Apostle Paul knew psychology 1800 years before Freud was born. Matter of fact, he understood it better than many modern psychologist. His writings are very revealing about today’s popular topics: self-deception, self-worth, self-love, healthy self-image. Let’s look at one of that.
“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, ‘He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.’ And again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.’ So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” – Apostle Paul in 1Cor 3:18-23
The media is full of articles, bloggers, celebrities talking about the importance of knowing, loving, accepting and expressing ourselves. Our world is obsessed with emphasizing self-love, self-knowledge, self-expression, self-worth, self-image, everything that starts with “self”. Every weird desires, twisted thought, insecure identity are encouraged to be expressed, lived out and is demanded to be accepted. This wrong emphases on embracing and accepting our desires and thoughts without an outside control and guidance is extremely dangerous. It leads people, especially youngsters, to believe that:
- all of our desires are equally good for us and others,
- we have the right to fulfill our desires,
- the ultimate decision-making factor in life is seeking the fulfillment of our desires,
- the source of happiness is when our desires are fulfilled, and that
- our desires determines who we are and who we become, it’s our identity. (It’s especially prevalent as people identify themselves with their sexual desires, they pridefully brag about it and they want everybody to know about it.)
It looks like the more the mainstream influencers are pushing this “self-talk”, self-love, self-expression agenda, the bigger our problem becomes with self-image. Regardless of how loudly and broadly our society encourages self-love, self-acceptance and expression of every desire or idea a person has, we witness an unprecedented spread of depression, an epidemic of phycological problems, and a wide-spread disability of building and maintaining intimate relationships.
The Western world lives in exceptional wealth in human history (running water, abundance of food, access to information, etc.), yet we have more crippled souls and relationships than ever before. Our technological, scientific and economic improvement didn’t bring us the desired outcome we hoped for: happiness and a healthy societies.
Could it be that our desires, ideas and wants need to be controlled, guided and maybe some of them should never be expressed?
Could it be that some of our desires and thoughts are misleading us as we are searching our true identity?
Could it be that our own desires and pursuit of happiness becomes our own enemy?
Apostle Paul warns us: “Stop deceiving yourself!” (v.18.) In the passage above he talks about the road that leads to self-deception and how we can avoid it by acquiring a healthy self-awareness. Reading in between the lines of Paul’s quoted warning to the Corinthians, we find an alarming description of the self-deceived person, someone who is having a distorted view of self.
The self-deceived person is someone who:
- thinks he is something he is not, because he is driven by a desire to be praised. “If you think you are wise…” says Paul, think again. You think you are wise, because you desire to be praised and accepted for it, and want to be known by it.
- assumes that he knows better. He thinks he is wiser than others, he knows what is best for him, he knows what he wants and needs, because he “thinks he is wise…”.
- determines what is right and wrong for himself, because “he is wise” and doesn’t accept that there is an outside control and authority that is above his own mind. The concept of an outside authority who – for our best interests – sets guidelines to our desires, is unacceptable for the self-deceived person. He doesn’t embrace that there is Someone bigger, higher, wiser who sets limits to our knowledge and give guidelines to control our desires.
- is bragging and boasting. Pride is always a sing of insecurity. When someone is bragging about his performance or about his relationships, or about his lifestyle, than person is deceiving himself. “Don’t boast about following a particular human leader” (v.21.), or group, or community, etc..
- looking for other people’s praise and acceptance. (“I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos” v.4.). Acceptance from a particular group or people in that group becomes the identity to a self-deceived person.
- relying on credentials (also v.4.) and association with certain people and particular groups – “I’m a member of this or that community, board, club and I’ve this or that degree.” While these are not bad things at all, that is not who we are.
- always compares himself to others (“I’m Paul’s, so I’m better than you who are Apollo’s”). When someone identifies himself this way with a group than he can’t tolerate when someone expresses a different opinion or say no to them. Today’s pornified, over-sexualized, mainstream, gender-focused message is a sad example of this lack of tolerance and self-deception. If anyone raises concerns about gender issues, or about the promotion of sexuality, especially among young people, and talks about the possible danger that it represents for the future for our society, or simply just wants to follow his/her Christian values and conviction, than that person very well could face legal and economical retributions.
- is not aware of his potential identity in Christ. He is not embracing that he could be fully loved, accepted and known by Christ.
Paul also gives us a path to a healthy view of self:
- Accept your limits: you have limited knowledge, wisdom, understanding and skills. (v.18.)
- Humble yourself – admit that there is a higher knowledge, a Greater Mind, an ultimately wise God above you, who “traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness”, who knows all and knows better than us. (v.19-20.)
- Don’t look to other people to give you value and identity. Stop comparing yourself with others, stop looking for other people’s praise, don’t anchor your identify in other people’s confirmation. Your identity is not that “you are Paul’s or Apollo’s”.
- Embrace that you have it all in Christ. “For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (v.21-23.) You have everything in Christ you strive for: the group you fought to be a part of, the world you wanted to gain, the presence and the future that you wanted to secure. In Christ you are known, you are fully accepted, loved and appreciated. In Him you have dignity, value and worth.We are so valuable that He gave the most valuable to us: His own life. No one can love us more and better than the One who gave His own life for us.
The only way how we can develop a healthy self-image is growing in our understanding of how God views and values us. We couldn’t be more precious and valuable for Him.
Spend more time on what He says about you, and spend less time on than what celebrities, popular books, mainstream influencers are telling about you. Many times they are lying to you about you! They don’t know you and they don’t love you. They never died for you. They wouldn’t do anything for you! They only want to extend their power over you and get money from you.