Titles Often Mask Pride

by Joe McKeever

Not far from where I live stands a little church that always puts negative stuff on its signs. They seem to be forever infuriated that not everyone uses the King James Bible, as this seems to be their primary message. Last week, the sign was apparently addressed to Catholics. Quoting from Matthew 23:9, it said, "Call no man on earth your father, for one is your father, who is in Heaven." If they read the rest of that chapter, Jesus also warned against being called "teacher" and "leader" and said "servant" is the proper title for those who would be great in the Kingdom of God. These are all good words and excellent roles in life, but the point seems to be that God's people are to avoid pretentious titles that place barriers between people.

What kind of person would want to be called "servant"? I'll tell you: hardly anyone. The word "minister" is roughly the equivalent, and is a good name for preachers as well as anyone else in the Kingdom, although some have tried to infuse it with a certain grandiosity. The remedy adopted by a lot of preachers? Get a doctorate. Now, everyone has to call you "Doctor." A visitor to our services recently said he was slightly offended for me that everyone calls me "Brother Joe." "With your degrees and position," he said, "they ought to call you something with more status." I told him if he knew what some called me, he would know how happy I am for them to call me "Brother"!

I once went to an orthopedic surgeon whose office staff called him by his first name. Surprised by this informality, I asked about it. "There are too many barriers between people," he said, "and this is one I can do something about." However, I noticed he did not encourage his patients to address him by his first name. That was fine with me. I feel about this the same way I felt flying in the old Valu-Jet airliners a few years back: the informality of the crew unnerved me just a little. I want to feel they are professionals and maybe a cut above the rest of us.

God's people who take their discipleship seriously have to wage a never-ending struggle against pride. Pride is a soul-deadening, people-dividing, ministry-killing cancer which never quits coming, never admits defeat, and forever looks for new ways of taking over its host. Pride has a thousand faces. It masquerades as merit ("I earned this"), as concern ("It will be good for them"), as love ("I'm doing this because I care"), as ministry ("You'll be a better Christian"), and even as humility ("Lord knows, this is far less than I deserve.")

Jesus said His followers should think of themselves as unworthy servants who are getting far more than they deserve. He did not say God sees us that way, or that we should treat one another that way-only that we should think of ourselves in this way (Luke 17:10). In so doing, He gave us a key that unlocks a hundred doors in the Christian life and solves a multitude of problems before they strike. The attitude of a lowly servant also drives a stake through the heart of pride. But don't be fooled; pride will be back tomorrow wearing a different outfit. Be watching.

When opponents of the Lord's people wanted to caricature them and belittle them, they called them "Little Jesuses." That's what the word "Christians" means. It was first given at Antioch in Syria and was intended as a put-down (Acts 11:26). What they meant as ridicule, the Lord's children began to wear as a badge. The very idea-that we get to be like Jesus! Now there is a grand all-encompassing name. A Name above all other names! A Name to really take pride in!

Brother McKeever is director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

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