Mark 10:17-27; Proverbs 16:18-19

In the series “Summer Baggage: Weighed Down by What We Carry”

Visit https://www.playbackmedia.com/mini-movies/38975/pride to watch a video that preceded the sermon.

In her book, The 19th Hole: Favorite Golf Stories, Carol Mann shares a lesson from the golf legend Arnold Palmer about overconfidence and pride. Said Palmer:

It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and I had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. I felt I was in pretty good shape. As I approached my ball, I saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned me over, stuck out his hand and said, Congratulations.” I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus. On my next two shots, I hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. I missed a putt and lost the Masters.

Palmer wrapped up the story by saying: “You don’t forget a mistake like that; you just learn from it and become determined that you will never do that again.” And he never did.[1]

Pride is the focus of our “Summer Baggage” series today. Last week we explored the baggage of bitterness and anger. If you missed that message or want to listen to it again, you can find it on our Facebook page or on the Live Streaming page of our website, saumcfindlay.org.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is the source of one of our scripture readings today. Proverbs is a collection of short one or two-liners of advice, rather than a story line. So, it can be hard to read and follow. But Proverbs has a lot of good guidance on living life in a godly way, and one of the major topics it addresses is the issue of pride. We looked at only two verses, but there are eleven in Proverbs and more than 60 in the Old Testament that address pride. It is almost always viewed negatively, which makes it challenging for us since we use the word “pride” with a wider range of meaning, both positive and negative.

For instance, we might say, “I’m so proud of you.” Here our pride is a good thing. We feel pleased for the person, know they did well, and want to offer a word of encouragement.

We could say, “He let his pride get in the way.” That sounds like a problem. This individual may have an overly high opinion of himself or his importance. We think of synonyms like self-important, conceited, or arrogant to describe such a person.

We could say, “She took pride in her work.” This one could go either way. It could mean she made a great effort in doing her work well, or it might imply that she is boastful about what she did. We would need more information to know.

Or we might say, “He swallowed his pride and asked for help.” Here, the word “pride” refers to a consciousness or awareness of one’s own dignity. This is a good thing, particularly when we are thinking about people or groups that have been marginalized, oppressed, and told by society that they have little or no value. It’s important for each of us to recognize our worth and dignity. Synonyms for this usage include self-respect, self-esteem, dignity, self-assurance, and confidence.

The term “hubris” from Greek philosophy lines up well with the Bible’s view of pride. Hubris is an overconfidence in oneself and one’s abilities that leads to overstepping human boundaries and assuming godlike status. It is an excessive pride that causes one to look down on others and to discount reliance on God.

In ancient Greek literature, there is the story of a young man whose father constructed wax wings and cautioned him not to fly too high. Icarus, full of himself, however, flew too close to the sun, the wings melted, and he fell to his death.

Hubris can also be found in Disney’s movie Aladdin in the villain Jafar, a power-hungry advisor to the king who believes he can overthrow the king and defeat the hero who has an all-powerful genie at his side. In the end, Jafar is defeated by his own arrogant behavior.

Many Biblical interpreters point to the story of the fall of Adam and Eve as another example of pride as hubris. Found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 3, Adam and Eve choose to disobey God in the hope of becoming like God and knowing good and evil.

Our reading from the Gospel of Mark today is another Biblical example for us. And before we get too far into this, I want to call our attention to something I noticed in reading this passage again this week. In verse 21, as Jesus is about to answer the man’s question, Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. So often when I have heard or read this passage before, I’ve focused on how Jesus chose the one thing he knew this man would have trouble giving up, as though Jesus was trying to trap him or didn’t really want him to become a disciple.

But that wasn’t the case. Jesus didn’t want to trick him; he didn’t want to keep him from following. He wasn’t trying to put this man in his place. Did you hear what it said? Jesus loved him. I wonder if that’s not an important lesson for all of us – that no matter who we encounter, what they ask or say, what we might think or feel about them, the best place to start is to love them. Not to be skeptical or cynical; not to think the worst and distrust; but to love them. Jesus was neither cynical nor skeptical toward this man, but he loved him. He didn’t dismiss or ignore him. He willingly engaged with him and even invited him to follow.

But the man came to Jesus earnestly and respectfully. He was trying to do what he thought was right with God, but he knows there is something more, so he asked Jesus what he could do.

But then there’s a list of things, and it starts to sound like an effort to earn eternal life. We don’t know for sure, but it could be that this man has great pride for his accomplishments spiritually and wants to stay on top.

That can be a trap for any Christian. It starts out as an honest desire to grow in our faith and to mature spiritually. Over time, it can morph a desire to outdo and impress others with how “spiritual” we are, even judging others for not doing spiritual things, like attending worship as often, serving in a particular ministry, giving to be recognized or so we can influence what happens in church, or attending every Bible study that comes along. It becomes hidden baggage that we carry in our relationship with other Christians and toward those who aren’t Christians. We started out doing what we thought was right, but as we climbed, we started feel really good about ourselves. Look at what I did! Look at what I accomplished!

But Jesus wants more and less than that. He doesn’t want our lists of things we do to try to impress or gain status. He wants us, our minds, bodies, and souls, holding nothing back.

Pride is often the hidden sin, one that seems a little more acceptable for Christians to carry around in their baggage. People who refuse to let others know they aren’t perfect, who hide their sin, who decline to make a change in their lifestyle because they won’t admit sin, or who so highly prioritize their reputation are often carrying the bag labeled “pride.” Tim Elmore, founder and president of the non-profit Growing Leaders, writes about pride and “image management”:

Over the years, I have decided to ditch working on my ‘reputation’ and work on my ‘reality.’ In other words, my integrity is the key to solidify how others view me. Remember, the term ‘integrity’ simply means ‘one’ or ‘whole.’ In math, an integer is a single digit. When I have integrity, it doesn’t mean I’m a perfect leader. It means what I say and what I do are the same. I am transparent about who I am. It’s the opposite of hypocrisy. As I work on my character my reputation takes care of itself, because I am not pretending to be anyone other than who I really am.”[2]

 

This story is a good example, because we don’t know what happened to the man in the end. We know he went away sad, but we don’t know what occurred after that. After thinking and praying, did he realize that Jesus was right and do what Jesus told him? Was he so full of pride that he said, “Forget it; I’m doing enough already.” We don’t know. All we know is what he looked like on the outside as he left the scene.

Earlier, we asked for your thoughts about how pride affected a person and their relationships. Here are some of your thoughts: (share responses)

Earlier Christians identified pride as the first of the seven deadly sins and the root of all sin. C.S. Lewis wrote that “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”[3]

Have you heard of the pufferfish? It is also called the blowfish. When threatened, they quickly take in huge amounts of water and air to expand to an inedible ball several times their normal size. Prideful, arrogant people puff themselves up and are full of themselves. Their overestimated sense of self and importance becomes distasteful to people.

Almost all pufferfish contain a toxic chemical that makes them foul tasting and lethal to other fish. To humans, that chemical is deadly – up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. One pufferfish can kill up to 30 humans, and there is no antidote. Prideful, arrogant people are toxic in relationships. Pride is toxic to a marriage, a church, or a friendship. There is only one known antidote: love. Whether they are the kind of person who brags about themselves or the kind who has learned to turn the attention to themselves with self-effacing comments, pride is not attractive.

It is easy to spot when someone’s pride leads them to act like a jerk, but not so obvious when they seem to be doing all the right things. We should examine hearts and ponder why we do things for God. Is it in response to God’s love for us? Or is it simply because we believe it is the “right” or “good” thing to do? Does it cause us to feel better about ourselves than for others who aren’t doing what we’re doing or who don’t have what we have?

Life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a contest against others; it is a continual journey of being refined and becoming more like Jesus Christ, rather than better than someone else we know. We can lighten the pressure on ourselves; we can lessen the load; we can put down the baggage of pride and learn to be the best person God has made us to be.

As I said earlier, we don’t know what happened to this man after he left Jesus, but we know that Jesus’ answer surprised him, and it surprised the disciples. Wealth was understood to be a sign of God’s blessing, even a reward from God for goodness. But the disciples were shocked to hear Jesus say that the man’s wealth actually made it harder for him. They might have seen this man as the image of the perfect follower, and if he doesn’t qualify for eternal life, what hope is there for the rest of us? They wondered among themselves, “Who can be saved?”

And Jesus’ answer is the point: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.” (Mk 10:27) Pride won’t get us there; only God can save us for eternal life.

Immediately after this story in Mark 10, Jesus talks about his coming suffering, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. Jesus willingly gave his life as a sacrifice, so that we could have life. We can’t do it for ourselves, no matter how hard we work or how many boxes we can check off. We are given the opportunity to journey through this life preparing for eternal life. There are things we can do that demonstrate our love for God and neighbor and help us grow in faith.

What we need to do is examine our why. Why are we doing it? Could pride be getting in our way? If so, put down that baggage. Don’t carry it any further; it is unnecessary. Jesus invites us to walk in faith with him, experiencing freedom and joy he offers, what he calls “abundant life.” We don’t earn it or deserve it; it’s available to everyone, so there’s no reason to be prideful about the gift. Instead, let’s humbly and gratefully travel lightly with Jesus on the way that leads to life.

Let us pray. Dear Lord, I want to believe I am not a prideful person, but the truth is that sometimes I still wrestle with pride. Help me let go of pride and give me a humble heart. Help me not see myself as better than anyone. Keep me from hindering others from helping just so I can receive praise for doing it all myself. Prevent my pride from leading me to argue with my spouse, family, friend, or neighbor. Instead, let humility lead me. Help me make love my motivation in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Carol Mann, The 19th Hole: Favorite Golf Stories, Longmeadow Press, 1992, on quoted on https://bible.org/illustration/arnold-palmer. Accessed 07/16/2021.

[2] Tim Elmore, “The One Thing That’s More Important than Your Reputation,” Growing Leaders, August 10, 2017, https://growingleaders.com/blog/one-thing-thats-more-important-than-reputation/.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

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