Preferred Seating - Battling Spiritual Pride

Spiritual pride is a folly commonly associated with Pharisees. Rightly so, for Jesus has some severe words for the fanfare that accompanied their good deeds (see Matthew 23). Over and over again they thrust their theological challenges at him and paraded their spiritual piety in front of him. They were willing to let him die to maintain their spiritual superiority which provided prestige and comfortable livelihoods. However, the tendency to take pride in one’s own goodness is not exclusive to the “bad guys of the Bible.”

Today, I’m talking about spiritual pride in the life of a believer.

When the Bible talks about you

We may not turn into the hypocritical Pharisees with our prideful tendencies (except when we do), but we probably look a lot like the disciples in some of their more contemptible moments. Arguments over who was the greatest among them (Luke 22:24), tendencies to show off their spirituality (Matt 18:21), or lobbying for the best seats in heaven (Matt 20:21). Maybe we’ve had an instance like Peter boldly proclaiming statements about his spiritual tenacity, only to be proved wrong later when tested (Mark 14:29-30).  

When do we lose touch with Christ’s humility and cave into spiritual pride? I’ll give you a personal example.

I was pouring over the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant one day, deep in study, and I began to loathe the individual whom it’s named for. He is ungrateful, ruthless, merciless, greedy, and ignorant. He receives an unheard of act of mercy but then proceeds to heave burdensome demands on others. I turned my nose up at him. I thought to myself “I would never be that vile and unforgiving if I had been given so much. I can’t relate. Is there someone else in this story that acts more like me?” Then it hit…  WAIT. The protagonist of this story is clearly the king, and that king clearly represents God. So, who does that make me in this story?

Moment of silence.  

Have you ever done that? Read a parable and tried to imagine yourself as one of the characters, or “taken their seat” so to speak. Do you typically imagine yourself as the one doing the right thing—as I have? We give ourselves a pat for relating to David as he fights Goliath, instead of Israel’s trembling army behind the sidelines. Imagine we are Moses as he obediently parts the waters, instead of the grumbling Israelites. What about the servant who returned the most talents instead of the one who buried his? The prodigal son who receives the welcome home party, instead of the son who throws himself a pity party? We are always the Good Samaritan, aren’t we? And definitely never one of the disciples who abandoned Jesus’ while he was on the cross. Nope. Never. Not me. I’m better than that.

Know your place

Shortly after that first revelation came another reminder in scripture:

“When you are invited to a banquet, do not choose the seat of honor,
lest someone more important than you is invited. “But when you are
invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes
he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’
(Luke 14:10-11)

Solomon also reiterated this in Proverbs 25:

Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great,
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”

than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.  (vs 6-7)

Jesus Christ and Solomon beg their audience to carefully choose where we land in the presence of others because our selection exposes our pride. Our perception of ourselves never stays in our own head. It permeates every decision we make. It escapes in our words, actions, and behavior.

Proverbs 25 goes on to describe these other ways our pride betrays us. “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not have” (v 14). We will humble brag and draw attention to our good deeds, generosity mentioned here, but merely with words. There will be no gift accompanying it to delight our host.

“It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory” (v 27).

When we only exaggerate our godly attributes, instead of cultivating them, our true colors will make themselves evident in our behavior. Our pride wants to boldly proclaim all the good we could be doing, or might do in the future, but those vaunts will go unfulfilled. Boasting could not ever produce the rich fruit that the Spirit does.

When we imagine ourselves in the seat of honor, we congratulate ourselves. But when we take the lowest seat, belonging to the most despicable person in the parable, we learn.

Jesus showed us first

When Jesus hosted his disciples at the last supper, he did not take the position of honor. He took the position of a servant and washed each of his disciples’ dirty feet. At this same banquet, his disciples erupted into one of their arguments about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Such poor timing as they were being served by the greatest man who ever lived. Christ exemplified where his followers are to place themselves: at the feet of others.  

Aren’t we grateful for the Holy Spirit who guides us to remember this (John 14:26)?  As we submit to God’s ways, over and over again we will replace the pretension of pride with a willingness to be last. And, we have a God who is infinitely patient in teaching us and is prepared to equip us for the good work he has in store for us (Philippians 1:6). His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we get to dine with our Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-8), clothed in His righteousness; we will think of nothing else other than the privilege of just being there. Therefore, let us trade the desire for the place of honor—which belongs to Christ—for the privilege of getting to hear him beckon us with, “Come, and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25: 21).