“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”.
Romans 12:3 NLT
This is a difficult one. What do we think of ourselves and our abilities? And how do we know? There are some empirical ways of assessing our abilities, and academic exams are one of them. We might, for example, think we are good at arithmetic, and we can prove it by passing some sort of test. The same would apply to a driving test, where we can demonstrate to an external examiner our ability, or not, as the case may be. Similarly, we might think we are good at speaking a foreign language, something that is easily confirmed by a visit to that country. But these are all specifics. The problem comes when, for example, we say we are good at a subject like art just because we can pass an arithmetic test.
I used to work for someone who was an expert in his vocational field. He wrote for scientific and technical journals, and people consulted him about their theories and projects. So he started a company to market his products, thinking that he would have the same expertise and abilities when it came to business matters. Sadly he didn’t, and the company collapsed. Now here’s the reason – he didn’t have an honest evaluation of himself. He should have read the verse we are looking at today. The problem in much of today’s employment, particularly in white collar environments, is that those who climb the promotion ladder have to make claims about how good they are, by talking up their abilities. I was once in a project meeting with a very confident manager, who impressed the project sponsor by his apparent knowledge of the subject in hand. Afterwards I complemented him on his knowledge, to which he replied, “in a land of blind men, a one-eyed man is king”. The reality was that he had a good grasp of all the buzz words, but little else. But life isn’t like that for most of us.
At the other end of the scale, I have known people who are really good at something, but they lack the confidence to leverage their abilities, failing to make them a useful addition to their lives and the lives of others. But the emphasis in Paul’s message would indicate that this is less of a problem then being overconfident, by thinking that “you are better than you really are”.
Was Paul merely applying what he was writing about to spiritual matters or everything that the person, the “each of you”, was involved in? He was probably, in my opinion, referring to life, everything the person was involved in as they went about their everyday lives. Paul also included some guidance in his letter to the Philippians. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4). He continued, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. …” (Philippians 2:5-7). The world has got it wrong. Society demands that self-promotion is necessary to get on, and be better than anyone else. The Christian way is the opposite, one of humility and preferring one another. A way where we step back and allow God to do the promoting. Because of Jesus’ humility, He was honoured, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9).
Paul writes about self-evaluation through the faith that we have. To present this as an example, perhaps someone who claims to have a healing ministry, but doesn’t see the fruit of it, may not have the faith to make their claim. There is a partnership between a person’s spiritual and natural abilities, seasoned with the faith that comes from a lifetime of service to God.
So we pilgrims, humbly in God’s presence, work with Him to maximise our potential for His kingdom. Through our faith in Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit working within us. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). And, in the end, that is what we really want to do – please our loving Heavenly Father.
Dear Father God. We praise and worship You today, deeply grateful for Your presence in our lives. Please help us, we pray, to serve You with faith and in truth, trusting that it is only through You and Your Son, Jesus, that we can really succeed in all that You have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.