This was preached at New Wine Christian Fellowship [6/9/2013]
Colonial America produced a pastor and theologian who is arguably the finest this continent has ever produced, Jonathan Edwards. Barely out of college He became an assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, a widely respected and influential pastor. Edwards succeeded to his grandfather's pulpit four years later, on Stoddard's death. Stoddard had seen several small “harvestings” of ten to twenty individuals brought to salvation in short periods of time. Edward's departed from the tradition of emphasizing corporate unity in Christ and began to emphasize personal relationship with God. The results were spectacular. Not only did Edward's congregation begin to see an incredible outpouring of the Spirit, but “Awakening” began to break out all up and down the Connecticut River Valley.
Pastor friends in England heard of these events and wrote to ask Edwards to describe what was happening. Edwards, a prolific writer, did not disappoint. When his response was received, the pastors immediately took the letter to have it published. The copy I have covers a little more than one hundred pages. The book, which generally goes by the title A Narrative of the Revival of Religion in New England, was an instant best seller in England and even on the Continent. George Whitefield to set sail for America the next year. He preached throughout the colonies with incredible success. Despite some strong theological differences between the two, Edwards received Whitefield well and they became friends.
And then it all stopped. Several established pastors were uncomfortable with the enthusiasms of this “Great Awakening”. A prominent pastor in Boston wrote a popular book condemning the Awakening and claiming it had nothing to do with God. When Whitefield returned to the Americas, he found pulpits closed to him and crowds thin and unresponsive. At this point Edwards wrote the first of two books discussing the Awakening, Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England, and The Way in Which It Ought to be Acknowledged and Promoted. This thoughtful book condemns those in the pulpit and in government who oppose or fail to support a clear work of the Holy Spirit, but Edwards goes on to suggest that there were several ways in which those caught up in the revival opened the door to criticism. The one which immediately struck me was “undiscerned Spiritual pride”.
“One cause of errors attending a great Revival of Religion, is undiscerned Spiritual Pride. The first and worst cause of errors, that prevail in such a state of things is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. This is the main handle by which the devil has hold of religious persons, and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.—This cause of error is the main spring, or at least the main support, of all the rest. Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. It is by this that the mind defends itself in other errors, and guards itself against light, by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already, he does not need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it. But if this disease be healed, other things are easily rectified.” (Jonathan Edwards. Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England, 1742. Pages 338-339).
You might ask yourself, “What is undiscerned Spiritual pride?” I have worked on several projects in the arts and in the business community which are well known. I have worked for premier arts organizations. I have met and talked with many famous or important people. All of this makes for interesting stories, but it can also tend to make me seem specially important, when in fact I was never crucial to any of those projects or organizations, nor am I bosom buddies with any famous people. Never-the-less, having a raft of these stories can tend to inflate me, not just in other people's eyes, but in my own. In other words, this can lead to an undeserved pride. Now think if I have preached the Word and someone comes to salvation, or I pray for someone and they are healed. When the Spirit begins to move or appears to move, then like in the former example I have been there as a part of a great work, and although I am not the essential part, it is possible to inflate the appearance of my value to the work.
In my younger days, I preached a sermon which stirred up a great deal of controversy. There were many who severely condemned me for what I had to say. This was to be expected. There were others who adored what I had to say. I was always a geeky kid, when geek was not sheik, so when suddenly I found girls staring at me with doe eyes, and guys praising my brilliance, I found myself in a strange new world. I liked it. Now my religious walk was badly tainted, but even then God mercifully tapped me on the shoulder and said, that kind of candy is very dangerous, and I thank God for it.
Working with the Holy Spirit, our feeble efforts are so greatly magnified that we can begin to appear to be extraordinary people, and forget that we are still a work in progress. We ow the success of our efforts to an extraordinary master who has adopted us as His own. In most cases God has to ween us off of hidden or undiscerned spiritual pride.
Luke 9:52-55 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them.
Why pick on James and John? So that we see this is not a phenomenon isolated to a few isolated individuals. Undiscerned spiritual pride lurks around all of our dark corners. James and John were aggressive and devoted disciples. Along with Peter, they formed the inner core around Jesus. Their small band was traveling south to Jerusalem along a path generally avoided by the Jews. The Galileans were already considered a lesser class of Jew, considering the history of the northern kingdom. But the Samaritans were another class altogether. They were so intermarried with non-Jewish neighbors that their Judaism had become completely mixed with other religions (syncretic).
Lack of empathy is perhaps the signal ingredient of pride. Instead of seeing the Samaritans as a lost, confused and picked on race, much more so than themselves as Galileans, they saw someone lower than themselves who were failing to acknowledge the great teacher. It is classic black hat—white hat thinking. At the movies we like to know who the good guys and who the bad guys are, so we can root for the right team. James and John were on the right team. They forgot that only a few years prior they were not on that team. They were in fact greatly in need of Jesus. The time for judgement comes for us all far too soon. James and John were fortunate to have much more time to mature.
It is easy to see how the idea of retributive justice enters the picture if we read the Bible. Our culture has so elevated tolerance and we have become so comfortable with it that we believe it a right to behave badly. “In our pagan way,” says J.I. Packer, “we take for granted that God feels as we do. The idea that retribution might be the moral law of God's world and an expression of his holy character seems to us quite fantastic.” Knowing God, 1973. Page 130). Jesus speaks of the judgement, the separating of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 13:49, 25:32). “he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41). But this is the business of God, reserved for the end of the age (Matthew 13:49).
The sons of thunder, James and John, are attempting to pick up this fire brand prematurely and rain it down on people, many of whom it is their destiny to bring to salvation, James through heroic sacrifice, and John through lengthy years of preaching, teaching and prayer for many with far less understanding of God than these Samaritans. They have become all too comfortable with their lofty position next to the great teacher. They have not fully comprehended the heart of the matter.
There is another reason why the two would think poorly of the Samaritans, Jesus himself when sending out the twelve says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). John, writing much later, in chapter four of his gospel, relates the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and the great salvations in that Samaritan village. Which event came first, I will leave to the scholars. I'll just say that John has fully grasped the message by the time that gospel was written.
Before leaving this point look back a few verses to Luke 9:49. “John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’” Here we have no reason to believe this man is a Samaritan, his only demerit is that he is ranked among the close companions of Jesus. He is not one of the elite. Now we need to look at the verses just before that: “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.’” (Luke 9:46-48). Jesus has to emphasize this point many times.
Matthew 20:20-24 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers
Mark 10:35-40 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.
Tell me Jesus, am I or am I not your favorite? Why argue with the other disciples, if Jesus says I am the best, I am the best. James and John are thoroughly self-focused here. They imagine that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to break open the heavens and bring the heavenly kingdom. They want assurance of their high position in that new state of affairs. Jesus knows that he is not going to receive triumphant laurels, but scourging, mockery and gruesome death. James will very soon follow in death, murdered by Herod (Acts 12:2). The days ahead are dark and cruel for all of them.
Jesus, once again explains, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).
Jesus is continually pointing to children and servants. Children because they have no understanding of rank or position. Small children don't think about motives or reasons, they ask a lot of questions, and don't argue with the answers (unless the answer is no). And servants because they have given up their rights to their own rank or position, and taken the lowest position. Their purpose is to ensure that someone else's needs are met. The disciples are slow to catch on. Even at the last supper, they are still arguing as to who is greater (Luke 22:24). Jesus repeats, “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:26).
These are the same men who have spent three years up close and personal with Jesus, the Son of God. They have prayed for healings, deliverance and more and they have seen mighty miracles, not just at the hands of Jesus, but by their own because Jesus said to do it: heal the sick and cast out demons. they have been discipled and released into releasing the mercies of heaven. But Jesus has to keep repeating go out, heal the sick and cast out demons. Stop pushing, stop shoving and do what you are blessed to be able to do.
It all has to do with focus. If our eyes are focused on God and God's breaking heart, who can stop us from doing what we have been discipled to do, and what we have been released to do? But if our eyes are self-focused, our concern will be for titles, approvals, honors and accolades. All of these things can stop us from doing the very thing which fashions our crown of glory.
James and John are definately out there in there self-promotion, so you might want to call theirs “spiritual pride” and leave the undisclosed part out. There is a disciple who had even greater issues with pride which were unknown to any but Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and a million angels.
Matthew 26:6-9 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’
John 12:1-5 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
Judas Iscariot is in a very bad state. He too has been discipled, he too has gone out, laid on hands to heal and cast out demons. But Judas has set himself apart. John says he was abusing the money purse (John 12:6). That hidden sin may have allowed the devil to back him up. More than this, however, we see that he is unable to enjoy the occasion. Jesus is prophetically anointed for his burial. Judas is indignant at the waste. The same story told by Matthew implies that other disciples are drawn in by this indignation.
I know that for me, if I am unable to enjoy someone else's success (Godly success of course), then something is wrong. Maybe I have struggled and failed in the same area and my pride is wounded. Maybe I think myself better and more worthy of recognition. Somewhere, somehow, a bit of vain self-focus has skewed my perception so that what I should enjoy I cannot. How much more horrible could it be than to see the Lord of Glory honored and feel nothing but indignation, disgust and a desire to leave the party. In Matthew's account Judas immediately goes to the chief priests to set up a deal to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14).
There are judgments and reasonings that cause us to gossip, to criticize, to oppose, but it all begins with a slow process of internal dialogue. Brick by brick judgments meant correct some real or imagined wrong, instead polish the pride and become a mausoleum, not a monument. His accusation that the money is being wasted is utterly foolish. First of all it was Mary's money to do with as she pleased. Secondly, Jesus had no problem getting money when necessary. Matthew relates an incident which Judas, if not present for, surely was aware of, in which Jesus is asked for tax money, concocts the most outrageous method of accessing his accounts: “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:27). The point is clear, Jesus has no problem getting money.
If money isn't the issue, what is? Judas Iscariot has his own mind about things and because he is out of step with the great teacher he has no forum to express is opinions. He has seen Jesus wither the most cunning religious lawyers and has no intention of putting himself in the spotlight. His only outlets, keep building his wall, his mausoleum, and pick at Mary's extravagance.
The other disciples were leaning into the great teacher, even when they were being rebuked, they were seeking to understand the heart of God in Jesus Christ. Even if they were momentarily derailed to pick at Mary or jostle for position they heard Jesus speak and came back in line. Judas, behind his wall, heard less and less of what Jesus had to say, until Satan entered in and went to betray him.
Acts 15:36-40 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
And finally a word about stubbornness or what the Bible refers to as a stiff-neck. Paul in his early days was a bit of a bull. Barnabas was Paul's mentor. He first appears in the book of Acts donating all the money from the sale of his property, prompting Ananias and Sapphira to pretend to do the same (Acts 4:36-5:2). When Paul is converted, no one knows what to do with this their former enemy, it is Barnabas who takes Paul under his wing and puts him to work (Acts 9:26-27). Paul's first missionary journey to the gentiles was at Barnabas's side. In the quote above, we see that the two have decided to conduct a second trip through the former regions but fall into an argument over John-Mark (nephew of Barnabas) who had deserted them on the first trip.
Stubborness is often a sign wanting it my way even if it is a bad idea. We all have a stubborn moments. Often their is fear of unknown options, distrust of the motives of others, or a whole slew of other factors, but bottom line, stubborness has to do with who is in the driver's seat, someone else, or me. Pride will always vote for me. In the case above we can't speak to any of the details, but it appears that Paul changes his mind regarding John-Mark.
John called Mark reappears as a faithful companion to Paul in his letter to the Colossians (Col 4:10). From there on he appears frequently assisting both Paul and Peter. It is believed that he is also the author of the Gospel of Mark.
Stubborness is a bit of a hallmark of the early Paul, or Saul as he, a fire-breathing Pharisee, referred to himself using the Jewish form. In his defense before king Agrippa, Paul recalls, “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” (Act 26:14). Notice that Jesus mentions that Paul (Saul) has been kicking against the goad. A goad is a small blunt spear used to convince stubborn livestock to do what they are told to do. In other words, Jesus is saying I tried giving you your dignity, I tried a quiet nudge, I tried a good solid poke, now here is what you are going to do. This was an appearance to scare a load out of his horse and drop Saul into it. There is Saul, blind and helpless. His army is helpless, lying in the dirt beside him. All of Saul political ambitions are up in smoke. All of his threats have turned to a whimper.
Saul changes teams and he does so with a vengence. All of the stubborness and fire-breathing passion is intact. His stubborness is already softened by this drop to the dirt, but God will take him miles further before he bows his head to a Roman sword.
God has asked us to join in His great work, and by all appearances waits for us to join in before He begins. I believe that the important ingredients are our personal relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, as well as a commitment to service and fellowship with the church and with those whom the father is wooing into his fellowship. Of course any behavior on the part of God's people which is offensive to those God is calling is a hindrance to Revival.
Extensive self-examination is most definitely not my goal. We need to stay aware of the tendency in all of us toward undisclosed spiritual pride an to nip it in the bud when it crops up. Just like weeding the garden. Only in this case, our best weed-b-gone is to confess it and lay it before Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to deal with it. Like a wound, once the dressing is on, it is best to leave it alone unless there is reason to go back to it.
So here are the main points to look for:
There are more outworkings of pride than these. My purpose is to touch on several of the most prominent that often hide within the body of Christ, disguised as genuine spiritual manifestations. In small doses, most of these are not harmful and may even be helpful, as in, “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1Corinthians 12:31). As outlined above they can be deadly to body of Christ if allowed to grow unchecked.
The bottom line is this: It is hard enough to get genuine Revival started, the last thing that the body of Christ wants to be guilty of is making the spread of Revival difficult by our own immature behavior and especially spiritual pride, obvious or undisclosed.
Father in Heaven,
I earnestly desire the outpouring of your Spirit, which you have promised to us.
Bring us close to You. Bring the Christians of Pasadena close to you. Bring all of the body of Christ close, that our hearts might bend to your song.
Break from us any tendancy towards self-centeredness, self-consciuosness, isolation, judgement, criticism, or self-criticism.
Give us a heart for those who dwell in anger, corruption, perversion or religious corruption that the prayer of heaven might flow in us.
Give us the servants heart towards each other and towards the lost, the hurting and needy.
Give us the willingness to step out of our comfort zone, to challenge poisonous perceptions, and to bring healing in the most unexpected places.
Thankyou for choosing us. Thankyou for using us to serve Your Kingdom.
May our hearts never forget to cry: To You my God be the Glory. To You Oh Lord be the Majesty. To You be the Power and the Glory forever and ever.