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C.S. Lewis called it the “one vice of which no man in the world is free” (Mere Christianity, B.3, ch. 8). Scripture says it was the cause of the rebellion and demise of both Satan and humanity (Isaiah 14, Genesis 3). Tim Keller says it is the reason that there is no peace in the world and that we cannot live in peace with each other (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). It is the sin that we easily see in others but rarely see in ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul calls it by its Greek name: “physioo.” This word translates as: “to puff up, to inflate, to bear oneself loftily.” More commonly it is referred to as pride.
Pride threatens to creep into our hearts and tamper with our motives for any “good work.” It’s a sin that does not die easily in the hearts of believers and certainly not in my case. I’ve only been in “vocational ministry” for four years, but my love for the Word and for discipleship began long before that. While those are exciting, God-given passions, my flesh and the Enemy often twist those desires into a means of exalting myself.
Much of the Church in the U.S. has become infatuated with a super-star-Christian, celebrity-pastor culture. We place godly pastors and leaders on impossible pedestals. Not only that, but we (those in all sorts of ministry positions) have at times believed the lie that we too deserve to be praised and applauded. Unless we choose to walk in the Spirit’s power (Galatians 5) our flesh will always work towards that end.
Paul offers hope in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. He urges the Corinthian Church to remember their salvation calling:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”
What is the one thing we can boast in? He does not say our Bible knowledge or ministry “accomplishments.” We boast in Christ and in His accomplishment on the cross. Each Christ-follower is righteous, sanctified and redeemed by Jesus’ work alone. This leaves no room for pride.
Paul also wrote to the Philippian Church concerning Jesus’ attitude, which far surpasses fleshly attitudes:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2).
Christ died so that our pride would die. He rose from the dead so that His selfless attitude could thrive in us (“which is yours in Christ Jesus”). Only when we are not enslaved to pride can we love the Church and the world well.
And isn’t pride enslaving? Isn’t it bondage to need to be praised for our ministry efforts, admired by others spiritually, and seen as more “theologically-knowledgeable” than others? If we don’t deal with it, pride will be the demise of our ministries to the Church and of our testimonies to the world.
But if we learn to daily submit to the Spirit, the attitude of Christ frees us to fulfill our ministries for His glory and for our joy.
As we enjoy our different roles in building up the Church we must remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:4-8:
“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Andrew Murray called humility “the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all” (Humility). As we look to our Savior, may the Spirit empower us with His selfless attitude to love the Church and the world well.
Have you struggled with pride? How did you manage it?
Emily Kelly lives in Athens, GA with her husband Mark, where she is the college women’s director at Watkinsville First Baptist. She is passionate about discipleship and helping younger girls know Christ through the Word. She loves spending time with her husband, with her family and with the awesome students in Athens.