The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

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When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Why Fruit is Superior to Vegetables (Galatians 5:26–6:5)

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” —Galatians 5:13, 26

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In contrast to the commended humility of 5:13, we have the forbidden pride of 5:26. Pride is a failure to keep in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. Pride grows the opposite direction. Pride is a rotten onion. We’re after the sweet fruit of the Spirit, not the rotten vegetables of the flesh.

Pride is never private; it always goes public. Personal pride is social. You cannot sin the sin of pride unto yourself. We are limbs, which when bent in on self, lash out at others. John Stott rightly deduces that “our conduct toward others is determined by our opinion of ourselves.” If you are big on self you will be small on others.

There are two possibilities, two ways our pride could be expressed: provoking one another or envying one another. This is most illuminating and a needed corrective as to what we normally think of as pride. Biblically, there is strong pride, and then there is what John Piper calls “weak pride.” Pride can provoke with an upturned nose, or it can envy with downcast eyes. When pride feels superior, it provokes others. When pride feels inferior, it envies. As a wounded horse is still a horse, so wounded pride is still pride. It takes more than felt shame to turn pride into humility.

It isn’t wounded pride that leads to serving one another through love. Wounded pride will lead to envy. So then, the opposite of conceit isn’t self-contempt, but a contrite-confidence. We’re aiming at a service born out of freedom. Humility means that we bow our head before our Creator, but then we lift it before man, though not with upturned noses. We were once slaves bound in sin and under the law. By sovereign effectual grace we’ve been made sons. In our freedom, we now walk in the Spirit, seeking to love our brothers and neighbors.

Our confidence isn’t in ourselves, but an assurance of who we are in Christ.
 If we are finding our identity in Christ, this is what it will look like.

“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 selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves [the idea isn’t to loath self, but esteem others]. 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 emptied himself, by 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” 
(Philippians 2:1–8).

It is from the position of freedom and assurance and comfort, not self-loathing, that humble service of our brothers grows. And if Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet, how can we not serve our brother through love?

The Apologist: Men’s Imaginations Don’t Grow Up, They Grow Sinful

A child may feel sure of himself as he schemes his schemes. When he was a little boy, my son used to devise great plans for fighting off the Russians if they were to come up the mountain. And he was totally serious. But if Russian tanks had ever begun to roll up out of the valley, we would know we were going to be overrun. When the force of reality strikes us with all its drive, our own imaginings are seen in their proper perspective. —Francis Schaeffer, No Little People

The Penning Pastor: 1 Corinthians 1:25

The natural weakness of man is conspicuous in his most important undertakings: having no fund of sufficiency in himself, he is forced to collect all from without ; and if the greatness of his preparations are not answerable to the extent of his designs, he has little hopes of success. Farther: when he has planned and provided to the utmost of his power, he is still subject to innumerable contingences, which he can neither foresee nor prevent ; and has often the mortification to see his fairest prospects blasted, and the whole apparatus of his labour and care only contribute to make his disappointment more conspicuous and painful.

The reverse of this is the character of the wonder-working God. To his power every thing is easy; he knows how to employ every creature and contingence as a means to accomplish his designs; not a seeming difficulty can intervene but by his permission, and he only permits it to illustrate his own wisdom and agency in making it subservient to his will. Thus, having all hearts and events in his hands, he fulfills his own counsels with the utmost ease and certainty; and, to show that the work is his own, he often proceeds by such methods as vain men account weak and insignificant, producing the most extensive and glorious consequences from small and inconsiderable beginnings. Thus the Lord of hosts hath purposed to stain the pride of human glory. —John Newton, Works

The Folly of Fancy Fig Leaves (1 Timothy 6:17–19)

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty…”

The sin addressed here is being haughty, not  being rich. Beware of haughtily rebuking the rich. It’s easy to look down on a person with a big head and a big wallet with a big plank in our own big head because of our thinner wallet (Matthew 7:1–5). But righteousness cannot be measured in correlation to the thickness of wallets. Always more obnoxious than arrogant materialism is arrogant legalism.

The reason we so often revolt against pride isn’t because we think it’s a sin against God, but against us. The reason we don’t like materialistic pride is because we have the same ego, but we can’t pull off the dress, or, at least, we can’t afford it. “Who do they think they are? Do they think they’re me? I’m me, and I’m humble. They’re not me, and they’re arrogant. How dare they.”

Materialistic pride is a sin because it’s against God. It’s an expression that one is finding their identity in money. This is like a grown man finding his identity in a Batman costume. Come back to reality. The young man strutting his stuff down the street because he is something big in some virtual video game world, needs to wake up, as do any who place their identity in wealth.

Our identity is first found in this, we’re made in the image of God. Finding your identity in anything else, save one related thing (see number three below) is finding our identity in something less. Imagine a guy with several wonderful children. His quiver is full of golden arrows (Psalm 127:4–5). “You’re children are so well-behaved and talented.” “Yes, but… but… have you noticed my oil can collection?” Likewise, “You’re made in the image of God.” “Yes, but look at this green! Look at all these pieces of paper with no intrinsic value.”

Second, and more detrimental to our ego, devastatingly so, is that we’re all born legitimate sons of Adam, inheriting his guilt and corruption. It’s because of the first identity marker that this one is so serious. It is because we are made in the image of God that our rebellion is so vile. In Adam, we’re covenant-breakers, law-trespassers, and God-haters. Thus, morally bankrupt, at best,and only by grace, we’re beggars.

Third, for the saints, we are a new creation in Christ. He is our righteousness. In Jesus we’re adopted as sons, fellow heirs with the Prince. Therefore, for a rich Christian to boast over a poor Christian is like once billionaire boasting over another billionaire because he has more Monopoly money. Come back to reality.

Imagine two pilgrims journeying to an eternal kingdom of bliss where they are to both be joint heirs with the prince of that realm. One chap is dressed exquisitely, the other in rags. The richer joe’s nose is upturned during the journey. Finally, though sinfully, the guy in rags responds, “You know, your clothes are so this age—faddish. They’re going out of style because of the prince. That swoosh won’t mean anything there.”

But, if indeed we are joint heirs in Christ, there is no need to respond in sinful, haughty, insecurity. We can rebuke our brother in love, because it’s not about us. The gospel strips all of us of our green fig leaves, and clothes us with the Lamb.

The High Dive of Pride (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75)

Sin is never content. It cannot be contained. Thinking you can keep that one “little” sin as a pet is like trying to chain King Kong or keep you own Jurassic Park in your soul. The chains won’t hold. John Owen put it this way,

Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it raises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of its kind.  Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.

Sin is a food that when you feast on it, it devours you. It creates an appetite for itself that it cannot fill. Lewis captured this with Turkish Delight.

At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more.

Sin is the chugging of poison because it tastes good. When this kind of language is used of sin, what kind of sins pop into your mind. I bet you’re thinking of lust, covetousness, or something of the like. Does Peter’s pride register on the radar? How about his unbelief in Jesus’ words? Do you think lust more toxic than pride? Do you think covetousness more addictive than unbelief in Scripture?

Every son of Adam is an expert make-up artist. Even us guys. Every one of us make the pros at Hollywood look like a 4 year old who got into her mom’s vanity. They start with beauty and add to it. It takes real talent to made sin look “good”. We can even make sin appear so holy and pious. Sin can sound like, “Jesus, I’ll never deny you. Even if I have to die with you.”

Sin is like Sauron’s ring. We’re even tempted that we can use it for good. But sin’s wages are always death. Sin is a cursed sword that cannot be wielded for good save by God alone—and then it is never that God makes good of a sin He commits, for He never sins, but of sin that we commit.

Spiritual pride is God-belittling, and soul-destroying. You cannot wield it to build the kingdom. That sword is too big. Put it down now before you really hurt yourself. A fall of Peter’s magnitude begins with a stumble. Before Peter fell by shamefully denying, he was lifted up in pride, and it was the lifting that led to the falling. Pride is climbing up the high dive to do some impressive acrobatics only to spend the last moments flailing wildly as you realize there is no water in the bottom of the pool. Pride is doing some perfect 10 flips only to splat as a zero on the concrete.

Pride is the sin underlying all sin. It’s aim: to be god. You can’t. Someday you will fall. The higher you climb, the bigger the splat.