As I was reading in Luke’s gospel the other day I came across a verse that grabbed me. You know how that happens to us occasionally… a verse we’ve read many times just seems to jump off the page and right into your head.
The verse was Luke 9:46 - “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”
A little over a week earlier, Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to die. He told them there would be a cross for them to carry too. Now we find them bickering about who will be the greatest. Foolish pride is hard to combat, even in the presence of God incarnate.
When I was a lot younger, Mohammed Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He turned the athletic world upside down by boasting, “I’m gonna show you how great I am... I am the greatest”. He didn’t just want to be the greatest -- he laid claim to already being the greatest. Sounds like the disciples.
This got me to thinking about pride and its part in the church today. And it occurred to me that in thirty years of ministry, pride has been at the root of every church dispute I have ever experienced. Every time a church feuds and splits, pride is there giving its approval.
It’s sad, but you don’t have to look very far in the Christian world to find church disputes. They happen all the time. Most of the time they are people/personality issues rather than theological issues. They may be wrapped up in theology, but that’s only a disguise. The majority of the time they boil down to who’s going to be in charge, or who’s going to run the show. In essence they are about who’s the greatest. Christ’s disciples are still arguing about the question today. We’re hooked on “Pride Pills”.
We can try to justify these nasty little spats with spiritual sounding phrases, but the bottom line is that we want to be considered greater or more important than someone else. We’re right, they’re wrong. We’re spiritual, they’re not … and before you know it we’re exerting power and influence to get our way and we’re saying, “I’m gonna show you how great I am.”
I would contend that pride has destroyed more churches than the devil ever could. The devil may be there stirring the pot, but he’d have nothing to stir if it weren’t for our human sense of pride. We provide all the ingredients and the fire for cooking.
Pride always looks down on someone else from a position of spiritual superiority. It always assumes that they are somehow below us. Pride is at the heart of the judgmental spirit that turns so many people off about the church. It drives the put downs and sarcastic remarks that so many Christians are known for in this world. It is at the heart of the gossip and the slander that so often marks church disputes.
No Christian in their right mind will ever admit to it, but it really boils down to a matter of thinking that we are somehow not as bad a sinner as the other guy. Oh, we’ll confess to being a sinner, but we’re not as bad a sinner as you know who. Their sin is far worse than ours. We’re better people than them. We’re greater. And Jesus just looks at us and shakes his head. He’s thinking, when are they ever going to get it?
The battle with pride will dog us until we die. Just when we think we have cut the head off of this monster, it will grow a new one in another area of our life. We must be forever diligent. Our work is never done in this area.
And if you’re sitting there thinking, “I know someone who sure needs this teaching”, you’ve already missed the lesson. It’s me… it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.