Archive for August, 2010

The Danger Of “Self-Esteem”

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Christianity, Bible, Truth, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2010 by willnotbesilent

In our era, people are encouraged by teachers, motivational speakers, parents, teachers, books, talk shows, pastors, counselors, and more to maintain their “self-esteem”.  If one does not have self-esteem he is considered in need of guidance or help of some kind. Our culture today is saturated with elements pushing people toward self-esteem. Christian bookstores even carry Christianity-themed books that promote self-esteem.

But is the concept of self-esteem Scriptural? Is it right to incorporate the word of God with the concept of self-esteem?

The term “self-esteem” was first used by a Harvard psychologist named William James. While he studied religion, he did not study it with the idea of finding God’s truth. Instead, he regarded religion as whatever a person chose to believe in order to feel better about themselves and the world around them. Religion to him was not a quest for truth and righteousness, but rather a way to feel good in whatever manner the believer desired.  He came up with the idea of “self-esteem”, which he promoted as the way for a person to discover and believe in their own worth. He taught that a person must not only accept themselves for who they are, but also be proud of who they are. “Self-esteem” has since become the third most commonly used term in modern psychological literature, according to past studies.

First, let’s look at the term, “esteem”. Psychologists argue that there is a difference between  “self-esteem” and narcissism (the state of being completely self-absorbed). This is true insofar as the degrees of self-esteem are concerned, but they are still both the same, as we shall see.

Esteem is defined as “respect or admiration, or the condition of being honored.” As a verb, it means to “hold in high regard; to think much of”. If I esteem a person’s opinion, I hold that person’s opinion in high regard. I consider his opinion better than that of most other people.

Therefore, “self-esteem” is to hold one’s own self in high regard, to admire one’s self, or to think highly of one’s self. A narcissist holds himself in high regard to such an extent that he considers himself better than anyone else, often to a twisted degree. Psychologists today all agree that this person is in error, if not in need of help. Yet these same psychologists teach children “self-esteem”, the concept that they are something to admire and think highly of. While classifying narcissism as a problem, they are planting seeds for future narcissists by teaching the concept of self-esteem. The irony is astounding, when one considers this.

Given the analysis of the terms above, one does not have to think too hard to conclude that “self-esteem” and pride are one and the same. But what does the Bible say about pride? One classic verse comes readily to mind:

Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling. — Proverbs 16:18

If this verse is true, then the psychologists are setting millions upon millions of people up for destruction. One may think that destruction is an excessive consequence for pride, but God makes it clear what He thinks of pride in Proverbs 16:5

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

In Proverbs 21:4, he says,

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing [work] of the wicked, is sin.

But what is so sinful about pride?

Perhaps the best illustration of the downfalls of pride is in Daniel 4, in which Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, is admiring his kingdom. In verse 30, he is walking through his magnificent palace, and says to himself, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Emphasis mine) At that time, Babylon was the most powerful empire on the planet, occupying the majority of the known world. Nebuchadnezzar was doing what any psychiatrist would encourage him to do: Acknowledging his own accomplishments, reminding himself of his own worth and strength, and saying that he deserved the honor and glory that Babylon brought him.

But God had other thoughts on the matter, as we see in verses 31-33:

While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.” Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.

God stripped the kingdom from Nebuchadnezzar, as well as his dignity, his power, his wealth, his sanity, and even his humanity. God brought him lower than any of Nebuchadnezzar’s lowliest subjects. Why? Why did God choose that precise moment, when the words of self-esteem were yet in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth, to pronounce this judgment on him? Nebuchadnezzar finally found out, as we learn from his own words in verses 34-37:

“But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’  At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

He finally learned that nobody, even a man as powerful as Nebuchadnezzar, ever has or is anything but by God’s will. After his humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar understood that he himself had not built the empire, that the honor and glory did not, as he previously thought, belong to him, but to the Almighty. Nebuchadnezzar at last saw that he was nothing, and that God is everything — that he was powerless, and God was omnipotent — that the praise did not go to him, but to God. As he said, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as (add up to, are considered) nothing.” Only when Nebuchadnezzar realized this did God give his kingdom and power back — but now Nebuchadnezzar knew that he had it only by the will of God, and not through any achievement or worthiness of his own.

To further illustrate this folly, let us imagine a pitcher full of water. Someone picks up the pitcher and pours water over their hands to wash them. For the pitcher to say that it washed the person’s hands would be false, because it was the water coming out of the pitcher that truly did the washing. All the pitcher did was hold the water until someone poured it out. Nebuchadnezzar was God’s pitcher, His vessel. God granted Nebuchadnezzar his empire and power so He could use Babylon as a scourge to a wayward Israel. God raised Nebuchadnezzar, and made it clear that He could put him down in an instant. Nebuchadnezzar’s illusions of power vanished.

Thus, pride is to say that we are good, that we are self-made, that anything we are and have is accredited to ourselves. This is all untrue. Psalm 14:3 says, “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Thus, pride is falsehood, a lie, which God hates.

Pride is also to say that we have accomplished what is only in God’s power to do. Nebuchadnezzar learned that he had not brought himself to eminence, but rather it was all God’s doing. In I Samuel 2:8, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, declares, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s , and He set the world on them.” God does these things . . . not ourselves. Thus, pride is blasphemy, which God hates.

The apostle Paul was perhaps the most well-traveled, most active apostle in early church history. He wrote more epistles than any other and started more congregations than any other. And yet he said of himself,

For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. — I Corinthians 15:9-10

He also said in Ephesians 3:8,

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

Paul looked upon his ministry and its achievements, not as something he had done himself, or something for which he deserved credit, but as something done entirely by God, according to His grace. Surely there were saints (fellow Christians) who slipped up in their path more often than Paul. There were those, no doubt, who struggled with immoralities of all kinds, far more and far worse things than Paul. And yet he did not consider himself more than they. He in fact considered himself inferior to them. He had all the reason in the world to be proud and boastful, but instead remained humble to the end.

The church of Corinth, an infant congregation planted by Paul and his companions, quickly fell into a grave error. They divided into sects, based on who had baptized them. Those who had been baptized by Paul were saying, “I am of Paul”, while those baptized by Paul’s companions were claiming to be “of Apollos” or “of Cephas (Peter)”. Paul lost no time in addressing this problem in the very beginning of his first epistle to the Corinthians.

Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanus; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. — I Corinthians 1:13-16

Paul did not lay claim to the salvation of the Corinthians. He was but a messenger, a vessel for God’s gospel. He did not want people calling themselves after him, as a prideful person might have allowed, but rather hastened to remind them that they were followers of Christ — not Paul, or Apollos, or Peter. They had not been baptized into the church of Paul or anyone else. They had been baptized into Christ, and Christ alone.

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Pride is to say that we are something to admire, something great. David, in Psalm 8:4 says, “What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” I can envision David looking at the night sky as he wrote this psalm, overwhelmed at his insignificance in the universe. In Exodus 15:11, a verse in the Song of Moses exclaims, “Who is like You among the gods, O Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” To consider that we are mere specks on a tiny planet, on the edge of a small galaxy, in the middle of an astoundingly huge universe, should be humbling. Who are we to exalt ourselves, rather than prostrate ourselves before the majesty of the One who created us and everything around us? Thus, pride is idolatry.

Does this still seem too extreme a definition? Here’s what Jesus said about pride:

That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. — Mark 7:20-23

Pride is classified as evil in God’s eyes. The final destination of the proud is also made clear.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. — Malachi 4:1

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant [proud], boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things ARE WORTHY OF DEATH [emphasis mine], they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. — Romans 1:28-32

Here are more verses that equate pride with wickedness:

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate. — Proverbs 8:13

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure. — Psalm 101:5

Let not the foot of pride come upon me, And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away. — Psalm 36:11

There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers. — Proverbs 6:16-19

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. — I John 2:15-16

Since pride is equal to idolatry, let us see what God has to say about idolaters.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. — I Corinthians 6:9

If pride is equal to idolatry, then the proud are listed among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God when the above verse mentions idolaters. Paul then goes on to say the following.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. — I Corinthians 6:11

If we ARE to enter the kingdom of God, then we must divest ourselves of these follies, including pride/idolatry. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 18:4,

Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

A child has no illusions of grandeur. A child looks up to his parents and adults, considering them superior. A child looks upon other children as his peers. If we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must take that humble stance, reaching to God with the complete acknowledgement of our own weakness and fallibility. In return for our humility, God — not ourselves — will lift us up to true greatness, as we see in James 4:10:

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

The apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:5

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and ALL OF YOU [emphasis mine] clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.

Do not fall for the false doctrine of self-esteem. We must not raise ourselves up, but rather let God exalt us in His own time, according to how He, and not we, sees fit. Do not attempt to do something only to be done by God. Such is not our place. We are nothing, each and every one of us. Let us strive to recognize our insignificance while recognizing the awesome grandeur of He who lifts up and strikes down, who gives and takes away.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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