The Problems of Pride
Tim Temple


You may have heard the story about the fellow who had worked hard and made a lot of money and finally had gotten together enough money to buy a Rolls Royce. He was so proud of that Rolls Royce. He thought that that just made a better person out of him. Every opportunity he had, he told people about his Rolls Royce. He found ways of working it into the conversation any time he could. One day he was at his country club playing golf, and a fellow-golfer had trouble getting his car started, and so that Rolls Royce owner just insisted that he give the other fellow a ride home. He thought, “This will be an opportunity to show off my car.” Finally the other golfer agreed, and they started down the driveway out of the country club and the driver said to his passenger, “I don't suppose you have ever ridden in a Rolls Royce before, have you?” The other fellow said, “Well, at least not in the front seat with a chauffeur.”

That is a picture of pride. Pride is such a paradox. It is so full of irony. Very many times the things that we are so proud of are things that really we have no legitimate right to be proud of in the first place.

In chapter 4 of I Corinthians, the focal point is pride. “ One of the things that hinders the lordship of Christ in the local church,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “is human pride.” We have been seeing that it is a very insidious enemy against the lordship of Christ in the church and in our lives. Let me remind you again that the focus of our study is the lordship of Christ in the local church, but really the lordship of Christ in your life and in mine because Christ cannot be Lord of this church unless and until He is Lord of our lives. So we have been thinking about these things not only as they relate to the corporate church body, but also from an individual standpoint.

The Subtlety of Pride

In our last study, we talked about the paradox of pride, how foolish it is to be proud. As we come to verses 6-8, we continue along that theme. Paul is going to point out some of the problems of pride, and there are a number of problems that we are going to see. The first problem that we have to keep in mind about pride is its subtle presence as pointed out in verse 6. Notice I Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 6:

I Corinthians 4

6And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

The first significant phrase to notice is the phrase, “puffed up for one against another.” The question comes to mind, what could be wrong of thinking highly of another person? What could be wrong with thinking that another person would be someone to emulate? Although on the surface there may not be a problem, carried to its logical conclusion, the problem is that it leads to exaltation of ourselves. That may be a little hard to see, but think about this. The next verses are addressed to people who exalt themselves and their groups, and the fact is that as we focus our attention on another person, we can actually be caught up in pride about that person's or that group's characteristics. We can become proud that we are part of the group. So the first subtle influence of pride is the fact that it can actually be based on someone else, some other person or some other group.

We tend to think of pride as being something focused on ourself. That certainly is true, but it also–this is the subtlety of pride–can be based on another person or another group. To be proud of a man or a group and our association with it causes an inability to see things in their proper perspective. We can be so wrapped up in a person or in a group or a movement that we actually refuse to listen to legitimate criticism of that person or group.

For example, there are people who know that the denomination of which they are a part has become a liberal denomination. There are people who are a part of religious organizations that do not stand for the things they used to stand for, yet it is possible for a person to become so wrapped up in that organization and so proud of their association with it that they actually fail to see problems that are being caused by that organization. There are people who say, “Well, I know that that seminary which I contribute to no longer teaches what it used to teach, but after all, my father graduated from that seminary or my grandfather helped build that”; or they will say that about a particular church or denomination, and they can become proud of their very association with it. That kind of pride and that kind of attachment is sometimes focused on a particular Bible teacher or a particular ministry of some kind. Paul says, “I am focusing on these things because of this subtle danger.” The Corinthians had formed groups around Paul and Apollos and Peter, and they were so wrapped up in these groups that Paul had to resort to illustrations. He said, “I have figuratively transferred these things to myself and Apollos”. Otherwise, they wouldn't have gotten the point. He had to get down on the most basic level because they were wrapped up in this subtle pride over their relationship.

The Subversive Prerogatives of Pride

We are saying that the first of the problems of pride is subtlety, but in verse 7 we find another problem, its subversive prerogatives. Look at verse 7:

I Corinthians 4

7For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

Actually the subject of this verse is introduced back in verse 6. The two just flow together. The verse divisions were put in by editors, and sometimes it is difficult to zero in on one verse. Notice the phrase in verse 6:

I Corinthians 4

6…that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written…

You see, the exaltation of men or movements that are started by men comes from ignoring the Scriptures. It is above, it is beyond what is written in the Scriptures for us to exalt a man or a movement. The record of Scripture shows unequivocally that men are failures. One of the reasons that we have the Word of God is to remind us that the Christian life is impossible in our own strength. Were it not for the grace of God, not one of us would have any hope of Heaven, and not one of us would have any hope of pleasing the Lord in our day to day lives. So when we begin to focus on men or their organizations, we are focusing not on God and His grace, but on the recipients of God's grace. That is beyond what the Scripture says. The Scripture says that our focus should always be on the Lord Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word. When we set a pastor, a television preacher, a seminary, a denomination, etc. as our standard, we are going beyond what the Scripture says, and the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Scripture should always be our standard in life, the only thing to which we are unequivocally loyal.

The Failure of Men

Think back about even the great men of the Scripture that the Scripture reveals as failure. We know that one of the reasons that we know that the Scripture is inspired is that it gives us even the failings of its heros. If you look back through the annals of Scripture, you will find that Adam was a failure, and then his son, Cain, and then Noah, and Abraham, and Jacob, right on down the line. Even the great men of God have been failures, so it is a terrible mistake to exalt men. Groups, through the years, have been failures. Israel was a total failure. They promised to be true to God's Word, to be true to God's instructions, and they were a total wipe-out. The disciples failed again and again. The church has failed again and again. That doesn't mean that God doesn't forgive those sins. God always forgives our sins and tells us to get up and move on. There is always forgiveness with God, and there is always hope for tomorrow, but that is only because of God's grace, so we must be extremely careful that we don't focus our attention and our pride on individuals or even on groups.

Paul summarized this principle back in chapter 3 of I Corinthians, verses 5-7, where he said that even a sincere servant of God is nothing unless God gives the increase. Notice in verse 5 of chapter 3:

I Corinthians 3

5Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

You see, people were focusing their attention on Paul and on Apollos, and Paul said, “We are nothing. I planted; Apollos watered; we are nothing. It is God who gives the increase.”

A third emphasis in this letter to the Corinthians is that whatever greatness God has allowed anyone to have has been merely to show His grace through them. Remember back in chapter 1 that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty that no flesh should glory in His presence.

With all that in mind, coming back to verse 7, what he is telling us in verse 7 is that it is a subversive thing, it is the height of foolishness to take pride in anything. Pride subverts our attention from the true focus of our pride and focuses it on something other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, that is a part of Satan's plan. Satan really doesn't demand that we worship him. As long as we don't worship Jesus Christ, he is satisfied. Satan is perfectly happy for you to worship a pastor or a television minister or a seminary or a denomination. As long as you are not focusing on Jesus Christ, he doesn't care what you are focusing on, so pride is a very subversive thing.

God's Use of Men's Abilities

Let's stop and think about ourselves for a minute because sometimes that pride does focus on ourselves. He points out in verse 7 that even if you do have something that others don't have–maybe you have some spiritual gifts that others don't have, and maybe God has blessed your ministry in a way that He hasn't blessed the ministry of others–what do you have that you did not receive? Why do you act as if it is something inherently in you? Anything that any of us have, we have just because God has given it to us.

Listen very carefully to what I am about to say because it could be misunderstood. There is a sense in which if someone is being greatly used of God, it is a sign that they are actually less impressive than others because back in chapter 1 he says that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the wise. God has chosen the things that are nothing to bring to naught the things that are. If you see someone that is being greatly used of God, thank God that He is using them. Thank God that they are allowing God to use them. Thank God that they are apparently clean vessels that God can use, but recognize also that that is actually the inverse of what we would think from a human standpoint. Actually that person is probably less impressive. Otherwise God wouldn't be using him so greatly.

I am just planting that thought with you, and you can feed on that later. Certainly it could be misunderstood. That is not to say that any person who is accomplishing great things for God is an imbecile. God uses education; God uses intellect; God uses natural talents and abilities. God, at the same time has given those things as His gifts, and He has specifically said that He chooses the weak things to confound the mighty. Again, do you see what a paradox it is for us to take pride in another person, for us to exalt another person when if they are being used by God, it is simply because God has made it possible to be used in that way?

God's Reaction to Men's Pride

In the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ addresses letters to seven churches. These are actual churches of the first century to which God wrote letters which contained information that would apply to churches down through the years. To one of the churches, the church at Laodicea, the Lord Jesus said, “I would like to spew you out of my mouth.” In our terminology today, what He was actually saying was, “You make me want to vomit.” Why would He say that? Turn to Revelation, chapter 3, beginning with verse 14:

Revelation 3

14And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

That truth could apply to every one of us. When God sees you or me becoming proud over what He has given us, if He sees us attaching pride to what He has given someone else rather than focusing on the giver of those gifts, God says, “That makes me want to vomit. You think you are so special. You think that you are rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing. Actually you are wretched, poor, miserable, blind and naked. You don't have anything except what I have given you.” So the bottom line is that pride is subversive in its prerogatives. It makes us think the very opposite of what is true of ourselves or of other human beings.

The Product of Pride

Coming back to I Corinthians, chapter 4, there is a third problem with pride. Not only is it subtle and subversive, but verse 8 indicates that it actually produces a spurious product. Notice:

I Corinthians 4

8Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.

If we take that verse out of its context, it might not make much sense, but keep in mind that Paul is writing to the Corinthians who had this great problem of pride. He is speaking very sarcastically. He points out the attitudes that the Corinthians have because they had become proud of what God had given them. They were saying, “We are rich; we are full; we are reigning as kings,” very much like the church in Laodicea.

The interesting thing is that these attitudes were not correct or accurate in the first place. Back in chapter 1, Paul had said, “There are not many mighty among you, not many rich, not many noble, but don't worry about that because God has chosen the weak things.” Corinth was not really a rich church. It was not really a church that reigned as king. In fact, they lived in a time of great persecution. Yet they were so pleased with themselves and with their leaders that they might as well have been rich and wealthy, etc.

Incidentally, Paul's sense of humor shows in the last line of verse 8. He says, “I wish you did reign. Things would be a lot easier for me if I had founded a church that was full of kings. I wish you did reign.” There is his sense of humor and his personal touch. Really though, isn't this a good picture of pride? Isn't this what it is like when we become proud of ourselves or someone else? The end result is thinking things about ourselves or our group that aren't even true, that in some cases are the opposite of what is really true.

Victory Over Pride

By this time hopefully we can see what a terrible thing pride is. Fortunately in verses 9-13, we have a picture of victory over pride. In these verses, Paul uses himself and the other apostles as examples of humility. This is ironic that he would use himself and the apostles as examples because they were the very people who would be qualified to be exalted if anyone was qualified. Of course, we have seen that no one is qualified to be exalted. In these verses, he give us three attitudes that put pride in its proper place, three things that were true of the apostles that really take care of pride. First, a lowly position in the eyes of the world. Notice verse 9:

I Corinthians 4

9For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
10We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

Here Paul continues with his sarcasm, his sarcastic comparison. Verse 9 brings out an example that would have been familiar to people living in the Greek or Roman empires, as the Corinthians were. He says, “…I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last…” That doesn't really ring a bell with us in the twentieth century. It doesn't sound very familiar, but in the first century in the Greek and Roman empires, after a victory in battle, there would be a great victory parade back in the homeland. The troops would march in the parade; the general who had led them would be in the parade, and near the end the captives who were taken, but at the very end, as a real spectacle, would be the captives who had been condemned to death, the worst of the enemy. Paul takes that analogy and says, “I think that we, the apostles, have been condemned to death and displayed last as those are who have been condemned to death.” This was a very humiliating position.

Verse 10 says that the apostles were fools for Christ's sake. Notice the things that he says:

I Corinthians 4

10We are fools for Christ's sake,…we are weak…

Why would he say they were fools? In the world's eyes, the preaching of the Gospel is foolishness. He doesn't say that the preaching of the Gospel is foolishness, but he says to the unsaved it seems like a very foolish thing. Why would a man with a college education who has the potential to go out and make a lot of money get out of the business world and spend his time preaching the Gospel? “What a foolish thing to do!”, the world says. Paul says, “We apostles are willing to be considered weak. We are despised.” Why were they despised? Because the Gospel is so contrary to the wisdom of the world. People react against the Gospel; they don't like to hear that. Yet, in these same verses, Paul compares point by point the Corinthians attitude. The Corinthians were priding themselves on the very opposite of each of these things. Notice his point by point comparison here in verse 10:

I Corinthians 4

10We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

Does that sound familiar? I think we live in an era in the Body of Christ when we have put such a premium on intellect and wisdom that to a great extent we have forgotten that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. The Corinthians were wise in their own eyes. Point by point he shows the evidence of their pride.

Pride In Possessions

There is a second point here that also helps give victory over pride and that is a loose hold on possessions in the world. Verse 11 says:

I Corinthians 4

11Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

Remember, he is talking about the apostles in the first century. They were transitory workers. They had lost their worldly possessions. In fact, most of them were already dead when Paul was writing this. He was the last of the apostles. The apostles hadn't always been that way. They had been business men, homeowners. The fishermen had had their fishing business. In fact, we know that John had other employees. They had not always been impoverished as they were at the time Paul wrote this, and before their lives were over, some of them regained a measure of financial stability; so Paul isn't saying here that there is something inherently spiritual about being poor. Remember that a lot of unsaved people are poor also. Being poor in and of itself does not make one spiritual, nor does it mean that if you are wealthy, you can't be spiritual. What he is saying is that Christians face the possibility of having to give up everything that they own in order to accomplish the will of God.

Let me ask you something: If God were to call you and you were sure that it was God's will that you go and do a certain thing for Him and to do that would mean sacrificing your home and your possessions and living a much lower standard of living than you are accustomed to, what would be your response? You see, a problem with pride is that God showers possessions on us in some cases, and we actually become proud of those possessions which He has enabled us to have. Paul says that if you really want to be used of God like the apostles were being used of God, if you want to be free of pride, then you need to hold your possessions with a very light touch. God has given you those possessions. Thank Him, and enjoy them. On the other hand, hold them very loosely because God may call you, at some point in time, as He did the apostles to give up all those things or many of them.

Attitude Towards Persecution

Finally, a third principle that was true of the apostles, a legitimate attitude towards persecution in the world, in verse 12:

I Corinthians 4

12And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

Each of these things would have been completely repulsive, even unnatural, to a polished Greek of the first century. Manual labor–Paul says, “We work with our own hands.” Paul was a tent-maker. The other apostles did other things with their hands just to earn a living. He says, “When we are reviled, we bless.” That would seem to be a very spineless thing to do in the Greek culture or in the American culture. They took persecution, and endured it. Again, that would seem like a foolish thing to do. Yet, these are exactly the things that Jesus Christ did when He was on the earth. He was the God of Heaven; He was the Lord of glory, yet He worked in a carpenter shop because that was God's will for Him at that particular time. He was the only Person in all of history who could have said and been effectively, perfectly able to do it, “I am going to get you for that,” when someone did Him wrong, yet He uttered not a word. Paul says we are living that way; Jesus Christ lived that way. The Scripture is full of instruction that we, as believers, are to live that way in order to have the kind of ministry that God wants us to have.

Take the time to look for yourself at Galatians, chapter 5, verse 22, and you will see that each of these things is the fruit of the Spirit. If we let the Holy Spirit work in our hearts and produce its fruit in our lives, it will be these kinds of things. That is the victory over pride–to have a legitimate attitude towards persecution. Because of our pride, it is so easy when we face persecution to rail out at the person giving us the persecution and to desire to get even. A solution to pride and an indication of a lack of pride is to be able to accept those things as Jesus accepted them and as the apostles accepted them.


In conclusion, let me remind you of what you already know, and that is that we live in a day when it is not hard to be a Christian. It is a pretty accepted thing to be a Christian, especially from the standpoint of physical persecution and rejection. In fact, there are some Christians who are in very prominent places, respected places in our society. None of us suffer in the way that Paul was describing in these last few verses, but it hasn't always been that way. It may not always be that way. Thank God that we can relax and enjoy some of the benefits of the blessings that He has given us, but let's remember that we don't deserve those things, and it may not continue to be that way. If we were to lose those things, we would find out very quickly what the real values of life are all about. How silly it is for us to become proud of those things that have just been given to us in the first place! Above all, remember that the real accounts are settled at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is where the real investments of life will be demonstrated for what they are. “Therefore, judge nothing before the time,” Paul said, “when God will judge the hearts of men.”

Don't become proud of what God is allowing you to do. Don't become proud of some other person that you might focus your attention on and become a part of his group. Keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

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