First Things First

Tuesday: Thinking Too Highly

Romans 12:3 To learn not to esteem ourselves more highly than we should, we must cultivate a proper relationship to God, a proper evaluation of ourselves, and right relationships with others.
Thinking Too Highly

In discussing right relationships, there are two possible errors in self-evaluation, and Paul suggests both of them in what he says: first, to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think; and second, to think too lowly of ourselves, which is to have a false humility. Today I want to spend time talking about the problem of thinking too highly of ourselves. This comes to us most naturally. The reason it does is that it is linked to pride, the first and most deadly of the sins. Almost everyone thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think, and what is more, we want other people to have a similarly exalted opinion of us. We are offended if they do not. 

How do we think more highly of ourselves than we ought? Some people have a high opinion of themselves because of their having been born into a distinguished family, distinguished either because of its wealth or because of the achievement of some illustrious ancestor. People like this have a recognizable name. They are an Astor or a Rockefeller or a DuPont. Perhaps they are related to someone who has achieved recognition in the media or because of public office. Name droppers fit into this category. They are always telling you about the celebrity they had lunch with last week or the congressmen they will be speaking to tomorrow. Perhaps the person has achieved a recognizable name himself. She is mentioned in the press, or he has appeared on the major television talk shows. 

Other people think more highly of themselves than they should because of their exceptional education. That is, they think they know more than other people or are simply smarter than others. 

Still other individuals have a high opinion of themselves because they have been given unusual power, or seek it. Again, we wish this could not be said of Christian people, but in our day many Christians seem to be on a power trip as much as anybody. Not long ago Michael Scott Horton edited a book titled Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church? In this book he documented the pursuit of worldly power by evangelicals. He covered such important subjects as power politics, power evangelism, power growth, the power within, and power preachers. His conclusion: 

Even in the Christian world there is a tremendous spirit of self-confidence and pride: our church growth projects will at last usher in the kingdom; or we will do it by performing signs and wonders, what some proponents even refer to as ‘magic,’ or perhaps we will rule by taking over the public institutions and exerting political, social and economic pressure on the enemies of Christ; other may wish to achieve power through tapping the inner resources of the individual through the latest offerings of pop-psychology; some will demonstrate this self-confidence by reinforcing personality cults, legalistic restrictions and peer pressure; finally, some will appeal to the power of fear and paranoia to gather followings, as if they had an inside track on such divine secrets as the date of our Lord’s return. Evangelical gatherings are often marked by a certain smugness about the uniqueness of our generation in God’s plan.1

None of this is unique to our time, of course. We see it in all ages of the Christian church. We remember, for instance, that the apostle Paul was writing Romans from Corinth on his third missionary journey, that is, while he was living in the midst of a church that had been marked by the pursuit of exactly such worldly goals as family prestige, education and political power. He reminded these people of their humble origin, thus encouraging them not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think—the very thing he is doing in Romans. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). 

1Michael Scott Horton, ed., Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church? (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992), 13-14.

Study Questions
  1. What are the two possible errors in self-evaluation?
  2. Which one seems more common than the other, and why?

Application: Do you sometimes struggle with a proud attitude toward others? Look up as many verses as you can find that deal with pride. What do you learn from these passages?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Humility: Evidence of Consecration.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7