first. But pride separates and divides since it’s goal is to put its self first. Pride divides because of the attitude that is associated with it. When one is full of pride, they attempt to stand taller than everyone around them.
When I played football in high school, the man with the most pride was usually the man that everyone imagined a big fat bullseye on his chest. Everyone wanted to knock that guy off his “high horse.” These are the feelings that pride creates. And see, how when one person chooses to be proud, how it’s effects can lead others to anger and violence. Remember this, that vices are never our own, rather what traps us and leads us to sin can trap others and lead them to sin.
The attitude of pride drives a wedge between us and others, crippling us from truly loving others or being in ministry with them. Our pride is the very thing that can displace God in our lives, setting us or our achievements up higher than God in our hearts. The people who built the tower of babel were cursed for their arrogance and their pride, as they believed they could make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven.
We must be careful as we raise our children in a society that encourages competition and pride. We are told from the earliest of ages to stand up for ourselves but then are seldom told to what degree. Without a balance, we can fall off either side of the horse. We do not want to be a doormat and be walked on by others (falling off the right side); and we do not want to elevate ourselves above those around us, subjecting them to our own personal will (which is to fall off the left side).
We live in a world of extremes that pull us from one side to the other and sometimes they even pull us apart. Competition is the world’s influence–of–choice, leading us and even our children (sometimes subconsciously) into a lifestyle of one-upmanship, causing them to believe that they are to rise to the top, above everyone else, leaving others in the wake of their success.
PRIDE is the poison that troubles healthy competition. Our problem often begins with the idea of greatness. Even the disciples asked Jesus ,“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.1–4). According to Jesus, the greatest citizens of God’s kingdom are not the proud warriors or the arrogant know–it–alls, but rather are those who are the picture of innocence and humility. Proverbs 16 says that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16.18). The destructive nature of the proud is never easy to watch. I’m reminded of the saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
THE DANGER OF ENVY
Envy almost doesn’t need an introduction or explanation because all of us on some level have experienced the pain it causes in our minds and in our hearts. Envy eats away at us, from the inside out, causing us to compete with others for attention, relationships, material things, and even physical appearance. In the OT, God addresses envy in the Ten Commandments, command #10, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s”(Exodus 20.17)
One of the lessons from this commandment is the importance of keeping our focus on our own lives. If we begin meddling in the business and goings–on of our neighbors, we can build an attachment to those things. Desires of attachment and want begin to form and they prove extremely difficult to separate from. Once envy roots itself, we discover that there are very few things we wouldn’t do in order attain those things.
I do want to make a distinction for you between envy and jealousy, though. Jealousy, in it’s original meaning, is a word with a neutral connotation. That means that the actions associated with what a person is jealous over will determine whether or not those actions are good or bad. For example, a husband with no hobbies who is jealous of the time his wife spends doing various things is a man who can be motivated to initiate meaningful time spent with his wife. Both win in this situation because their marriage is enriched. In the OT, we often read that God is a jealous God. Is that wrong? No, not when God’s desire is that we would be wholly devoted to Him for the sake of a growing, life–giving relationship. God is completely dedicated to us and therefore desires that we return that love and dedication.
Envy is different, because in it’s original meaning it is seeking the good of only the self. Whereas, one can be jealous and things turn out for the good, envy desires that one acquire something because one is lacking something and will do almost anything to get it. Envy is a life of comparison, where we inventory either ourselves or our belongings and we believe they are not good enough. And so, we see that envy is destructive behavior and doesn’t carry with it even the semblance of contentment.
HOW DO WE FIGHT PRIDE & ENVY?
First, we fight PRIDE with HUMILITY. Humility is the foremost characteristic that we see through the ministry of Jesus. Paul, following after the example of Jesus, tells the Philippians (and us today), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2. 3–4).
The character of Jesus, His divine nature, is one of humility. In the kingdom of God, those who are humble are exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Listen to his parable from Jesus in Luke 18, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14.8–11).
The fall of the proud is a long fall with a hard impact. Each of us can attest to the problems that PRIDE can cause in ourselves and in our relationships, and yet pride is often times the easier choice than humility. Humility is difficult because it does in fact mean putting others before ourselves. Humility requires great sacrifice—a sacrifice that hurts in many ways because of the pain we experience in letting go. But that pain is evidence that we are attached to many things or even the wrong things. But, if we find ourselves attached to Christ Jesus in all humility and humbleness, then we find that we have all that we need, leaving no room for pride or for the destruction it brings to our lives. Listen to St. James when he says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4.10).
And we fight ENVY with ADMIRATION. How we view others reveals much about the attitude of the human heart and our current capacity to love. When we admire others, we honor and respect them for who they are, warts and all. Admiration loves the good and the bad about someone and never loves them in spite of something in their life. God loves the whole person and it’s that love that celebrates the good and transforms the bad. Jesus’ life was a constant pouring out of love, commitment, resourcefulness, and companionship toward others.
Admiration is being glad for the success of another. Admiration cheers for them, rooting them on in life as they journey forward, just as we are. Admiration celebrates with others because it values the person. Where envy values the self, admiration values the other. It’s the reason why having a secret admirer in grade school was so exciting. It was the thrill of knowing that someone thought you were great! (Jokingly: the problem comes when we begin to believe that we are as great as they say we are, and that’s pride, ha ha).
Where envy compares and resents, admiration adores and rejoices. If we truly admire others, we love them; we rejoice when they rejoice and we grieve when they grieve.
…these two virtues remove the wedge that vice places between us and those we wish to be in relationship with. The virtues of humility and admiration bring us closer to the character of Christ, the only character that is excellent and pure. Through a life of humility and admiration, we obey Jesus’ summation of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22.37–40). When we serve God and serve others with the character of Jesus, we experience joy in living, and find true reward and contentment here and in the life beyond. Be humble and honor others.