Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Seven Deadlies: Suberbia"

Selections from Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew

Philippians 2: 1-11

      How many of you are familiar with what are called “the seven deadly sins?”  If you come from a Roman

Catholic background, you may know them by heart.  If you’re a lifelong Protestant, you probably

have heard of them, but were never required to memorize them as part of your confirmation process. 

Protestant or Catholic notwithstanding, this is a relevant topic to approach, especially during the liturgical

season of Lent, which calls Christians to authentic practices of spiritual discipline, confession, and penitence. 

That topic is sin.  As I was planning my Lenten preaching calendar and wondering how I

might deal with such a distasteful and unpopular topic, I happened to view for the umpteenth time a

favorite film of mine.  Have you seen “Urban Cowboy,” which featured John Travolta’s dancing acumen

displayed on the floor of an enormous Houston, Texas nightclub called “Gilley’s.”  The storyline

centers on a newly-married couple, Bud and Sissy Davis, played by Travolta and Debra Winger.  At one

point in the film, after Bud and Sissy had separated over Bud’s all-consuming pride and jealousy, Bud’s

Uncle Bob had some sage advice for his nephew.  Reflecting on his own marriage, Bob tells Bud, “I

pretty near lost Corene and the kids a couple of times just ‘cos of pride…. You know that ole pride’s

gonna choke you goin’ down, but there ain’t a night goes by that I don’t thank the boss up there for

giving me a big enough throat…. Pride, it’s one of those seven deadlies; you know what I mean.” 

There was my cinematic prompting for this sermon series called “The Seven Deadlies”

      When I began to research the seven deadly sins, mostly in Roman Catholic literature, I learned

that these seven deadlies are not so much sins in themselves, but rather attitudes that underlie sin. 

These were first identified by St. John Cassian early in the 5th century, then refined by Pope Gregory

who held the papacy from 540 to 604.  The original intent was that knowledge of these seven dead-

ly attitudes would provide keys for Christians to understand their faults, and the behaviors that can

result.  Call it a framework for self-improvement.  So Catholics and Protestants alike benefit from a

study of these seven deadlies.

      Just by way of introduction, the seven deadlies are [in Latin] superbia: pride; invidia: envy; ira:

anger; avarita: avarice or greed; accidia: sloth; gula: gluttony; and luxuria: lust. Why are they called

“deadly?”  Well, the early church made a distinction between sins which were considered venial; that

is to say, those sins that could be forgiven without the need for the sacrament of confession; and sins

which were deemed capital, and could have a fatal effect on a person’s spiritual health.  A formal list

of the seven deadlies doesn’t appear in the Bible.  Some have suggested that Matthew chapters 5 - 7

or Proverbs 6:16-19 cover them all.  Rather than these sins being annotated in a single place in Scripture,

they are found throughout from Genesis to The Revelation.  Before we proceed this morning to talk about

superbia, or pride [and its first cousins vanity and boastfulness], you might be interested in

an online poll which asked:  “Of the seven deadly sins, which ONE are you most guilty of?”  Guess what

the leader was?  Lust, with 35%; followed by anger – 18%; then pride – 12%; sloth and envy – each

10%; gluttony – 9%; greed – 6%.  If this poll is reflective of our worshiping congregation this morning,

only about one in nine of us would identify pride as our biggest struggle with the deadlies. 

      Pride understood as the first of the seven deadlies might be defined as ‘excessive belief in one’s

own goodness that interferes with recognition of the grace of God.’  Pride is often set against what virtue

Humility, which is seeing ourselves as we are; not setting ourselves above; recognizing our need

of grace.  Pride has often been called the sin (or the underlying attitude) from which others arise. 

Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas once called pride “the reservoir of all sins.”  The Old Testament has

much to say about pride.  The Proverbs, for example are chock full.  Proverbs 11:2 states:  “When pride   

comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” Proverbs 16:18 is stronger yet in its

 assessment: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  In the 29th chapter, we

find a saying which ties in to Jesus’ beatitudes from His sermon on the mount:  “A person’s pride will

bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”  This seems to foreshadow Jesus’

words when He teaches:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…. Blessed

are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

      The prophet Isaiah, as he is pronouncing coming judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem in the days

of King Uzziah, writes:  “The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low, and the pride of everyone

shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.”  In the 16th chapter, the prophet

brings this colorful word about the Moabites, a rival tribe:  “We have heard about the pride of Moab –

how proud he is! -- of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence; his boasts are false. Therefore let

Moab wail, let everyone wail for Moab.  Mourn, utterly stricken…”  Then we have the prophet Jeremiah

lamenting the fate of his own tribe Israel, when he writes, “But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in

secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the

Lord’s flock has been taken captive.” 

      Pride, arrogance, vanity, haughtiness, boastfulness – all this has been the stuff of tragedy; not only

in Old Testament times, but throughout history.  St.Thomas Moore in the 16th century had this to say:

“These are all forms of self-delusion, and paper-thin masks over rotting features. Pride and vanity refuse the

truth about who we are and substitute illusions for reality.”  So we might identify as the first

feature of this overweening pride, spiritual blindness.  While any true glimpse of God reveals our frailty

and imperfection -- just as a well-lit bathroom mirror shows the flaws in our complexion -- blindness

to God, and to the things of God, makes it virtually impossible to see ourselves as we truly are.  We

can’t strive to become better people – and from the standpoint of our Christian faith, to become better

disciples – if that mirror is so clouded with the steam of pride and vanity that we only see a hazy and

distorted image of ourselves.  We can busy ourselves with career, family, community involvement, and

even church work, thinking we are being driven by a strong work ethic, moral values, or the fire of the

Holy Spirit.  In reality, we don’t want to see clearly; maybe running away from God, and running away

from ourselves.  While an attitude of humility allows us to see ourselves and God more clearly, an attitude

of pride and puffery makes it all but impossible, leading us into all sorts of disgrace, humiliation

and destruction.  That’s what the Bible says is the upshot and end game of pride.

     A second feature of pride - actually a symptom - is that each challenge to our pride drives us harder

to validate the illusion of our own self-perfection and self-sufficiency.  The more entrenched our pride

becomes, the less able we are to escape its grip, and own up to whatever shortcomings we may have.

The more swelled with pride we become, the more we lose sight of our own reality, and work like

crazy to shore up the illusion.  This was one of the great tragedies of the nation of Israel – its inability

to own up to its sin, while building around itself a veneer of pride, arrogance, self-righteousness.  Jesus

once exposed this attitude when he accused the Jewish religious leaders of being like whitewashed

tombs; clean and sparkling on the outside; but on the inside, filled with death and destruction.

      When we hear sermons about pride, we may be tempted to think of all the people we know who

really need to hear it.  But pride is about all of us, in spite of the results of any online poll.  And we

would love to retain our illusions by pointing to others:  He or she thinks they’re all it.  I don’t think I’m

really all that great, but they think they are.  Here’s a check.  One of the best pride indicators is to what  

degree we are threatened by the pride of others.  Think about that.  Another pride indicator is what sort

of competitor we are.  There is nothing wrong with playing to win and trying to be the best, while doing

 our best, on the track, field or court, provided the joy is in the playing; win or lose.  If, however, our happiness,

well-being, self-image, peace of mind, validity, our very identity depend on defeating others – and in a broader

sense, making sure that at whatever cost, we’re always the winner while everyone else is always the loser –

we are building a world of illusion, and are in the grip of exaggerated, and

spiritually deadly, pride.

      For the balance of this message, I’d like to offer three ways to combat a prideful attitude, which can

grow into a deadly one; but they must all be taken together. First, be grateful to anyone and everyone

for anything and everything.  Treat even the things people are expected to do as great gifts.  Be thankful

to our Divine Source of blessing for every blessing, large and small.  Live into that attitude of

overflowing appreciation, understanding ourselves not as source, but as beneficiary.  In terms of unhealthy

pride – starting to think we’re all that with a cherry on top -- this keeps things in perspective.

      Second, we confess our pride-fullness and ask God’s forgiveness.  In our daily prayers, we should be

ready to admit that while we are God’s valued and beloved child, we aren’t all that with a cherry on

top.  We ask God to be patient with us as we are patient with others when they tighten our jaws with

what we see as their excessive pride.  Over time, the less we’re threatened and bothered by others’

pride, the more control we’ll have over our own. And of course, as we find ourselves sometimes having

to swallow our pride – feeling like it’s going to choke us going down – let’s not let a night go by that we

don’t thank “the boss up there” for giving us “a big enough throat.” 

      Finally, we ask God to replace any attitude of pride, arrogance, vanity, haughtiness, boastfulness

with a spirit of meekness and humility.  We read in Philippians 2 where Paul teaches us:  “Do nothing

from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of

you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.  Let the same mind be in you that

was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as

something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human


      This was a heavy sermon, so let’s wrap up on a lighter note.  After a priest had delivered a

scorching message on pride, a woman of the parish approached him following the service.  She told

him she was upset by the sermon and needed to immediately confess a great sin.  The good parson took

her aside and asked her what her sin was.  She answered, “The sin of pride, Father.  I sat an hour this

morning in front of the mirror admiring my stunning and exceeding beauty.”  “Oh,” responded the

priest.  “That was not a deadly sin.  That was a venial sin of your imagination.”