Lenten Meditation: The Pride of Life (1 John 2:16)

A Lenten meditation on 1 John 2:16, given by The Rev. Justin Clemente at Lenten Family Prayer, March 2, 2021, New Creation Church (Anglican)

Each year in Lenten Prayer, we focus on one of the seven deadly sins. Tonight we focus in on pride. I want to look specifically at John’s descriptive phrase, “the pride of life.” As I prepared for this evening, I turned it over in my mind, trying to unpack it for myself. What does that mean?

I’ve heard Bishop tell a specific story probably two or three times now. At the church of All Saints, there is a team of disabled folks who minister to the church by cleaning the property. Some can do quite a lot, but others are severely limited. Bishop shared that one day he noticed a particular person who could do no more than simply clean the same small area over and over again – such was their disability.

As he stood there, Bishop John says he had a very strong sense that the Lord was showing him something, as if to say, “John, do you think that all the gifts I’ve given you – your personhood and talents – are your own making? They are all gifts from me.”

That gets at the heart of the pride of life. Apart from God, our default position is to claim an empty and unsubstantiated self-sustenance. That’s the pride of life. Bruce Schuchard translates 1 John 2:16 as the pretense of life, defining it as “a state of pride or arrogance, but with the implication of a complete lack of basis for such an attitude.” The pride of life is like a balloon – inflated, but empty on the inside.

The pride of life forms this bloated and arrogant posture toward ourselves, toward others, and toward God. John says that this is part and parcel with the way of the sinful world around us. Now, I could select example after example after example of how we see this laced throughout our cultural moment today, but we are really here tonight to examine ourselves, aren’t we?

So as Christians, we need to understand that pride is so very dangerous for at least two reasons:

  1. First, we have to understand, as Dorothy Sayers says, that pride plays on, not our weaknesses, but our strengths. Not where we know ourselves to be frail, but where we feel ourselves to be strong. When we feel ourselves to be strong, we must continue to look to Christ, giving him the glory for that strength.  And we must continue to have an attitude of thanksgiving, not entitlement. Did you get a raise? Thanks be to God! Are your kids exceling in the faith and in school? All glory to God! Are you in good health? What a gift you have!
  2. Secondly, we have to understand that one of the dangers of a faithful, devoted Christian life is that may become a proud life (see the Pharisee from our reading tonight or the elder brother from the Parable of the Prodigal Son for exhibits A & B!)

Here, we need to heed Paul’s warning from 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The latest revelations out of the Ravi Zacharias scandal assure us that Christians are not exempt from falling into perverse, sinful, and damaging pride. Each of us needs to hear that tonight.

Lastly, and most importantly, we need to see how the “pride of life” is diametrically opposed to a life rooted in the Gospel. Pride cuts us off from the grace of God. There is no room for the mercy of God in a life of arrogance because the self is already filling up that space.

Some years ago, the Brit Alt-Rock band Keane put out the song Perfect Symmetry. The central bit of the lyrics say, “This life is lived in perfect symmetry / What I do, that will be done to me.”

That sounds humble at first glance, but it is an incredible statement of the pride of life. As I think on those lyrics, I can only pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they sing.”

How different is life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel tells me that I never had a day of perfect symmetry – a day where I got what I deserved – in my life. That my Father sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. That all have fallen short of the glory of God.

But because God has given me GRACE (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense), I am free to be content. I am free to depend on and trust God. I am free to know that He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for all, will graciously give me all things.” (Romans 8:32)

By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, my empty hand is opened, there to receive everything else as a gift, too. Amen.