Skip to site content

Keeping Pride at Bay Can Be Tricky

Many Scripture passages condemn pride.

Proverbs is filled with warnings about pride.

For example, Proverbs 16:5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart” and Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Wisdom, says Proverbs 8:13, hates “pride and arrogance.”

In 1 Corinthians 13:4, the Apostle Paul tells us that love “is not proud,” and Romans 12:16 urges, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

All these quotations are from the New International Version. Other translations use other words for pride: haughty, arrogant, glory, conceit, self-glory and so on, or rephrase the verse and use the word “boast.”

There are also Job 40:11; Psalms 10:4; Proverbs 3:34, 8:13, 11:2, 15:25, 21:4, 29:23; Ecclesiastes 7:8; Jeremiah 13:15; Ezekiel 16:49; Mark 7:22; Romans 11:20 and 2 Timothy 3:2.

2 Timothy 3:5 even instructs Christians to avoid and have nothing to do with proud people. Both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 tell us that “God opposes the proud.”

There is a problem when we notice that the Apostle Paul sometimes approved of pride and even was proud himself.

The NIV quotes him as saying to the Corinthians, “I take great pride in you” (2 Corinthians 7:4) and that he was giving them “an opportunity to take pride in us” (2 Corinthians 5:12).

Paul writes in Galatians 6:4, “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself.”

The more literal Revised Standard Version translates the relevant words of Romans 15:17 as “I have reason to be proud of my work for God,” 1 Corinthians 15:31 as “I protest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus,” 2 Corinthians 1:14 as “you can be proud of us as we can be of you,” and Philippians 2:16 as “so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

How do we reconcile the clear teaching of many Scripture writers against the total opposite attitude elsewhere in the Bible?

Origen, an early Christian scholar, resolved the seeming contradiction in the Bible when he preached against pride in a sermon in the AD 240s.

He naturally condemned people who are proud that they have relatives in government or are otherwise important in a worldly sense, or have power over other people or hold a high position or are wealthy or possess a beautiful home or lands.

However, he also chastised people who are proud for what seems a good reason to Christians: wisdom, chastity and having borne chains for Christ. Origen said Christians should not be proud even of these.

He mentioned that Paul had similar reasons to be proud: visions and revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9), signs, wonders and miracles (Romans 15:17-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12), and ambition to preach the gospel in communities where Christ was not previously known (Romans 15:20).

According to 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul was even proud about his weaknesses. He had reason to be proud also because he planted many churches in Turkey and Greece, and because of his sufferings on behalf of the gospel.

Yet, Origen said, God strongly disapproved of such pride in Paul and took measures to counteract or balance it.

Origen reminded his congregation that God also gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, a demon from Satan to torment the apostle and thus dampen down any tendency toward pride.

Paul three times asked the Lord to remove it but God refused, telling Paul that it was to remind him that he was and should be totally dependent on God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

That which comes by grace is no cause for pride because God is the source and the means to any accomplishment. Paul was no exception, Origen said, to God’s rule against pride.

In violation of many passages of Scripture, Paul may have drifted into pride and may even have encouraged others to be proud, but this does not mean God approved of it.

All Christians have weaknesses, and Paul’s was pride.

We must follow the consensus of all the Bible writers rather than the lapse of one man. Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 11:1, we should follow Paul’s example only to the extent that he followed Christ’s.

The Bible is clear that we should curb our own pride before God in his disciplining love sends thorns in our own flesh to counteract it.

David W.T. Brattston is a retired jurist living in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. His articles on Christian ethics have been published by many denominations in most English-speaking countries.