How do people regard me?

Audio version here

The most common argument among the early disciples of Jesus focused on their desire to be considered the greatest.

We might find it unusual and disturbing that they openly pursued self-promotion, but the core issues underlying their preoccupation with status are far more common than many would admit. Perhaps we don’t flagrantly advertised interest in greatness, but that doesn’t mean we are free from concerns about how others regard us.

Who is considered greatest?

During the final days of Jesus’ mission on earth, He ate with his disciples and during the meal drew attention to the bread as symbolic of the giving of his body for them and the cup as symbolic of “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Then (as Luke’s gospel records), the subject turned to the one who would betray Jesus. “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” (Luke 22:21-22).

At this, the disciples began to “question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this” (Luke 22:23). It’s stunning to move to the next verse and see how the conversation of the disciples shifted to a “dispute among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). 

How cold to engage in this kind of dispute after hearing of the Lord’s sacrificial death and of one who would betray him! But Jesus seized the moment as a teaching opportunity about true greatness in his kingdom. 

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:25-27).

Jesus does not oppose authority but requires a transformation of it. The normal practice of kings exercising authority will not do for the Lord’s kingdom. Benefactors were wealthy people whose giving secured status and leadership for them in their cities. This approach to giving as a means of self-advancement and self-promotion contradicted the Lord’s kingdom. Serving others to secure status for oneself is a betrayal of servant-love.

Preoccupied with perception

“which of them was considered to be greatest” (24; also, Luke 9:46-48). Look closely at the word “considered” because it reveals a common human concern for how others “regarded” them or how others “thought of” them. Let’s be honest about how easily we can become preoccupied with how we are regarded or considered by others. It’s tempting to build self-perception on how others perceive us. This is the underlying concern relating to preoccupation with status or greatness. 

The dispute among the disciples is motivated by desires for self-promotion. It seems to reveal a deeper insecurity and a need for recognition and affirmation from others. It’s not too far from the warning Jesus gave when he said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

The cultural environment of religious and political leadership during this time was focused on the pursuit of power, control and personal exaltation. Of course, this focus is always a danger for leaders. In a piece I wrote about the danger of insecure leaders, I stated that,

“Leaders are easily misunderstood and often wrongly judged as self-seeking and self-promoting.  Sometimes they are guilty as charged. A leader unwilling to admit that he occasionally battles temptation toward self-promotion is probably one you shouldn’t follow. Yet people often wrongly project evil motives on leaders because they either feel threatened by them or jealous of them. Like most leaders, I’ve experienced the full spectrum. I’ve been guilty as charged and wrongly accused. I believe leaders are more vulnerable to selfish motives when they’re younger and more likely to be falsely accused when they’re older and more established in their leadership.”

For reflection and discussion

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important (or, accepted). They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves” (or, to have others think well of them) (T. S. Eliot).

I added the words in brackets to cover the full range of issues involved in this concern.  

Radical Kingdom re-orientation 

Jesus rejected the patterns of greatness in society when he said, “But you are not to be like that.” He then set a new model before them in his own example, “But I am among you as one who serves.” This is the way Jesus summed up his entire mission, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Truth for confronting preoccupation with self-perception

  •  “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.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
  • “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8).
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
  • “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT) 

Steve Cornell

 

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The emphasis we’ve seen on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise. This could then produce a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live day by day.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of daily life with the spirit of discontentment that promoted the sin of Eden.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a ….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

Needed message 

    • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
    • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

On our way back to glory!

Those who receive God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation begin an adventuresome journey back to glory!

Buckle up for the ride!

It won’t always be easy and it might even get a little dangerous. It will involve a good bit of suffering and an ever-present groaning. But all our suffering will be offset by joy grounded in a hope that cannot be shaken (Romans 8:18).

Do you think of your life this way?

I feel certain that most Christians need a better vision of the greatness of their salvation — a panoramic view! We must learn to think of salvation as a return to full and final glory — a return to the Imago Dei (image of God).

A panoramic view spanning four phases of glory

The starting and ending point for understanding our lives must profoundly shape our worldview.

The panoramic view of the gospel is too often truncated when we tell the story of salvation. The outcome is a weak understanding of salvation and an inadequate grounding for the living hope that belongs to us in Christ.

One who pioneered the journey for us:

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered” (Hebrews 2:9-10)

Steve Cornell

A new radical needed

I think we need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Who knows, perhaps it could become the new radical! I fear that all the emphasis we hear on being radical has given many people the feeling that ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise.

“I am just a mom.” I am just a mechanic.” I am just a waitress.” “I am just a ….” On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, maybe God is more likely found in the “just.”

The words of the apostle Paul must be heard today: “….make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14). 

These words are so needed because we’ve lost touch with the glory of being called to lives of faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life.

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in the secret places. “Be careful” Jesus said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

There is a kind of quiet but needed glory in being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employees, — just common followers of Jesus. Have we lost touch with the glory of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and neighbor by separating it from faithfulness in our mundane duties? 

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”’” (Luke 22:27).

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

What would it look like if we had renewed zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). 

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). 

“Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things.” Clyde Kilby

Steve Cornell

Ask for whatever you want me to give you

One of our sons recently said to me, “Dad, you’re the wisest man I know.” I was humbled by these words of appreciation because I know how foolish I  can be at times.

I just don’t think of myself in these terms. If I had said, “Yes, your father is wise and it took you too long to find out”  I would have exposed my lack of wisdom.

I think about the warning from Proverbs 3:7 not to be “wise in your own eyes.”

Perhaps even the title of my blog (Wisdomforlife) could sound a little arrogant as if someone should look to me for wisdom. The truth is “the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). And “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Don’t ever follow my counsel if it doesn’t line up with God’s truth! 

But my son’s compliment caused me to reflect on an intense time in my life just before I began pastoral ministry (29 years ago). I distinctly remember a prayer that filled my heart during that time. The scene from which this prayer originated is amazing. 

“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'” (I Kings 3:5).  

What would you have asked for? Long life? Prosperity for you and your loved ones? Wealth and influence? 

“Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?'” (I Kings 3:6-9).

In thinking about God calling me to pastoral work, I quickly identified with this prayer. But after spending a bit of my life running the streets of Philadelphia and finally being thrown out of High School, there were plenty of rough edges for God to refine. I adopted this as my prayer and then found that the path has often felt like an uphill climb with the wind in my face. Yet God has used it to remind me that He “put His treasure in a jar of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). I had no idea what it would involve to answer my prayer for wisdom. 

Wisdom is not easily gained! Scripture says that, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (Proverbs 22:15). Words alone will not dislodge the foolishness. Sometimes I’ve been confused and discouraged because I ‘ve felt that God’s “rod of discipline” has been heavy on my life. But dislodging the foolishness has not been an easy project. How true are these words of Scripture, 

“God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11). 

The rest of the story

“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for — both wealth and honor — so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

still learning to walk in obedience by grace,

Steve Cornell

Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God?

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Do we have any way to know who will be in heaven? Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God – with their Creator and Redeemer?

It seems far too easy (and perhaps less disturbing) to attach our hearts to reassuring clichés on this matter. We say, “Only those who accept Jesus as Savior go to heaven.” Or, “Only those who believe in the gospel go to heaven.”

These are not necessarily wrong statements but they possibly conceal something Jesus revealed. 

Here we must be careful because Jesus did not separate matters as sharply as our doctrinal statements sometimes  do.

Case in point

When the disciples asked Jesus about greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1), Jesus made one of what are called his entrance sayings.” These are specific statements about who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (It will do no good to separate kingdom and salvation as if you could have salvation without entering the kingdom).

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2).

This is similar to what Jesus said at the beginning of His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). 

But if we said that only those who are humble will be in heaven, do we condition salvation and eternity in heaven on human effort? Doesn’t the Bible teach that God’s salvation is a gift and not based on works that we do? (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus shocked his audience with another entrance saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 7:21; 18:8,9; 19:17, 24; 25:21,23).

We must not read the teaching about the imputed righteousness of Jesus (taught in the epistles) back into this saying. Nothing would have been further from the minds of those who heard Jesus. 

Instead, what Jesus intended in His demand for “surpassing righteousness” becomes clear in Matthew 6:1 – ““Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” Don’t prostitute what is sacred to promote yourself. Heavens inhabitants resist image promotion and ego-building.

The mindset of the kingdom is concerned with being seen by the father in secret not recognition and honor from people.

Humility does not come naturally:

None of this is natural to us. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Only the path of self-humbling leads to the kingdom. And greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is the opposite of greatness in earthly kingdoms Jesus said, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

Becoming childlike is not a reference to being innocent as a child or having the simple faith of a child. Jesus is dealing with love for status. Children were a cultural example of non-status and mostly exhibited unconcern for status.

Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2). ”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

Interestingly, Jesus used the present tense: “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”–not “will be” but “is.”

This implies a continuity of disposition between now and a time to come– the disposition of the redeemed.

Socio-economic and Spiritual:

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Luke, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20). In Matthews account, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Luke used socio-economic categories. Matthew used spiritual categories. Is there a relationship? Do riches push people away from God? Does wealth lead to a self-sufficient pride?

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

What a great place heaven will be!

Heaven is open to the poor in spirit and closed to the proud in spirit. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Yet humility seems so out of reach. The moment you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it. And it’s possible to be so humble that you’re proud of it.

The Puritans wisely suggested that even in our repentance there is likely something to repent about — how proud we are for being so repentant! Is the starting point of true repentance found in repenting of our repentance. Sound confusing? It doesn’t to repentant people.

“Unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).

Should we say that humility begins when we know we don’t possess it and cannot attain to it? Can one ever really know he has reached a state of humility? Would this matter to humble people? Our cry must remain: “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

When Martin Luther dedicated his life to be lived as a monk and offered his first communion he was profoundly overwhelmed with a sense of his own sinfulness in view of the greatness of God and the sacrifice of Christ. When he came to the words, “We offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was suddenly filled with terror. “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty?” he thought. “The angels surround Him.  At His nod the earth trembles.  And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that’?  For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.”

This is poverty of spirit!

It’s a person’s attitude toward himself before God as he recognizes his spiritually bankrupt condition. It’s an awareness that he has no claim before God beyond a cry for mercy.

Llyod-Jones said of the poor in spirit that he is truly amazed that God and man would think of him and treat him as well as they do. Contrast that with the attitude of entitlement that permeates affluent cultures. Then compare it with the attitude of those welcomed into the kingdom in Matthew 25:34-40.

This attitude is observed in Isaiah when he encountered the Holy God, high and lifted up—and responded in personal devastation, “Woe is me for I am undone…” Upon receiving a fuller understanding of the holy character of God, Job cowered back and said, “I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

Prior to his conversion, Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched as Thou didst grow nearer”? The apostle stated it clearly: “Oh wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). There is only one answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

Probing questions:

  1. What are the consequences of the absence of poverty of spirit among those who profess to be the people of God?
  2. Have we lost our sense of awe at the terror of the great and awesome God?
  3. Has this loss been behind our sense of liberty to cut moral corners, to trivialize our sins, to demand our rights—to question God’s Word and authority—to write off guilt as a feeling God would not inflict on us?

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

“God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, and awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. Fear and love must go together. God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it'” (Mark 8:35) (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to be)

Steve Cornell

Short audio: The dress code for Church

Humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community

 

God desires to use the lives of those who have experienced His love as plausibility cases for the truthfulness of the good news of salvation.

This is a little overwhelming to contemplate but God has chosen to make a case for or to validate the truth of the gospel through the community life of His people. When this truth sinks deeply into our hearts, it should bring us to our knees to ask for grace to be the kind of witnesses that reflect our Father’s mercy. 

Jesus taught, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciplesif you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).

The story of the Bible “speaks from first to last of a God who did not need to create, but who did so out of overflowing and generous love. It speaks of a God who did not need to redeem and recreate, but did so as the greatest possible act of self-giving love.”

“Somehow if we are to address contemporary culture with the message of the Bible, we must get used to combining two things which are normally at opposite poles—humility and truth-telling.”

“Somehow we have to tell the truth but to tell it as the liberating story, the healing story, the true story. And of course… the best way we can do this is by telling, again and again, in story and symbol and acted drama, the biblical story, focused on the story of Jesus himself, the true story of the Word made flesh. That is why the great symbol at the heart of Christianity is the symbol of the eucharist; it is the symbol of that story. But, it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.”

“If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it” (N. T. Wright).

We must live out our calling to be humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community – living out mutual affection and honor for one another. Memorize and meditate deeply on this Scripture:

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).  

When Churches are filled with people who treat each other with honor, esteem, deference and humble service (foot-washing love), they offer a positive subversion to the deceptive and harmful narratives of life without God. When we live the gospel by practicing the mind of Christ in community (see: Philippians 2:3-8), we authenticate the message of the gospel in a way that postmodern culture cannot deconstruct. 

What does this community look like?

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Let us be like our Savior as a people — full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 

For discussion:

“The witness of a single life lived under Christ’s rule is powerful. But the skeptic will discount it. He or she will explain it away as being a mutation: ‘She was born a caring person. That can happen.’ But as kingdom citizens live their lives together, actually loving one another, it becomes a different matter. Such a community – whether it is a family, a few believers in a neighborhood, a network of business people, or a church congregation – makes a persuasive statement to an on-looking world that the kingdom, indeed, is among them. The message of the kingdom is amplified as its citizens live out their unique calling in community. As they do, the kingdom grows.” (The Insider, pp. 33-34)

Steve Cornell

A generation of deluded narcissists

Are we raising a generation of deluded narcissists?

This question is being raised in view of a study showing that, “college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing” (Foxnews).

Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that, “We must beware of the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.”

While there are important concerns associated with the study, please don’t just read this kind of analysis and merely shake your head at the problem. Let it motivate you to look closely at your own situation? A danger for some parents is the delusion that they’ve protected their kids from narcissism by shielding them from media and technology influences.

Be especially guarded against the tendency to highlight these kinds of studies to foster a deeper sense of how you’re doing it right. Tend first to what happens under your own watch. Follow the pattern of “Log out of the eye first before splinter checking other eyes!” (see: Matthew 7:1-6).

Please don’t make the mistake of constantly looking at the way others get it wrong while failing to keep your own child’s egos in check. The corrupting forces are not only media and technology. Some parents foster in their children the notion that the world revolves around them. Imagine how sad it would be to constantly repudiate the “world” for its failures only to find out that you failed to properly guide your own. It’s alarmingly disturbing how easily we discern issues in others and cannot see them in our own lives and families. 

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Don’t raise a narcissist (advice for parents).” Among professionals, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is assigned to someone who meets five or more of the nine symptoms of the disorder. Parents should look closely at these characteristics and correct them if they observe their children behaving in narcissistic ways. But parents must also avoid doing things that encourage narcissistic ways of thinking. 

  • Are you parenting in ways that foster narcissistic symptoms?
  • Are you modeling narcissistic behaviors as a parent?
  • Do you always have to be right or to know more? 

From a Christian perspective, everything about narcissism conflicts with the narrative of the gospel. Narcissists are unlikely to truly see themselves as undeserving sinners who desperately need God’s grace in the Savior. 

Be careful not to overreact when detecting some of the symptoms in your children. The sin nature is often displayed in a gravitational pull toward narcissism — in all of our lives! The essence of sin is selfishness and narcissism is a form of sinful self-absorption. Let’s teach our children to name and renounce narcissistic self-deception by leading them to be sober-minded in God’s grace. It’s best when our children learn to self-check these tendencies under the great truth of the gospel.

The gospel calls us into a life ordered according to the mind of Christ: 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8).

Steve Cornell

Whoever humbles himself….

our-humble-god

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4).

Was it just curiosity that motivated the disciples to ask about greatness in the kingdom? Or, was there a more invidious motive? How could they shamelessly ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

A little later, two of the disciples maneuvered for positions of prominence in the kingdom. And they actually tried to use their mom to leverage influence with Jesus. How did the other disciples feel about the maneuvers of James and John? “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:24). We can be fairly confident that their indignation was based more on jealousy than humility. They didn’t want to be outdone by these two! 

The desire to be recognized and valued is natural to human beings. In fact, as parents, it’s our responsibility to let our children know that they are valued and significant. We should raise our children to know that they are treasured for who they are. But there are dangers in this project. Somewhere along the way, pursuing significance and recognition easily becomes a damaging and dangerous ambition. And this is especially the case when it involves competitive pride.

Competitive pride

Those who need to excel over others to think well of themselves— who seek value at the expense of others —who try to climb to honor by using others —-who construct their glory upon the shoulders of weakness found in others— who engage in the “dangerous business of building self-assessments on watching to see how they’re doing in comparison with others” (Robert Roberts, Spiritual Emotions)

Those who live this way are (in some profound way) degrading themselves and cutting themselves off from both God and people. There is something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride which debases it.

“A lack of humility destroys a person’s spiritual life; it subverts his spiritual relationships, the deepest and most important relationships of his life. Pride cuts a person off from fellowship with others. It isolates him and, however little he may recognize the fact, degrades him. He who exalts himself will be humbled.” (Roberts).

Lessons in greatness by contrast: 

Jesus repeatedly taught lessons on true greatness.  He used three main settings to contrast normal human pursuits of greatness with the norms of his kingdom.

1. The authority structures among those in power:

Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

2. The expected places of honor in the culture:

Luke 22:27

“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

3. The pursuit of honor among the religious leaders:

Matthew 23:5-12

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Timeless application

Look around and see how things are done. Everywhere you look people are maneuvering for places of honor, recognition and power. But Jesus demands a radical difference. He said, “Do not be like this.” His followers are called to a revolutionary approach to greatness. Times, places and circumstances may change but the human heart remains the same. These contrasts are timeless in application.

Equality and Humility

Notice that Jesus based humility on some understanding of equality: “You have one Master, one Father, one teacher and you are all brothers

Application to the Church

“The church is a provisional, struggling foretaste of the kingdom of God, a little group of persons who have been touched by the vision of the kingdom included in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We struggle to view one another not as competitors, but instead as brothers and sisters all equally beloved of the Father, all equally and graciously bestowed with membership in his family.” (Spiritual Emotions, Robert Roberts)

A powerful obstacle:

“God has created us for fellowship with one another, and we have chosen instead to forsake it for something unsatisfying and despicable. Despite our parents’ love, not one of us is humble, not one is innocent of the crime of spiritual cannibalism” (Roberts).

Cannibalism 

This illustration relates to the tendency to use other people (eat them) to nourish one’s own ego or build ones own importance or advantage. This is what the disciples were doing when the were jockeying for positions of honor. People use the expression: “It’s a dog eat dog world out there.” Be careful about entering into fellowship with a person like this. You might end up in his pot.

On another occasion, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the road?” “But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34). This was their ongoing issue!

An entrance saying

In Matthew 18, their question about greatness in the kingdom resulted in another “entrance saying” from Jesus.- “And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:2)

This is similar to what Jesus said at the beginning of the sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shocked his audience with another entrance saying, For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20; cf. other entrance sayings in 7:21; 18:8,9; 19:17, 24; 25:21,23). The rest of the sermon on the mount is a commentary on Matthew 5:20. What Jesus meant by this exceeding righteousness becomes clear in Matthew 6:1 – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Forsake image-management and ego-building! 

In the psychological structure of the kingdom: Being seen by the father in secret is cherished over recognition and honor from people.

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Humility does not come naturally:

But none of this is natural to us. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you CHANGE and BECOME like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” We must be committed to self humbling: verse 4- “Therefore, whoever humbles himself  like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Like this child:

Becoming childlike is not a reference to being “innocent as a child” or having the “simple faith of a child.” Anyone who has raised children knows they are not free from prideful desires and actions. But Jesus is using the lack of status granted to children in the culture as his point. The disciples must humble themselves (a word more about the action of lowering oneself). They must take the place of non-status or servanthood.  

A troubling thought:

This forceful warning from Jesus raises a troubling consideration: Did their prideful pursuit of greatness call into question the salvation experience of Jesus’ early followers?

Jesus is establishing humility and unconcern for social status not only as the psychological structure of the kingdom but as a pursuit of those who wish to enter it. And it will do no good to separate kingdom and salvation as if you could have salvation without entering the kingdom. Although kingdom probably had a future focus to it, it also had present implications. (entering life, the kingdom of heaven and God are all used synonymously in the NT.). It could be argued that Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2). “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

Present tense:

Although he probably had in mind the consummated kingdom, Jesus used the present tense: “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”–not “will be” one day but “is.” This implies a continuity of disposition between now and a time to come. The disposition of the redeemed.

Additional thoughts about the Kingdom:

At the coming of Christ, the kingdom has drawn near. Jesus is born a king (Matt. 2:2) and for this cause He came into the world (Jn. 18:37). Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was near (Matt. 4:17) and preached the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; Mk. 1:14, 38; Lk. 4:43). Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees for shutting up the kingdom against men and not entering themselves (Matt. 23:13).

Jesus spoke of the kingdom as something past- Lk. 13:28; present- Matt. 5:3, 10; 11:12; 12:28; 19:23; Lk. 17:21; and future- Matt. 6:10; 21:43; 25:31-34; Acts 1:6-8. The phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are equally interchangeable.  Both are used in Matt. 19:23-24, compare also Matt. 19:23 w/ Mk. 10:23.  Entering life and entering the kingdom are also used interchangeably (Mk. 9:45, 47; Matt. 25:31-34, 46).

The spatial realm of the kingdom is treated as secondary and derivative to a personal relation to the King and his rule.

Certain blessings of the kingdom are experienced in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). At salvation believers experience deliverance from the domain of darkness and are transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13; cf. Jn. 3:3-5; Acts 26:18). This transfer involved experience of blessings related to the kingdom in the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14; cf. Lk. 1:71, 77).

Expedients of Humility (thoughts from Robert Roberts)

Humility is not itself an emotion, like joy or gratitude or contrition.  A person could be a wonderful exemplar of humility without ever feeling humble; in fact, one who frequently feels humble is probably not very humble.  But humility is an emotion-disposition—primarily a negative one, a disposition not to feel the emotions associated with caring a lot about one’s status.

It is the ability to have my self-comfort quite apart from any question about my place in the social pecking order (whether the criterion is accomplishments, education, beauty, money, power, fame, or position); it is the absence of a spiritually cannibalistic appetite.  Humility is cannibal-anorexia, as we might say.  It is thus a self-confidence, one that runs far deeper than the tenuous self-confidence of the person who believes in himself because others look up to him.

If this is humility, two things follow.  First…our inclination to succumb to invidious comparisons is so great, and the means of making these comparisons are so ready-to-hand, that a necessary part of our defense against spiritual cannibalism will be an equally clear conceptualization of our neighbor as our equal.  And second, we need some basis of self-acceptance other than our success in competition with others.  We cannot escape the need to believe ourselves valuable, nor would we want to lose that capacity if we could.  To believe ourselves worthless is a terrible and unchristian thing; and not to care that we are worthless is perhaps more woeful still.

Christianity offers to satisfy both these conditions, and this is a psychological recommendation for it.

…Christianity is eminently well qualified to engender the evenhanded, deep self-confidence that I am calling “humility.”  For it challenges us to see every person as a brother or sister whom God so loved that he humbled himself to equality with the lowest human being, and to death on a cross, to reconcile with himself.  The equality in terms of which a Christian is equipped to see every other person is not that of inalienable rights…  It is that we are all equally the objects of God’s great love, all equally children (or potential children) of his household, members of his kingdom.

This vision not only levels every distinction by which egos seek a glory that really demeans them.  When it becomes entrenched in one’s outlook, the vision is also the ultimate ground of self-confidence.  The message is that God loves me for myself—not for anything I have achieved, not for my beauty or intelligence or righteousness or for any other qualification, but simply in the way that a good mother loves the fruit of her womb. If I can get that into my head, or better, into my heart, then I won’t be grasping desperately for self-esteem at the expense of others, and cutting myself off from my proper destiny, which is spiritual fellowship with them.

Steve Cornell