The Danger of Self-Exaltation
When rearing children, parents should teach their children to always do their best. This is a great principle which will greatly benefit the child. As the child grows, this principle will teach the child to do his best in school, in extra-curriculum activity, in marriage, in friendships, in employment, etc. There is nothing wrong with encourage children to strive to do their best at whatever they do. Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
When a person seeks to do his or her best, other people will take notice. Doing one’s best will certainly bring praises from one’s peers. When such accolades begin to occur, it is crucial that parents also teach their children humility. While praises and accolades come when one does his best, such praises and accolades can also work to weaken one’s possession of humility. When a person ceases to be humble because of the praise of men, then he has set aside a quality crucial to faithfully serving the heavenly Father.
Within most areas of accomplishments, receiving praises and accolades go with the territory of a job well done. However, within one’s efforts as a servant of the Lord, all things must be done, not to seek the glory of men, but to seek the praises of God. When a person seeks the praise and glory of men, he positions himself for an eventual fall. All of his words and actions will be crafted in a way that pleases the ears and eyes of men.
Consider Jesus’ reproach of the scribes and Pharisees as seen in Matthew 23:1-12. Jesus begins by saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.” (Matthew 23:2) The scribes and Pharisees viewed themselves as more than teachers. They viewed themselves as sitting in Moses’ seat. Jesus, in a way, acknowledged their position to teach, but warned the people not to do “according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matthew 23:3)
Jesus knew the scribes and the Pharisees served their own self-interest and self-glorification. Jesus said, “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7) Jesus saw the motives behind the service of the scribes and Pharisees. These leaders pursued the necessary means to be exalted in the eyes of men. From their clothing, to the best seats at the feast to the best seats in the synagogues, these “leaders” were more concerned with appearances and the praises of men.
Jesus continues by warning against certain practices which can tempt or at least lend to this self-exaltation. Jesus warned against a person being called rabbi. Jesus said , “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) The term rabbi was a title used by the Jews to address their teachers. There is only one teacher and that is Christ. All disciples of Christ are equal. No one person should be elevated above the rest within the brotherhood.
Jesus warned against calling any man your father. Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) With this warning, Jesus shows that no man is to view another man as his spiritual leader, his spiritual guide. There is only on Father in heaven. All Christians are the offspring of God and should follow only Him.
With one more warning, Jesus again shows that one should not seek to be exalted through the use of titles and positions. Jesus said, “And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10) Observe that Jesus used the phrase “do not be called teachers.” Jesus is not telling His followers not to teach. In this context, He is again forbidding the exalting of one man over his brethren based upon his role as a follower of God. As Jesus as already said, do not be called rabbi, call no man your father, and do not be called teachers.
In pulling this all together and showing His point of warning, Jesus said, “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) These warnings are against those who seek to be exalted, who seek to be lifted above everyone else. The man who “exalts himself” will be brought down, he will be “humbled.” The person who “humbles himself” will be lifted up, he will be “exalted.”
This teaching is applicable to every single Christian. While a person should strive to do his best in all things, his fundamental motivation should be to please God, not to seek the praises of men. The person who seeks the glory of men will receive his immediate reward. But the person who seeks to do his best, who seeks to serve God will be lifted up by God. In Matthew 6:1-6, Jesus warned of this type of self-exalting attitude. In doing charitable deeds, the man who does them to be seen by men will have “no reward from your Father in heaven.” Those who do their charitable deeds to be seen by men “have their reward” in the praises of men. Those who do their charitable deeds in secret, only to be seen by the recipient and by God will be rewarded openly by God. (Matthew 6:1-4) In regards to prayer, Jesus taught His followers not to pray so as to be seen by men, so as to seek the glory of men. The person who prays to be seen by men has their reward in the praises of men. However, in stressing humility and praying only to God and not for the praise of men, Jesus said that the one who prays in secret, God would “reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
While we teach our children to always do their best, let us make certain that this principle is established upon a foundation of humility. Without humility, no amount of “great service” will bring us God’s approval. Let us all strive to seek to please our heavenly Father in all things and above all people.