Paul and pride:
The distinctive way the apostle thought about himself.
(It’s easy to miss.
So let’s not…)
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First, the context: Paul is writing to Christian believers in Corinth. They’ve heard about Christ and what three missionaries have taught them: Paul, Peter (called “Cephas” here), and Apollos. All are on the “same side” so to speak, and we’ve no record of what Peter and Apollos said, but factions seem to have arisen and, according to Paul, the reason for the division stems from pride and boasting about who was mentored by whom.
Note that Paul had planted the infant church here and appointed the first leaders. Apollos, a good guy and friend of Paul, had come and done further leadership training, and there had been some contact with Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Whatever small differences had arisen was about to blow things apart. Paul appears to be responding some criticism of things he has said (and we’ll ignore those details).
Note further, that in appealing to his authority, Paul does not claim perfection, but look at what he does admit to and claim:
Says Paul: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust [you guys and your 3 teachers] must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing [these small things] before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. Now brothers, 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 take pride in one man over against another…”
–taken from 1 Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7
There’s a lot going on here, and a lot we don’t know. But consider this one thing: how Paul looks at himself. (We will assume that Paul is speaking the truth about himself.)
(1) He doesn’t care that others will judge him. (They have and will).
(2) He doesn’t judge himself. (Obviously though, he makes judgments about what is right and necessary. After that, let the chips fall where they will.)
(3) He has a clear conscience.
(4) That doesn’t make him innocent, however. (But as far as he knows, he is, otherwise his conscience wouldn’t be clear.)
(5) The Lord will eventually do any necessary judging. (And that’s what really matters).
Timothy Keller¹ has discussed in some detail this example of legitimate pride–firm, honest, humble, and aimed at seeking God rather that recognition or self-esteem.
¹ Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (10 Publishing, 2012) This short book, easily available as an ebook, is an excellent source for a study of pride and self-esteem, and especially the misguided modern flip-flop in expectations in dealing esteem in children and adults.