First Things First

Wednesday: Thinking Too Lowly

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 Lowly

Our look at right relationships brings us to another very real problem in self-evaluation: thinking too lowly of ourselves, or false humility. When we think too lowly of ourselves we exude a false kind of humility. Sometimes this is really pride, because when we tell people bad things about ourselves what we really want them to say is, “No, I don’t think you’re like that at all. I think you’re really intelligent or wise or attractive or kind (or whatever).” 

“That helps,” we say. “Keep it up. Tell me more. I’d like you to talk me out of this.” 

When we act like that we are really being proud rather than humble, and we show it at once if the other person agrees with our earlier negative self-evaluation. We are offended when a friend says, “Yes, I guess you really are stupid or ugly or ineffective or a hopeless case.” It is because of pride. 

On the other hand, some people really do have too low an opinion of themselves and need to find a proper self-esteem. This is less common in our day, but it exists. These people need to find a proper esteem not by propping themselves up artificially, that is, by telling themselves that they are brilliant when they’re not or beautiful when they are plain or effective when they are actually ineffective and bungling. They need to find a proper self-evaluation in spiritual terms. That is, if they are Christians, they need to recognize that they have been made by God and that, however ineffective they may feel in themselves (and actually be in themselves), they are important to God who has made them to do “good works” (Eph. 2:10). 

One of the problems we have is that we usually think about ourselves too much. Yet the solution Paul offers is not to stop thinking about ourselves entirely but instead to start thinking about ourselves in a right way. We are to think of ourselves “with sober judgment.” Not long ago I was reading a study of Romans by the late Ray Stedman, former pastor of the Peninsula Bible Church of Palo Alto, California. He said something that I found very helpful and that I would like to pass on. He said that every morning when he got up he tried to remind himself of three things: 

First, I am made in the image of God. I am not an animal and I don’t have to behave like an animal. I have an ability within me, given to me by God himself, to respond and relate to God. Therefore I can behave as a man and not as a beast. 

Second, I am filled with the Spirit of God. The most amazing thing has happened! Though I don’t deserve it in the least degree, I have the power of God at work within me. I have become, in some sense, the bearer of God, and God himself is willing to be at work in me through the problems and pressures I go through this day. 

Third, I am part of the plan of God. God is working out all things to a great and final purpose in the earth, and I am part of it. What I do today has purpose and significance and meaning. This is not a meaningless day I am going through. Even the smallest incident, the most apparently insignificant word or relationship, is involved in his great plan. Therefore all of it has meaning and purpose.1

Stedman says rightly that there is nothing better than this to set us up on our feet and give us “confidence without conceit.” When we think of ourselves in this way we are indeed thinking soberly and evaluating ourselves as God’s creatures without either vanity or a lack of proper self-esteem. 

1Ray C. Stedman, From Guilt to Glory, vol. 2, Reveling in God’s Salvation (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1978), 109-110.

Study Questions
  1. What is false humility?
  2. How can thinking too lowly of yourself stem from pride?
  3. What is a right way to evaluate yourself?
  4. How do you develop proper self-esteem?

Reflection: Review Stedman’s three points. How does each one impact how you go throughout your day?  

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

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