“Self has been elevated over God. Western culture tries to keep the good aspects of Christianity—things like morality, equality, and justice—while taking away its costs, commitments, and restraints.” Carey Nieuwolf, pastor and author.
One of the greatest things that my parents instilled in me was the importance of moral character, to do the right thing whether it was popular or not. Honesty, equality, justice, fairness, humility, respect, integrity, commitment, and discipline were very important. I haven’t mastered any of them yet. It’s a work in progress.
My parents didn’t just teach it. They lived or modeled it. They weren’t perfect, but I can’t think of many other people that I would want to be like. I was very fortunate and I never take it for granted. Their parenting style was a healthy balance of encouragement and discipline. They wanted me to have a healthy sense of self or self-awareness, to feel good about myself, but not self-absorbed or narcissistic. They wanted me to be confident, but not cocky. Caring and having respect for others was very important. Discipline included limits and boundaries. If I crossed the line, there were consequences. There was a cost for bad behavior and bad attitudes. There was a code of conduct.
When I was about 8 or 9, I was camping out, in the woods close to the house, with some of my friends in the neighborhood. We were running around in the woods playing army or some hide and seek game. We were having fun being obnoxious and crude little boys.
By this time my vocabulary had grown to include some adult words, some mild cuss words that I had learned from my dad, but most I picked up from my peers. You know the really “bad” ones that most people didn’t say in public in the 1970’s. Today these words are commonplace and used as conjunctions and adjectives. Anyway, cussing was cool, and that night there was a lot of cussing going on, even words that my parents didn’t say.
My mother had just become a Christian, and there where two words that you never combined, God and the D-word. Well, I was using that combination and some others rather boldly. My sister, who was outside at the time, heard everything. What did she do? Exactly, she told on me. All of the sudden I hear my name being called out in the night. It wasn’t a pleasant sound. Animals within hearing distance were frozen or fleeing in horror. My friends quickly abandoned me and disappeared into the darkness. It started slowly and then built in intensity. “Robby! Robby! Robby! You come home this instant!”
It was obvious that I was in trouble, but I didn’t know what I did. I didn’t know about my sister’s covert spy operation. When I got to the porch, I was quickly and forcefully escorted to the bathroom. My mother informed me that I was overheard using the forbidden G and D word combo, and she was going to wash my potty mouth out with soap. My adventurous night out with the boys came to an abrupt end as well, and I was sent straight to my room to think about what I had done.
This “code of conduct” included a healthy dose of personal responsibility and humility. I was never allowed to think too much of myself, or feel that I was more important than anyone else. “Elevation of self” above all else was not an option. Life was not about me. I was encouraged and nurtured, but not to the point where I was spoiled rotten or thought I was entitled to something unless I worked for it or earned it. If I had a fit in a store because I didn’t get what I wanted, it was dealt with. Being a “brat” was not acceptable. If I ever displayed poor sportsmanship in athletics, I was told that there wouldn’t be any more sports until I changed my attitude. They even gave other parents permission to discipline me if I didn’t behave myself at their house.
I’m not saying that I can’t be selfish, self absorbed, or narcissistic. I can, but my parents didn’t raise or train me that way. I don’t want to be that way. A few years ago while participating in a youth ministry cohort, the leader of the cohort told me, after a few days of group discussion, that I came across as kind of a “know it all”. I think that was the first time anyone had ever said that to me. I was mortified. The idea that someone would think that was very upsetting, so I apologized to him and others in the group. For the rest of the cohort, I didn’t say much. The only thing I can think of is that during group discussion my confidence about being in youth ministry for 30 years was mistaken or misunderstood as arrogance or over confidence. It was a hard lesson in keeping the ego in check.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: 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
Basically, we are all capable of having a high opinion of ourselves, especially if we are good at something. How many of us have “shown off” to impress others or make ourselves look good? “Look at me!” It’s something that we all have to guard against. It’s humanity 101. The first temptation recorded in Genesis 3 was the opportunity to “elevate self”, to be equal or greater than God, to know what He knew. Adam was told in Genesis 2:16-17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” I’m not sure why God set up this whole scenario or placed a boundary around this particular tree; but maybe it was to see if what he created would turn on Him. I’m speculating of course, but the temptation or the “carrot” that the serpent dangles before Adam and Eve is power.
“For God knows that when you eat from it (the tree) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5 NIV
Basically, the serpent is saying, “God is holding out on you. He doesn’t want you to be like Him, so elevate yourself.” Mankind has been attempting to elevate self ever since. Read Romans 1:21-32. It’s a description of what can happen when the restraints are removed and we are left to our own devices.
God placed limits, restraints, and boundaries on us primarily for our protection. There is a reason he told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of good and evil. He knew that our attempts at “being God” or going solo would be disastrous. We weren’t created for that. We were created for God’s glory not for ours. We were created to look out for each other.
Narcissism is selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration. When the self is elevated above all else without cost, commitment, or restraint; there is no morality, equality, or justice because everyone is looking out for themselves. The heart of the Gospel and God’s message for us is all about denying self to love Him and care for others. God cares about our desires and wants us to have joy, fulfillment, and contentment in life, but not at the expense of others.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16 NIV
Hope you have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management