King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, who actually wrote the Book of Proverbs, summed up his life with the following conclusion: Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun, (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
The first (Gr protos=chief, best)) and greatest as we read in Matthew 22:36-39) is Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:36-39).
We purposely focused on the Greek rendering of the word first to demonstrate that there is a difference between first (as in 1st) in chronological order and first as in chief or best, an extremely important point we discussed in our book, The End Times Passover (pages 377-381), where we point out that the “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20:6 is describing the best way to be resurrected and it is not describing there will be more than one resurrection, as so many Bible students (and many professors, as well) have the tendency to do. But we digress from the importance of vanity and the negative impact in can have in our walk with Christ.
Dr. Mike Gropper, an American psychotherapist and marital therapist, in an article I read sometime back described ‘narcissism’ thus:
“At first glance, it appears that these people love themselves, yet, deep down, they don't love themselves in fact, their "self" barely exists, and what part does exist is deemed worthless. All energy is devoted to inflating the self, like the stepmother's seeking reassurance about her beauty and perfection from the magic mirror. Narcissism is named after the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. In punishment for his cruelty, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, he pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name to this very day.
Because they need continuous proof of the significance of their "voice," narcissists must find people, particularly important people, to hear and value them. If they are not heard, their childhood wound opens, and they quickly begin to feel threatened, like the evil stepmother in Snow White. This terrifies them. Narcissists use everyone around them to keep themselves inflated. Often they find flaws in others and criticize them fiercely, as this further "distinguishes" them from those who are "defective."
Repeatedly, in order to keep himself inflated, the narcissist has to control and dominate those that are around him; usually these are his immediate family members. There is not enough room for more than one correct viewpoint in the mind of a narcissist, unless that viewpoint is in agreement with his own. The narcissist does not really like others. Rather, others are used to reflect back the image he quite cleverly imposes on the world to keep his grandiosity inflated. This behavior of selling an image is to have people reflect, admire, applaud or even detest, in order to have the narcissist feel his existence. Because of their underlying need to be heard, narcissists often work their way to the center of their "circle," or the top of their organization, or community. They may strive to be part of the inner circle of friends, making sure that they do so at any cost. These patterns often get played out in social settings like a civic organization or club or synagogue. Indeed, they may be the mentor or guru for others. The second they are snubbed, however, they rage at their "enemy", (Dr. Mike Gropper).
This form of vanity expressed so eloquently by Dr. Gropper is more prevalent in the church than many realize. Albeit they may have that external beauty and high intellect, deep down inside they have acquired self-disdain by virtue of childhood injuries stemming from mean-spirited parents and siblings, as well as childhood friends. Yet we are told in the Bible that those who claim to be ‘Christian’ no longer manifest whatever maladaptive traits they may have been burdened with before coming to Christ:
17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new, (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV).
Yet, the issue of vanity prevails amid the church in greater fashion than even in early Christian era. Why is this so?
For those who have accomplished much (by society’s modern-day standards), there is nothing truly wrong in being proud of their achievements. It is only when those achievements become the engine that drives and motivates their respective ministries. Many evangelists and renown pastors have been known (as has glowingly been published) to have stumbled due to abusing their ill-gained fame and fortune through vain methods, just as did King Solomon. No one is immune from the heady stuff of being admired (some even adored) for their vast knowledge, charisma and great eloquence in preaching the Gospel. No need to mention names but the list of fallen-from-grace ministers is growing rapidly.
What many fail to realize is that this malady has existed forever and a great throng of vanity-filled church folk can be found in the New Testament, as well as the Old. As we read in the Gospel of Mark, James and John appeared more concerned about being praised for their work rather than recognizing that much will be required of them if they are true servants of Christ:
35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared, (Mark 10:35-40).
Speaking of the word “prepared” in verse 40, this word is the same Greek word (hetoimazo) Jesus uses to describe what it is He goes to prepare in John 14:2, which is a future position of authority each disciple will receive when Christ returns. This subject is dealt with at great length in Chapter 10 (Heavenly Minded) in our book, The End Times Passover. In other words, Jesus is not preparing the mansions we are supposed to occupy in Heaven which many associate with the Rapture myth; but, rather it is the positional status His disciples will serve and be administrators of in His soon-to-come-Kingdom on earth, based on the works (in Christ) which He is currently recording. This is the reward He brings with Him as is spoken of in Revelation 22:12:
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Again, I digress from the issue of vanity, which does not discriminate any person. We all struggle with this malady. Even Paul, the greatest evangelist who ever lived (who was also martyred) struggled with the issue of vanity, as we read in 2 Corinthians 12:4-9:
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. 7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong, (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
There are other examples of Christ-loving and obedient servants who had trouble with the vanity issue, but these two examples will suffice it is a bigger problem than many are willing to admit. A bigger problem they never noticed before; one that even haunts them daily. God will soon humble them unless they humble themselves first.
Many self-professed servants of God believed they have been blessed above others, and that their esoteric knowledge in what they believe to be new areas of discovery are unique. As we read in Ecclesiastes 1:9, The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Yet, the majority of us work hard at coming up with something new to add to the Gospel equation; efforts (that we believe to be of a religious nature) that actually distracts and takes us away from doing what God requires, as I often quote in James 1:26-27:
26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Sadly, abiding in the above mentioned work is not exciting, not as rewarding as receiving praise for preaching or writing about the latest paranormal anomalies that inundate the Internet and media. Those works above do not gain us the notice, praise, acceptance and nor the positional status in the church we believe is servant duty. We relish the “great” or “good job” from the fans and groupies we acquired by preaching, teaching or writing about “our version” of Bible prophecy that, when compared to the masters of yesteryear, would fall on deaf ear. We smugly feel we NOW have the answers to eschatological issues, proffering new and unique formula and time frames regarding the return of Christ. And all the time turning our backs on Christ who told us in Acts 1:7: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But “Damn be the word of God, I’m going to do it anyway!”
One of the biggest questions, and the prevailing topic amongst Christian leaders, concerns the decline and dwindling interest in the “Church” not recognizing that the true ecclesia has its marching orders strewn throughout the Bible. It’s about picking up our crosses and following Jesus, not about ceremony, style, size, nor whether it’s politically correct from the liberal or conservative perspective. It’s about serving, not the service; it’s about caring and character, not crying nor characters.
How does the sincere and committed servant overcome this powerful temptation, especially since childhood most of us have been trained and conditioned to pursue excellence? How does the genuine disciple adopt and put on the attitude that should be prevalent among those who genuinely want to be recognized and acknowledge by Christ rather than man? It s easy to say, humble thyself. We are given one example in one of the wedding parables found in Luke 14:
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests, (Luke 14:7-10).
Yet, we see in many so-called servants of God, leading ministries that have failed to shed their egos and are filled with vanities, seeking recognition for the false appearance of godly matters. If instead each would gather themselves in their prayer closets and seek God to reveal their inner motives.
“Am I doing this for your glory or for mine, Lord? Please reveal my heart! Examine me and let your true will be known."
David, the Psalmist, like the godly Paul, did this all the time as we see in the entire chapter of Psalm 26:1-12. Both were aware of the great (and costly) sin of vanity. David learned his lesson the hard way, not realizing his vanity enacted a heavy price on his respective ministry, as it can for ours. David, boastfully feeling mighty by virtue of his vast military power (1 Chronicles 21:1-30), examined his kingdom and sought to count its vast powers, boastfully in belief its greatness was of his own doing. God showed His anger and plagued him with pestilence that ended with the death of 70,000 of his military that included thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword, (vs. 5). Recently history shows us how so many Christian leaders have seen their ministries crumble before their very eyes due to haughtiness, pride and vanity; therefore, this sin affects others as well.
- "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
- Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud."(Proverbs 16:18-19).