Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth. Proverbs 27:2
When you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place”. Luke 27:10
We were on holiday once when our two boys were little. Looking for a church on the Sunday morning we found one that informed the world, via its notice-board, that it was “your welcoming church!”.
Sounds good! we thought. That’ll do us just nicely. There’s nothing like a friendly welcome when you’re in a strange place, is there?
Well, nobody spoke to us – apart from the person on official “door duty”. Not a soul. Huh! we thought - some welcome!
(I might as well add that as we were driving away we discovered that our older son had a toy car in his hot little fist, presumably purloined from the creche; and that, alas, we felt not a shred of guilt or remorse, nor the remotest desire to swing round and restore it, wicked souls that we are. Oh well, if one day we get done for receiving stolen goods, we’ll just have to accept it…)
Proverbs 27:2 is talking about individuals “blowing their own trumpet”, as we sometimes say. But it applies also to churches, as we discovered. (And not just churches: I once visited a major hospital which had a massive slogan on its outer wall: “Delivering quality health care”. And I thought to myself “Hang on a minute, isn’t that what all hospitals are supposed to do as a matter of course? Is it really a cause for boasting?”)
What my gripe comes down to is one of my pet hate-words: image. The big question in many people’s minds is not “What kind of person am I?” or “Do I always aim to do what is honest, good and right?”, but “How do I appear to others?”, “What do people think of me?”, “Do I make a good impression?” We want to be admired and praised – never mind whether or not we deserve it. And if a bit of boasting helps do the trick, so be it.
Perhaps you’re honestly not like that – in which case, my apologies, and please ignore everything I say. But I have a suspicion you’re fairly rare.
Why is it wrong to draw attention to our own qualities and achievements? There are various reasons.
First, we simply aren’t capable of seeing ourselves as we truly are, so what’s the point of bigging ourselves up? In our folly, we imagine we are better, cleverer, wittier, more attractive than we really are. If only we knew what other people say behind our backs!
Second, it’s a waste of time and effort. We may at first succeed in impressing someone who doesn’t know us very well; but don’t worry, the real you or me will soon begin to show through, like grey hair when the dye is wearing off. Truth will out!
Third, it shows wrong priorities in life. If we’re Christians, what matters is how God sees us, not any fellow human being. That doesn’t mean we should be indifferent to the opinion of others; not at all. But at the end of the day, God knows every last thing about us, so why waste time and energy trying to create a good impression? I heard it said once that there are just two basic, simple rules about what it means to be a Christian: Be like Christ - and be yourself. Yup, I’ll go along with that!
Fourth, if we are Christians our main concern should be to point others to Christ, not to ourselves. I love the words of John the Baptist, when his followers were unhappy about people turning to Jesus rather than to him. Don’t worry! he told them, “He must become greater; I must become less” (or, as the King James Version puts it, “He must increase; I must decrease”).
Fifth, it can be very exhausting to be daily “keeping up appearances”. By the same token, it’s liberating to simply be who we are.
Here are two quotations from nineteenth century evangelists.
First, Englishman C H Spurgeon: “Be not proud of race, face, place or grace”.
And then American Dwight L Moody: “God sends no-one away empty except those who are full of themselves”.
I said “image” was a pet hate-word of mine. So too is the word “marketing” when applied to churches – that church we visited was in essence trying to market itself to the neighbourhood. But what a waste of time! The only marketing a church needs is a cheerful, Christlike holiness among its members. Isn’t that why Jesus called those who were to lead his church “pastors” – shepherds – not managers or CEOs?
Jesus, take me as I am,/ I can come no other way./ Take me deeper into you,/ Make my flesh-life melt away./ Make me like a precious stone,/ Crystal-clear and finely honed,/ Life of Jesus shining through,/ Giving glory back to you. Amen. Dave Bryant