The Paradox of Pride
Tim Temple


The Lord Jesus Christ prayed for unity among believers while He was on the earth, as recorded in His beautiful high priestly prayer in John, chapter 17. One of the specific things He prayed for was that we would have unity around Him and around God the Father. Probably it is for that reason that Paul writes first and foremost and most fully about this problem at Corinth. The first one on the list that Paul deals with is the problem of disunity and division and disagreement. All of that disagreement was centered around the exaltation of men. Some were saying, “I am of Apollos,” and “I am of Paul”, and others “I am of Peter.” We have talked about all of that before. In the chapters that we have covered thus far, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has been showing us that neither the Corinthians nor we should invest our loyalty and our interest in a particular individual or a particular movement, no matter how important or impressive or what his stature might be. Rather, our focus should always be on the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we come to chapter 4, we are going to find a summary of that whole discussion. In this chapter, Paul is going to deal with the matter of pride. As we go through that chapter, we are going to see that pride was the key element in this matter of the divisions and disunity there in Corinth. We have divided this chapter into four parts, and we are going to look at it from these four points. First of all, we want to think about the paradox of pride in verses 1-5. Then in verses 6-8, we have the problems of pride. In verses 9-13, we have a picture of victory over pride. In verses 14-21, we have the preventative for pride. Today our focus is going to be the paradox of pride as Paul discusses it here in verses 1-5.

Pride really is a paradox, isn't it? Isn't it an unusual thing how we can be so proud of something in ourselves that actually may not even be there, something that others may criticize us for. Pride is an ironic kind of thing. Clarence E. McCartney was a famous preacher of another generation, and he tells the story of how a visiting preacher was preaching in his church one Sunday and brought a stirring message on the sin of pride. After the service, a woman came up to the preacher. She was greatly moved by the sermon and she said, “I need to confess a terrible sin.” The preacher said, “Well, you need to confess that to God.” She said, “I have confessed it to God, but I need to tell you about it. It is this terrible sin of pride that I have been convicted of. This morning before I came to church, I sat at my mirror and I just reflected on my beauty, and I was so filled with pride. I sat there for thirty minutes thinking about how beautiful I am. What a terrible sin that was!” The preacher looked at her very soberly and said, “Madam, that was not the sin of pride; that was the sin of imagination.” I don't know what happened after that, but that is the way pride is. The very things that we think we can take glory in so often are the very things that are not true. Pride is a paradox. That is what Paul deals with in these first five verses.

I Corinthians 4

1Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.
4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

In these verses, Paul is going to demonstrate that it is a paradox for anyone in the Lord's work, anyone in Christ's service, to be motivated by pride. This is brought out in the first place by realizing the true position of ministers in verse 1. There are two terms here in verse 1 that speak of the position of ministers. Most of this will be by way of review. Let me say for the benefit of someone who may be hearing this for the first time that we have a tendency to think of the pastor, the minister, as some high and lofty and exalted kind of person, someone who is more important than everyone else in the church.

Ministers Are Servants

Those of you who have been a part of this church for very long don't think that because we have been studying this for several weeks, the fact that all of us are ministers and that the guy who stands in the pulpit may have a different job description than other Christians, but he is no more important than other Christians. Notice that Paul says in verse 1:

I Corinthians 4

1Let a man so account of us,…

Remember, they were exalting Paul and Apollos and Peter. Paul is saying, “We, who you are exalting, are just servants. For us to become exalted, for us to become proud of that exaltation which you are giving us is a paradox.” So he says, “In the first place, ministers are servants.” The word “minister” is the key word in verse 1, and that is a word that basically means “a servant.” Back in chapter 3, verse 5, we talked about this word once before and in chapter 3, verse 5, the word that is used there is the Greek word diaknoia , which basically means “a table waiter”. Paul said, “These men that you are exalting, including myself, are just waiters. We are just table waiters. We are servants.”

In this chapter, he is saying the same things, but really he uses a different word. It is still translated “minister” or “servant”, but the Greek word here in chapter 4 is the word huperetes , and it has a special significance. It is a word that refers to a slave, but a slave who had a little different job than a table waiter. A huperetes was a spokesman for the master. He was one who spoke with the authority of the master, but he did not speak on his own. The closest parallel that I can think of in our society today would be the press secretary to the President of the United States or the official spokesman for some large company. He is a person who speaks for the master, for his employer. The press secretary speaks for the President, and yet he doesn't have the authority of the President; he only has the authority to speak for the President. He is one who serves the President. He is still a man under authority; he is a servant himself. That is the kind of thing that is involved in this word huperetes , which is translated “minister”. Paul said, “Peter, Apollos and I are just servants. We are spokesmen for the Lord, but we are just servants.”

Responsibility of Stewards

There is a second important word here in verse 1. Not only were they servants, but more specifically he said they were stewards of the mysteries of God. A steward was a much more familiar figure to the Corinthians than they would be to us. The steward, in the world of the first century, was a slave, but he had special responsibility. He was the one who administered the household for the homeowner. Even though it was much, much earlier, the concept was the same as that of Joseph. If you remember back in the Old Testament when Joseph was the slave of Potipher back in Egypt, he was in charge of all of Potipher's affairs. He was the steward, even though they didn't use that term there in the book of Exodus. In our present day, we don't use the term “steward” much except in the Methodist church. We used to have stewards in trains and sometimes on ships, but you just don't hear that term very much any more. The closest thing might be the executor of an estate or the trust officer of a large trust fund. He is one who administers someone else's money. He usually has some degree of authority over that money, some degree of discretion over those goods; but it is not his money, his goods, that he is administering. That was the concept of the steward in the Roman world of Paul's day.

Paul says to those Corinthians, “Peter and Apollos and I are stewards; we are stewards of the mysteries of God.” So in our thinking we need to recognize that the pastor, the minister, is simply a servant. He is a servant who has a very important responsibility. He is a servant who has the responsibility of handling the Word of God. Notice in the last part of verse 1 he says, “stewards of the mysteries of God”. The word “mystery”, as you probably know by now, is not a reference to a puzzle or a riddle or something like that. There are people who think the Word of God is very mysterious, but that is not the concept here. A mystery, in the way it is used in the New Testament, is something that was not revealed in the Old Testament. It was something that was part of God's truth, but for His own sovereign reasons, He delayed the explanation of it until the New Testament. For example, the Scripture tells us that the Rapture is a mystery. It is something that the Old Testament believers didn't understand, but God has revealed it for us who live in the New Testment age that someday the Lord Jesus Christ is going to appear in the air and catch us up to be with Himself.

The Mystery of the Church

The Church, in fact, is a mystery, the Scripture tells us. In the Old Testament, God dealt through Israel, and God's dealings with mankind were through the nation of Israel. They knew nothing about the Church, the local expression of the Body of Christ as we are gathered here today. In the Old Testament, they thought that everything would always be done through Israel; but after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ, God began to reveal through the apostles that now He was going to deal with mankind through those who were called out from among all different kinds of people. Whosoever will may come–not just Jews, but anyone who will accept Jesus Christ as Savior. When we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, we don't become Israelites; we become members of the Body of Christ, the Church, which is His Body.

Incidentally, a great deal of misunderstanding arises when we don't make that distinction. There is a whole segment of Christianity today which says that the Church is spiritual Israel, that all of those blessings that God promised to Israel are going to be fulfilled in the Church. It is interesting to me that they always deal with the blessings. They never bother the cursings. Those were fulfilled on literal Israel. It is a happy distinction to make. It is a pretty good deal to have all the curses put on someone else and all the blessings put on you. But that is not what the Scripture reveals. The Scripture reveals in the New Testament something that was hidden from Old Testament saints, the mystery of the Church. The Church is not Israel. They are two distinct bodies, and as you study the Scripture, you need to keep that in mind.

Paul said we are stewards of the mysteries of God. We who are teachers, we who are pastors, we who are ministers are simply that–we are servants. More specifically, we are the kind of servants who deal with the affairs of the Master. We handle the things of the Master.

Let's think about this for a minute. There are some very important parallels between the steward of the first century and the pastor of the twentieth century. This is important for you to know as you sit under the ministry of this church. It is important for you to know as so many of you keep moving to other places and will be looking for another church. It seems as if Abilene, Texas, and Abilene Bible Church are just way stations on the way to somewhere else. We have had so many people come here and be a part of our church and then move away with their jobs. So there are some who need to keep this information in mind as you go looking for another church as you move. Keep this information in mind.

The Master's Resources

What is a pastor supposed to do? He is supposed to be a steward. What does a steward do? In the first century, the steward did not handle his own matter. He did not feed and clothe the family with his own possessions. Why would he do that? He works for a wealthy master, and the wealthy master has goods–food, clothing, etc.–for his family. The steward's job was to administer the master's goods. It would be ridiculous for the steward to try to feed and clothe that family with the steward's own possessions. Since the Holy Spirit has had Paul use that as an illustration, I think it is very significant to remember that the pastor, or whatever capacity the spiritual leader may be in, does not feed the flock with his own possessions.

Let me tell you something: My opinions about politics or sports or good manners or whatever else are no more important than your opinion. If you come to church to hear the pastor give a monologue about politics or about sports or good manners or whatever other subject he may happen to pick, that is a waste of time. What you have there is a steward who is trying to feed the family out of his own meager possessions. That steward is a slave. He doesn't really even have any possessions. So it is a ridiculous thing for me to come and try to feed you spiritually out of my own intellect or background or knowledge. My responsibility is to take the Word of God and feed you out of the Word of God, feed you out of the Master's resources, not out of my own resources.

By the same token, the steward has the responsibility not to withhold anything from the family. What kind of a steward would it be if his wealthy master said, “Here is the budget for the year for clothing for my family, and here is the budget for food for a year for my family, and here is the budget for the cash that you will be handling for them, and you dispense this according to the needs,” what kind of a steward would he be if he held back those things? Those are not his to hold back. They belong to the master; they belong to the master's family, and he is just the middleman.

Teaching the Word of Truth

By the same token, the teacher of the Word of God has no right to withhold truth from his people. Occasionally I have had conversations with pastors who would say, “I would really like to teach the Bible in my ministry, but that is just not interesting enough for people. People just aren't entertained by that, and I am afraid people wouldn't keep coming back to church if I just got up there and taught the Bible.” That is ridiculous! That is exactly like the steward saying in the first century household, “I am not going to give all of the clothing that the master has allotted in this year's budget.” That is not his responsibility to make those kinds of decisions. His responsibility is to administer what the master has given. If it is in the Word of God, then it is something that the pastor ought to teach. He ought to teach it as interestingly as he can; he ought to teach it entertainingly if he can, but his responsibility is to administer the Word of God to the family.

C.H. Spurgeon was a preacher of a previous generation. You are probably familiar with that name. He was an English pastor, and he was a brassy kind of a guy. He was committed to the teaching of the whole counsel of God. In London there was going to be a world convention of the Unitarian Fellowship. As you may or may not know, the Unitarians do not believe in the Trinity. They believe in the unity of God, not the Trinity. They talk about God, but they do not believe, for example, that Jesus Christ was God. So, surprisingly enough, C.H. Spurgeon was invited to speak to this world conference of Unitarians, probably because of his prominence. He was invited to speak on the one condition that he not speak about anything controversial. That is an interesting condition to put on a preacher, but C.H. Spurgeon surprised many Christians by agreeing to speak at that convention. When the time came for him to speak, he chose as his text II Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16, which says:

I Timothy 3

16And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

When he came to speak that text to those who did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have it on the authority of the Word of God that I am speaking about something that is not controversial.” You see, he did not have the right to withhold even from those who did not believe it something that the Word of God declared. He found a very creative way of being a steward of the mysteries of God, of ministering to the family that which belonged to them.

So, to take pride in our ministry is as paradoxical as a steward of the first century being proud of what he was giving to the family. It wasn't his; it was the master's. He was simply the one through whom it passed; he was simply the one who saw to it that the master's wishes were fulfilled. For a minister to be proud, for a pastor to be filled with pride about his ministry or for the followers of a pastor to be proud of what their pastor is doing, is a paradox because really, you see, he is only a servant. He is only a steward.

True Purpose of Ministers

Verse two tells us another reason that pride is a paradox and that is the true purpose of the minister. Notice in verse 2:

I Corinthians 4

2Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

What is the purpose of the steward? What is the purpose of the pastor who is pictured by the steward? The purpose of the pastor is to be faithful. This is a basic concept of Scripture and yet one that is so easily overlooked. You see, the main requirement for a servant of God is not that he be highly educated. It is not that he be eloquent. It is not that he have great numerical success. The basic requirement for the servant of God is that he be found faithful, a faithful dispenser of the goods of the Master. If only pastors and other ministers could understand this concept, the Church of Jesus Christ would be much more powerful, I believe, in its ministry in the world today.

Let me remind you that all these weeks, we have been talking about the fact that all of us are ministers. This particular part of the passage is describing the pastor, but the principles apply to all of us as ministers; and as you serve the Lord, in whatever areas of ministry He has given to you–an attorney, a doctor, a plumber, a student, a homemaker, whatever–the major requirement for the Lord's servant is that he or she be found faithful to the standards of the Word of God, faithful to the principles of the Word of God, faithful to communicate the Word of God. That is the true purpose of the minister.

Again the question comes, how can we be proud of simply doing that which God has given us to do? Being faithful is a very simple matter. It may become difficult, but it is simple, and it is something that is nothing that we can brag about. So pride is a paradox.

As we think about this matter of faithfulness to the Lord, it is very encouraging because I don't know how many times I have had people come to me and say, “I would really like to serve the Lord, but there is just nothing I can do. I am not talented. I am not educated. I am shy.” There are all kinds of reasons people think they can't serve the Lord. Listen, God is not looking for success; God is looking for faithfulness. With God, faithfulness is success. If you faithfully are on the lookout for opportunities to witness for the Lord and if you take one opportunity a year that God gives you, that is faithfulness. You leave the opportunities in the hands of the Lord, and you leave the results in the hands of the Lord, but you be faithful to live according to the Word of God and seek to share the Word of God with others. That is success in God's sight. Someone else may witness to a great many more people than you do; someone else may see more people come to Christ than you do. Some people may have a bigger church than you do. Some people may have much more outward success, but what God looks at is whether you have been faithful to what He has given you to do. It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.

True Perspective for Ministers

There is a third reason that pride is such a paradox. It is a paradox if we understand the true perspective that ministers ought to have. One of the chief reasons that people sometimes become proud is the fact that they think they are pleasing the people around them. This is a delicate issue. You ought to encourage the pastor. Let me say that you are very encouraging to me. I appreciate the kind remarks that you make to me. Be careful any time you have the opportunity to express your appreciation to anyone who ministers to you in any way; but on the other hand, when that is turned around and you are on the receiving end of that praise, be very careful that you don't let that turn into pride.

When I was in college, I took a course that was entitled “Pulpit Speech”. As the name implies, it was designed to teach people how to handle themselves in the pulpit. I will never forget the first day in that class. It made a distinct impression on me. The professor said, “Young men, I know that already some of you have preached in your home church, and furthermore I know that some little old lady came up to you and told you that that was the best sermon she had ever heard. The problem is that some of you actually believed that.” It is easy to begin to believe our own press clippings. It is easy for us to begin to think, “Well, maybe I am something special.” That is a paradox, because you are only a servant. All you are is a steward of the mysteries of God. That is a great privilege, but it is not something to become proud about. So in these verses, Paul talks about the prespective that pastors–really all Christians–ought to have.

In these verses, we find out who the pastor is answerable to and who any Christian is answerable to. Notice in verse 3:

I Corinthians 4

3But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.

One of the most difficult things for Christians to remember is that we are not answerable to each other. I do not have to base my perspective of the ministry of how many of you like my ministry. Paul says, “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any man.” We are not answerable to the world in general. There are many pastors whose perspective of the ministry is based on having as wide ranging a ministry as they can possibly have to be accepted by the world in general. We are not even answerable to ourselves although verse 4 shows that this doesn't mean that we can harbor sin in our lives. Notice:

I Corinthians 4

4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

Again, let me direct this to you who are not pastors, remembering that the passage is dealing with pastors, but the principles apply to all of us as servants of Christ.

One of the great problems in our walk with the Lord is being so concerned with what other people think about us. Many times compromise has come in the ministry because people were afraid of what folks might think if they didn't handle themselves just exactly right or if they didn't say things just in the right way. Certainly we need to be concerned about our testimony. Certainly we need to be careful that we don't offend anyone with what we say. But listen: It is not fellow Christians who judge us. “He who judges me,” Paul says, “is the Lord.” What I must always keep in mind, and what you must keep in mind in your ministry is: Is this pleasing to the Lord? Is this consistent with the Word of God? I want to say as kindly as I can, as interestingly as I can, that the major goal is that it is satisfactory to God. “He who judges me is the Lord.”

Judgment Belongs to God

In verse 5, he puts the whole thing in perspective:

I Corinthians 4

5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Notice very carefully the wording of this verse. This is not forbidding the judging of false teachers. The Scripture tells us very clearly that we should hold what a teacher says over the Word of God, and if it is not consistent with the Word of God, then we are to denounce that ministry. It warns us that false teachers will become more and more abundant as the end of the age approaches, so this is not negating any of that. But remember that the context of this verse is talking about stewards. It is talking about the man who is handling the Word of God. It is talking about the man who is being faithful to the Word of God. By principle, it is talking about believers who love Jesus Christ in general.

With that in mind, notice the command–and it is a command–in the first line of this verse:

I Corinthians 4

5Therefore judge nothing before the time…

It is a sin to criticize. Did you know that? It is so easy to overlook that sin. It is a sin to criticize the pastor or any other fellow-believer, again, recognizing that pastors and any other believers are capable of sin; and if there is something that specifically violates the Word of God in the life or the teaching of the pastor or in the life of any other Christian, then we have very carefully laid out for us in the Scripture how we are to handle that. We are to go to him privately and deal with it; and if he won't hear us, we are to take witnesses with us. If he won't hear us, we are to bring it before the church. I am not negating any of that, but I am telling you it is a sin to criticize when you don't know the basis for what was done or said. In fact, notice what is said:

I Corinthians 4

5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

When is the time? When the Lord comes, who will make manifest the motives of the heart. You don't know why someone else did what they did or did not do or why they said what they said or did not say. You had better be extremely careful that you do not commit a bigger sin than you may have been imagining they committed by being critical of them. The most destructive thing in the Body of Christ today is the human tongue. The Scripture repeats that in various places in various ways. God says to judge nothing before the time because when the Lord's judgment comes, He will make manifest the counsels of the heart. That is impossible for you and me to know with our limited, finite understanding.

Appropriate Praise From God

Notice the last line of the verse:

I Corinthians 4

15…and then shall every man have praise of God.

Every man shall have the praise which comes from God. The wording of the Greek indicates that every man shall have whatever praise is appropriate. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the Judgment Seat of Christ. We saw that at the Judgment Seat of Christ, there will be those there for whom no praise is appropriate. They will be saved yet so as by fire. Whatever praise that is coming to you will come to you by God. That is the perspective of the ministry. You see, we are not in business as Christians, we are not in business as pastors to see how many accolades we can accumulate. We shouldn't be, at least. It is a paradox for us to become proud because so many people are saying so many nice things about us because our perspective ought to be that our praise will come from God.

Harry Ironside told the story one time of being on a ship, coming back to the United States from a preaching tour in Europe. As they approached the docks in New York City, there was a brass band on the dock, and there was a great crowd there. He thought for just a fleeting moment that maybe his church members were down there to greet him; and then he realized for several reasons that that could not be the case. Then he realized that there was another individual on the ship for whom that brass band and that big crowd was there. For just a moment, he was disappointed. He thought, “Here I have been laboring, and I have had this long journey across the ocean, and I have worked so hard for the Lord, and no one even knows that I am coming home.” Then he remembered this verse and he said, “I realized that my day is coming. The day is coming when I will receive the praise that comes from God.” That is the perspective.


It is sinful for us to become proud because the appropriate praise, the only praise that really matters is going to come from God. Let me conclude by turning the application upon you, even though I repeat that I want you to remember that this passage is addressed to the pastor. I speak to myself as I speak to you because all of us are in the Lord's work. Don't be disappointed when someone else gets some praise that you don't get, maybe even someone who is not working as hard as you are working it would seem to you. The day is coming when every man will have the praise that comes from God. That is our motivation. That is our perspective. That is the reason that we should be extremely careful not to become proud and not to put an occasion in someone else's path to become proud.

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