“Spiritual arrogance,” those two words should never be together. However, all too often the religious are known more for their pride than their piety. There is a strong temptation to glory in our reputation, our size, our works, our accuracy, our intellect, and our ability until we have solidly enthroned ourselves at the center of our faith.
The pride of religious people in Jesus’ day was so well known He could tell stories about it and the people would say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that before.” Jesus told of a Pharisee who went to the temple and listed his accomplishments in prayer to God. He was a spiritual blue blood. He belonged in such holy surroundings. But Jesus looked straight past him. His person was the broken hearted sinner who was too humble to raise his head to heaven. Jesus then gave His disciples this constitutional truth for His kingdom. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14; see Matt. 18:1-5, Acts 5:1-11).
Purging ourselves of any trace of pride is a matter of survival. The proverb, “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” applies to saints and sinners a like (Prov. 16:18). There are local churches that teeter on the brink of extinction because they are infected with pride. There are believers who are just one temptation away from rebellion because they feed their own self-centeredness.
The problem is that pride brings its own set of blinders! Oh, we can see arrogance in others just fine and it turns our stomach, but we carefully rationalize and excuse our own. Yet, a careful examination of Scripture has a way of dragging the ugliness of our pride out into the light of day.
Few places identify the origins and the destruction of pride more clearly than Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth. Pride was the wound through which all kinds of spiritual infection invaded the local body of Christ, and a biopsy of the Corinthian church reveals the ugliness of spiritual arrogance among the people of God.
First of all, spiritual arrogance can come from the pride of knowledge. Now, knowing God’s word ought to be the passionate prayer of every believer (Col. 1:10), but once received that knowledge has the tendency of creating pride. As Paul put it, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-2).
Now, it is not spiritually arrogant to require Biblical authority for what we believe and practice. That is a very humble thing to do. However, it is very possible to understand God’s truth about a subject and still be wrong because we hold it with an attitude of pride.
Some Christians slip into this sinful spirit when they speak with someone they believe is in error. They are more proud about what they know than loving toward the person who is wrong. Knowing this inclination Paul writes, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Speaking the truth is imperative, but it must be harnessed by love or else pride will drive the cart (see Eph. 4:15). What attitude governs your spiritual communication?
The Pride of Talent
Spiritual arrogance also tends to emerge from our talents. Very often a person’s ability is their greatest liability because pride has spoiled it. We compare our skills to others in our group and think we are something special, or we sink into the darkness of envy because we don’t measure up.
Arrogance about their roles and gifts threatened to unravel the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14). Superiority over their role in the worship set one believer against another, until Paul chops their conceit down to size with a series of questions, “Who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). How foolish to boast in your ability more than God’s! Yet, local churches grind to a painful halt while one servant elevates himself above another. God gives us our blessings to elevate His name and His agenda, not ours.
Strangely, spiritual arrogance is also the father of permissiveness. It is very popular today for people to boast in their ability to tolerate sin. People are proud of the way they accept things and participate in things the Bible warns about. The church in Corinth had the same attitude. A couple in the church was sexually immoral, and the church was proud of their ability to tolerate it when they should have mourned over it (1 Cor. 5:2).
False teaching often comes from the arrogant voice of tolerating sin (2 Pet. 2:18-19). The rebel shouts, “They say you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. I pronounce liberty!” It sounds so appealing, but it shackles its hearer to the corruption of spiritual arrogance.
The Pride in “Our Group”
God created the local church in such a way that commitment to Him means commitment to His body, the church. Yet, when we divide up that local church into groups who arrogantly think they are better than others, we are infected with spiritual arrogance. This behavior was eating up the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 3:3-4).
People of the world may divide up by age, interest, race, economics, and background, but not the people of God! The “we” versus “them” mentality feeds our pride and gives the world a distorted view of the gospel. The commitment to group over God is a sign of arrogance.
The correction of our spiritual arrogance comes from humility learned at the feet of Jesus. He taught that greatness is not based on talent, knowledge, or reputation, but in having the simple, trusting, obedient faith of a child.
“Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4)
The humility it takes to enter the kingdom must continue to be the way we live in the kingdom. May it always be!
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)
The Effects of Spiritual Arrogance In Corinth
Division. Spiritual arrogance among the Corinthians caused them to be “puffed up one against the other” (1 Cor. 4:6). 1 Corinthians 1 shows how their spiritual arrogance nullified three central teachings of the gospel. After pointing out their divisions, “Some saying, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” he goes on to ask three questions in verse 13, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13). The church, which is the body of Christ…divided? Never. Forgetting Jesus was crucified for us? Never. Forgetting whose name we were baptized in? Never. But, when spiritual arrogance exists people are elevated over Jesus. As a result the blessings of the church, the cross, and baptism are nullified by pride!
Gossip, Envy And Jealousy. Defiantly related to division, is gossip, envy and jealousy. You find these in 1 Corinthians 3:3, “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal.” There have always been Christians who love to get together in little groups, and cliques and talk about how terrible others are. The reason for that is because they feel so much above them. That’s why where there is pride you’ll find jealousy, because they wish they had what others had. You’ll find envy, a slow seething that they don’t have more power, more say. That will lead to a mouth of gossip, because pride has to let everyone else know how good they are compared to everyone else.
Slander & Intimidation. Those who didn’t like Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians soon began to spread lies about him. In 2 Corinthians we find they are calling him weak and a poor preacher, with an insufficient message. This slander often escalates to intimidation. We remember how the Pharisees would “cast people out of the synagogue who confessed they believed in Jesus” (John 9:22, “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.”) Fleshly intimidation has no place among God’s people.
The Methods of Spiritual Arrogance in the New Testament (Pharisees, Sadducees, Judaizes)
1. Slander – “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” (Matt. 12:24, spread lies, 2 Cor. 10:10)
2. Intimidation – “because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42; also John 9:22)
3. Manipulation – “the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them.” (Mark 15:11, also Acts 21:27-30 – working up the crowds against Jesus)
4. Personalities – “Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:12). Create division over personalities.