MUSINGS CONCERNING SELF-ESTEEM AND
THE HARD DOCTRINE THAT CORRECTS IT
Which One of Us Shall Be Greatest
Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and said unto them, whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth Him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great (Luke 9:46-48).
There are a number of very alarming contradictions in our midst at this present time in history — Attitudes being manifested that are so diametrically opposed to the teachings of Scriptures that believers should be overcome with deepening fear. We have become immersed with divisions so numerous and hurtful that each and everyone need repentance and revival before proceeding any further.
“Self-praise stinketh” is a comment I first heard as a very small boy, but is now understood with better realization. The self-seeking posture is now seemingly more than ever a fashionable and applauded way of life. This manner of living to the eyes of God, and we would hope to the eyes of His people, is as nauseating as an oozing open sore. Man glories in man and all love to exalt and be exalted. It is clear that the natural instinct of unregenerate men is to worship and serve the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The actions and achievements of man are piped and broadcasted with a habitual and redundant fervency. This is witnessed and noised about in every quarter of our society. This blight is seen in the political, the athletic, the physical, the intellectual, and yes, even in the religious realms men are praising men, or man praising himself is the common procedure. It is an addiction to which there seems to be no cure. Heroes are made of ostentatious and vile braggarts. Their talents and activities are lifted higher than the heavens, and each is called the best at this or that endeavor. Their smut and lawlessness are excused and overlooked because they are so gifted. Immoral excesses are viewed with trivial import and set aside with a God-dishonoring false compassion, or else given a place of admiration as if this were the mark of real manhood. This evil scourge is present in all walks of life and if not conquered by the grace of God, it will grow with rapid and ever-deepening strength. He evils of pride cast a dark shadow over everything sacred and good. Where this self-promoting wickedness is present, Godly humility and a circumspect manner of life are quite naturally absent. It is a sad confession, but the redeemed are also given over to much pride and self-satisfaction. This is no doubt the reason why so many of us must so often be under the smarting rod of affliction. God would have His children know that He hates pride in anyone, but especially in those that have the abundance of saving grace.
A few words will define the purpose of how the Holy Spirit is working in the saints with regard to their disposition one toward the other. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30). “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than themselves. Look not every man to his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5). This is truly a forgotten principle if not ignored altogether, at least held at an unnoticed distance. “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits . . . If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:16, 18). “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet please men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal 5:6). “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me . . . Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God “ (Rom. 15:1-3, 7).
What are the causes for all this bitterness among believers?” Why? Even sometimes violent conflicts with dissensions. Why are there revengeful animosities, contentions, and vile corruptions that have eaten their way into the core of brethren who profess to believe, remarkably, the same truths?
It not the problem one of vainglory, haughtiness, and an exaggerated esteem of one’s own dignity and importance? Where these characteristics prevail, the saints are never edified. When pride rules the man, there is no good instruction. This type of mannerism never can reflect submission to the examples set forth in the Bible. We are no better described than men seeking men for our own glory, while the glory of God is banished to a complete extent.
This vaunted self-esteem is the outcome of incorrectly assessing one’s own assumed accomplishments. Possessions, either real or imagined, make little difference. They are meaningless in the eyes of the all-sufficient God. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). For the most part, this scowling smugness is derived by a senseless gratification arising from associations with that which is in and of its own description good an honorable. Such as the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of Christ and His atoning blood and vicious death, His triumphant resurrection and perfect intercession, or being part of the body of Christ and a member of a true church. Positions of truth which are worthy of more praise than eternity can calculate. But surely all will recognize these as merciful works of the glorious Godhead. How we can still infect these precious and holy truths with self-advancing pride is rabid, and it would appear that like rabies, the infection is transmitted by the bite. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that he be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:14-15). If we truly receive these doctrines from the Holy Spirit would they produce this type of persuasion? God forbid.
Our nature even as servants of God is a proud one. All seem to be given over to pride in one form or another. The thought must be to a greater or lesser extent that God somehow is the gainer by our efforts and knowledge. If this were not a matter of fact, we would not be so quick to take exception with those poor souls that question our positions, or do not endorse our thinking as a superior blend of truth. It is true that we are reluctant to make an open admission of these worldly trappings, but they exist nonetheless.
What has pride done to our churches, to our pastors, and to the fellowship between believers? Pride is destroying much of what remains of Christian testimony. There are many divisions, schisms, wars, backbitings, cliques, and troublesome commotions of every description. This is all done in the name of sanctity, or so it is said, with a supposed desire to preserve the truth. What type of representatives do you think fighting believers are when viewed by the heart-searching Jehovah? Quarrelsome brethren are not worthy ambassadors of the King of Kings. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Pride is the chief cause of contention. “ONLY BY PRIDE COMETH CONTENTION . . .” (Prov. 13:10). Pride is a curse to a man, a curse to his associations, his family, his nation, and his God. Pride is the mother of all contentions. “Most accurately is contention here traced to its proper source” (Prov. 28:5). All the crudities of the day, all the novelties of doctrine producing contention (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:23), originate in the proud swelling of ‘the fleshly mind’ (Col. 2:18; 1 Tim. 6:3-4). Men scorn the beaten track. They must strike out a new path. Singularity and extravagance are primary charms. They are ready to quarrel with everyone who does not value their notions as highly as they do. The desire of pre-eminence (Matt. 20:21; 3 Jn. 9); revolt from authority (Num. 12:2) or sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-4); party spirit, with the pride of knowledge and gifts (1 Cor. 3:3-4 with 4:8), all produce the same result . . . In the wide field of the world we may ask – “from whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not from lust?” (James 4:1). Often has wounded pride (Judg. 12:1), even without any proved injury (2 Kings 14:10) brought destructive contention upon a land.” (A Commentary On Proverbs by Charles Bridges).
“He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife” (Prov. 28:25). In a self-centered frame, man may try to minimize or explain or even deny his arrogance which inevitably will gender strife and spread discord among brethren. These disruptive characteristics are the fruit of unlearned foolishness and selfish pride (Prov. 6:19; 2 Tim. 2:23). To deny that pride carries a destroying effect is a position that is clearly opposed to scriptural revelation.
When it is the believer’s desire to glorify God and emulate Jesus Christ, he may very well offend the infidel, the religionist, and the emissaries of Satan, but surely he will not bite and devour children of the most High God. Saints do not berate those that seek to stand for the truth and glory of God, albeit not as strong or as consistent as one might wish. Nor do they dismember other children of the Lord who once were their confidants. This we mean in a butchering and hurtful sense, not disciplinary.
Now it is the command of God and the duty of every believer to content for the truth as it is in Christ. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that he should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The redeemed are also to renounce every hidden thing of dishonesty with a faithful and hearty reproof. “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:1-2). This is an obedient and admirable discharge of service, and if done with Holy Spirit leadership, it will be absent of any pride or self-promoting arrogance. In fact, if believers remain silent when they hear or see heresy and false teachings for the sake of peace, they are not fit to stand for truth. This silent standing is a practice often advanced as a specimen of humility. It should be obvious, however, that there is no humility in compromising truth for the sake of peacemaking. Coming to a mutual agreement with error for the sake of peace is a God-dishonoring tactic which is a troublesome and evil weakness. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their lusts shall they heap themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4; see also Eph. 6:10-18). Pride is a fruit of the flesh and must be mortified and killed each and every day (Gal. 5:19-26).
Pride is of the world, it is flesh in the worst dress, it is Satanic. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The more one looks into the Scriptures, the less he sees that would cause God to set His affections upon any. Undeserved mercy means that apart from God, all men at the very best are still fit objects of eternal wrath, and without divine and condescending grace would be the target of judicial condemnation. For this cause, we need to be extremely cautious about rejoicing in spiritual exploits, because sensational feelings about Biblical soundness is a great dishonor to God.” “But now ye rejoice in your boastings; all such rejoicing is evil” (James 4:16). The faithful admonition is to remember who we are, by whose grace we are, and that if it were not for that unconditional grace, we would still be what we once were – justly alienated from God because of unremitted sins. “. . . that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another, for who maketh thee to differ from another? And what has thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:6-7)
The Biblical ethic is devoid of pride, self-promotion, or any action that would resemble personal pre-eminence. Paul likened the unpretentious devotion of brotherly kindness in a language that is permeated with the free gifts of mercy and grace. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith . . . Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us . . . Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another . . . Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil . . . Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 3). It should be very clear that if the children of grace are to deal with the natural man in the manner described by Paul, surely believers should expect better and more loving treatment from each other, if not better, at the very least, just as good. Most will be forced to admit that they have sinned greatly in their duty toward other believers, regardless of what value we place on their gifts. This is a very disturbing witness against us, but fearfully there is still more.
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any bowels of mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that the be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5). These verses acutely expose our dripping sore boil. There is, however, one more verse that is really tough to grapple with if studied faithfully. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:20-21). Now if this revelation does not cause remorse concerning our present station with respect to how we love and care for the brethren, we either have fulfilled the law (Gal. 5:14) or we need to be taught of God how to love one another (1 Thess. 4:9). If spiritual demands do not shake us to the root, it is because we are barren.
Our often return to cold and heartless pride in many cases may cause brethren painful affliction. This will of necessity bring sore afflictions upon us. Pride must be rooted out of our daily lives if we would be true servants of God and His Christ. Our many afflictions may be the result, in some degree, of the afflictions we cause others by reason of our selfish manner, and seeking or own glory. Self-seeking is the exact reflection of blatant ignorance, for a man to seek his own good and glory is clearly, according to the word, unholy. “. . . so for men to search their own glory is not glory” (Prov. 25:27). It is a sad thing to say, but true nonetheless, that even our disparaging remarks about our own sinfulness is a self-induced ploy to gather respect of other men, and give the semblance of contrite humility. Most of this type of gush and effusive talk is patently transparent. “It is a loathsome thing for a man to be anxious about his honour, and to fish for praise, as too many do who use a variety of methods to obtain the applause of men; sometimes putting on all the external appearances of humility with that view, and saying things of themselves which would inspire them with fury in they were said by another person, or believed by that very person to whom they are spoken” (Exposition Of Proverbs by George Lawson).