We live in a culture that tells us that we must sell and promote ourselves in order to achieve success. We must find the right social identity, message, product, or service, and then fight for “airtime” in the vast and very noisy public arena. Social media reinforces this greatly. When we see someone who seems to be doing well, it may provoke us to jealousy, or evoke feelings of insecurity if we don’t feel we are doing as well. In many of us, it arouses innate competitive impulses, and we resolve to outdo the rest of the pack.
I admit that I wrestle with the temptation to promote myself. I’m not referring to the desire to pursue life goals or to expand my sphere influence. I’m talking about the tendency to forget that God has not called me to promote myself, but to promote the greatness of Jesus Christ. Not to be famous myself, but to make him famous. Not to have a sales pitch, but to have his beautiful name ever on my lips. I am called to make myself small, and make him great, in my own eyes and the eyes of others. This takes conscious effort, nearly every day. Even in the publishing of this blog, I must guard my heart from wrong motives.
Recently, as I was reading through Genesis, I noticed the contrast between God’s promotion of man and man’s self-promotion.
From the beginning, God gave his human creatures dignity, honor, and dominion. They were made in the very image of God. They were his finest creation!
Then, sin and self-obsession crashed in, spoiling the tranquility of the garden and its residents. And then follows a trilogy of stories.
First is the story of Noah. Amidst the increasing population of the earth, and the wickedness that began to prevail, Noah was identified as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Gen 6:9). This was quite an endorsement, one I’d love to be able to claim for myself. There is no mention of Noah doing anything in particular to get God’s attention. God protected and promoted Noah simply because he had a right heart toward God, and this was reflected in his upright moral conduct.
Next is the story of Babel, which presents the essence of self-promotion. The people all spoke the same language, and they said to each other, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4). Well…God wasn’t crazy about that idea. He scattered them and confused their languages, so they couldn’t work together to make a great name for themselves. God used language and geographic barriers to impede the iniquitous folly of self-promotion.
Finally, there is the call of Abraham. In his first encounter with God, Abraham receives instruction and commissioning, and the first of many promises: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:2). In other words, you don’t have to promote yourself, Abram. Just do as I instruct you, and let me promote you and multiply your influence in the earth.
So, there you have it. Noah, declared righteous by the mouth of God, and used to save the remnant of humanity from the flood. Then the people of Babel, scattered and confused because of their foolish desire for self-promotion. And then Abraham, blessed and promoted to greatness purely through his faith and obedience to the perfect will of God.
In the short term, self-promotion seems to make sense. But it is so often secretly rooted in either pride or insecurity (two sides of the same demonic coin). When I detect that spirit rising in me, I work to beat it back down. It’s like a wack-a-mole, unfortunately, popping back up when I think I’ve subdued it. I keep wacking away at it, because I’m learning that self-promotion in the long term is a wearying, discouraging dead end if I let it get the better of me. God’s promotion brings life, honor, joy, and success–on his terms, the only ones that really matter.
Psalm 75:6-7 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he puts down one, and sets up another.
Luke 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Shalom, my friends.