|Mercy Street Church of Christ
WHY A DESERT STORM?
Do you sports trivia buffs recognize this baseball name? Jay Hanna Dean? He passed away some time ago. You probably won’t recognize that name until I give you the more famous nickname this St. Louis Cardinal baseball pitcher enjoyed. “Dizzy” Dean. Certainly one of the more colorful participants in America’s favorite pastime.
Mr. Dizzy Dean was probably known as much for his mouth as for his moving fastball. He loved to talk, and his favorite topic of conversation was the incredible pitching abilities of Mr. Dizzy Dean. By his own admission, he couldn’t really do anything wrong. If the crooked umpires didn’t cheat him so much on strike calls and if his own teammates would get him a run every now and then, why, he, Dizzy Dean, would for sure have a 25-0 record every single season.
Well, most of the world comes to resent a braggart — and there likely were a number of Dizzy Dean detractors, especially in rival cities. But one thing almost had to be admitted: Dean lived up to most of his boasts. In fact, sometimes he would toy with a tough hitter — deliberately getting three balls on him, and then zipping three quick, unhittable strikes past the hapless man at the plate.
Dizzy Dean was very comfortable in forgiving himself for his boasting — and he excused himself with this classic line: “It ain’t bragging if you can do what you say you can do.” And his membership in the Hall of Fame gives at least a little bit of credence to that motto.
But friend, how does this square with the message we find here in our Chapter of the Month: First Corinthians 13? The tough verses we’ve been dealing with link several human traits together: envy, boasting, pride, rudeness, a self-seeking heart. Keeping a record of the other guy’s strikeouts, rejoicing in his mistakes and downfalls. And the Apostle Paul says very emphatically: “Love — that is, true agape love — is not any of these things!”
You know, we hear those twin words, pride and envy, and of course, we react against them. Of course those traits are wrong; we know that. But our response to them is actually a rather mild one, isn’t it? First of all, these are common-variety sins. Everyone we know experiences them . . . and we do too. Secondly, they’re not high-profile, like adultery or theft, which can get a minister fired. No one ever got censured by a congregation or governing church board because he or she had a jealous streak in them. And so when we read in God’s Word that love isn’t proud and love isn’t envious, we give a polite wave of the hand to the idea and say, “Yeah, right,” and we go right on.
But I’d like to dig in my heels right here and say to myself: “Wait a minute! This isn’t a throw-away sentiment on a holiday greeting card. This is a serious warning! God really expects this kind of unselfish, generous love from His people! Chapter 13 is a command from heaven — and what am I going to really do about it?”
I could read multiplied hundreds of quotes and spiritual applications and illustrations demonstrating to us that this issue of envy versus real biblical love is actually a pivotal, destiny-determining issue for the Christian. The answer to that question — “What will I do with my prideful heart?” — is of universal importance.
If we spin back in our time machine to the beginning of sin itself, and its birth on our planet, we find the issues of pride and envy right at center stage. Satan, that perfect angel, became proud of his perfection . . . which, of course, meant that it wasn’t perfection anymore. And he was envious of God’s position above him. Here’s the transcript from Isaiah 14:
“You [Satan] said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Did you notice the five “I’s” in that little soliloquy? And the idea of ascending or climbing higher or grabbing a seat higher up the ladder is also mentioned five times. And then notice: when Satan comes after Eve in the Garden of Eden, he uses the exact same strategy on her that was his own undoing! Genesis chapter three, and he tells her:
“‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”
So there it is. Getting up to God’s level. Knowing what God knows. Pushing yourself up until you’re on a par with your own Creator. Pride in yourself and envying the Deity that’s still above you. Friend, our enemy knows that if he can sweep away the truth about Christian love and get us into this whirlpool of pride/envy . . . we absolutely are doomed. It’s a demonic strategy he never abandons because it almost always works.
Here’s a line from one of our Bible commentaries as it explores this very scene. Notice:
“Since his fall, Satan has sought to implant his own dread vice of envy in the heart of every human being” — and now listen to this — “so that all may be ruined, as he was.”
Isn’t that something?
The King James Version, when it refers to both envy and pride there in verse four, has an interesting expression. “Charity vaunteth not itself,” is how it condemns pride. But then these four words: “Is not puffed up.” For the Greek lovers among us, the word for “puffed up” is phusio_, meaning “to blow up.” And the word phusa means “bellows.” Not the shouting kind of bellowing, although that might be included, but that contraption, “bellows,” that you use to generate a lot of hot air to blow on a fire. Which might make us think of Mr. Dizzy Dean . . . or friend, it might make us think of ourselves.
Linked to this in one commentator’s discussion of Chapter 13 is this spiritual diagnosis for pride.
“One in whose heart true love is found remembers the life and death of Jesus and instantly repels every thought or suggestion that would lead to self-glorification.”
Friend, as we keep the cross before us at all times, we’re not going to continue in self-glorification. And we will also have the kind of true love, agape love, that’s described on this holy page of the Bible. The love leads us to look to Jesus, and the looking to Jesus will lead us to love. What a beautiful circle that is!
That’s why the same Bible scholar also wrote this observation for Chapter 13:
“No one can be a real Christian, a real follower of Christ, who lives for himself alone or who makes it his principal object in life to promote his own interests.”
That’s very straightforward, with no exceptions allowed. You can’t follow Christ and then promote your own interests. Satan couldn’t do it — and he departed from heaven in order to promote those interests. He couldn’t do both, and neither can we.
The Bible shares a second remedy for the problem of pride, of resenting an enemy’s offenses against yourself. First of all, as we’ve just mentioned, we need to keep Calvary in full view at all times. But secondly, the Bible tells us to pray for that enemy! Pray for the person whose treatment of you has been so shabby. We know where that instruction comes from: Jesus Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter five. Here it is:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell us we have to feel like praying for them any more than He tells us we have to feel like loving people. We don’t have to feel it; we just have to do it. Pray for them and love them. If the emotions come later, fine; if they don’t, that’s fine too. But we obey the commands of Christ.
I mentioned last time the long correspondence the late C. S. Lewis had with a woman in America. They never met, and this overworked scholar sacrificed many valuable hours painfully writing in longhand to this complaining, sometimes bitter, grudge-bearing, long-distance fellow Christian. And it’s clear from some of his letters that she had many old wounds to nurse; her mail to him — which we thankfully don’t have to read — often contained long stories of envy and resentment.
In a reply to her dated March 10, 1954, he gives her some counsel.
“I mustn’t encourage you to go on thinking about [this person]: that, after all, is almost the greatest evil nasty people can do to us — to become an obsession, to haunt our minds. A brief prayer for them, and then away to other subjects, is the thing, if only one can stick to it.”
That’s a powerful spiritual remedy, isn’t it? A brief prayer for them, and then away to other subjects . . . like the cross of our Savior Jesus.
Well, friend, this is where we are. How did these soft-and-sweet words in the Bible come to be as hard as nails? But they are, aren’t they? And we’ve all witnessed in our own lives and in the affairs of nations the untold agony that comes when resentment and pride are allowed to have their way, when we turn the bellows of ego — maybe wounded ego — onto a relationship instead of the forgiveness of Calvary. Every war in human history has been started and continued because of pride, envy, and resentment . . . because First Corinthians chapter 13 got torn out of too many Bibles.
Maybe you recall the very first night of the Desert Storm conflict and those live pictures coming in on CNN. And why? Ancient resentments boiling over. People wanting a higher position, more territory for their kingdom, more oil wells with their country’s flag flying over them. More pride and more power, until there had to be a desert storm, not of sand but of bullets and bombs. No wonder the lead-in to First Corinthians 13 has Paul quietly saying this:
“And yet show I unto you . . . a more excellent way.”
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