In the spring of 1867, General George Armstrong Custer and his regiment were on a scouting expedition on the plains of Kansas. Suddenly Custer’s English Greyhounds, his constant companions, began to chase some antelope over a distant hill and—in spite of himself, Custer could not resist joining the chase. Well, it was not long before the General, his horse, and his pack of dogs had left his regiment far behind. In fact, Custer quickly forgot all about his men and his mission when he crested a hill and saw his first buffalo: an enormous, shaggy bull. He put the spurs to his horse’s sides and began the chase. As the horse gained on the massive buffalo, Custer yelled with excitement. An avid hunter, he knew he had to bring this trophy home so he drew his pearl-handled pistol. But as he came alongside the thundering beast and shoved the barrel into its thick shaggy side, Custer paused. Feeling the ground shake, hearing the ragged breathing of both animals side by side, he pulled the pistol back, to, as he put it, “prolong the enjoyment of the chase.” After several minutes, Custer decided it was time for the kill. Again, He shoved the pistol into the side of the buffalo.
But, as if sensing Custer’s intentions, the buffalo abruptly turned toward the horse. The horse veered away from the buffalo’s horns, and when Custer tried to grab the reins with both hands, his finger accidentally fired a bullet into his own horse’s head, killing it instantly. Custer was thrown to the ground and then struggled quickly to his feet to face the animal that had been his prey only seconds before. Instead of charging, the buffalo stared at the strange, foolish man and then walked off. Horseless and alone, Custer began the long, dangerous walk back to his regiment. In less than a decade, this same recklessness and prideful arrogance would lead the General and his men to their death on a flat-topped hill next to a river called the Little Bighorn.
Custer’s life proves that arrogance can indeed be a deadly thing. It shows that, as God’s Word warns, “Pride really DOES go before the fall.” (Proverbs 16:18).
And of course this verse doesn’t just apply to foolish generals—it applies to Christians and churches as well. Arrogance can cause great damage to a body of believers. A perfect example of this is seen in the troubled, constantly quarreling church at Corinth. With that in mind, take your Bibles and turn to 1st Corinthians 4. Follow along as I read verses 1-22.
1 – This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.
2 – Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
3 – I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.
4 – My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.It is the Lord Who judges me.
5 – Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 – Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.”Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.
7 – For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 – Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!
9 – For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
10 – We are fools for Christ,but you are so wise in Christ!We are weak, but you are strong!You are honored, we are dishonored!
11 – To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
12 – We work hard with our own hands.When we are cursed, we bless;when we are persecuted,we endure it;
13 – when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
14 – I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
15 – Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
16 – Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
17 – For this reason I have sent to you Timothy,my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
18 – Some of you have become arrogant,as if I were not coming to you.
19 – But I will come to you very soon,if the Lord is willing,and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.
20 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
21 – What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline,or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?
Hebrews 12:1 refers to “the sin that so easily entangles us” and I for one have come to believe that this sin is arrogance or pride. I say that because prideful arrogance is indeed a sin that does SO EASILY entangles us. Before we know it we find ourselves neck-deep in it. It’s is like a pesky weed that sprouts up when we least expect it. As David Rhodes puts it, “Pride is the dandelion of the soul. Its roots go deep, only a little needs to be left behind and it can sprout again. Its seeds lodge in the tiniest encouraging cracks. It flourishes in good soil. The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness.” Benjamin Franklin understood this. He once said, “There is perhaps none of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases. It is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it I would probably be proud of my humility.”
As I’ve told you in the past, we tend to classify sin—and most of us “arrogantly” think we are safe from those sins that we classify as being the worst: things like theft or adultery or murder.
But we err in thinking this way for the MOST dangerous sin is none of these. It’s PRIDE—because it gets us all and it does so very deceptively. I mean, it is SOOOO very easy to slip into prideful thoughts and actions. We all have a little “Custer” in us.
One way arrogance manifests itself is in our stubborn inability to confess what we don’t know. This week I read about a study that shows this sad fact in a book entitled, Think Like a Freak, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. In the book they say, “It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are ‘I love you.’ We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say “I don’t know.’” Both Stevens point to the following experiment as proof of their claim: Imagine you are asked to listen to a simple story and then answer a few questions about it. Here’s the story:
A little girl named Mary goes to the beach with her mother and brother. They drive there in a red car. At the beach they swim, eat some ice cream, play in the sand, and have sandwiches for lunch.
Now the questions:
- What color was the car?
- Did they have fish and chips for lunch?
- Did they listen to music in the car?
- Did they drink lemonade with lunch?
How’d you do? Let’s compare your answers to those of a bunch of kindergarteners, who were given this quiz by researchers. Nearly all the children got the first two questions right (“red” and “no”). But the children did much worse with questions 3 and 4. Why? Those questions were unanswerable—there wasn’t enough information given in the story. And yet a whopping 76 percent of the children answered these two questions either “yes” or “no.” Kids who try to bluff their way through a simple quiz like this are right on track for careers in business and politics, where almost no one ever admits to not knowing anything. [It’s a shame we can’t humbly admit our ignorance], for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
With that in mind I want us to humble ourselves and look to our text for an answer for this question: “What do we need to KNOW in order to defeat arrogance and pride?”
(1) First Paul says, Remember WHO you are.
Paul must have understood the importance of this principle because in his letters he was always saying who he was.
- Look at verse 1 where Paul refers to himself as a SERVANT of Christ.
- Back in chapter 3 he said he and Apollos and Cephas were simply God’s CO-WORKERS.
- Later in this letter Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. I worked hard—yet not I—but the grace of God that was with me.” (1st Corinthians 15:10)
Paul was a humble guy. He didn’t take himself too seriously—and in his letter he was warning the Corinthians—and US—not to either. He was reminding them that as Psalm 100:1-3 says, “The Lord is God. It is He Who has made us and not we ourselves. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” The Corinthians needed to hear this because as Paul put it they were “puffing themselves up.” In foolish arrogance they had forgotten WHO they were—forgotten that like us all they were sinners saved only by the grace of God.
And—Paul tries to shock them back to reality with some very stern words. In verse 7 he says: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” A few verses later he uses sarcasm by referring to himself and the other pastors—the ones the Corinthians were LIFTING UP and arguing about—-as “the scum of the earth…the garbage of the world.”
And then listen to verse 10: “We are fools for Christ,but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong!You are honored, we are dishonored!” Paul was giving them this first antidote for arrogance by reminding them WHO they were—who we ALL are—sinful humans—mere vessels for our gracious God to use. We have no reason to be arrogant or proud. Anything good that comes from us is from God.
You know many of us slip into pride and arrogance as a DEFENSE MECHANISM. I mean, pride often masks insecurity. Our arrogance is an ACT. We to be SECURE when we are really feeling INSECURE. Remember that the next time a PROUD, ARROGANT person drives you crazy. This is another reason it is so important to remember who we are. It not only defeats arrogance—it also gives us confidence. You see if we settle our identity—if we have a healthy sense of dependence on God—well we know we don’t have to put on an ACT. We can be secure—knowing we are accepted and loved by God Himself.
Well, Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we need to get this one settled. We need to remember who we are. We’re sinners saved by the grace of God. I mean, instead of being arrogant and prideful in who we are—we need to be confident and PRAISEFUL in WHOSE we are. And to help us with that this morning—to remind you who you are—WHOSE you are—I want us to read a ton of Scripture together. I am borrowing this idea from Mike Breaux. I’m going to ask you to stand while we read all these Scriptures verses. They’ll be on the screen, just one after the other.
1st John 3:1. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” We’re the adopted—treasured—children of a most high God. John 15:15.
Jesus says, “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me.” We are Christ’s friends!
1st Corinthians 6:17. “But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
We are one with Christ; we are joined to Christ.
1st Corinthians 6:19-20. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.” Isn’t that cool? God lives in us. We belong to God. He bought us with a high price.
1st Corinthians 12:27. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Each of us—you—me—we are parts of the Body of Christ. We are the flesh He uses.
Ephesians 2:18. “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.” I have direct access to God.
Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” You are God’s masterpiece.
Colossians 1:13-14. “For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” We’re the rescued ones—forgiven ones!
Colossians 2:10. “So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” All due respect to Jerry Maguire, but it is Jesus Christ Who completes me.
Romans 8:1-2. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” I am released from any condemnation. I belong to God!
Romans 8:35-39. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today—nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We cannot be separated from the love of God. It’s impossible for that to happen!
Philippians 3:20. “But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior.” We’re already citizens of Heaven itself.
2nd Corinthians 5:20. “We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” We are ministers of reconciliation.
Ephesians 2:6. “For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.
Philippians 4:13. “For I can do everything through Christ, Who gives me strength.” We’ve been empowered to live this live with supernatural power and that is who we are.
Now—the reason I asked you to stand was not just out of respect for God’s Word. I asked you to stand so you’d know that’s WHERE you do stand. You stand accepted by the One Who matters most. Insecurity and the fake arrogance that often comes with it needs to go out the window because of WHO we are—WHOSE we are.
Listen. You don’t have to be anybody else. You don’t have to copy anybody else. You don’t have to compare yourself to anybody else. God takes great delight in watching you be you. Look at this Scripture from Romans 12:3, 6-8. “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
Know who you are. Know who God made you to be and how he gifted you. And just be you. Then instead of being arrogant you’ll be thankful.
(2) A second antidote is to RENEW your FOCUS.
More specifically focus on what YOU are called to do. Discover that good work God has prepared in advance for you to do and focus in on that in life. The Corinthians forgot that our purpose in life as Christians is to serve—to co-LABOR with God. And because they forgot they had become spectators instead of doers. They were critics—not participants. Sadly, many Christians today are like them. They arrogantly sit in the stands criticizing others while they do little or nothing. Can I be honest with you for a moment? Good. One of the things that disturbs me most is Christians who come to me and complain about something our church is not doing.
They arrogantly say, “You should be doing this or that! Why aren’t you!?” And then they walk off. I want to call them back and say, “Great idea—how about helping out with that?” Thanks—I just had to get that off my chest. I feel much better!
My point is—we are ALL servants—we are ALL called—gifted and prepared—to be PARTICIPANTS. And we need to humble ourselves and get to work. Remember—we are stewards of God’s gifts—gifts He has given EACH of us to use so we need to stop criticizing and get back to focusing on our calling.
Well—what is YOURS? What has God YOU prepared YOU in advance to do? Maybe in this season of life God has entrusted to you the role of parenting toddlers. If he’s entrusted that to you, you focus on that. Don’t get distracted. Say to God: I’m going to do my best in serving you and building my life and my faith and my love into these kids. Maybe God has entrusted you with a heartbeat for missions. He just wants you to roll up your sleeves and go somewhere where you’re really needed and spend your life doing that. Maybe SPORTS ministry is your call—God has prepared you to use SPORTS as the way to share His great love. Get to doing that. Maybe God has put a passion in you for working with junior high students or high school students. Well, go get focused on that. Laser focus on that. Maybe God has called you to spend your life helping people who are in prison or people going through really tough stuff. Well, that’s what you need to give your life to. Maybe God has you focused on music, and you just want to use that to lift people to the throne of God. Just go after that with focus, with all your life devoted to that. Whatever task God has entrusted to you—get focused on it, and just go after it. Humble yourself and SERVE. As Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles—and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix—focus—our eyes on Jesus, the author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross—scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Listen—the Christian life is about SERVING—humble Christians FOCUS on that. The elite team of Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, is still largely shrouded in mystery. But in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, divulged the one quality that makes for a successful SEAL—the ability to think about other people and a higher purpose. Here’s an excerpt from his article: “The rigors that SEALs go through begin on the day they walk into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.—universally recognized as the hardest military training in the world. BUD/S lasts a grueling six months. The classes include large contingents of high-school and college track and football stars, national-champion swimmers, and top-ranked wrestlers and boxers—but only 10-20 percent of the men who begin BUD/S usually manage to finish. What kind of man makes it through Hell Week? That’s hard to say. But I do know—generally—who won’t make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength—the preening leaders who don’t want to get dirty—and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show. Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training—men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups—made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too. Almost all the men who survived possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain—put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the “fist” of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.”
We may not be SEALS—but as children of God—WE have a higher purpose and one antidote to the arrogance and pride that so easily entangles us is to FOCUS on that purpose. So to review—REMEMBER who you are—RENEW your focus…
(3) An then a third antidote for arrogance is for us to REVIEW our MOTIVES.
In verse 5 Paul warns that God will, “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” So—-what is it that MOTIVATES you to do what you do? What motives are in YOUR heart? Well, in verses 3-5 Paul says he for one is not really concerned about or motivated by what other people say. He knows who he is and what he wants to accomplish and he knows why he does what he does. His motive is to receive praise from God. He wants to continually open himself up to the One Who can discern his true motives. Paul just wants to live for God every day, to please him and not people. He says to these Corinthian folks that they need to live that way, too. So again, why do you do what you do? What motivates you? Why do you do what you do?
I will confess that when I was a teen my motive was to be accepted. More than anything I wanted those popular kids at school to think I was cool because I had it in my silly head that if they thought I was cool, I’d REALLY be cool. Back then—like now I guess—as teens we were so conscious of our clothing—and I remember one time my mom took me out and bought me a new “current” trendy outfit. I wore it every day. I’d launder it at night and put it on the next morning—in the hopes of being accepted. Silly wasn’t I!? I didn’t realize wearing the same outfit every day pretty much made me look like a fool—a cool fool—but a fool!
You chuckle—-but we all went through that when we were teens. Merton Strommen calls this, “The cry of self-hatred.” We hate our appearance and yearn for peers to counter that. I mean, we want so much to be accepted and loved—that we do some pretty silly things. And—we don’t fully outgrow that. Many adults still see themselves through the eyes of their peers. Their motive in life is to be seen and approved of by others. We do things—wear things—drive things—to be seen by others.
Jesus spoke about this in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: “It’s not so much that you pray, but why do you do it. It’s not so much that you fast, but why are you doing it? It’s not so much that you give, but why are you doing it?” The sad fact is our motives can be an entry point for arrogance and pride—so to deal with that we need to constantly review them. Let’s do that right now. What’s your real motivation these days? What’s the “WHY” behind what you do? Is it the same as these religious people who stood on the street corners and prayed—and made sure everybody knew they were fasting and made sure that everybody knew they were giving generously? What’s your motivation? Is it to please God or is it to get the applause of people? Do you recall Paul’s words a couple chapters back? In 1st Corinthians 2:1-5 he wrote, “When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.”
Paul is saying he’s reviewed his motives and they are pure. He wasn’t trying to build a crowd. He wasn’t trying to fleece them out of money. He wasn’t trying to become famous. He wasn’t trying to get known. He just simply wanted to help them know Christ and him crucified. He was just trying to please God. That was the motivation of his life.
To defeat arrogance we must check our motivations and make sure that we are being driven by God’s grace—driven to make God proud. Listen Christian, as I said earlier, you have been approved by the One who matters most. Those 20 Scriptures that we stood and read together let you know that. As Paul puts it in 1st Thessalonians 2:4, “For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News.” Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Paul is saying that since we’re already approved, we can be free to focus in on what God has called us to do—focused on pleasing Him. One of the saddest verses of Scripture in all the New Testament is found John 12:42- 43. It says, “Many people did believe in Jesus, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” Isn’t that sad? Have you been there? I have. So—to defeat the arrogance that plagues us all: remember who you are, renew your focus, review your motives and finally…
(4) Be sure you RESPECT the right MENTORS.
Look at verse 16 where Paul says, “imitate me.” Now—that may sound arrogant—but remember, Paul has said over and over again, “I am nothing. I’m just a sinner saved by the grace of God. I’m His co-worker. I’m a servant.” So—this is not arrogant. Paul is saying, “Be like me—a SERVANT.” He’s not saying “Come UP here and be like me.” He’s saying, “Get DOWN here and be like me. Humble yourself.”
Paul thought of these Christians as his dear children—and I’m sure you’ll agree—he was a GREAT mentor—a great spiritual father to have. Well—we need HUMBLE mentors—RIGHTEOUS mentors—to emulate as well. And the sad fact is so many in our culture pick the wrong mentors. They emulate movie stars and singers and athletes and other celebrities. We need to respect the RIGHT kind of mentors—GODLY people—maturing Christians.
This is a good time for me to remind you dads out there—to be worthy of this day we set aside to honor you. Be like Paul—be an good example of humility before God. I can guarantee your children are watching—learning. A couple years ago I read about an incident in the life of author, Shea Seranno. Shea had just taken the exit ramp near his home when his car sputtered and died. Trying unsuccessfully to restart the car, he called a tow truck. The wrecker promptly arrived and deposited his car in the driveway. Serrano popped the hood and fiddled with the wires and hoses a bit. Having exhausted his less-than-vast auto repair knowledge, he called his father. His father listened as he explained what had happened. His father simply responded, “I’ll come up there tomorrow after work.” Shea’s father lived 215 miles from him. His dad was going to drive up after driving a city bus for 10 hours. Shea’s father arrived on his doorstep three hours after he had turned in his bus at the depot. He said hello, hugged his son, and walked back out to the driveway to have a look under the hood. It took about 15 seconds. His father emerged from under the hood, looked at his son, returned his wrench to his toolbox, and walked past Shea to his own vehicle. “What’s wrong? Did you not bring the right tools?” Shea asked. “We’re done,” his dad replied. “What’s wrong with it?” “It’s out of gas, son.” Shea’s dad ate with his son, and headed home. Another 215 miles. 430 miles round trip after 10 hours of driving a bus.
Seranno says his father didn’t harass him or berate him that evening over dinner. He didn’t even bring it up at all. As a matter of fact, nine years later, his father had still never mentioned the embarrassing incident again. That’s a humble servant of a father! That’s a great MENTOR to respect. Two questions: Do you RESPECT the RIGHT mentors in life? And dads—are you being a good mentor?