Tag Archives: pride

Editorial: Am I As Stubborn As A Mule? (March/April, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

All of us have heard the phrase, “stubborn as a mule.”  This term was probably coined by frustrated farmers after they observed how difficult it was to get their donkeys to pull their assigned loads in the field.  (A case could also be made that the phrase was thought up as an observation made by frustrated spouses about their significant others.  I say that because I know what my wife’s answer to the question posed in the title of this editorial would be!)

Regardless, I think there’s a lesson we can learn about our relationship with Christ when we examine exactly why a mule is stubborn.  The reason it balks at pulling a load is not because it doesn’t hear the command to “giddy up.”  Rather, it would simply not hear it.  It has more than enough strength and ability to pull that load, but it would rather graze in the green grass of the pasture or bask in the noonday sun than work for his owner.  Our human minds are several levels above that of a mule, but we sometimes manifest the same characteristics.  How many times have we heard a clear command from God as revealed in His Word, but we, like the mule, try to evade obedience because the biblical command does not coincide with our mind’s individual prejudices and desires?

When I was a child, I was reluctant to hear my mother’s call because I knew that if I listened and obeyed her it would result in some unpleasant chore that would encroach upon my playtime.  That’s why I chose not to see my dirty hands and ignore her command to wash them, because I would rather have been eating.  This kind of evasive thinking is found in the minds of mules and children, but it should never be found in the thinking of mature, responsible adults (1 Cor. 13:11).

Yet, while the eternal destiny of souls are at stake, there are professed Christians who exhibit indifference and intolerance toward the true teachings of God as revealed in the totality of the Bible.  They do so because such teachings are contrary to their personal desires or disrupt their convenient, worldly way of life.  Jesus talked about such people when He quoted Isaiah by saying, “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matt. 13:14-15).

What a pity it is for people who could (and should) know God’s truth which is His Word (John 17:17), but reject it because it does not suit their evil lifestyles or tastes!  For example, God commanded that men have faith (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10), repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19), and be baptized — literally in the Greek, immersed — in water in order to obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38), and thereby be put into Christ and His body, the church of Christ, by the Holy Spirit through their baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Eph. 1:22-23).  How sad it is for such commands to be rejected simply because they violate the wishes of family (Matt. 10:34-37) or the traditions and doctrine of religious groups (Matt. 15:1-9) who seek the god of convenience rather than the God Who demands obedience (1 Sam. 15:22; Acts 5:29; Heb. 5:8-9).

Other examples could be given.  We continually see reports from a media who gladly supports what they report about those in our country and elsewhere who selfishly and stubbornly promote homosexual “marriage” and the murder of innocent children through abortion, despite what God wishes (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Prov. 6:16-19).  Spring Break and summer are coming, and we will see many who choose to stubbornly flaunt their bodies through immodest apparel and actions, fornicate, and partake of alcohol and other hallucinogens regardless of the will of their Creator in such matters (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Thess. 5:6-8).

Closer to home, let’s examine ourselves and our own attitudes (2 Cor. 13:5).  Does our own stubbornness keep us from treating others as we would be treated (Matt. 7:12)?  Husbands and wives, are we so determined to have our own way that we end up treating our spouses in ways contrary to the will of the One who united us in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; cf. Matt. 19:1-9)?  Children, you know as well as I that the primary reason you disobey your parents and thus disobey God is due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:1-3).  Parents, is our adamant refusal to put the spiritual raising of our children before unneeded work, TV times, our golf game and favorite book due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6-9)?  Brother and sister in Christ, does our constant criticism and backbiting against the shepherds of our local congregation come from being stubbornly adamant about having our own way above all (Heb. 13:17)?

Through the inspired apostle, our Father in heaven said this:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:1-8).

Do we have the mind of a mule, or the mind of Christ?  Jesus left being in the form of God, equality with God, and the glory of heaven for a wretched, hard life among men which ended in an agonizing, humiliating criminal’s death on a cross…and He did so because He considered us more important than Himself.  Are we anything like Him?

A stubborn mule looks only to its own interests.  It does not put the interests of its owner before itself.  Stubborn Christians look only to their own interests.  They do not put their Father’s interests before their own, nor do they care about the interests of their brethren.

Christians who are like their Savior are not like that.  Like Him, they sacrifice their own interests to serve God and the church.  May we be listed among their ranks!

—Jon

 

“Swallowed Up” With Selfishness and Pride — Stephen Scaggs

Tremendous joy was in Heaven when it heard the news of Nineveh’s repentance. There is a clever wordplay not apparent in English translations, but it is readily apparent in the Hebrew. When God saw how they had turned from their wicked (ra’ah) way, He turned from the calamity (ra’ah) (Jonah 3:10). In the presence of Heaven, the angels rejoiced over the repentance of 120,000 Assyrians (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:10). But there was one man, albeit a prophet, who was not rejoicing over the salvation of the pagans: Jonah, the son of Amittai.

Among its contemporaries, the book of Jonah is unique in that it is not the messages of a prophet, but rather it is written about the life of a prophet named Jonah. The tragedy of this narrative is this: it is not the pagan sailors or pagan king swallowed up with pride, but the judgmental child of God. He is so swallowed up in his own bitterness that he cannot see how his sin affects others. So often, it is not the outsiders who struggle with pride, but it is God’s very own people. Little is known about this prophet except for a brief passage in 2 Kings 14:25 which mentions Jonah prophesying in favor of an apostate, faithless king, which immediately casts suspicion on his character.

Jonah’s Selfishness and Pride

There is a witty wordplay in Jonah that most English translations do not pick up, but it is apparent in the Hebrew. “Jonah went down (yêreḏ) to Jaffa,” he went “down (yêreḏ) into the ship,” and he had gone “down (yāraḏ) into the lowest part of the ship” (Jonah 1:3-4, 5). Three times in a few verses, the writer emphasizes where this disobedient prophet had sunk to in his selfishness: down, down, down. Later in Jonah’s Hebrew poem for salvation from the sea beast’s stomach, he bemoans how he had gone “down (yāraḏ) to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:7). So willing was the prophet to run from the Lord that he intended to go to Tarshish, the edge of the known world (modern-day Spain). We might compare this with a modern-day saying that he was trying to flee to Timbuktu.

Does Jonah run from God because the prophet is scared for his life? This might seem plausible. Yet when we read later in the narrative, we find it was much more selfish. Jonah said to the Lord, “That’s what I anticipated, fleeing to Tarshish—for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Here, Jonah quotes from Exodus 34:6-7, a poem steeped deep within Israel’s history. The reason the prophet runs from God is simple: if the people respond, God will forgive them. This casts suspicion on the reason Jonah was thrown into the ocean (“If I die, I won’t have to go to Nineveh”) and his short five-word sermon, which could be viewed as prophetic sabotage (Jonah does not mention their sins or repentance). Nonetheless, Jonah serves as a valuable example for God’s people today – because it is a mirror into our own faults.

Lessons For Today

What lessons can we learn from Jonah’s story to combat selfishness today among God’s people? First, we must come to understand that our selfishness and pride affects others. Oblivious to his own sin, the effects of Jonah’s sin began to swallow up the pagan sailors as the storm comes upon them. Sin in general rarely just affects us—the apostle Paul succinctly states, “For none of us lives for himself, and none dies for himself” (Rom. 14:7). When we come to understand that our sin affects others more than just ourselves, we will humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and trust in His grace (1 Pet. 5:6).

Second, we must become more empathetic. Jonah was so wrapped up in his tiny little world that he refused to accept God’s verdict. We read of a short, strange event of God sowing a leafy plant to comfort Jonah, which is the only time in this story that Jonah is happy (Jonah 4:6). But after the worm eats the plant away and Jonah becomes angry again, the Lord asks the seething prophet: “Is it good for you to be so angry about the plant?…You have pity on the plant for which you did no labor or make it grow, that appeared overnight and perished overnight. So shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh — the great city that has in it more than 120,000 people who don’t know their right and from their left — as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

Jonah was so angry about this plant—and was totally oblivious to the fact that over 120,000 people were now saved. Jonah needed to become more empathetic toward His enemies. Let us heed the words of the apostle Paul, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Are you okay with God loving your enemies?

Third, we must come to know the character of our God. When we come to not merely acknowledge but truly trust that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity, then this truth will truly bring about heart change for God’s children. By becoming gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity ourselves, we become more perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).

Conclusion

The story of Jonah—just like the story of the prodigal son’s elder brother—is left with an open ending (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:30). We do not know whether Jonah, or the elder brother, had a change of heart. But the story is not really about Jonah; it is about you and me. Let us not become so wrapped up in our own story that we become swallowed up in pride.

Stephen is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN. He is currently living in Dublin, GA, where he is seeking to further his education in ministry.