Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 7, 2018
46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 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.”
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.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 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?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
— Luke 9:46-56, ESV
Many of us are of the age or stage of life that our new year’s resolution is resolutely the same: lose weight. During the year our exercise routine diminishes, our will-power against snacks and sweets gets weak, and then along comes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year’s bowl games. Caution and commons sense is thrown to the wind and we eat like village pillagers or an invasion of wild locusts.
Then, we make bold resolutions. We plan to work out five days a week. We pledge to eat one meal a day. We buy carrots and celery instead of chips and chocolate. We resolve to lose twenty pounds. And what happens by the end of the year? See the above paragraph.
Perhaps we should make more humble resolutions. Better still, we should resolve to be humble, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (ref. 1 Timothy 4:8).
Growing in godliness requires great resolve, and like good physical health it is a resolution to lose. It is a humble resolution to lose something heavy about which J.C. Ryle said, “No sin is so deeply rooted in our nature. It cleaves to us like our skin.” It is the sin that God hates most, a sin common to even believers. It is a sin we must humbly resolve to lose. It is the weighty sin of pride, which when thrown around can hurt a lot of people.
Pride causes us to hurt people in our own church, so we must resolve to lose it.
It was Mohammed Ali who coined the phrase, “I’m the greatest.” Yet he wasn’t the greatest boxer, losing five fights in his career. He wasn’t the greatest Christian, for although he was baptized a Baptist he renounced his faith to join the Nation of Islam. He wasn’t the greatest Muslim, either, as he was married four times and fathered at least nine children, most with women to whom he was not married, including a sixteen-year-old girl he impregnated when he was twice her age.
Since I am undaunted by white guilt and determined that character counts more than charisma, I will go on record and say that Ali was not the greatest, he wasn’t even great. He was prideful and arrogant, selfish and sinful. And by no means is he alone.
Along the Roman Road to salvation we find, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ref. Romans 3:23). A subsequent turn reveals, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ref. Romans 5:8). For sinner and saint, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. All sinners are all in the same boat sailing for wrath, whether the number of sins is one or one trillion. All saints are freely and fully forgiven by grace through faith, not works, lest we should feel the need to boast of our rank.
Therefore, pride and competition are banished from the church, right? Consider the first twelve followers of Christ. “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest” (ref. vs. 46). It wasn’t enough for them to have been chosen by God, commissioned by Jesus Christ, and included in the soul-saving, life-changing ministry of the Holy Spirit. They immediately turned Christianity into a competition. Each man strove to be in first place and have the last word. Such is the graphic illustration of pride.
The remedy for such pride, according to Jesus, is a child. In the context of Luke’s Gospel, this is not a lesson on child-like faith, but rather child-like rank. For every child in any middle eastern home of the first century was ranked last.
Are some in the church more gifted, more intelligent, more experienced than others? Sure, it was that way with the Apostles, too. There will always be a difference in the membership and higher standards for leadership, for this is obvious and biblical. But there must also be an equality in value and an even-handed, genuine love for one another. This is how we prove to ourselves and demonstrate to outsiders that we are genuine Christians (ref. John 13:35).
Pride will always be a part of the game, but let us resolve to never let arrogance come out to play. This will maintain unity in our church. But more must be done with our pride to promote unity with other churches.
Pride causes us to hurt people in other churches, so we must resolve to lose it.
When Jesus told the Apostles they should not look inward and compete with one another, they immediately looked outward. What potential! Christians should look outward to the fields of harvest, to needy people, to opportunities to share our faith.
But this is not exactly what the twelve had in mind. They did not look outward to evangelize unbelievers, they looked outward to criticize other believers. By doing the second, they endangered the first.
Like a ten-year-old tattletale, the beloved John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us” (ref. vs. 49). In other words, other people were following Jesus, but they were not following Jesus they way John followed Jesus, so John wanted Jesus to stop them.
Perfectionism is a form of pride practiced by people who are far from perfect. Perfectionism posits that the way we do things is the right way, and others must do it our way, or it is the wrong way. It is saying adamantly, even though we are heirs of Adam, “We’re perfect, you’re wrong.” Jesus would have none of it. Our Lord rebuked John with a golden proverb against perfectionism that is a perfect compliment to His more familiar post in Luke 11:23.
Perfectionism is the pride of current SBC President Steve Gaines, who once said in a meeting of pompous self-appointed popes, “Now that we’ve gotten rid of the liberals, how are we going to get rid of all the Calvinists?” Many pastors were fired and many families were wrecked by such poisonous pride. Perfectionism is also the pride of this pastor who likes to drop sarcastic bombs upon various regiments of Arminians and Charismatics. Pride will not disappear until the reappearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but the perfectionism should leave, now.
Heretics should be called out on the carpet. Pure theology should be pursued with all of our minds, hearts, and souls. But walls should be torn down, not built, between brothers and sisters who may teach Bible Studies differently, enjoy different styles of worship, or use more or less water in baptism.
Pride can divide members of the same church. Pride can divide church from church. But perhaps most consequentially, pride can keep people away from any church.
Pride causes us to hurt people who are not in church, so we must resolve to lose it.
The third movement in this group text against pride is perhaps the most sinister. The first Christians turned from arguing with one another, to criticizing other followers of Christ, to making a request from Jesus concerning those who, at least for the moment, showed no interest in the Lord. “They said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” (ref. vs. 54). For the third straight time, Jesus “rebuked them” (ref. vs. 55).
When Christians fight with one another, non-Christians might perceive there is a problem with our Christianity. When Christians fight amongst themselves, church versus church or denomination against denomination, non-Christians usually hear there is a problem with our Christianity. But when Christians attack non-Christians, they definitely know there is a problem with our Christianity. And they want none of it.
Because of the pride and rashness of the “Sons of Thunder,” it would be quite a while before any Samaritans listened to the gospel again. Jesus had opened the door (ref. John 4), but James and John slammed it shut. It would take the death of Stephen and the preaching of Philip to open it once again (ref. Acts 8).
What is the gospel effect of bashing homosexuals, ostracizing divorced people, calling for the deportation of Muslims, or preaching about the eternal punishment of atheists with a gleam in our eye? The gospel is silenced, of course, because all they can hear is our pride, and pride is repulsive to God and the godless alike.
Are there biblical standards of morality which should be enforced? Yes, within the disciplined membership of the church. Is there only one way to Heaven, through the gospel of Jesus Christ? Yes, to be stood upon in the church and walked out into the world. But the lifestyle and language of the gospel is not fire from heaven, nor hate speech from mean-spirited Christians (actually, that’s an oxymoron, or just a plain moron), but love, from God to us and through us to the world. Let us humbly resolve to take it, with our pride left behind.
I love the Apostle John. He is my favorite person in Scripture, other than God Himself. But as I read and reread this unfortunate series of events, I think John needs to lighten up by letting go of his pride. So do I. And today, I make a humble resolution.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org