Its heart wrenching to watch people struggle, and even more so to watch a group of people you know and love slowly let unresolved issues escalate to divisive problems. Its frustrating. So what does this have to do with semantics, you ask? Because the problems that cause division are simple and revolve around some terms that are often misunderstood and misapplied. What is love, and how does it work? Why is pride so closely related to the love’s antithesis? What are those common misconceptions that allow wickedly dangerous attitudes to creep up on us, long unnoticed for what they truly are? I hope my simply understanding can help answer some of those questions.
So lets play semantics. What is Love? I’ll tell you what it isn’t first, and perhaps that will shed light on the subject. Love is not that effusive feeling you get when your thoughts turn to someone special. The act of loving certainly may produce such feelings, and often the two are confused, but it is important to draw the distinction, a point I hope will become more clear later. The opposite of Love is not Hate, as common wisdom might tell you. Hatred is defined as "Intense animosity or dislike", a definition whose opposite is more accurately described as Adoration. Now, I understand that the common usage of the word Love is often intended in that meaning, and the dictionary definition of the word supports that. It isn’t wrong to use Love in that regard, but I want to draw a distinction for the purpose of this argument because I think it will help illustrate the essence of the problems I mentioned above.
So you are probably thinking, so what exactly is Love and what do you consider its proper antithesis? I’m glad you asked. Selfishness is, more so that Hatred, the opposite of Love. And Love is, in its essence, a willful choice to put the good of someone else above that of your own. Christ tells us as much in John 15:13 when He says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The epitome of self sacrifice, an ideal exemplified by Jesus’ own life. The direct enemy of such an ideal is the ever present and oh so subtle attitude of selfishness. It is for this reason, I think, that God places humility in such high regard.
Although I find it doubtful, you might be thinking, then how does Humility relate to Selfishness? Which brings us to our third pair and a completion to the semantic puzzle. Humility’s direct opposite is of course Pride. Now, in 1 John 2:16 we are told that all the worldly things can be summed up by three basic root sins, the lust of the flesh (i.e. sexual lust), the lust of the eyes (i.e. greed), and the pride of life. A proud look is among the seven abominations of the Lord found in Proverbs 6:16-19. And here we find the crux of all every relationship related problem. In Proverbs 13:10 we are told, "Only by Pride cometh contention", and in Peter 5:5 and James 4:6 that, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Pride is so destructive and so involved in every sin, so much so that you will be hard pressed to find its absence anywhere sin is.
Because Pride is such a problem, lets talk about just what Pride is. There are few clear definitions of Pride in scripture, so allow me to give you one that I’ve found to be accurate. As is often the case, I found it was easier to arrive at a proper definition by looking at its opposites. Humility is the opposite of Pride and you can define Humility as seeing yourself as God sees you, no more and no less. To think of yourself as being better than what you are is Pride in the form of arrogance. To think of your self as less is Pride in the form of doubt. In essence, Pride is a lie you tell yourself about who you really are.
The first sin was pride and it led to the first lie ever told. My pastor once told me that at the root of every problem you will find a lie. To overcome those problems you have to find the lie and establish in your heart, not just in your mind, the truth. This is why Paul exhorts us to think of things that are true.
So this is how it works, and how all these things relate to the issue of unity and fellowship with a group and specifically within the Church which is the body of Christ. We are commanded in scripture to love our neighbor. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to forebear one another in love. But here is what often happens. Some small and proud thing occurs to us. It might be a petty desire to do something selfish. We might be children who don’t like some rule our parents have made. We might be adults who don’t want to fulfill some responsibility we’ve been given. We might be young men who want something out of a certain girl, or vice versa. We might be wives who disapprove of the way our husband has handled something, or we might be husbands who have failed to take the time to either lead or love our wives and families. Be what it may, the real issue begins when we put our wants in front of those we are to love. You see, Pride tells us its okay to want something. Pride tells us we deserve it, or that we don’t have time, or that it isn’t that important, or that its just a small thing. Pride tells us it is ok to be a little selfish about this little thing. And so pride gives rise to selfishness, and selfishness gives rise to contention and wounded hearts and broken relationships. All because of a little lie we tell ourselves about what we deserve or want.
And the problems will escalate. It gets worse because once a person has been wounded; he now has an excuse (in his mind) above the ones that every man is engendered with by birth. Once the other person is hurt, his pain feeds his pride and they give birth to bitterness. Bitterness, a selfish emotion that screams with fervent hatred at the wrongs it has been subjected to, calling out for reciprocation. Why? Because its fair, at least, thats what our grieved heart tells us. Because the score should not be uneven. Now both sides distrust each other, and the problem gets successively worse until both are destroyed.
But how is the Christian to respond? How are we to maintain this unity spoken of by Paul in Galations? This unity that is demanded of us. Christ said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." The matter is a simple one. You see, its all about semantics. We have to be honest with ourselves. The truth is we deserve hell, and anything better than that is a gift of grace beyond measure. The truth is my wife is more important that my wants, and obedience to my authorities is the least I can do in gratitude for the fate I have been spared. When a Christian is wounded, ridiculed, and despitefully used he is to turn the other cheek. Why? Because even a life of persecution is better than what we’ve been spared, and because suffering for Christ is a small thing. Besides, if I truly want the best for those I love, I will recognize that reacting in anger or bitterness does nothing to help them. I should value my own life so little in respect to theirs, that to lay it down for them is something I would willingly and quickly do. If you live life like that, you may not experience all the pleasures this life has to offer, but you will have accomplished something far greater. You will have aided and enriched the lives of the brethren. You will have demonstrated your love for Christ, and that is no small thing.