God’s Word for You
Mark 12:38-40 Sinful pride
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 6, 2022
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.” (NIV)
Jesus gives one last warning about the scribes, or “teachers of the law,” although in Matthew’s account this is spoken both to the scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 23:2-7). Such men were showing off their faith and their outward righteousness, but for what? For the momentary fame and glory of being awed by the crowds?
One form of such sinful pride can be a social arrogance. This is the haughty eye and proud heart which is “the lamp of the wicked” (Proverbs 21:4). It is a sin against the Ninth and Tenth Commandments, since its boastfulness can lead those who have few physical blessings to be tempted to desire whatever it is the arrogant are being arrogant about. This is where a religious leader should take care when he uses his own possessions as examples or illustrations in sermons or classes. Even merely talking about one’s earthly blessings can be like Hezekiah showing off the treasury to the envoys of Babylon (Isaiah 39:2) which tempted them to come back with wagons and carts to carry it all away (Isaiah 39:6).
Another pride can be that of moral arrogance. If a religious leader feels superior because he isn’t subject to certain temptations, he must not lord that over those who struggle with them. He should be careful not to even use his own life as a comparison, or else his poor people might begin to see their minister’s life as a benchmark of achievement that they should strive for—so that when he falls into this or that other temptation people will not sneer. He is bound to fall into temptations of some kind, for as the ancient pastor said, “I am altogether sinful. I have never yet escaped temptation. And I am still in the midst of the devil’s tools. Yet I am trying to follow after righteousness” (2 Clement 18:2). So if he has been hard and without compassion on his people, they will have learned to show no compassion toward him. They would be altogether justified in saying, “See, he condemns our temptations and holds his nose in the air over them, but then he falls on his face with his own temptations!” Rather, moral arrogance must be burned away so that the teacher or preacher has the gospel to soothe wounded consciences and a moral compassion that knows what it is to stumble into sin, so that he can be a walking stick to help his struggling people get back on their feet and not just a rod to beat them with. Let it be said of the leaders of the church: “Your words have raised up people who were stumbling, and you have given support to buckling knees” (Job 4:4).
A third kind of pride is dangerous and subtle: the pride of the “just cause.” A man who is legally correct, morally on the high ground, or going into battle fighting for the side that is righteously defending itself and its people—this is still a man who needs to be humble. “Indeed,” Luther warns, “such confidence may result in your defeat—even though you have a just cause for fighting the war—for God cannot endure such pride and confidence except in the man who humbles himself before him and fears him. God is pleased with the man who fears neither man nor devil and is bold and confident, brave and firm against both, if they began the war and are in the wrong” (Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, LW 46:123). We should bow the knee to God, and we should be bold when God or his people are threatened by anyone. “The one who sustains the humble is the Lord. He pushes the wicked down to the ground” (Psalm 147:6).
A fourth kind of pride is worst of all, and this is spiritual pride or arrogance. This is the Mocker about whom Solomon warns, one who behaves “with overflowing arrogance” (Proverbs 21:23), and who is insolent toward God and God’s word. This is the arrogance that adds to the word of God despite the explicit command from God not to (Proverbs 30:5; Deuteronomy 12:32). This is what the Scribes and Pharisees were. They had the opinion that they were sufficiently informed and could find out on their own what it means to be godly and to serve God and how they should do it. They also believed that those who didn’t serve God the way they did must be wrong, and more than that, must be sinning. This is the sort of arrogance that is the greatest error. It is a sin against God’s honor. Who is to say that a girl with a job at a grocery store or working at the desk of an office or clinic isn’t doing everything she can to serve her Savior with her life? Her service is in her heart. Or how could it be said that a child isn’t serving God just as well as any minister of the gospel if that child rises in the morning and says his prayers, eats his breakfast and does whatever chores his mother gives him, goes to school and is an obedient student (no matter if he is below average, above average, or in-between with his learning), and then comes home, does his homework and his chores as well as he can, and goes out to play until he is called in for supper, and then plays some more, takes his bath, says his prayers, kisses his mother, and goes to sleep? He is leading a godly life that is a good example for his younger brothers and sisters and the other children down the block, and he is a joy to his parents. Any child who knows his Savior and lives in this obedient way is certainly a child of God and a rival for the outward righteousness of the holiest saint.
The Scribes thought that they knew the most intimate will of God, and yet they had no inkling at all about the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. David had said: “‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). What can be clearer than that? But the Scribes behaved as if salvation is not by faith at all, but by works. That’s why Jesus warned against their reckless pride and sinful arrogance.
Jesus ends his judgment of the scribes by saying, “Such men will be punished most severely.” Why? Not because of the sinful pride itself, which was bad enough, but because of their unbelief, and through it they were leading the poor everyday believers to believe that their good works were of some value toward salvation apart from faith and the gospel. That’s the path that descends into the pit of destruction (Psalm 55:23). Without Christ, without the grace of God, human nature, free will and good works are nothing at all, nothing but lies, sin, error, and heresy. Only faith in Christ saves, just as only unbelief damns (Mark 16:16). Be humble before God; be grateful for the work of the Son of God, and be filled with the love of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor Timothy Smith