To God be the Glory
Galatians 6: 1-16
These days, many of us are quite suspicious of people who publicly praise God for the gifts God’s given them. Think about what goes through your mind when you see football players who celebrate touchdowns with a kneel in prayer in the end zone, or tennis players who kiss a cross around their necks after a put away shot to win an internationally coveted match, or golfers who make a “one way” signal up after sinking a 30 foot putt to clinch a tournament. Visible gestures or audible indications of credit where credit’s due is often seen as a marketing ploy or indication of some right of center theology that can make quieter Christians squirm.
Evangelical athletes populate the major sports. BeliefNet says that some of the most popular athletes and coaches working today enjoy the chance to be outspoken about their faith–thanking God a for a winning field goal or late-inning homerun. They worked hard, as their Bibles tell them, “to win the prize,” both in their sports and in their faith. No matter whether you stay home on Sunday to watch football, baseball, a horse race or golf, chances are, you’re still going to hear about Jesus.1 For a lot of us, these kinds of outward expressions of God’s inward grace are overt signals of pride.
They’re just one more way for a person to draw attention to himself. When Tim Tebow went to the Jets, many folks tuned them out. Tebow’s kneel in prayer represented self-aggrandizement. – Maybe a bit too proud. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received in the spiritually private northeast.
Pride’s another one of those tricky concepts. Even the mention of the word pride can leave even self-confident people feeling a bit defensive. Now, let’s be clear: When we speak of pride, we’re not speaking of self-confidence. Self-confidence isn’t necessarily a mark of pride. When we’re self-confident, we appreciate our gifts acknowledge that God has given those gifts to us, and use them all to the glory of God. When we speak of pride, we’ve moved to the realm of a person’s self-exaltation, essentially in contempt of God. Some would otherwise say that this could be seen as an unconscious attempt at mocking God. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he warns of pride when he warned the Galatians for ostensibly taking credit for God’s grace in their lives through a slip-back to the false teaching of the need for circumcision.
To remind you of the backstory, the churches of Galatia were some of Paul’s earliest churches after he’d made his split with Peter and James and some of the other disciples. The reason Paul made his split with these others is really at the heart of what is happening in today’s text.
At a Conference in Jerusalem, referenced in Chapter 2 of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and Acts 15, James and Paul made their cases for what was necessary in order to secure redemption in Jesus Christ. James maintained that a follower needs to adhere to certain Jewish laws in order to secure our place with God in Christ for eternity. Laws about what to eat and how to prepare foods were debated, alongside other laws such as circumcision. This last law – circumcision – was the one they would not back away from. maintaining that circumcision was a seal or a mark of one’s faith in Jesus.
Paul, of course, maintained that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Faith that Jesus was born, lived and died for the salvation of everyone who believed this truth was all that men and women needed to be assured of their salvation. Circumcision becoming the decisive breaking point, then, Paul, calling these disciples “false teachers” made his split and went on his way through the Roman province of Galatia – an area from the south-central region of Asia Minor through to the northern region where the Celts found their way –to build the church of Jesus Christ. After a time, Paul felt comfortable enough in the strength of his first new churches in Galatia to move on. But soon he received word that some of the false teachers infiltrated his churches in an attempt in their minds to upright Paul’s wayward teachings.
Our reading today is the closing chapter of Paul’s letter to these people he loved so much. He warned that circumcision is a mark of that slippery slope that suggests that we believe that we can effect in ourselves what God has done. It’s as if we have can essentially begin to self-evaluate that we’re capable of doing what God alone can do: namely, save us from ourselves. Paul was concerned that even a work such as circumcision can fuel our belief that another work will please God even more. Following this line of thinking, the ultimate concern is that we could come to believe that our cumulative works bring us not only closer to God but closer to becoming God.
Pride is often manifest in judgment and insecurity, greedy ambition and even self-righteousness of the sort that followers of what Paul called false teachings seem to’ve been demonstrating when they were making their claims against Paul. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul warned that those who perform a work in attempt to secure God’s favor may be unconsciously attempting to mock God and God’s gracious goodness. But God is not mocked at all. For whatever we credit to ourselves – whatever we do to make a good showing with God and others – will lead us to our own destruction. This is our fall to pride. When we approach a state of pride, it probably goes without saying that it harms our relationships with God and those others with whom God has placed us in community.
We see this when a person’s self-evaluation leads her to conclude continuing with Paul’s reasoning, that not only is herperformance superior to someone else’s, but that she, herself, is superior. Furthermore, in the comparing of ourselves to others she determines that because she is superior she should be treated differently from others. Sadly, this level of pride is often seen in those of us who have the greatest difficulty respecting ourselves, really, and not others. We know that this behavior is often in an effort to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy so that we puff ourselves up taking or creating any opportunity to prove someone else is “less” or wrong -maybe putting down a friend or family member or ungraciously attempting to correct another person – even in his beliefs about church. Usually, we find beneath it all that those who are most boastful and proud are the ones who have a deep-seated fear of rejection or loss or worry over being left alone or left outside of the household of God that unconsciously motivates them to do something to push others away. Consequently, separation becomes more of an anticipated, unconsciously chosen outcome than something thrust upon them.
Pride is universal. It is an unavoidable characteristic that lies in the heart of each of us, even the most well intentioned causing each of us to sin in so many other ways. The real challenge is for each of us to keep our prideful nature in check.
CS Lewis wrote in his seminal work, Mere Christianity, “as long as (you’re) proud you (can’t) know God. A proud (person) is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as (we’re) looking down,” he wrote, “(we) cannot see something that is above (us).” Taking this to its bitter end so long as we’re comparing ourselves to others -potentially looking down on things and people, we cannot see God. Lewis says that this raises a painful question about those of us who proclaim our Christianity the loudest. He accuses that we could (could) be worshiping an “imaginary God.” Rather than humbly serving and worshiping our Lord because of the goodness that our service and worship brings, Lewis says that prideful Christians serve and worship God so that they can imagine how God approves of them – especially how God approves of them versus others who also openly serve and worship the Lord. The decisive characteristic of our hoped-for humility as Christians, living in a world filled with people of different faith traditions and different expressions of our Christian faith, is that we share a constant awareness of the infinite mystery and greatness of God and the immensity of God’s creation, within which one shares with many others an honored place. Our level of esteem of God and others is characteristic of our humility. A truly humble person is one who sincerely engages the world and our Lord with a sincere appreciation for what the cosmos and everyone in it has to share irrespective of what she brings to the table. And while some might observe such humility and accuse that a person is weak or in her high esteem of others has a low esteem of self, a humble person actually is a vital, engaged person who passionately invests in relationships with the characteristics of the fruits of the spirit Paul named earlier in his letter. You know them by now, if not from your own work with scripture from listening to Emma’s children’s sermons each week: Paul implored the Galatians to live in love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are to exemplify these characteristics of God, continually examining ourselves in the light of Christ who wasall of these fruits embodied. In this way, we’ll be in a better position to steer clear of prideful ways that damage communities and relationships of all sorts -most importantly damaging our bond with God.
The good news is that Jesus stands at the center of us all filled with the fruits of the Spirit, for all of us: the most prideful as well as the most humble souls who likely pray their way from slipping into prideful ways every single day. Jesus stands in the middle of the circle equally distant from each one of us self-righteous sinners and glorifies the prideful and the trying-to-be-oh-so-humble with the same compassion. Jesus, who is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, remains at the center of us all, filling our circle with compassion for the ones so clearly in need of reinforcement for all of our good works, performed in an attempt to justify our place in God’s heart.
May we all feel nourished for our life in service together by the fruits of the spirit Christ so generously shares with the world. May we come to know that there is nothing we need to do to earn God’s favor as one of God’s beloved children. And may all the world come to know the eternal truth of God’s love, giving credit to the glory of God alone and always.
Thanks be to God.