“Pride’s Poison”  I Corinthians 1:18-31

If pride centers on self then it is our death.  But if the pride has a different focus, a different object, then it is wonderful. 

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany  January 28-29, 2023

“Pride’s Poison”  I Corinthians 1:18-31

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             Pride is a killer.  Arrogant, self-centered pride is poison.  It will kill us, and it will kill anyone who receives its venom.

            In Luke 18, in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus begins His teaching about self-praising pride like this, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable…”  “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.’”  (See Luke 18:9-14)  Look at me!!  But remember how the parable ended – he left that place empty – without God’s hand upon him.  Pride killed him.

            He had a poison in his soul, and it destroyed his life and the lives of all those around him.  The robber of life is pride.  He had self-gratifying hubris.

            Pride divides marriages and families and friends and places where we work.  Pride will destroy the good that God wants to work in congregations.  It certainly was a poison in the church that was in Corinth.  Paul reports the sad news that he had received about that church, “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”  (I Corinthians 1:11-12)

            Can you hear it?  Pride is loud.  “I’m right.  I follow the best guy.”  “You’re wrong!!  You’re following the wrong guy.”  Then the final guy gets louder than the first two, “Look at me – I’m the only true believer in this whole group.  I’m the only one who really is following Jesus.”  How arrogant.  Pride wants to speak and be heard, it never wants to wait or listen.  Do you have that disease?  I do!!

            Not everyone in this world is a Christian and sometimes Christians don’t understand why anyone would not want what Christ wants to give them.  Christ brings us peace, right?  He gives us strength and security.  He forgives our sins and promises us eternal joy.  And He gives all of these gifts freely.  Why would anyone say “no” to all of these things?  Why would anyone say “no” to Jesus?

            Why?  It appears to many that Jesus is weak and foolish.  And those who follow Him are even weaker and more foolish.  Why would anyone want to follow a weak or foolish leader?  In I Corinthians 1 Paul says, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  (I Corinthians 1:22-23)  

            Just think if you grew up Jewish and you have heard all the accounts of God’s mighty hand and His great deliverance – you have come to expect God showing His strong arm and working miracle after miracle whenever a situation was greater than us.  You recount God doing things that God alone can do – the 10 plagues, allowing the Israelites to walk through the Red Sea, providing manna in the desert for 40 years.  With amazement you recount the actions of the Lord God Almighty.  And then some johnny-come-latelies start telling you that God’s salvation, His redemption of all mankind, came through a man named Jesus, who died on a cross.  Crosses were made for the common criminal, the refuse of society, not for the Lord God Almighty and His anointed one – the Christ.  It didn’t make sense.  As Paul says in the opening verse of our reading, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  (I Corinthians 1:18)

            That is pride’s poison.  God could only be strong, mighty, miraculous.  But He was not.  He was weak.  In 178 AD a man named Celsus wrote about the weakness and foolishness of what Christians were saying Jesus did.   He wrote, “God is good and beautiful and happy and is in that which is most beautiful and best.  If then ‘he descends to men’ it involves change for him, and change from good to bad, from beautiful to ugly, from happiness to unhappiness, from what is best to what is worst.  Who would choose such a change?”  That isn’t how God should work.  God should always be mighty.  God should always be brilliant and allow us to marvel at how wise He is.  Pride’s poison in our own life and in our understanding of how God is supposed to work is a killer.

            The text reads clearly, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”  (I Corinthians 1:22-25)

            Pride can be a poison.  Sometimes people keep God out of their life.  They are going to solve life and its problems, sin and its curse all by themselves.  They don’t need God.  They don’t need a Savior.  They don’t need Him on a cross.  Whether God isn’t wise enough for them or not strong enough for them their self-exalting pride is their killer.

            But pride can bring us life.  What?  I’ve been pummeling you up to this point and now I say there can be something good about pride?  Yes.  If pride centers on self then it is our death.  But if the pride has a different focus, a different object, then it is wonderful.  We take pride in who our God is and what He has done.  Paul concludes this whole section with the words, “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”  (I Corinthians 1:31)  In the book of Jeremiah we read, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

            Look around.  Consider your life.  Look at the blessings that you have.  Look at the physical, material things that you have.  Consider the blessings in your soul – peace, cleansing, the fullness of life from your Savior, Jesus, and of course life forever in the very blessedness of heaven.  Who do you give praise to for such things?  Do you need a longer arm so you can pat yourself on your back?  I don’t think so.  You can have a ton of pride – but not in self, but in your God.  Paul in Galatians says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  (Galatians 6:14)  When Paul was in Athens, Greece, addressing folks who knew little about God, he says about Him to them, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28)  He had pride – in God.

            There’s an answer for pride’s poison, it is found in humility’s truth.  St. Paul was allowed to see a vision of heaven.  He said what God allowed him to see was amazing and that he heard inexpressible things.  But then he wrote about all this, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

            In February of 1546 Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran Reformation, died.  In his 64 years of life he accomplished great things.  But on his desk there was a hand written note, the last one that he wrote, that read, “We are beggars, this is true.” How true.  We are empty by ourselves.  We have nothing by ourselves.  Self-promoting pride is only a curse.  But the grace of Jesus Christ is our hope and confidence.

            Pride is a poison.  Grace is a gift.  Boast not in self but in Jesus Christ, His cross and His resurrection.  Got it?  Got it!!  Amen!!    














1 comment

  1. Janet Parrott says:

    Thank you.


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