Over a number of years our congregation has provided funds for a congregation in Tanzania to help build their building. It has gone from a series of polls in the ground with a tin roof to a very substantial and attractive building that seats several hundred. These are wonderful, faithful, and generous people even in the midst of their poverty. The attractive building is important to them. It is a place of worship, which they do wonderfully well, but it is also a part of their identity, part of the pride of who they are. It strikes me that this is the way we are to see our Lord. We know His greatness, our God who created the heavens and the earth. He is our God who loves us and has given Himself for us. He is our God who has worked in so many ways throughout our lives. We look at our God with the greatest pride, “He’s my Lord!” That is not pride in anything we’ve done or accomplished, but overwhelming rejoicing that He has called us to be His child in Jesus Christ. That touches every part of who we are and what we do. It is the little child looking up in love to his father, “That’s my daddy!” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4)
Paul wrote to the Roman church, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”(12:3) As in all things there is a balance. Jesus looked for humility and trust. No one likes an egotistical person who inflates himself above everyone else. But at the same time we should not depreciate ourselves. We are children of God, created in His image, and beloved. This is not of ourselves. It is God’s gift and calling. We can look at ourselves as God’s child for Jesus sake. We can recognize that He has given us certain gift, thing that we do well – probably not better than others, but we do have talents and abilities that are good. We use them to the best of our ability, and to God’s glory. We can take pride in a job well done, but that pride is above all in our God who is “the giver of every good and perfect gift…”(James 1:17)
One aspect of having been made in the image of God is our creativity. God is the creator of all things. By His word all that is came into being. Mankind received that same mark in his nature. We have the desire to create. Whether it is planting a garden or designing a skyscraper, we strive to make things new, larger, better, more functional, more beautiful. There is, however, or should be, a limit, or a guide to our creativity. That is, within the will of God. For example, some states and a number of countries allow physician assisted suicide in the name of compassion or personal choice. Yet the commandment says “thou shall do no murder.” Even self murder. Our modern creativity has been extended in many areas from biomedical to weapons development, but are all of these within God’s will? We do many things today in the name of compassion, tolerance, research, exploration, and progress that are clearly opposed to God’s Word. The Genesis eleven account of the building of the Tower of Babel is seen as a quaint myth, but look at its truth. The people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves;…”(vs.4) Reasonable for the times, a logical step, but totally man exalting, and striving to be like God. But the LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”(vs.6) And the Lord stopped their progress. Are some of our creative advances man exalting, and not of God’s will? I would say yes. We are given great power having been created in God’s image, but we must be careful and discerning to use that power to exalt our Lord.
Comparing ourselves to others is always a dangerous proposition. If we are thinking about sins, we can always find someone who is worse than we are, so we don’t look so bad. We don’t take seriously that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We diminish the seriousness of sin. If we are thinking about accomplishments, there is always someone who does it better than we do, so we can get depressed. Even our own self opinion is not that valuable. The only opinion that is really important is God’s opinion of us. He has said, “You are my child for Jesus’ sake. I love you. I have given My Son as atonement for your sins. I have given you what talents and abilities you have, to use for my glory. I have made you unique for the purpose I have for you.” The more we take our eyes off of ourselves, and keep them on Jesus, the more we are free from false evaluations, and we can truly rejoice in all that God has done for us.
Attitude equals altitude, a saying goes. That is, the way one thinks of himself is the way he functions and achieves in life. Does this mean that we puff ourselves up with pride, and constantly point to what we have done? No. Paul has taught us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.(Romans 12:3) Also, in humility to value other above ourselves.(Philippians 2:3) So what should our attitude be? Speaking about his own walk in life, Paul says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”(Philippians 3:12) Our life is Jesus first. God has reached out to us in Jesus before we ever thought to come to Him. He has loved us and redeemed us. Therefore, we understand that we are children of God for Jesus sake. He called us, and made us alive. That is the attitude we have about ourselves. Not something we have done or accomplished, but the most wonderful gift that God has given in Jesus. This is who we are. Now, Paul invites us to “live up to what we have already attained.”(Philippians 3:16) Our altitude is living to the glory of God in the redeeming power of the cross of Christ. No pride of self accomplishment here, but the greatest joy of living and serving daily as children of God’s household.
There are life lessons to be found in all kinds of places. For some reason I was reminded recently of the 1971 film Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory. If you remember anything of the story, the children who were filled with pride and greed were the losers. The one who was humble and caring was looked down upon, but was ultimately the winner. It was the same conflict Jesus faced between the prideful Jewish leaders versus the tax collectors and sinners He associated with. He said that the first shall be last and the last first. He made His point dramatically at the Last Supper by getting on the floor and washing the disciples feet. He said, “If I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet. You also ought to wash one another’s feet.”(John 13:14) People spend a lot of time creating images and gaining advantages. The Lord has to continually remind us, as He did for Samuel, that “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”(I Sam.16:7)
Reputation, status, and appearance are something we all care about, at least to some degree. Even Jesus’ disciples argued among themselves which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus always turned things around. “If anyone wants to be first,” He said, “he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”(Mark 9:35) In the Sermon on the Mount He cautioned, a number of time, about not doing good works to be seen by people, but rather in secret, only before God. What is of ultimate importance is what God thinks of us, and not what others say. God calls us His children for the sake of Jesus. We are children of the King. We do not have to be concerned about worldly status, or peoples opinions when our desires and actions are to please and honor our Lord. Sure, we still want to look nice when we go out, but a heart that has been cleansed and made whole by Christ is the most beautiful apparel there is.
Many people worry about their status, their position in life, their pride in people thinking well of them. Much of Washington politics is built on the perceived power that one has. Image becomes everything in order to accomplish some purpose. Certainly, we all like people to have a positive opinion about us, but in our Christian faith we begin to realize that this is not something we really have to strive for. We have been saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, God calls us His children. We are His saints. There is no higher status or position that one can have. A person may be at the top of their profession, or the major one of influence in government, but even these pale in comparison to having favor with the Lord of all Creation. In whatever you are able to accomplish today, just remind yourself that you are a child of God for Jesus sake, and that is far greater than anything you are able to do or not do.
Scripture continually exalts humility above pride. The Apostle James wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6) Even Jesus said of himself, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) It is always a question of whether we are turned inward toward ourselves, or outward toward God and others. One who is humble is teachable, ready to gain wisdom, and seek understanding. The proud block themselves from these things. The humble are not weak. Jesus would never be called weak, even though He described Himself as humble. True strength is to understand that one does not have all the answers, and is willing to seek out the One who does. “This is the one I esteem:(says the Lord) he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word. “(Isaiah 66:2)
A temptation for all of us is to compare ourselves to others. Whether it is with income, assets, talents, skills, appearance, IQ, or whatever, we are tempted either to envy, or worse jealousy, or pride. This should not be. Each of us is a child of God in Jesus Christ. He has made us. He has given us all that we have. Each of us is unique, and able to use our uniqueness to the glory of God. He loves and accepts our gifts as much as if they were the greatest in the world. We are to strive to use all that we’ve been given to the fullest extent. In that, God is glorifies, and we need not compare ourselves to anyone.