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Vainglory Part 2

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Review: Vain Glory vs. Boasting

Today we’re wrapping up our series on “walking in the gospel” with part two of last week’s sermon, where I spoke about the concept of “vainglory” or “empty glory” — the tendency we have to seek prominence, power, influence, (or maybe not even those things but merely acceptance, praise,  some sort of notoriety), through our accomplishments and efforts. In short, we have a tendency to seek affirmation and praise from people. A quicker word we use for this concept is pride.

We took a look at some excerpts from C.S. Lewis’s chapter on pride from his book Mere Christianity. Let’s take a look at one of those quotes again.

“Now what you want to get clear is the Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

– C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity

I think this is a really excellent summary of the issue. And we can see how pride is at the root of a lot of our sin. We have this desire to be noticed, affirmed, praised for our accomplishments and abilities. We either become puffed up when we receive the praise or are deflated and depressed when we miss out on it.

We also looked at one side of the biblical antidote to vainglory in Galatians chapter 5 and 6, with the idea of boasting in the cross.

Galatians 6:14
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

  • Boasting = a declaration of your identity, and a declaration of ability.
  • Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 3 and I want to look at another way Paul battles against this idea of vainglory. He teaches us to have the attitude, posture and heart-position of a servant toward one another.


  • Last week I spoke a bit about my struggle in the area of humility, in the area of vainglory, and I want to continue that story a little bit and get a little more specific.
  • Although I have been able to recite to you the correct Sunday school definition of servant-leadership ever since my 7th grade ELCA church youth leader, Amy, drilled it into our heads, I think, to my shame, I am just now coming to understand it.
  • I am coming to understand that, in my soul, I’ve always emphasized the leader aspect of servant-leader — though I would have told you that as a servant-leader my job is to lay down my life for the sake of others, somehow I had this positioned in my heart in a way that allowed me to understand the role in terms of power, authority, and control; rather than humble foot-washing, floor-sweeping, toilet-cleaning, request-fulfilling, need-meeting, self-sacrificing love.
  • Does that make any sense whatsoever?
  • This realization came through a recent bout with back pain that had me unable to work (i.e., sit at a desk and type…) all week. The back pain had come about as a culmination of being out of shape, lacking core strength, not paying attention to posture and health. Eventually this reached a breaking point resulting in immobility.
  • I’ve told a few people (and now you) that I must now get serious about my health, posture, core strength, etc. Because neglecting it is not fair to those that I serve.
  • As I said this, I had an epiphany. I have not seen myself as a servant. I am a pastor (authority), business owner (authority), husband (authority), and father (authority). And all these positioned in a way that made myself central, rather than incidental.
  • The truth is that I am a servant. I exist to help. I exist to lay down my life, preferences, time, energy, and choices for the sake of my wife, children, co-pastors, congregants, employees, and clients. All these are in a position that requires me to faithfully steward the necessary resources (time, energy, health, finances) to ensure they are well cared for. Anything less than this is mis/mal/non-feasance of duty.  All my authority is a delegated authority, something that is a gift, and nothing I derive from myself.
  • Yes, in many areas I am to serve by providing vision, direction, instruction, correction, final-decision-making, and buck-stopping. I am the one who goes first, especially when it is difficult, the one who lays down over the barbed wire, and the one who takes the risk. the one who takes the flak or the blame when things go wrong.
  • But this is all to be done in a way more like a butler than a lord. I am a steward, not a king.
  • I am merely a servant! I belong to Christ. I do his bidding, as he commands me to do it, for your sake, and he gets all the credit and glory for my work. Not me.  I have a tendency to forget this fact, and desire some of that glory, some of the affirmation, some of the accolades, for myself.

Vainglory vs. Servanthood

  • In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul models Christ’s teaching on servanthood. Even though Paul is an ordained Apostle, THE Apostle, the human agent charged with igniting and architecting the expansion and establishment of the church, inspired author of most of the New Testament scriptures, Paul understood that he was a mere servant of Christ.

Luke 17:7–10 (ESV)

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”


  • Paul deals with some conflict in the Corinthian church, essentially over who was a better Christian based on which apostle and teacher they listened to. Paul straightens them out, and again like last week I’m not as interested in the specific situation here as much as the way Paul handles the situation.

1 Corinthians 3:3–9 (ESV)

3 …for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

  • He tells them: “you’re arguing about the wrong things! Apollos and I are the same! We’re just lowly workers, doing as our master tells us. The master is the one who is important!”
  • Paul could have said with actual integrity that he was THE APOSTLE charged by God with instructing and establishing the church, but that is not what he ends up saying.

1 Corinthians 3:21–4:2 (ESV)

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.  4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 

  • Paul is essentially saying: “We are mere servants and stewards. We’re not important enough to argue over who is higher than who in some sort of hierarchy.
  • He expresses the same sentiment in 2 Corinthians 4:5, which also gives us a sense of what the content of our preaching ought to be. “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
  • Also, we must be found faithful!”  So, were they being faithful? That might cause another argument, who was the more faithful steward, Paul heads this off at the pass.


1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (ESV)

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

  • Paul is saying “I don’t care what you think of me, and even care what I think of me. I only care what the Lord thinks of me.”
  • Paul’s attitude here is one we should emulate.
  • See Chapter 3:21-23 again: “All things are yours”… why then are you worried about anything else?
  • Two errors: caring too much what people think, or dismissing their opinion arrogantly because you think you are wiser, smarter, more experienced, more skilled. We can all learn from each other, even, and maybe especially from our critics.

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”  -Lewis

  • How do you get to the place where you are not controlled by what others think of you? Our culture gets this all wrong, and most of us have been totally swayed by its influence in this area.
  • The world tries to get over this through pride “you should only worry about what YOU think of you.” We only know how to remedy low self-esteem with exhortation to have high self-esteem.
  • “When I do something right, or do something wrong, I don’t connect that to my self-worth any longer, because that is in Christ.”


“I will not be judged by any human court.”  Why not? Because he knows that this is a trap.

When we allow ourselves to be judged by a human court of opinion, when we care about other’s people’s judgement of us:  Some days you’ll feel like you’re winning the trial and some days you feel like you’re losing, and Paul gives us the secret to escaping the trap of allowing ourselves to be judged by human opinion: realizing that the ultimate verdict is in. Trial is over. Court is adjourned.

And this verdict of God’s: we’re justified, will lead us to our performance, with right motivation. Our service and performance will no longer be in order to earn a good standing in people’s eyes, but because we’re free from that, we’re free to simply show people what Christ thinks of them, how much he loves them. We’re free to be a conduit of his love for people, rather than being needy vainglory seekers.

  • Because Jesus went in to the court room of judgement and was judged on his performance, we are now out of the courtroom.  From the moment we say “God please accept me on the basis of Jesus’s judgement…” no other verdict matters to us.


1 Corinthians 4:6-7 (ESV)

6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

  • And that is the final nail in the coffin of vainglory. Why are we boasting in something that was a gift in the first place. Anything you do have, any measure of success, beauty, influence, money, power, you have. Any skill, gift, ministry success, or anything like that is ultimately a gift from the Lord that you are meant to use in the service of others. “It is for a steward to be found faithful.”
  • As Christ taught us, we should say “We are merely unworthy servants, doing as we’ve been told.”
  • Now, I understand that this doesn’t jive very well with our modern volunteer management thinking. And certainly those of us that are recruiting volunteers and managing them are not taught here to say “YOU are merely an unworthy servant doing as you’re told.”
  • But what if those of us volunteered and organized volunteers got all the praise and accolades we need from understanding that we are being faithful with the stewardship and management of the gifts we’ve been given from God and didn’t require praise from men? Our egos would be offended far less often, we’d have vastly more joy in our work, and our work would
  • You will be judged on your faithfulness in stewardship on the last day, so don’t bother comparing now. Just seek to be faithful. Keep your mind on the future judgement, and the words you want to hear on that day: “well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.”


  • Acknowledge that we are proud & realize our tendency toward vainglory.
  • Embrace our identity as servants & stewards,
  • Understand that that everything we have is a gift.
  • Seek to steward that gift faithfully.
  • Wait for God’s judgement on the last day.