Posted by Lee McMunn, 23 Mar 2020
Lee McMunn begins the next section of our Lent series, with the first of the seven deadly sins.
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
What would persuade you that the person you’re talking to is a proud individual?
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech. (Proverbs 8:13)
Sin is deadly. It’s not a cuddly toy that should be squeezed for comfort. Rather, it’s the spiritual equivalent of gangrene, progressively killing any life it finds in its path. The Bible expertly diagnoses many different types of sin, and leaves us in no doubt about the consequences of unchecked rebellion against God. Sin kills. It can lead a person to experience eternal death in hell. And it can kill our experience of joy and delight in this earthly existence.
The so-called Seven Deadly Sins are obviously not a complete list of biblical vices. However, this list is a good place to start if we are to mortify some of our most deadly spiritual diseases.
Proud people have an overestimated sense of their own importance and foolishly devalue those around them. The result is carnage in relationships.
In 3 John 11 we are told ‘do not imitate what is evil but what is good.’ And what is striking is that in this New Testament letter we are presented with three examples, either to copy or avoid: Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius. Diotrephes is most relevant for our topic as he is a man full of pride. Only five words are required to summarise his character: he loves to be first.
Mark Twain, the American novelist, once had the unsettling experience of reading his own obituary in the New York Journal. After pulling himself together, he wrote to the editor to assure him that the report of his death was an exaggeration. If you were to die tonight, what would they write about you tomorrow? This is what they wrote about Diotrephes: he loves to be first. What a depressing summary of human existence! Imagine everything you do being driven by the agenda of self-promotion. It would be so tragic. And yet this is how Diotrephes consumed each 24-hour window.
This pride fuelled-existence was deadly for relationships in the church. This is what we read in verse 10, “when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” There is no evidence here of disagreements over doctrine. This is a personality issue. Relationship carnage fuelled by sinful pride. And the gospel impact was devastating. Gospel fellowship is destroyed. Missionaries are not welcomed. And the church is split apart.
We need to be challenged by the example of Diotrephes. He is an example of evil to be avoided at all costs.
The key question is; how can we combat a desire to be first? How can we put to death the deadly sin of pride? Here are two suggestions.
First, gaze at Jesus. Let’s contemplate how wonderful Jesus is. He is full of love and compassion. He is our glorious Saviour who has given us everything we have. Our salvation and sanctification are both gifts from him. We cannot boast if we recognise the goodness of Jesus in our every triumph. We don’t need to deny godly progress. Instead, we acknowledge the true source of everything good in our lives.
Second, listen to others. Our temptation when speaking to others is to promote ourselves at every opportunity. We like to speak more than we listen. And when we listen, we love to talk about our own lives in response to what people say. However, there is a different way, a better way. There is a way to strangle our pride if we decide to listen more than we speak. And when we listen, not to respond by endlessly talking about how achievements in our own life connect with what we’ve just heard. This won’t be easy. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will see breakthroughs and joyful battles won.
Pride is a relationship killer. But by God’s grace, we can learn to live again.
Questions for Reflection
1. He loved to be first. How similar are you to Diotrephes?
2. How can we help each other gaze at Jesus?
3. What victories have you won against pride in the last few years?
creator and sustainer of all life,
who gives us everything we need for our sanctification:
help us to gaze on the Lord Jesus Christ,
that we may kill our pride within,
and instead live a life of joyful humility,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,
Lee McMunn is the Senior Minister of Trinity Church Scarborough, and Mission Director of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE)
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