Who Are We Kidding?

Michael Beck

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Paul admonished the church to “think soberly;” warning us not to think of ourselves more highly than we should.

For I 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 hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

The Corinthian habit of “thinking of men above that which is written” created strife and factions among them.

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:6,7)

Paul learned to glory only in the Lord and in what the Lord had done through him.

I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:17-19)

There are three main areas where we can think of ourselves more highly than we should.

1. POWER > We can think we are stronger than we are.

2. KNOWLEDGE > We can think we are wiser than we are.

3. GLORY > We can think we are grander than we are.

It is easier than we think to slip into a lifted up spirit. One as godly as Paul was in danger of a being “exalted above measure.” God took measures, even by using Satan, to prevent Paul from the danger of self-exaltation.

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:1-9)

Paul warned those who believed that they were beyond a place a falling to take heed.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

The chastening of the Lord always involves humbling. The chastening of the Lord upon the wicked is to bring them to repentance, turning them from wickedness. The chastening of the Lord upon the righteous is to bring them to maturity, establishing them in righteousness.

God uses the wrath of men and devils to humble both the wicked and the righteous.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. (Psalm 76:10)

When God humbles us He reveals to us our weakness, ignorance, and nothingness apart from Him.

The Threefold Humbling of Job & Paul

He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. (Job 19:8,9)

1. The REVELATION of Our WEAKNESS “He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass …”

The tragedy that befell Job wiped out his resources and derailed his plans for the future.

My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart. (Job 17:11)

When our strength is weakened we are prevented from proceeding down a path toward a desired destination.

He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days. (Psalm 102:23)

Paul acknowledged that his plans at times were thwarted.

But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us. (1 Thes. 2:17,18)

Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. (Romans 1:13)

For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company. But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. (Romans 15:22-25)

Paul enlisted the prayers of the saints to fulfill his desire. God got him to his destination, but not as he had thought or prayed.

Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. (Romans 15:30-32)

Paul made a distinction between what he knew he would do and what he hoped to do, with the Lord’s permission.

And I will come unto you, when I pass through Macedonia — for Macedonia I do pass through — and with you, it may be, I will abide, or even winter, that ye may send me forward whithersoever I go, for I do not wish to see you now in the passing, but I hope to remain a certain time with you, if the Lord may permit (1 Corinthians 16:5-7 YLT)

God humbles even His most anointed servants by “fencing up their way.” He lets the plans they devise, the prayers they make, and the visions they see, face delay, denial, or redirection.

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

James rebukes those who proudly declare what they will do or what will happen as though they have the final say.

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. (James 4:13-16)

Believers are not thinking soberly when they believe they have the power to make happen whatever they believe is good and prevent from happening whatever they believe is badWhen such pride and presumption are at work, God humbles and “withdraws man from his purpose.”

That (God) may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. (Job 33:17)

2. The REVELATION of Our IGNORANCE – “He hath set darkness in my paths …”

The tragedy that befell Job caused his previous understanding of God to be upended and thrown into confusion.

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:8-10)

Paul told the Corinthians that the situations he faced often left him troubled and perplexed.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Paul didn’t boast in his wisdom. He came to the Corinthians determined to “know nothing” except Christ and Him crucified. 

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh to humble him because of the “abundance of the revelations” he had received. He knew the possession of knowledge tended to “puff up.” He recommended the pursuit of love over knowledge.

… Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1,2)

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1,2)

3. The REVELATION of Our NOTHINGNESS – “He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head.”

The tragedy that befell Job caused him to become an object of scorn and disgust to those who once highly esteemed him.

I chose out their way, and sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners. But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock. (Job 29:25-30:1)

Paul’s thorn in the flesh not only revealed his weakness, but it made him “look bad” in men’s eyes. It caused him reproach.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (2 Corinthians 12:10,11)

We don’t mind if others think more highly of us than they should. We do mind if they think less highly of us than than they should.

David understood that God used the reproaches of the foolish to extinguish any exalted ideas he had of himself. He saw himself for who he was apart from God. (“…Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” Psalm. 39:5)

Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it. Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:8-11) [see 2 Samuel 16:5-13]

Before the power of Christ can truly rest upon us, our power must become ineffectual. Before the wisdom of Christ can dwell in us richly, our wisdom must come to nothing. Before the glory of Christ can be seen upon us, our glory must disappear.

Thus saith the LORD, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 13:9)

The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth. (Isaiah 23:9)

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.