The Everlasting Stain of Pride
It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glory to search one’s own glory. Proverbs 25:27
In other words, just as people get sick and nauseous and ready to hurl from eating too much honey, they also get sick, real sick, of listening to those who constantly draw attention to themselves through faint praise, self-promotion or by simply putting someone else down.
We call that jealousy.
God calls it pride.
And the Scriptures have much to say about it.
Let’s take a quick look back at the Scriptures and see how the thread of pride, like a malignant cancer or mutating tumor, winds itself around the lives of those who claim to know and love God and subtly, over time, changes good, God-fearing people into a mob of self-seeking free agents. The flesh-exalting sin of pride stained each of them— and each of us, to such a degree that it required the blood of Christ to remedy.
Pride. The resilient, illusive, ever-present source of all sin.
Pride. It was pride, the original sin, that tempted Satan to exalt himself above God and to be cast down, banished from his place in heaven. “How you have fallen from heaven, O star (shining one) of the morning, son of the dawn!” (Isa. 14:12-14; 1 Tim. 3:6).
Pride. It was pride that allowed the serpent’s words to resonate deep within Eve’s heart, attaching themselves to her concept of self-worth and satisfaction with God’s creative order. It was pride that fostered in her a driving desire to be like God, to be better than God, to assume the worst about God, and to lust for His place of preeminence. When the serpent asked, “Did God really say?”— Eve’s pride willingly believed the lie. And, if truth be told, it was pride that caused Adam and Eve to lose their place in Eden and led to the fall of all mankind (Gen. 3:5-6).
Pride. It was pride that hardened the heart of Cain against his brother Able. It was Cain’s pride that demanded God accept his sacrifice regardless of what God required. After all, pride reasoned, “I’m bringing the best of my fields to God as my sacrifice and that should be good enough for Him. It’s the best I have to offer. It’s all I’m going to offer. And if God doesn’t accept what I want to bring… well, that’s His problem.” But Cain’s sacrifice wasn’t what God required. And, as the story goes, neither was it God’s problem. It was Cain’s pride that responded to God’s warning and rejection of his sacrifice by shedding the blood of his brother. “Hey God, You want blood as a sacrifice? Ok, I’ll give You blood. How ’bout Able’s blood!” (Gen. 4:1-8).
Pride. It was pride that prompted Lamech to boast to his wives about the murder he committed. “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Gen. 4:23-24).
Pride. Under Nimrod’s leadership (whose name means “rebel”), it was pride that built the Tower of Babel. “Come,” they said, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower, whose top will reach into heaven (or, whose top is heaven), and let us make for ourselves a name; (why) lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
Pride. It was pride that led to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu who disregarded the command of God and offered what they wanted, strange fire, before the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2).
Pride. It was the pride of Aaron and Miriam that brought about God’s judgment of leprosy on them because, dissatisfied with God’s plan, they sought to exalt themselves by questioning Moses’ leadership and God’s supreme plan. “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Num. 12:2).
Pride. It was pride that kept Moses from entering the Promise Land. Pride tempted Moses, the most humble of men, to exalt himself to the place of God in his own eyes regarding the people of Israel. Remember his words? “Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). We? Tell me Moses, what part of this miracle did you do? What part are you in the “we” of all this?
Pride. It was pride that led Absalom to publicly rape David’s wives and try to remove, by the force of betrayal and rebellion, the king God had placed to rule His people, Israel. Why? Because pride caused Absalom to believe that he, and not God, knew who should be king in Israel.
Pride. It was the pride of Haman and his jealousy of Mordecai that compelled him to build the gallows, designed for Mordecai, that Haman’s body hung from (Est. 7:10).
Pride. It was the prideful words uttered from Nebuchadnezzar that drove him into the wilderness to live like an animal until he recognized and acknowledged the sovereignty of the Lord. He said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). This was the question Nebuchadnezzar asked. And God answered in a way that only He could (Dan. 4:31-33).
Pride. Pride was the great sin of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. They were outwardly religious like “white-washed tombs,” but inwardly they were rotten, corrupt and decayed like “dead men’s bones” (Matt. 23:27).
Pride. It was pride that prompted the mother of James and John to ask that her two boys get special, preferential treatment when Jesus came into His kingdom (Matt. 20:20-21).
Pride. And even during the Last Supper when Jesus was teaching His disciples about self-sacrifice by washing their feet, it was their pride that bickered among themselves as to who would be the greatest (Luke 22:24).
But, for me, there is even a more chilling example.
In 3 John 9-11 we read:
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.
John is writing this letter to a man named Gaius, a beloved elder in the church. It appears that in this church a powerful and influential man, Diotrephes, refused to allow hospitality to be shown to visiting itinerant teachers whom John had approved. Teachers like Demetrius, for example (3 John 12). In fact, it seems that the letter John wrote to the church regarding that very matter was intercepted by Diotrephes, the self-proclaimed resident gatekeeper, and deemed so sensitive to National Security that, taking his lead from our own Government, it was Classified and kept from the congregation.
Where is the Freedom of Information Act when you need it?
Why did Diotrephes do this? What was his motive? What was he trying to hide?
The letter from John states that Diotrephes “loves to be first among them,” or, to put it in the language of today, feels that he is the head-honcho in charge and everything that the church does must gain his approval.
Unfortunately for all of us, there are still many Diotrephes in the church today.
But there is something else in play here.
There is also an element of jealousy on the part of Diotrephes.
John was well known and beloved among the brethren of the church. He was one of the Twelve, the disciple Jesus loved, and his standing and credibility in the church was never in question.
Not so with Diotrephes.
He was jealous of John. Intimidated and green with envy.
When John was present, people dropped everything and flocked to hear him, for hours on end. And why not? After all, just being in his presence reminded them of being with Jesus. John was wise, seasoned, mature, beloved, respected, and full of wonderful, first-hand stories about the Lord. And if that wasn’t enough, it was John who had been given the visions of the future, the apocalyptic revelation of days yet to come.
At this time, what person on earth could compare with John? Who was more esteemed than he? More desired? More sought after?
Certainly not Diotrephes.
And he knew it.
Diotrephes wanted to be like John, to be respected and admired. He wanted to be regarded as spiritual, a natural leader, an anointed teacher— basically God’s gift to the church. He wanted in one day what took John a lifetime to achieve.
He wanted others to come to him, and not John, for the answers to their questions.
He wanted to be the one who set the vision for what God was going to do.
He wanted to be the final authority in all matters, spiritual or not.
He wanted all praise and glory and hope and adoration heaped on him.
He wanted to be the fourth person in the Godhead.
He wanted it all.
And he wanted it now!
Instead of waiting on the Lord to recognize and promote him to a position of true leadership within the congregation based, of course, on his likeness to Jesus, Diotrephes decided to take matters into his own hands. As the proverb warns, “Nor is it glory to search one’s own glory” (Prov. 25:27). Or, “For men to search their own glory is not glory.” It is self-promotion at best. And the root of it is pride.
Diotrephes, who imagined his perceived greatness should be seen by all, could not allow another’s greatness to outshine his. There was room for only one star in the heavens— and it was named Diotrephes.
Therefore, John was a threat.
John had to go.
So as is the custom in our culture, Diotrephes used his First Amendment right, his right to free speech, to malign and criticize John’s ministry, John’s leadership, and ultimately John’s authority. Pretty much the same stuff we do today when pride and jealousy raise their ugly heads among people in church.
Here is John’s response:
For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church (3 John 10).
Carnal, heavy-handed bullying tactics within the church— and the sinister source of this sin, as always, is pride.
He accuses John to others with wicked words.
He personally refuses to recognize John’s authority and receive the itinerant teachers approved by John.
He then expands his iron-fisted control by forcing those who do not bend to his wishes out of the church. They are shunned from fellowship. Persecuted. Excommunicated.
And it appears the congregation does nothing to stand against this evil. Nothing.
Again, much like our church culture of today.
So what was John’s final word on Diotrephes? What did he finally do?
As a loving, caring, compassionate spiritual father to Gaius and the church, John took this crisis and carefully, strategically, crafted it into a teaching moment. One of those, “He who has ears to hear” moments he learned from his Master.
Listen to the application gleaned from the actions of Diotrephes.
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true (3 John 11-12).
In other words, you be different. You imitate what is good, and not what is evil. John urged Gaius not to imitate Diotrephes’ wicked behavior by refusing to welcome and accept Demetrius. Instead, he urged Gaius, and each one of us as well, to imitate what is good and just. Why? Because, as he said, “the one who does good is of God and the one who does evil (Diotrephes) has not seen God.”
In essence, lost people act like lost people. Even if they are members of your church.
Don’t be like them— even to the point of rejection.
Adveho quis may.
Come what may.