I have just come to realize this morning that there is an additional way that the religious spirit has affected our thinking – how we think about ourselves. The religious spirit pounds into us that it is wrong for us to think highly of ourselves for that is pride and pride is wrong. And those who support this view, use passages from the Bible to show this is true.
But what if it’s not the thinking-highly-of-ourselves that is the issue but, rather, how that affects our behavior and actions toward those around us? Did Jesus think lowly of himself? Or was he so secure in his divinity, as Paul says in Philippians 2, that he didn’t need nor had any desire to chase after being equal with God because he was already equal with God, being a member of the God-head? And if the religious spirit is correct in telling us that is wrong for us to think highly of ourselves, how will we ever be truly able to carry out what Jesus says is the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself?” If I don’t think highly of myself, the love I give to my neighbor won’t be love but, rather, self-loathing and pity.
Before writing what I quoted above, Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…” Christ was secure in his nature as God. Taking on the likeness of humanity and the form of a slave and becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross, (all who died on a tree were cursed of God. Wrap your brain around that one, but I digress) was possible because he was secure in his divinity and becoming human was not going to eliminate that nature. So thinking highly of himself and his standing was what actually gave him the ability to do what he did.
On the other hand, the religious spirit says you must consider yourself worthless, or nearly so (anything more would be pride and therefore sin), before you can truly carry out the command to be a servant and consider others better than yourself. Is that how Christ thought of himself? And I consider myself worthless, or nearly so, how well will I be able to love my neighbor?
But what of Paul’s exhortation of “…in lowliness of mind consider one another more excellent than yourselves?” Doesn’t that seem to say the opposite of what I’m asserting?
Actually? It doesn’t.
The word that is translated as “lowliness of mind,” speaks to impiously exalting one’s self. It must be seen in connection with the “selfish ambition” and “vain glory” Paul mentions earlier in that same sentence. It is the expression about which Paul is speaking. When a person does things out of selfish ambition and vain glory, that person is actually revealing the fact that s/he thinks very lowly of him/herself and, therefore, has to grasp at things in view of people that will somehow prop up his/her intrinsic value and worth. And that’s exactly what Paul says Christ did not do. So, Paul isn’t saying we must think of ourselves as worthless or nearly so, though that’s the way this verse is commonly interpreted. He’s saying that there isn’t any need to do things how the world and the religious spirit says to do them. The attitude of Christ was that he knew who he was and is and his position in the God-head. He didn’t have to demonstrate selfish ambition so that people would be quite aware of his identity and, through that awareness, help solidify and confirm his identity and nature.
It is appropriate and good for the adopted sons and daughters of God to think highly of themselves because that’s how God thinks of us. As Paul says in Ephesians 1:18, the saints (all who have believed the message of Christ) of God are God’s inheritance and I’m pretty sure God thinks quite highly of His inheritance. Also, Christ is in us and we are in Christ. And I’m pretty sure God thinks quite highly of Christ and, therefore, He thinks quite highly of us. Therefore, that same type of thinking should also be ours.
It is from this place of knowing who and whose we are, that which causes us to think highly of ourselves, that releases us for and launches us into ministry and mission in our communities. Thinking of ourselves as God thinks of us allows us to proclaim to people, “This is who God sees you to be.” As was written by Allison Brown, this “empowers people to leave a low place of discouragement or limitation and rise to be able to see the passion God has for them. It can root them deeply into the high places of His affection and allow them to believe what He believes about them.”
And it’s our mission to proclaim it.