18 March 2014

The Boastful Pride of (Missions) Life

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
~I John 2:15-17

Missionaries would be the first to say they do not love the world. After all, they have forsaken a normal life for something rugged, something foreign, something special. Well, in that statement alone we can find hints of pride, and it is a mentality that any Christian doing public ministry will face. "I'm humble!" is a joke that no one laughs at anymore.

The beloved disciple warns against three symptoms of the world's sickness: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. When distanced from familiarity, Christians abroad can easily crave tastes from the past--foods, activities, landscapes, comfort--which may become severe as lust. However, I'd argue that the hardest battle amongst these three is the pride that tempts us, the pride that can seep in from living different, from "being called," and from hearing praise. It's a pride that tempts all believers who live out the gospel because all are meant to be missionaries.

This pride is most often seen in these four areas: superiority, entitlement, significance, and priorities. Here are loads of rhetorical questions that can help us identify pride in our mission lives and some powerful verses that bring down our lofty thoughts.

1. Superiority
Has your mission been successful? Has it met your goals? Have there been countless decisions for Christ? In all these victories, have you developed a savior complex? Have you begun to feel like YOU are saving the world?
Reality Check:
"What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth."

I Corinthians 3:5-7, boldface mine
Or do you feel like your job is more worthwhile because it is public ministry? Do you feel superior to Christians who work "secular" jobs and never left their home towns? Do you feel like you're better because you live overseas? Do you tend to turn conversations back to your ministry and hype up your impact, involvement, or sacrifice? Do you insist on your culture's methods of worship?
Reality Check:
"For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Romans 12:3-5, boldface mine
We were so proud to share with the church about our lives overseas, but did we speak to them or above them?
How do you speak to people back home?

2. Entitlement
Do you raise support or accept help? How do you approach others? Does your mouth speak eloquence while your heart sneers entitlement?
What is your tone when praying? Have you felt a shift to "I deserve this, God" instead of "I don't deserve You, God."

It's so sad to see this played out. I watched as a new missionary insisted on taking more of my late grandmother's furniture than was offered. "And I'll take that too," he said. I've also seen people in ministry speak manipulatively to raise the money they need, making God look desperate. Entitlement overtakes a mission field like weeds.
Reality Check:
[Jesus said:] "...when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"

Luke 17:10

3. Significance
Do you feel secure in your work for the Lord? How would your identity change if your mission was suddenly pulled from you and all you were left with was your relationship with Jesus? Do you find your significance in being a missionary or in being a child of God? 

Reality Check:
[Jesus said to the seventy who returned from mission work:] "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."

Luke 10:19-20, boldface mine

4. Priorities
How has missions affected your relationships? your finances? your health? Many make the mistake that missions is the end-all of everything on earth. Instead, it is everyday life. Missions shouldn't be the excuse we give for the neglect of other responsibilities. It should be the reason we give for the faithfulness in all areas of our character.

Reality Checks:
"But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

I Timothy 5:8

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all the mysteries and all the knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."
I Corinthians 13:1-3
And tragically, missionaries can prioritize ministry over faith itself and over obedience. Do you insist on "finishing" a mission even when the opportunity is clearly closed? Does prayer get pushed aside in exchange for planning and budgeting and basically bulldozing forward?

Reality Checks:
"And without faith it is impossible to please Him."

Hebrews 11:6a
"...to obey is better than sacrifice..."
I Samuel 15:22

The ironic thing about this list and these questions is that prideful missionaries will probably see themselves above such character qualities. Of course it takes humility to see our faults--the very trait needed to identify our pride.

So that is why accountability is so important. That is why we need each other's eyes. That is why we cannot walk alone in this journey. The greatest danger to missionaries is not the world outside but the world within. It's what world we let in with lust and pride. It can sneak in disguised as false humility, as a sense of superiority and misplaced worship. Pride can poison our faith, and we must identify it in ourselves and in others--and root it out.

Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Abide in Him,

How do you root out pride that can seep in when living cross-culturally and when serving as a Christian?


  1. Hi Malia,
    I'm hopping over from the Link Up and I really loved what you've shared here. You're spot on. This makes me really want to check my heart.
    Thanks for posting,

    1. So glad this encouraged you! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  2. This is wonderful! It's easy to see pride in others but we are often blind to it in ourselves. Thank you so much for the convicting words!

    1. Yes! Writing this really made me look at myself. At first, I was thinking about others in my past then realized pride tempts us all, and I really need to be aware of it in my own heart.


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