Self-Promotion vs. Humility
This morning we begin a series on certain parables of Jesus that are recorded in the gospel of Luke, the third book in the New Testament. Scholars call them the “unique parables of Luke” because, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke all record many of Jesus’ other parables, these are recorded only by Luke in Lk.10-19.
A parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” – a story or commentary about a normal event that illustrates a spiritual lesson. Because the same God who is the Source of spiritual truth also is the Creator of earthly life, earthly life can teach us spiritual lessons if we have the eyes to see them. Jesus’ parables supply us with those “eyes.”
The parables we’ll look at today are in Lk.14. Jesus gave them (along with a third one we’ll study later) at a dinner party given by Jewish religious leaders who viewed Him as a dangerous rogue rabbi. Let’s read the first parable (read 14:7-11). At first glance, Jesus seems to be merely advising where to sit when you’re invited to a wedding reception. But 14:11 is the spiritual lesson that the parable teaches (re-read).
This lesson must be super-important, because Jesus repeats it several times (see also Matt.23:12; Lk.18:14), and the rest of the Bible makes this point over and over again (see 2Sam.22:28; Ps.138:6; Prov.3:34; 29:23; Lk.1:52; Jas.4:6,10; 1Pet.5:5,6; see also Ps.34:18; Isa.57:15; 66:2; Matt.5:3). The meaning of 14:11 is this: “God hates pride, and He opposes proud people—but He loves humility, and He blesses humble people. So turn away from pride and learn humility!”
Right away, we realize how far from that God’s values our culture is. It often speaks of pride as something healthy (“Have pride in yourself!”) and necessary for self-esteem, and it has very little to say about humility. Models like Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings come from Christian authors.
This parable teaches us about a specific manifestation of pride – self-promotion. Jesus busts out the dinner guests that seated themselves in the seats of honor (immediately next to the host or guest of honor). This action betrayed a prideful attitude: “I want to be recognized as more important than most people here.” Jesus warns that this is high-risk social behavior and advises a safer course of action (EXPLAIN). But His real point is: Turn away from self-promotion!
Symptoms of self-promotion
Do you struggle with the sin of self-promotion? The Bible says that Self-promotion is the original sin of Satan that plunged the universe into misery and chaos. Self-promotion infects every human soul – yet it comes with its own cloaking device so that we often don’t even recognize it in ourselves. Vincent Taylor said: “Self-coronation, including subtle, unconscious self-coronation—that is the essence of sin.” Some of us are actively and obviously self-promoting, while many others of us (including myself) are more passively and subtly self-promoting. Maybe these diagnostic questions will help you to see it yourself:
“Do I engage in mental and/or verbal boasting?” (ESPECIALLY MENTAL)
“Do I manipulate conversations to get others’ respect or appreciation or attention?” (ME DIRECTING THE CONVERSATION; SELF-DEPRECATING LANGUAGE TO GET PRAISE)
“Do I experience anxiety/fear that certain people might not approve of me?”
“Do I engage in mental and/or verbal criticism of my peers/rivals?”(ME WITH CERTAIN SSL’S)
“Am I irked when certain people get more attention than I get?” (FACEBOOK ENVY)
“Do I get angry at certain people for not giving me enough respect or appreciation or attention?” (WEST SIDE CHAUVINIST HUSBAND)
“Am I addicted to practices that provide illicit approval?” (SEXUAL PROMISCUITY; PORN)
I don’t know about you, but several of these questions find me out! Over the past few years, God has shown me more clearly that my whole life has been one long self-coronation project (DRIVE BACK FROM MOHAWK LAKE). He has shown me that I brought this right into my Christian life, and that it has thrived by morphing into different, “spiritual” forms (EXAMPLE)? How about you?
I think you can also see from the above questions how much self-promotion damages our emotional and relational lives. How much more peace there would be in our souls if we were free from the anxiety and anger caused by self-promotion! How much more accord and less alienation there would be in our friendships and marriages would be if they weren’t marred by our self-promoting habits?
From self-promotion toward humility
How can we move away from self-promotion toward humility? You won’t get any real help from religion or self-help. They either justify it (like Jesus’ audience; self-esteem) or just say “Stop it!” (“Think humble thoughts” – what does this even mean?). Anyone who tries to defeat self-promotion by moral will-power is in for the same discovery C. S. Lewis made before he became a Christian. We cannot deliver ourselves from self-promotion, but God can! His Word provides us with deep wisdom that can gradually transform us from the inside-out. Real change happens as we respond in faith to four biblical truths:
Change begins by admitting to yourself and to God that your self-promoting attitude and actions are sins against Him. Self-promotion (like its brother positive self-esteem) is not virtue. It is not just psychological baggage from a dysfunctional family. It is not merely a bad social habit that can embarrass you and annoy other people. It is self-worship that blasphemes the One who alone deserves your worship. God hates it, and it makes you (and me) deserving of His judgment.
Second, we need to receive God’s approval. The first humans enjoyed child-like security and delight in God’s approval, but they forfeited it when they chose independence from Him. Ever since then, this need is like a vacuum that must be filled. (This is why self-esteem and positive self-talk don’t work.) We must either seek people’s approval through self-promotion (which is never enough) – or we must somehow receive God’s full approval.
But how can God give me His approval when I deserve His judgment? The answer is: through Jesus. Jesus is not only the Example of perfect humility and complete self-effacement (paraphrase Phil.2). He is also the Giver of God’s approval. Jesus somehow took the sin of our self-promotion onto Himself, and He bore the judgment (all of it) that we deserve for it. Because He did this, God offers to bestow upon us the undeserved gift of His full approval—completely apart from our performance (read Rom.3:23,24,26). Imagine the peace of knowing that you are totally OK with the most important Person in the universe, that you have His verdict of approval that can never be overturned! Do you see how this would get at the root of your self-promotion? You can have this gift—the only condition is that you humbly ask God for to give it to you through Jesus.
When you receive God’s approval through Jesus, He also gives you His Spirit who has the power to progressively dismantle self-promotion and impart Jesus’ true humility. His power is unleashed in us as we depend on Him in two ways. The first is by consciously applying God’s approval in our thought-lives (quote Rom.8:4,5; 12:2). For example:
We can thank God often for His undeserved approval (ME WITH ROM. 8:1; ZEPH.3:17,19).
We can affirm His approval especially in areas/situations that tempt us to self-promotion (e.g., ME BEFORE TEACHINGS; ANGER WITH UNAPPRECIATIVE SPOUSE).
We can ask His Spirit to sensitize us to self-promoting thoughts. As He does, we can pass judgment on them (instead of justifying/ruminating on them), and ask Him to help us to turn away from thinking about them and/or acting on them.
The Spirit’s transforming power is also unleashed as we choose to practice servanthood in our actions (Eph.5:18,21). This is probably what “recline at the last place” means in 14:10. The last place may refer to the seat for the household slaves who served the meal. Jesus is saying: “Don’t focus on how to promote yourself to other people; focus on how to practically serve them.” This is also what He is getting at in the next parable (read 14:12-14). Jesus is not forbidding having friends over for a dinner party; He is saying “Be a servant. Don’t give-to-get; give freely, trusting in God’s approval and His promise to bless you in His way and timing.” This will come fully in His kingdom – but He gives plenty of foretastes along the way (Lk.6:35,38). Here are some ways we can practice servanthood:
We can serve people who have no ability to repay us or thank us instead of ignoring or avoiding them (EXAMPLES?).
We can serve others in “menial” and inconvenient ways (e.g., HOUSEWORK) instead of deciding that certain tasks are beneath us.
We can serve people anonymously (Matt.6; FINANCIAL GIFTS), or at least not boast about our service.
We can work at being good, other-centered listeners, as Patrice taught last week.
We can praise for growth and service (and “gossip” about them to others) instead of withholding it for fear that they’ll “get a big head.”
“It is our exalted identity in Christ that gives us the strength to be humble servants. We don’t need to show that we are great people, because we know that God has lifted us up to a great position as His beloved children. Now we can give ourselves to lifting up others... When we have a strong sense of the security, identity, and joy that grace brings, we are able to reach out to others in love and are empowered to lift them up instead of serving ourselves.”
What step do you need to take?
Recommend Murray, Humility for further reading.
“I have found out ludicrous and terrible things about my own character. Sitting by, watching the rising thoughts ... Will you believe it, one out of every three is a thought of self-admiration: when everything else fails, having had its neck broken, up comes the thought ‘What an admirable fellow I am to have broken their necks!’ I catch myself posturing before the mirror, so to speak, all day long. I pretend I am carefully thinking out what to say to the next pupil (for his good, of course) and then suddenly realize I am really thinking how frightfully clever I'm going to be and how he will admire me... When you force yourself to stop it, you admire yourself for doing that. It's like fighting the hydra... There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration...” Roger Green and Walter Hooper, C.S Lewis: A Biography, p. 105.