Based On: Luke 14:1,7-14
Have you ever seen kids fight over the biggest piece of cake on the table or a toy they all wanted to play with? They will argue and perhaps even fight to get what they think they deserve. Maybe we call that being selfish. Sometimes don’t we as adults do the very same thing? Of course we are more sophisticated about it. We aren’t so blatant, but sometimes we are selfish. Where does this selfishness come from? Behind the selfish actions there is that thought that I should come first, or I should have more, or I am more important than this other person. Our selfish desires are motivated by a sinful, self-centered pride.
Sometimes we talk about being proud of things or of other people and we mean that in a good way. We are proud of what God has done for us and through us. We are proud of what others have done and how God has blessed them and we are proud because of something that is truly good for them. Perhaps we can talk about this pride as joy and an excitement over the blessings that God has given to someone else. We have this joy for their sake. It is wonderful to think of others and to be proud of others in this way, but this isn’t what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees who exemplified a self-centered type of pride – a pride in themselves and their own accomplishments..
In the culture of the day when someone invited people to a banquet it was a great honor for them to sit close to the host, close to the one who invited them. The farther away you were from the head of the table the less prestigious that position was. Jesus was watching as the Pharisees would try get the best seats, the seats closest to the host, and so he told his parable. He warned the Pharisees against trying to exalt themselves, against trying to show that they were more important or better or deserved more than those around them. He was warning them against sinful, self-centered pride.
We see one way that this pride showed itself among these Pharisees, but we also know a little about this pride personally. This self-centered pride might get us to talk a little too much about ourselves. This kind of pride might get us to think that we are always right and things need to be done our way. This kind of pride will spread gossip and rumors and talk bad about others so that we look good. This pride takes pleasure, even if it is a small secret pleasure, in the misfortune of others, because it helps us look better.
Remember how the Pharisees would try to get the places of honor at the table. That’s because the self-centered pride is unsatisfied to simply have something or be something, but it needs to have more or be better than someone else. It isn’t enough to have a million dollars if everyone else around you has a million dollars, pride wants two million. Self-centered pride is competitive and because of this competition, this selfish pride needs to have more than the next guy – it’s a way to show that you are better than the next guy. You can see why pride is often the cause of fights between people and wars between nations.
Pride destroys relationships between people and it also destroys the relationship between us and God. This self-centered pride shows itself when we think we don’t need to submit to God’s Word. Perhaps we think we don’t need to hear more of God’s Word. Pride tells us we know enough. So pride tries to lift us up over other people and also tries to lift us, exalt us, higher than God. When it comes to what God says about right and wrong, our selfish pride will tell us, “Oh, you know better”. It will tell us, “Oh, what God says about marriage – that is so old fashioned. The times have changed and you can trust yourself to know what is right and wrong.” In fact, every time you sin you are rebelling against what God has said, you are ignoring his standards of right and wrong and following your own standard, you are exalting yourself over God.
This pride shows itself another way – pride will claim, “I am living a pretty good life, I don’t sin a whole lot and so I really don’t need God’s forgiveness very much. This is the pride of the Pharisees and it is a pride that we can also fall into if we don’t regularly hear God’s Word that says we are sinners. It is also pride to say that your sin is too big to be forgiven – do you think you are better than everyone else at sinning or better at sinning than God is at forgiving?
The problem with pride is that it’s foolish. God is obviously superior and it makes no sense for us to exalt ourselves, to think of ourselves more highly than other human beings or than God. This self-centered pride will separate us from our God. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkeness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind." So what do we deserve for this anti-God state of mind? What will we get for trying to exalt ourselves – for trying to lift ourselves up higher than others and higher than God? Jesus is very clear – those who exalt themselves will be humbled. He is talking about hell, the greatest humiliation we could ever suffer. This sinful pride is quicksand that pulls us down lower and lower, closer and closer to death even though the whole time we are reaching for branches and vines and trying to pull ourselves up, trying to exalt ourselves.
All is not lost. Jesus reached his hand down into the quicksand and pulled us up. He rescued us from our own sinful pride. Now we focus on our rescuer. Wouldn’t you do that if someone rescued you from certain death? Wouldn’t you just look at that person who pulled you out of the pit and take time to thank him and praise him for what he had done? We have been rescued from certain death in hell and now we do focus on our Savior, and we exalt him to the place of honor that he deserves. We no longer look at ourselves. After all, how can there be selfish pride when you owe all that you are to someone else?
It has been said that humility is the hardest thing for man to do, but we have Christ. He is a model of humility for us to follow, but more importantly he is our substitute. Our Savior came to this earth. He left the glory of heaven and humbled himself to live as one of us on this earth, and not even as someone with power and prestige on this earth, but he was born in a stable and lived a plain and common life, not even having a permanent home. Then his life ended in a form of punishment intended to humiliate and execute at the same time. While hanging on the cross he also suffered the humiliation of hell, the humiliation we deserve for trying to exalt ourselves over God and others. He became our self-centered pride for us and was humbled for it. Now he gives us his humility and we will be exalted.
Being exalted is not a do-it-yourself project. You just won’t be able to do it right. No, Jesus humbled himself for us so that he could exalt us and he will exalt us perfectly and completely. Those Pharisees looked for the places of honor at the earthly banquet they were invited to. In contrast, we have been invited to the banquet hall of heaven where we will all have places of incredible honor. Thank you dear Savior.