•  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The basic, wrong thought that colors most of the current thinking about self-esteem is that a proper self-esteem requires pride, and pride itself is good. A Reader’s Digest article speaks of being “proud of our self-image” in order to be “confident, and free to be ourselves.” The spirit of pride has pervaded so much of our world today that it enters into almost every phase of life, perhaps without our realizing it. We must understand in the light of God’s Word that every form of pride is wrong, and a sin against God.
In order to understand the subject of self-esteem properly, we must realize that pride is the wrong response to success. We tend to be proud of our natural abilities, but we must see that these are all given of God. We are apt to be proud even of our sinful ways, perhaps thinking that there is still some good to be had from them.
Low Self-Esteem
We speak of those with “low self-esteem,” and others who have “high self-esteem.” Often they are really opposite sides of the same coin, that coin being pride. The one with “low self-esteem” is depressed and upset because his self-image is not what he thinks it should be. He really has very high self-esteem — it is just that the reality does not match his ideals. He does not accept the way God has made him. (We are speaking now about his God-given abilities, not about sin.) How many times have some of us looked in the mirror, and heartily wished that we were taller, that we had a different color of hair, that we were smarter, or perhaps that we had other qualities that the Lord had not given us! How many times have I watched others participate in athletic activities, and wished I had some of their ability! As life went on, I found out that many of those who were so good in athletic activities wished that they could do better in academic circles, where perhaps some of us felt a little more comfortable. We always seem to want what we do not have. Sad to say, Satan works on us through our sinful natures to make us unhappy with what God has given us and to consume us with thoughts about talents He has not given us.
High Self-Esteem
The one with “high self-esteem” thinks that he is up at a certain point, when he is not there at all. He has an unrealistic self-image, while others usually have a much more realistic appraisal of him! You know this kind of person — one who is always talking about himself and what he can do. We find him insufferable and do not want to be around him.
But you may say, “I am content with myself. I am right in the middle; I have neither high nor low self-esteem.” That is what the article in Reader’s Digest is trying to tell us — that we are to realize what our self-image is and be proud of it. That too is wrong, for pride, as we have seen, is always condemned in the Word of God. While we are to recognize our God-given abilities, we must realize that we will never be happy if we are occupied with ourselves, for pride will always come in. People today say that there is an epidemic of low self-esteem in our society. Let us be honest and admit that there is an epidemic of pride. It is the result of the focus being on man instead of on God.
The wisdom of this world says that we have to build up an individual’s self-esteem. We are told that we must take individuals and show them that they have good qualities, that they are valuable people, that they have abilities which they can develop, and that they can have pride in themselves. We must show them that they are useful members of society, that they have a job to do in this world, and an important contribution to make. That is good as far as it goes, for many do not realize their natural abilities due to a lack of proper encouragement, love and understanding. But if this approach causes me to focus on myself, I will always be occupied with myself, either in a positive or a negative way. Pride will always tend to come in, if I am the object of my own heart.
Setting Our Sights Above
What is the answer to it all? The Word of God teaches us to have our sights above it all, on Christ Himself. When He is before us, we do not depend on anything down here for our happiness. He is unchanging, and when our hearts are occupied with Him, there is a steadiness, a calmness, a peace that nothing can shake. If our joy depends on anything down here, even the best things, then our state of soul will go up and down depending on how things are going down here. God wants to lift us above it all. Another has aptly remarked that the great thing for a Christian is not to have either high thoughts of self or low thoughts of self. Rather, he should not be thinking about self at all.
Will being occupied with Christ make us neglect our responsibilities down here? No, for the thought that we want to please Him in all things makes us want to do everything for Him and in the best possible way. We will not neglect our work, our family, the local assembly or even ourselves. But they will not be our object; rather, we will want to do everything for Christ.
The happiest Christians are those who are not even thinking about themselves, but whose hearts are filled with Christ, seeking to please Him, and then occupied with the good and blessing of others. But again, do not do it to be happy; do it to please the Lord! Think of His happiness, not your own. You will find that it will put a glow on your face, a spring in your step, and you will have that confidence with which we should walk as Christians. Moses was not aware that his face shone, but others saw it. In walking with the Lord, there will be a moral dignity about us that others will see, and they will take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus.
W. J. Prost (adapted
from Self-Esteem)