By Bill Cameron
“For 1 say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
Some of the brethren addressed by Paul in his letter to the church of Rome must have had a false pride over spiritual gifts that they had received. Although these miraculous gifts have long since ceased, the attitude which moved the apostle to write these words is too often seen in the church today. Thinking too highly of self seems to be a universal weakness of man. It was so two thousand years ago; it is so now.
Also, Romans 12:3 may be better understood when viewed against the background of the spiritual gifts which were necessary in directing the church in her work and worship in those early days. Now, of course, the New Testament has been completed as the perfect rule of faith and practice. With the completion of divine revelation these miraculous gifts ceased to exist, having fulfilled the purpose for which they were given.
In Paul’s time, although every gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon certain members of the church was of equal importance, some of the unusual powers were looked upon by men as having more significance and greater prestige than others. This misunderstanding led to false pride on the part of some who were endowed with gifts which men considered to be more essential than others. Thus they came to “think of themselves more highly than they ought to think,” and the apostle was moved to warn them of the danger of such an attitude. He reminded them that each person was just one in a body of many members; every office and every gift which God had placed in the church was essential; and each was to exercise his peculiar gift without esteeming one above the other.
Moses, the Great Servant of God, was not allowed to enter the promised land “because ye sanctified me not in midst of the children of Israel” (Deut. 32:51; Num. 20:1011). Moses took upon himself the glory that belonged to God only; he thought of himself more highly than he should have thought. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, was given a “thorn in the flesh” lest he be exalted above measure (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were condemned by our Lord for the high opinion which they had of themselves, which opinion caused them to look down on others (Luke 18:9-14). The parable of the Pharisee and the publican is a contrast between the man who thinks too highly of himself and the one who thinks humbly of himself as God would have us all to think. These examples should impress upon our minds the importance of developing within ourselves a humble spirit. The proper Christian attitude is expressed in Philippians 2:3 where the apostles admonished the Philippian brethren to “let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
However, there are two sides to the coin. This text does not indicate that a Christian is not to think highly of himself. Because of a Christian’s relation to God and Christ he should have a high regard for himself. If one is to be respected and regarded highly by others, he must maintain self-respect. That we are to love ourselves is implied when Christ tells us that we are to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). If we do not think highly of self, we are not likely to think highly of our neighbor. If we have respect for self, we are better prepared to have respect for our neighbor. There are many reasons why a Christian should have self-respect. A Christian should take pride in being separated from the world (John 17:16; 2 Cor. 6:17). Therefore, there are things he will not do, places he will not go, and activities in which he will not participate. A faithful Christian should think highly of himself and his influence as a child of God, too highly to participate in immoral and wordily practices (2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Pet. 4:3-5). James said a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).
The Christian who seeks to hold himself in high regard and maintain his self-respect in order to be acceptable to God will be found doing the following:
(1) He will understand that our talents are God-given (1 Pet. 4:11).
(2) He will use his abilities instead of losing them (Luke 8:18).
(3) He will store up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20).
(4) He realizes that his abilities and opportunities are God-given. Failure to use them is sinful (James 4:17).
(5) He will seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
As our love grows toward God and we mature in Christian graces, we will truly learn to love our neighbor as ourself. With this maturity in faith will come self-esteem and avoidance of thinking of self more highly than we ought.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 4, p. 73
January 25, 1979