"Vanity working on a weak mind, produces every kind of mischief.” This line from the movie adaptation of “Emma” by Jane Austen, says it all.
Vanity is that which is vain, futile, or worthless; that which is of no value or profit. The sermon excerpt that follows, written by John Angell James, was originally preached in 1828. His understanding of vanity helps put it in perspective. It’s prevalent today, but no one ever speaks of it. Here is what he has to say:
“Christian families are in most imminent peril of worldly conformity in the present day; and the line of demarcation between the church and the world is fast wearing out. It is true they have no cards, they do not frequent the theatre, or the ball room, and perhaps they have no midnight routs; - but this is all: for many are anxious about the splendour of their furniture, the fashion of their habits, the expensiveness of their entertainments, as the veriest worlding can be.
“Now a wife has great influence in checking or promoting all this. It has been thought that this increasing disposition for domestic show and gaiety, it to be attributed chiefly to female vanity. It is woman that is generally regarded as the presiding genius of such a scene: she receives the praise and the compliment of the whole, and she therefore, is under the strongest temptation to promote it.
“But let her consider, how little this has to do with the happiness of the family, even in its most prosperous state; and how a recollection of it aggravates the misery of adversity, when a reverse takes place. Then to be found in debt for finery of dress, or furniture; then to have it said that her extravagance helped to ruin her husband; then to want that, for bread, which was formerly wasted on luxury; then to hear the whispered reproach of having injured others by her thoughtless expenditure! Avoid my female friends, these miseries; do not go on to prepare wormwood and gall to embitter still more the already bitter cup of adversity.
“Endeavor to acquire a skilfulness in domestic management, a frugality, a prudence, a love of order and neatness, a mid-way course between meanness and luxury, a suitableness to your station in life, to your Christian profession; an economy which shall leave you more to spare for the cause of God and the miseries of man.
“Rather check than stimulate the taste of your husband for expense; tell him that it is not necessary for your happiness, nor for the comfort of the family; draw him away from adventitious circumstances, to the mental improvement, the moral culture, the religious instruction of your children. Let knowledge piety, good sense, well-formed habits, harmony, mutual love, be the sources of your domestic pleasures: what is splendour of furniture, or dress, or entertainments, to these?” (“A Help to Domestic Happiness”)This message from Ephesians 4 is just as suitable for the Church today, as it was for the Church era of this Puritan pastor. But it is not enough to merely stop thinking about those things that you desire - but to deal with those things within your character, which the temptations of the world appeal to.
Understand that sin, such as vanity, is a two-part process. The first part is the element of the world that tempts you, and the second is that part in you that worldly temptation can appeal to. Jesus said in John 14:30, “For the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.” He was saying that the devil came to Him with all the temptations of the world, but there was nothing in Him that those temptations could appeal to. Jesus was able to overcome the world.
Our struggle is with the flesh - those things within us that the temptation of the world can appeal to. They include the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life that dwells in us that cause us to sin; not the temptations the world offers (1John 2:17).
How then do Christians overcome the desires of the flesh? Paul asked the same question in Romans 7 & 8. His answer was that with his mind, he serve the law of God, and with his flesh, the law of sin. By a daily renewing of your mind, you can make a conscious decision to die to the flesh. The mind controls the body, and the mind is renewed in Christ (the Word) and led by the Holy Spirit. This is strong enough to crucify the flesh. Our goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in us, and not to deter His attempts at changing you.
Originally written for Kindred Spirits Journal, Issue #12, 2005