More Highly Than You Ought
A few weeks ago I wrote a two-part Article arguing that human beings are glory junkies – here and here. In other words, we’re all addicted to the pursuit of self-glory. I want to keep pressing that topic today.
Why do we talk too much about ourselves? Why do we get so defensive when someone challenges us? A very helpful diagnosis comes from the Apostle Paul. He writes, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
I’m deeply persuaded that we’re addicted to the pursuit of self-glory because, when we look in the mirror, we think we see someone who deserves to be glorified. Instead of using the mirror of God’s Word to keep our judgment sober, we see an aggrandized version of who the Bible says we actually are.
I’ve found that there are four common factors that contribute to this distorted view of self:
Many have said “knowledge is power” and it’s true - the more you know, the more you can accomplish. But knowledge must never be confused with true faith, because you can be very knowledgeable and very immature at the same time. You can know everything there is to know about your product or industry and know very little about the Lord and your own need for grace.
When knowledgeable people look in the mirror, they’re tempted to see someone with a powerful brain that rarely needs help. But the mirror of God’s Word reveals that we have a deceitful and desperately sick heart that needs daily rescue (Jeremiah 17:9).
Praise God if he has gifted you with a powerful brain, and continue to pursue the acquisition of knowledge for his glory and for the good of others, but don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Remember what the Bible has to say about your heart and keep your judgment sober.
The more you experience, the more confidence you develop. You're less and less intimidated by life because you've just about seen it all. But there’s a critical difference between street-level wisdom gained from experience and spiritual wisdom gained from Christ. Just because you’ve been weathered by life doesn’t mean you dealt with it, or will deal with it, in a God-honoring fashion.
When old-timers look in the mirror, they’re tempted to see someone who has “been around the block a few times” and doesn’t have much more to learn. But the mirror of God’s Word reveals that we’re all still spiritually immature in some capacity and will never stop learning and growing until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6).
We ought to respect our elders and learn from those who have gone before us, but for those of us who have seen much of life, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Remember what the Bible has to say about wisdom and keep your judgment sober.
Success is a wonderful blessing that you should pursue, but it’s simultaneously a dangerous thing. Successful people are rarely humble because they take credit for what only God can produce. And, the Bible would never equate success in life or ministry with personal holiness. You can be dramatically successful and dramatically distant from God, even as a professing Christian.
When successful people look in the mirror, they’re tempted to see someone who deserves all that they’ve earned. But the mirror of God’s Word reveals that every good gift comes from the Father (James 1:17), and none of us actually want what we truly deserve (Psalm 103:10).
Go ahead - dream big, make money, and impact lots of people. But if God grants you success in whatever you do, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Remember what the Bible has to say about blessing and keep your judgment sober.
The praise and recognition of others is delightful to our ears, because we selfishly love to be glorified and we’re kept awake at night by the negative opinions others have of us. As a result, we often make choices that are driven by the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).
When popular people look in the mirror, they’re tempted to see someone who has arrived because people treat them as if they’re someone special. But the mirror of God’s Word reveals that we all have fallen short of the only standard that matters (Romans 3:23).
It’s not an evil thing to be spoken highly of. Christians should strive to be respected in and out of the church, but even if you are recognized by others, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Remember what the Bible has to say about inner character and keep your judgment sober.
Do you examine your character daily by humbly placing your heart before the one mirror you can trust, the mirror of the Word of God? Or have you fallen into the habit of looking into the distorted mirrors of knowledge, experience, success and recognition?
I understand why it’s tempting to run to these mirrors instead of to Scripture. These mirrors will give you a partisan view of your character and a false sense of approval, while Scripture will expose your weaknesses, flaws and failures. But remember this – the Cross of Christ liberates you from fear of that exposure, because the grace of the Cross has made provision for everything the Bible reveals about you.