Proud Christians

I Corinthians 4

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2023

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (I Corinthians 4:6-7 NIV).

Today, we are going to talk, not about pride in the world but pride in the church. We are going to talk about proud elders and proud deacons.

We are going to talk about proud pastors and proud churches.  We are going to talk about proud Christians.

Are you guilty of pride?  How would you even know if you have a problem with pride?  One writer lists forty-one ways to know if you struggle with pride.[1]

We are studying the Book of I Corinthians.  It is a book that is relevant to the American Church.  Corinth is the most American city in the NT.

It is the church with problems, like most churches today.  Just about every problem that churches have today, the church of Corinth had two thousand years ago.

The first problem that Paul dealt with was division. It was not sexual sin.  It was not homosexuality.  It was prostitution.  It was not shacking up.  It was not having affairs.

It was division.   Paul spent the first four chapters of I Corinthians on the topic of division. That may not even make our top ten list.  It was number one on Paul’s list.

A church that struggles with division will not last long as a church.  It will lead to the destruction of a church.

Today, we are going to look at the cause of division in a church.  Paul goes back to the root cause.  The root cause is PRIDE.  Pride is mentioned three times in this chapter (I Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19).

Pride is the oldest sin ever committed.  It goes back to Satan who said, “I will ascend to the heavens.  I will raise my throne above the stars of God…  I   will ascend above the tops of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14 NIV).

Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

We do not even think pride is a problem today.  The world thinks it is a good thing, not a bad thing.  It celebrates pride.

It has pride days and yet, the Bible calls pride a sin.  It was the first sin ever committed.  It is not just a small sin; it is a big sin.

The world likes pride and says it is a good thing.  God hates pride and says it is a bad thing.  We are told that three times in Proverbs.  Solomon mentions seven thongs that God hates and pride is number one on the list.

There are six things the Lord HATES, seven that are detestable to him: 17 HAUGHTY EYES, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV)

To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate PRIDE AND ARROGANCE, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Proverbs 8:13 NIV)

The Lord detests ALL THE PROUD OF HEART. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5 NIV).  The NKJV reads, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.

God not only HATES pride; He RESISTS it.  We are told in the Bible that God resists the proud.  He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

We are told that three times in the Bible: once in the OT (Proverbs 3:34) and twice in the NT (James 4:7; I Peter 5:5).

God knows how to deal with people who are proud.  One way He does that is through sickness.  Nothing humbles you more than being sick and in bed.

The pagan king Nebuchadnezzar found that out.  He was proud.  He said, ““Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NIV). God made him eat grass for seven years (Daniel 4). He acted like an animal. He struggled with mental illness.

Herod found this out.  He was worshipped as a god but then was struck with worms.  He was eaten by an animal.  He not only got sick; he died (Acts 12).  He was struck down by an angel of the Lord (Acts 12:23).

King Uzziah found it out as well.  The Bible says that “his pride led to his downfall” (II Chronicles 26:16 NIV).  He was a believer.  He went into the Temple to burn incense on the altar.  Only the priests were allowed to do that.  God struck him with leprosy (II Chronicles 26).

Pride in the Church

In I Corinthians 4, Paul is not talking about pride in the world.  He is talking about pride in the church.  The Corinthians were believers.  Paul called them saints.

He wrote this letter to “the church of God at Corinth” and yet this was a church full of spiritual pride.  Paul told them not to be puffed up.  That is the way that Paul describes them is puffed up.  They are filled with hot air.  They are inflated.

This was a proud church and there are many churches like them today. The word for “puffed up” is φυσιόω.  It is used seven times in the NT.

Six of the seven times, it is used of the Church of Corinth (I Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4).  It is used of Christians.

Many problems in the church are caused by pride.  Many arguments among Christians are rooted in pride.

Many divisions in church come from pride.  No church is perfect.  No pastor is perfect.  Christians get mistreated.  They get offended.  Rather than dealing with this biblically, they get mad.  They leave the church.  They get others to leave.

What are some of the ways that we see pride in the church?  How is it manifested?

Signs of a Proud Christian

How does pride manifest itself in the church today?  What makes a proud Christian?  There are many signs.  Here are four.

1) Criticism

A proud person is critical and judgmental.  Now all criticism is not wrong, otherwise Paul could not criticize the Corinthians.  This is unjust, unbiblical, excessive judgment.  A discerning spirit is different from a critical spirit.  That is a spirit rooted in pride.

It is a faultfinding spirit.  It is an obsession with pointing out the minor flaws of other people.  It is being the sin police.  It is looking for specks in other people’s eyes, instead of focusing on the beam in our own eyes.

We like to criticize everything.  Paul says do not go around judging other Christians, because you will be judged yourself by Jesus.

We have had a lot of people leave our church recently.  We had dinner with some of them to find out why.  When one young couple explained why, I was shocked.

Everything they said was minor.  They even admitted the reasons they were leaving were minor.  You should never leave a church over minor things.

Just because we do not like something doesn’t make it wrong.  It might be a question of style or taste.

2) Stubbornness

A proud person is stubborn.  They have no interest in listening to the other side of an argument.  They just want to express their opinion.

Proud people think they are always right. They wouldn’t listen even if the church leaders (pastor, elders, deacons) correct them.  The Corinthians church wouldn’t even listen to an apostle.

They would not even listen to the apostle who wrote most of the books of the NT.  They knew better than Paul.  That was a sign of pride.

There are Christians today that have some strange beliefs.  They do not live their lives according to Scripture.

They would not be corrected if a genuine apostle told them that they are wrong.  They wouldn’t listen even if the Bible corrects them.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and STUBBORNNESS is as iniquity and idolatry. (I Samuel 15:23 KJV)

3) Superiority

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3 NIV)

Proud people think that they are better than other Christians.  They look down on them.  How do we do this today?

Some churches think they are the only ones who believe the Bible.  They are the only true church or denomination on the planet.  They are the only ones who teach the truth.

All other groups are off doctrinally in these days of apostasy.  Some charismatic groups think that they are the only ones who have the Holy Spirit.

Some in the house church movement told me that they would never set foot in a church, because there are too many demons on people.  That is pride.  They are too good to set foot in church.

Paul talks about one group of Christians feeling superior over another group.  He tells Gentile Christians not to feel superior to Jewish Christians.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. (Romans 11:19-21 NIV)

We do not have that problem Gentile Christians feeling superior over Jewish Christians but we have the same problem today.

Charismatics who are cast out demons and live in the supernatural feel superior to the typical Baptists down the street who cannot do these things.  That is pride

People in big city churches feel superior to people who attend small country churches.  American Christians feel superior to Christians in third world countries.  That is pride.

4) Boasting

Boasting occurs when you put those feelings of superiority to words.  You can boast in all kinds of things (e.g., gifts and abilities).  You can boast that you speak in tongues and have a beautiful voice, while the rest of us cannot sing on pitch.

You can boast in your church.  You can boast in your preacher or your favorite bible teacher.  That is what the Corinthians were doing.  Some said, “I follow Paul.”  Other said, “I follow Apollos.”  Others said, “I follow Peter.”

Paul makes a very important statement.  He gives an exhortation to the Corinthians.  It is an exhortation we need to hear today.

Don’t Go Beyond What is Written

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (I Corinthians 4:6 ESV)

The exhortation is to keep it biblical.  Why is it important that we don’t go beyond what is written?  That is what the Corinthians were doing.  It is what Christians do today in many churches.

Many Christians unfortunately go beyond what is written.  Many do not even know what is written.  Many do not know the Word very well.  They have been in churches for years and they still do not know it.

That is why we need to be read and study God’s Word.  We need to be exposed to expository preaching.  Not every preacher does that.  Not every preacher believes in it.

What is expository preaching?  Expository preaching occurs when the sermon comes right out of the text.  It is preaching through the Bible chapter by chapter.  Nothing is ignored or skipped.

That exposes people to the whole counsel of God.  If you don’t do that, you get imbalanced.  You overemphasize one topic.  You have a favorite doctrine or passage that you keep preaching on.

You end up ignoring many other passages of Scripture.  How do Christians do we go beyond what is written today?  Let me suggest four ways this is done today.

1) We go beyond what is written by ignoring Scripture

That is what the Corinthians were doing.  They were following men.  They were exalting preachers.  It was going beyond what is written.

It is not going beyond what is written to have a favorite preacher.  Some preachers speak to you better than others.  We all have our personal preferences.

The problem is when we reject everyone else and say there is only one true preacher and one true church.  All of the other ones are false.

Society rejects it and goes beyond what was written in Scripture when it comes to marriage.  It goes beyond what was written in Scripture when it comes to gender.

2) We go beyond what is written by adding to Scripture

Cults do this.  False religions do this.  They have all kinds of books to the Bible (The Koran, the Book of Mormon).

That is adding to what is written.  The canon of Scripture is closed.  God is not writing any more books of Scripture.

3) We go beyond what is written by adding church rules

There is nothing wrong with church rules, but legalists (modern-day Pharisees) add binding rules on Christians that go beyond Scripture.

You can’t do this and you can’t do that, not because the Bible says it is wrong but because a church says it is wrong.

When churches follow these rules for years, they become tradition.  Many Christians follow their traditions, rather than Scripture.

We have whole denominations based on church traditions.  They have gone beyond what is written.

4) We go beyond what is written by following an experience.

There is nothing wrong with experience.  We should all have them, but we should not base our doctrine on our experiences.  That is what many do in the charismatic movement.

There is a famous quote by Leonard Ravenhill.  Ravenhill was a great preacher.  He said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”

That is a true statement but there are all kinds of false religions that have incredible experiences.  Truth is not based on our subjective experiences.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have their experiences.  Mormons have their experiences.  Muslims and Hindus have their experiences.  Truth is not based on those experiences.

Three Powerful Questions

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (I Corinthians 4:7 NIV)

We come now to three questions.  Paul asks the Corinthians three powerful questions from one verse.  Jerry Vines called these “three bible pins to pop prideful Christians.”[2]

These are questions we need to think about.  The first is a WHO question.  the second is a WHAT question.  The third is a WHY question.

1) Who makes you different from anyone else?

Are we different from one another.  Yes.  We are very different.  We all have different gifts and abilities.  He made us differently.

We did not make ourselves different.  God did.  John the Baptist said, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27 ESV).  Today, we take God out of the equation.

2) What do you have that you did not receive?

Everything we have is a gift.  That goes against the view that everything we have, we did.  We worked for it.  We earned it.  That is the self-made man view.  That is the secular view.

The problem with that approach is that you could not do anything unless God provided the job, gave you the mind and health to work.  God gives us the air we breathe.  He gives us the clothes on our back.

Absolutely everything is a gift.  Jesus had a conversation with Pontius Pilate.  Pilate asked him a question.  Jesus did not answer him.

Pilate said, “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go or to crucify you?”  Jesus said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11 NIV).

3) Why do you boast as though you did not receive it?

Why are you proud?  Why are you boasting?  If you do very well in school and have the highest GPA, you can’t boast about it.  God is the one who gave you your mind.  He gave you your IQ.

There is absolutely no basis for pride.  God gives people special gifts and abilities and then they go around boasting about them, thinking that they are special.

In Acts 3, we encounter a poor beggar who could not walk.  People carried him and put him by the temple to beg.  He wanted some money.

Peter says, “I don’t have any money but, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.”  He grabs him by the arm, helps him up and he walks.

People could not believe what happened.  They were shocked.  They were amazed.  Peter said, “Why does this surprise you? … It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12, 16 NIV)



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