Composition (Part 1)

How many of you know someone like this?

Better yet, how many of you are someone like this?

Pride and arrogance is not something we have to do much searching to discover, it seems. Think about it – when was the last time you heard a rockstar, athlete, actor or politician speaking in a public forum and thought “Now there’s someone who is advancing the value and virtue of humility?”

Can you imagine how strange the music videos would appear to us if a spirit of humility swept the hip-hop industry? Everyone would be wearing lemon-yellow sweater vests drinking Earl Grey, swapping stories about how much they respect their wife and appreciate their parents.

But truthfully, I’m not sure that notions of humility are even in the scope of desire for the average American. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true.

When a man named William Bennet wrote the “Book of Virtues”, the one virtue that was intentionally left out was humility. Maslow created his “Hierarchy of Needs “ which placed self-actualization at the very top of this pyramid – almost as if to imply that our greatest goal has humans is to achieve our fullest potential in this life.

And while I don’t think his model is the most detestable thing ever created by man, I must humbly disagree and say plainly – that our greatest drive and sole purpose is to bring glory to God, not ourselves.

While we do not feel a need by any stretch to shy away from terms like “pride” in the western world, we’ve even developed other more politically correct terms to conceal the etymology, terms like “self-esteem” – which is truly just pride rolled in argot sugar.

For the Christian I believe this poses a serious challenge because, quite frankly, books like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 don’t seem interpret pride as a subtle, intrinsic hiccup, but instead understand it to be downright evil at its core. In fact, Augustine famously said:

“Pride is like a mother that is pregnant with all the other sins”

But pride has become so engrained in our education and culture that, for many of us, its presence in our life doesn’t even show up on our radar.

There’s a story about a young turtle who had grown tired of the Chicago winters (understandably) and so decided to pitch an idea to a couple of geese flying south for the winter. He suggested that the two geese held a rope between them by their feet and the turtle would grasp tightly to the rope with his strong jaw while they flew him to warmer climates. To his surprise, they actually went for the idea, and in a few short minutes, he was airborne. A few miles into the trip, other birds began to notice this incredible feet. One bird finally flew up to this unique trio and said “What an innovative idea! Who’s brilliant idea was that?

And the turtle then responded “ I diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid…….”

That’s obviously a ridiculous story, but for me, it really illustrated ideas I’ve read in Scripture before like:

Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. –Proverbs 16:18 (HCSB)

By pride and insolence comes only contention- Proverbs 13:10 (AMP)

I hate pride and arrogance – Proverbs 8:13 (NIV)

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)

As I understand it, many of us each day are saying to each other things like “Well, I suppose I am prideful at times, but everyone struggles in that area.” While God is saying, “I hate pride and arrogance” many of us are dismissing it as nothing more than nuance. And I feel like most of us aren’t likely waking up in the morning, turning to God, and saying things like “I dare you to stop me cheating here or lying there”, yet it seems that, for Peter, the prideful are doing just that – and God opposes those of that posturing. Truthfully, that’s what happened with Satan, right? In his arrogance he was cast out of Heaven for his unwillingness to be second to anyone. His kingdom-craving was unquenchable.  Which I think highlights an important truth:

God’s Plan A is humility, but His Plan B is humiliation. May I submit to you that Plan A is a much better way to go.

Paul talks about this notion of humility and unity in a beautifully pivotal passage in his letter to the church in Philippi:

 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
7 but made himself nothing, 
 taking the very nature of a servant, 
 being made in human likeness. 
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.-Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

Now, I’ve found that a lot of people like to peg Paul as an idealist but I would argue that being a prisoner has a strange and subtle way of beating idealism out of you. Paul’s context as one under house arrest is incredibly important to keep in mind.

This short passage is full of all sorts of nuances that nerds like me find fascinating, but I won’t bore you with all of those. There are a few details that are particularly important to note, however.

For instance, that very first word “if” here is in the conditional particle, which speaks not of unforeseeable prospects but a fulfilled condition. Some commentators believe its better translated as the word “since” instead. To me, that changes the entire tone and feel of the words that follow.

Just a few words later Paul uses the word “tenderness” which is the Greek word spanchna – the same word used for bowels or intestines. For the Jews, the intestines were the deepest seat of a person’s emotions, passions, and feelings.  Paul seems to believe that our unity in Christ and love of Christ are to the driving force behind our very core – the gut of who we are.

In verse two, Paul talks about completing his joy. He already has joy, but it’s made complete by the unity they embody. I believe that everyone can experience joy because God graciously allows for people everywhere to experience goodness in some capacity. But for the Christian, I think that we’re called to a heightened and sustaining joy – rooted in the bond that exists between them and God.

This is why I find passaged like Psalm 30:11 to be so beautiful. It says:

1 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy

To me, being clothed with something is far more enduring than the erratic joy that many of us tend to experience. It is beyond circumstance and context and is made complete by our decision to actively pursue unity and humility.

When he speaks of “having the same love,” the word “having” there is both the participle present and active tense, implying that this is a maintaining kind of love, one that is worked on and worked towards intentionally and continuously. It’s not just a decision to “join a church,” or merely telling someone once that you love them. It’s working purposefully towards fostering, developing, and growing a deep-seated love and unity.

John MacArthur once wisely said:

“On a purely emotional level, having equal love for others is impossible, because people are not equally attractive. …however, [it] is the love of the will, not of preference or attraction. It is based on an intentional, conscious choice to seek the welfare of its object.”-John MacArthur

And an old parody of a favorite hymn reads:

“To dwell above with the saints we love, that will be glory. But to dwell below with the saints we know, well that is a different story.”

To take it a step further, the phrase “same love” in verse two literally means, “to be equally disposed to love and be love.”

Many of you have no problem actively seeking to serve the needs of others. Your beautiful heart of service is apparent and visible to anyone who even remotely knows you, but you’ll be hard pressed to ever truly allow someone else to serve you. It’s Peter at the Last Supper, who’s initial reaction to Christ’s decision to wash His disciple’s feet was passionate opposition.

To “have the same love” means not only that you get to be the “humble hero,” always sacrificing of your time and energy to serve a greater good. It also means to pursue humility enough that would allow even your King and Messiah to wash the dirt from your very feet.

Paul knew what some church workers today do not know, that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. True spiritual unity comes from within; it is a matter of the heart. Uniformity is the result of pressure from without. It demands that everyone looks, talks, and thinks exactly like them.

There is also a massive difference between unity and union as well. For instance, if you take two cats, tie their tails together, and throw them over a clothesline, they’ll have union, but you better believe that they’re not likely going to have a whole lot of real unity in that moment.

For years I believed that if I was in the same ministry, the same small group, or even the same building as other Christians that I was somehow living out the type of unity and community that Scripture speaks of. Truthfully and tragically I believe that there are millions upon millions of church-goers every week who are kidding themselves into thinking that, since they all showed up to the same address on a particular morning, that they are unified.

May we move past the tactics of relevant contextualization and cotton-candy theology to a place of unrelenting love, service, and unity for those around us.

May our joy be complete.

(To be continued)

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