"For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 2:21).
At The Village Church where I am a pastor, I wear blue jeans and rarely tuck in my shirt, and that kind of outfit seems to be standard issue for most in our church community. We're not trying to make any kind of statement in dressing like that. It's just what we do; it's what we are. We're casual when it comes to our clothes.
But one year, I decided to class myself up a bit for our Christmas Eve service. I went to my closet and found some slacks from a couple of years ago that I could still fit into, and I put on a nice dress shirt. It was red—Christmas-y red. And I tucked it in. Can't say I enjoyed it all that much, but I did it. Just thought I'd dress a little special for this special service. Then I went to church and preached our Christmas Eve services.
The day after Christmas I got an email from a young woman in our congregation—a pretty scathing email essentially calling me a sellout. Her message amounted to this:
I grew up in a church where you had to wear dress clothes every Sunday. You had to wear a suit if you were a man. You had to wear a dress if you were a woman. And all the focus was on our external appearances, and we felt judged if we didn't measure up. It was very superficial and legalistic. And this is one of the things I've loved about attending The Village: how we're free-form and casual and don't try to outdo one another in dressing up. But, Matt, on Christmas Eve you sold out.
I sold out, she said, because I wore nice pants and tucked in my red dress shirt. Can we be honest about what happened here? All this woman did was change the dress code. That's all. She went from rejecting the idea that if you loved the Lord you'd wear suits to accepting the idea that if you loved the Lord you wouldn't. She really just said the same thing the church of her youth told her when she was young, just about a different style of dress.
The reality beneath her irritation was that her hyper-religious and legalistic parents had wounded her heart, and instead of doing business with that wound, she started lashing out at what she perceived to be the enemy. And that is just one example on top of more serious examples. What do we make of it when in a marriage situation one partner says, "This isn't working. I think we need to get help. I think we need to get counseling. I think we need to go see somebody at the church," and their spouse responds with, "No, we're all right. We'll be all right. I'll do better. We'll work it out"?
In both cases, there is a mental and emotional reality at work beneath the words and postures. It is, fundamentally, pride. Pride says, "I have it figured out. I've got this." It's an assertion of independence and self-allegiance and special knowledge, the kind you think you get from forbidden fruit. This phenomenon is what Mary refers to in the Magnificat when she says that God "has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts" (Luke 1:51