Pride, Celebrity, Self-Flattery, and Donkeys

 Andreas Kostenberger has a nice section about humility in his book Excellence.  He notes that humility is one of the “cardinal virtues in the Christian life and in academic work.”  In the chapter Kostenberger quotes Calvin:

I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility”; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.”

Kostenberger also spends some time saying that we should be humble in our academics and ministry because 1) we could be wrong, 2) we are not nearly as brilliant as scholars before us, 3) our ministry is at most a mere footnote in history that will barely be mentioned by others in the future, and 4) in the overall scheme of things we are not that important.  Our life is a vapor (James 4:14).  Kostenberger then talked about celebrity pastors and near the end of this section on humility he noted a great quote by Luther:

[If] you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it– if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.

Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, ‘See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.’ That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this Book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet. 5:5); to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.

The above quotes came from chapter 15 of Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Critical and Opinionated Christians (Manton)

Sadly, some Christians are super critical and overly opinionated.  They constantly criticize others and go around boldly stating their opinion (as if they’re always right).  This is a sign of pride.  Of course, no Christian is perfect – we all struggle with various sins, passions, and evil pleasures.  But it is important for those who follow Christ to be humble, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, and so forth (cf. Gal. 5:22).  We should fight against being critical and overly opinionated.  Thomas Manton does a nice job explaining moderation and Christian wisdom in his commentary on James 3:17.  He said, “A truly wise Christian is moderate:”

1) In his criticism.  He is not always making the worst of matters but judges charitably and favorably where things are capable of being interpreted without censure.  People who examine everything by very strict rules and use harder terms than the nature of human actions requires may seem to be more wise and perceptive than others, but they show lack of this true wisdom that the apostle commends. Austerity [a severe manner] is the sign of folly.  Wise Christians, in weighing actions, always allow for human frailty.

2) In his opinions.  He does not urge his own opinions too much or wrest those of his adversaries beyond what they intended to odious consequences that they disclaim – a fault that has much disturbed the peace of Christendom.  Charity should consider not what follows of itself from any other opinion, but what follows in the conscience of those who hold it.  A person may err in logic without erring in faith; and though you may show him the consequences of his opinion, you must not make him responsible for them.  To make anyone worse than he is, is the way to disgrace an adversary not reclaim him.

These are good reminders!  Rather than always criticising and voicing our opinion, we should seek the wisdom from above, Christ-like wisdom, wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17, NIV).

The above quotes are found in Thomas Manton’s (abridged) commentary on James, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015



Contribute to Our Salvation? (Luther)

Product DetailsThe following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.  As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation.  But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”

“…So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved.  The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Do Not Praise Yourself (Or: Nobody Likes A Bragger)

Proverbs (Geneva Commentaries) I don’t remember if it was a P.E. coach I had in high school or my mom or a good friend, but someone once told me “Nobody likes a bragger.”  There is quite a bit of truth in that phrase!  Scripture puts it this way: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2 NASB).  Clement said it like this: “Let not the humble bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another” (1 Clement 38).  Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs 27:2, wrote the following (I’ve edited and summarized it a bit).

“One expositor said ‘Praise is a beautiful garment.  But though you yourself wear it, another must put it on you, or else it will never sit well with you.  Praise is sweet music, but it is never tuneable in your own mouth.  If it comes from the mouth of another, it sounds very good in the ears of all that hear it.  Praise is a rich treasure, but it will never make you rich, unless another speak it of you.’”

“Indeed, nothing so degrades a man with his fellow humans, as setting out his own praise.  For though every man is his own flatterer (Prov 20:6), men usually know how to estimate pride in others while they cherish it in themselves.  While our works should shine, see to it that we ourselves be hid.  Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16), but let someone else speak your praise.”

“Our name will lose nothing by this self-renouncing spirit.  If our own mouth be silent, another’s will be opened.  John was unworthy in his own eyes to loosen his Master’s sandal, yet did the Lord proclaim John as the greatest of all that have been born of women.”

“Self-seeking is a shameful blot upon a Christian profession.  Shall a person indeed say before God, ‘I am vile!’ and then say before people, ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord.  Come, see how humble I am!’  Oh for the self-abased spirit of our Master – ever ready to endure reproach, but never seeking his own glory (John 5:41, 8.50).  Compare what God shows us of our own hearts in secret to how we pride ourselves in public.  Surely our lack of humility should give us the deepest humility!”

Charles Bridges, Proverbs, p. 502-3.

shane lems

Orthodox Head, Pharisee Heart

Select Letters of John Newton I realize I just mentioned these words by John Newton a month ago (here) but they’ve been rattling around in my heart and mind since then.  So I wanted to put them out there again in case anyone missed them the first time.  I’ve edited the format just a bit for the sake of reading:

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines,
as well as works.
And a man may have the heart of a Pharisee,
while his head is stored
with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature
and the riches of free grace.”

For those of us who study Christian doctrine and are concerned about right doctrine, we always have to beg the Lord to let those doctrines saturate our hearts, giving us faith, repentance, love, humility, patience, and obedience.  Like Francis Turretin (d. 1687) said near the beginning of his Institutes,

“We consider theology to be neither simply theoretical nor simply practical, but partly theoretical, partly practical, as that which at the same time connects the theory of the true with the practice of the good…”

“…Yet [theology] is more practical than theoretical.”

shane lems

No Victorious Christian Life

The American “we can do it” attitude mixed with some bad theology has left many Christians in despair because of their sins and other Christians proud of their “victories” over sin.  When Christians are told they can live the “victorious life” over sin, and they begin to believe it, it usually leads either to despair or to pride.  I appreciate the way Barbara Duguid applies John Newton’s emphasis on sin, grace, and humility to this topic.

“God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect.  Instead, he chose to save us and leave indwelling sin in our hearts and bodies to wage war against the new and blossoming desires to please God that accompany salvation.  This is a raging battle that we often lose, and that often leaves us feeling defeated and joyless in our walk with God.  Yet Newton also points out that since we know God does all things for his own glory and the good of his people, his decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify him and benefit his people.  This is shocking news, isn’t it?”

“Think of what this means.  God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.  This makes sense out of our experience as Christians.  If the job of the Holy Spirit is to make you more humble and dependent on Christ, more grateful for his sacrifice, and more adoring of him as a wonderful Savior, then he might be doing a very, very good job even though you still sin every day.”

“John Newton shows us from Scripture that true sanctification is all about growing in humility, dependence, and gratitude.  Joy blossoms in our hearts not as we try harder and harder to grow, but as we see more clearly the depths of our sin and understand more fully our utter helplessness.  Only then will we take our eyes off ourselves and look to Christ for all we need in life and in death.  Only then will we truly cherish our Savior and believe that we need him every minute of every day, and that without him we can do nothing (p. 30-32).”

Barbara Duguid, Extravagant Grace (Philipsburg: P&R, 2013).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

When I Am Weak…

Here’s another great section of a letter John Newton wrote on March 13, 1781.  (Reading hint: note the significance of these words near the end: “that fall within the line of our calling.”)

“I long aimed to be something.  I now wish I was more heartily willing to be nothing.  …A round 0 is by itself a thing of no value, and a million of them set in a row amount to no more than a single one; but place a significant figure before the row, and you may soon express a larger number than you can well conceive.  Thus my wisdom is 0, my righteousness is 0, my strength is 0.  But, put the wisdom, power, and grace of Jesus before them, let me be united to him, let his power rest upon my weakness, and be magnified in it, in this way I shall be something.  Not in and of myself, but in and from him.”

“Thus the apostle speaks of being filled with all the fullness of God.  What an amazing expression!  Thus, so far as we die to self, Christ lives in us.  He is the light by which we see, he is the life by which we live, he is the strength by which we walk, and by his immediate virtue and influence, all our works and fruits are produced.”

“We have no sufficiency in ourselves, but we have all-sufficiency in him, and at one and the same time we feel a conviction that we can do nothing, and [we also feel] an ability to do all things that fall with in the line of our calling.  When I am weak, then I am strong.”

John Newton, Works VI, page 348.

rev shane lems