What Is ‘False Modesty’?

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:16-17 (ESV)

In 1941 C. S. Lewis penned The Screwtape Letters, in which a seasoned demon, Screwtape, counsels his young nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt a new believer. In one letter the diabolical uncle urges Wormwood to lure a Christian into a false humility: “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.”1 Screwtape knows the “Enemy” (God) will oppose such an attack: “Your efforts to instil either vainglory or false modesty into the patient will therefore be met from the Enemy’s side with the obvious reminder that a man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all.”2

No opinion of his own talents? Sort of. According to Lewis, the Christian should be able to build the best cathedral in the world, know it is the best cathedral in the world, and yet be just as happy to have the cathedral have been built by someone else. In other words, the Christian should be able to truly rejoice in his gifts as well as the gifts of his brother or sister in Christ. To dabble with false modesty, denying the goodness of one’s work (when Hypocrisyit is quite obvious the work is good), is to assume the appearance of a virtue one does not possess. This is hypocrisy, and it is deadly to the Christian soul.

James offers readers an explanation for why there is no room in the Christian life for this brand of hypocrisy: a perfect God is the source of every good and perfect gift. In the context of James chapter one, this is really a staggering claim since the subject matter of these opening verses has been tests, trials, and suffering. These are hardly the good gifts about which one is tempted to be falsely modest.

Nonetheless, the teaching of verse 17 is clear. God is the giver of “every” good and perfect gift. This includes the gift of regeneration (verse 18, God “brought us forth by the word of truth”), the gift of wisdom (verse 5, “[i]f any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God”), and every gift in between. King David credited God as the source of every material blessing, “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Jesus told the disciples that God is not only the source of physical goods, He gives righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). Likewise, James wanted his readers to keep their eyes on the sure, reliable, and generous God. Thus, that new car and the ability to work that earned the car come from Him; He is the source of both good gifts. This is the doctrine taught by James.

Screwtape explains to young Wormwood how God would try to keep the believer from false modesty, and it has everything to do with bringing to mind the doctrine found in James 1:16-17: “The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair.”3

Thus, there is no room for false modesty. This kind of hypocrisy is simply precluded from the Christian life. The fact of the matter is the glorious God of the universe has chosen to bless His children with extraordinary gifts. Some of them have gifts of leadership, some gifts of teaching, some gifts of encouragement, some gifts of administration, and so on. Nonetheless, when a true achievement is pointed out, Christians too often reply, “No, no, it really was not that good!”—a response designed to elicit more praise. Indeed, false modesty—hypocrisy—deadens the Christian soul by subtly turning the attention to oneself and one’s talents and away from the giver of all good gifts.

 

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Endnotes:

1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942; repr., San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 70.

2 Ibid., 72.

3 Ibid. Italics added.



 

8 Biblical Responses to Worry

WorryMost of us know that the Bible says not to worry. Jesus put it memorably when He said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But often that’s easier said than done. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable when finances are tight, when relationships are strained, and when there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fulfill all of life’s obligations. Does the Bible provide any specific strategies for avoiding worry? Fortunately it does. Try the following next time anxiety feels unavoidable.

Go deeper with Christ. God wants to walk with His people like He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. In fact, He “takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). In times of great worry, depend on Jesus as a personal friend and return to your first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Experiencing His friendship is often the only force more powerful than life’s overwhelming cares.

Serve others. Ministering to others can help us get away from the self-focus of worry. Despite their own “severe test of affliction,” the Corinthians experienced an “abundance of joy” by turning their energy toward assisting someone else (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Pray. Paul advised the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Sometimes the best antidote to troubled stewing over life’s problems is to translate the stewing into specific requests for the Lord.

Go to church. One reason God commands Christians to be part of a local church is that being with His people provides encouragement and “stirs” us up “to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or prayer meeting can provide a needed lift of spirit.

Sing. This can be a powerful alternative to worry. Think about the Psalms of lament where King David soothed his cares with worship songs. When his own son usurped the throne and sought to kill him, David sang, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Spend time with family. Scripture has much to say about the joys of family, whether biological (Proverbs 12:4; Psalm 127:3-5) or spiritual (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To put the subject of your worry aside momentarily and enjoy time with loved ones can markedly reduce anxiety.

Seek wholesome entertainment. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” according to Proverbs 17:22. The next time you’re anxious or stressed, try watching an uplifting movie or television show, reading a book, or attending a play. Entertainment of the wholesome variety is among God’s gifts to lighten troubled times.

Meditate on an uplifting thought. Paul told the Philippians to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The possibilities are almost limitless, and you can’t think about such things while also mulling over your stresses.

Thankfully the Bible doesn’t just give us abstract commands, but also provides concrete strategies for doing what God says. Avoiding anxiety is a case in point. The next time your stress level elevates, remember that Jesus cares about your troubled heart and provides all the strategies needed for those “who labor and are heavy laden” to experience His “rest” (Matthew 11:28).



 

In Christ, Everything; Outside Christ, Nothing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

3 As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.

Psalm 16:2-4 (NIV)

Now that our next-door neighbors present us with a multitude of religious choices, the pressure to choose other faiths can be very attractive. Even more alluring is the possibility of mixing and matching; we construct our own garments of faith from the exotic cloth now available from the local religious malls. Our culture revels in diversity and do-it-yourself religion. We are told that we are narrow and intolerant if we stick to the way, the truth, and the life in Christ.

On the run from his enemies, David ran into an earlier version of this option in his day. Israel was surrounded by colorful, foreign alternatives that promised real tangible benefits socially and materially. Yet he did not budge an inch. He had discovered that his own personal faith in God was pivotal to his welfare; apart from the Lord, he had no good thing (v. 2). He knew who his heroes were; his delight was in the saints of the land (v. 3). He was not taken in by the superficial allure of alternative religion; he saw the sorrow that resulted from misplaced confidence in other gods (v. 4). He made up his mind; he would neither join in their practices nor take their names on his lips (v. 4).

Christians are totally indebted to Israel for her refusal to negotiate on her hard-won monotheism. Being tenacious in faith is not being perverse; it is a matter of standing by the truth. Faith is rooted in reality. Christ confirmed and enriched this faith by nailing it down in history with His cross and by conquering all the alternatives in His resurrection from the dead.

The great heroes have proven this faith’s worth over the years. Just to recount their lives is a source of delight and inspiration.

Abandoning the faith or mixing and matching it with bits and pieces of other religions are recipes for disaster and regret. We gladly take Christ’s name upon our lips absolutely and exclusively. His is “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

In making the case for Christ, believers cannot shirk the clear-cut choice that Christ presents. We can do so with confidence when we are secure in our own confession of the Lord and when we remember that apart from Him we have “no good thing.” Christ delivers the goods; the alternatives multiply sorrow.

 

Can Theology Be True If It’s Self-Contradictory?

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) took the curious step recently of adopting an “Authoritative Interpretation” (AI) of its constitution that blatantly contradicts the document it purports to interpret. Passed by a vote of 317-238, the AI allows PCUSA ministers to perform gay wedding ceremonies in the 19 states where the practice is legal. But the PCUSA constitution states (at least for now)1 that “marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” How can a document that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution be “interpreted” to permit homosexual marriage? When a commissioner at a PCUSA committee meeting raised this issue, his point was ruled “not well taken” in parliamentary rules.2

contradictorySad to say, this is not the only instance in recent times of a prominent theological or ethical assertion that involves foolish contradiction. Fortunately, Scripture tells us how to respond to such assertions in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit . . .” The Louw and Nida Greek lexicon explains that the phrase translated “empty deceit” refers to a “misleading or erroneous view concerning the truth” related to “a complete lack of understanding.” Though Paul likely had a broad array of errors in mind, contradictory statements certainly fall under that umbrella. Of course, some doctrines taught in the Bible (like the Trinity and creation ex nihilo) are mysterious and may seem unreasonable at first blush. But nothing in the Bible is a true contradiction. We accept biblical mysteries by faith as we pursue a fuller understanding. But any assertion that involves irreconcilable contradiction is unbiblical and must be rejected, lest it “take you captive.” Consider the following examples:

Atheist ministers. A 2010 study by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola profiled five Protestant “preachers who are not believers.”3 The study described the supposedly victimized atheist ministers as “ensnared in their ministries by a web of obligations, constraints, comforts, and community.” These five individuals may have served in church-related vocations, but it is a contradiction to claim that any atheist is a true minister of the gospel.

Gay marriage. Though it’s a common phrase these days, it’s a contradiction. God defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Relative truth. “All truth is relative,” some postmodernists claim. But a statement is either true or relative, not both at the same time in the same sense.

No-fault divorce. Since the late 1960s this has been a common legal designation. But Jesus said there is always sin on at least one spouse’s part when the covenant of marriage is dissolved (Matthew 19:1-9).

Errors in Scripture. The Bibles says, “all Scripture” is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Either the Bible is Holy Scripture or it contains errors, not both. Yet some supposed Christians claim the Bible both errs and is God’s Word.

Human non-persons. Abortion advocates have employed this term in attempt to justify the killing of unborn children. But all humans are persons, knitted together by God in the womb (Psalm 139:13).

When discussions of theology or ethics become self-contradictory, some may regard it as a move toward sophistication and enlightenment, a casting aside of outdated truisms. Yet those who believe the Bible know better. They will take care to shun such “empty deceit” and in so doing will find themselves “established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7).

 

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Endnotes:

1 The General Assembly approved an amendment to the PCUSA constitution redefining marriage as between “two people” rather than “a woman and a man.” But the amendment must be approved by a majority of the PCUSA’s 172 presbyteries, which is expected to occur. Until then, the AI contradicts the constitution.

2 Carmen Fowler LaBerge, “Calling Their Bluff—With the Hope of Keeping the General Assembly From Erring,” The Layman Online, June 19, 2014, http://www.layman.org/calling-bluff-hope-keeping-general-assembly-erring/ (accessed June 26, 2014).

3 Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” Evolutionary Psychology 8, no. 1 (2010): 122-150, http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP08122150.pdf (accessed June 26, 2014).


Can God Love Too Much?

“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:11 (ESV)

Clouds and sunIn his book Bold Love, Dan Allender challenges Christians to think more deeply about a word they use so often: love. “We use the word so easily and might even think we know a bit about it. Surely it’s something we all want and, in our better moments, want to give. Yet there is no more demanding occupation than love.” It is certainly easy to say that God is love; it is another thing altogether to act lovingly toward our personal enemies or enemies of the faith. Furthermore, love is anything but bold when Christians ignore the Great Commission, when they fail to put their lives on the line and enter closed countries, learn difficult languages, and labor among the lost Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or animists. The Lord’s love, in contrast, is always bold, rich, and deep.

In the first three chapters of Jonah, the prophet flees God’s command to preach in the wicked city of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, located in what is now Iraq. In Jonah’s time (eighth century B.C.), Assyria was a marauding and powerful nation that had invaded Israel and Judah more than once. Their methods were infamous: when a people resisted becoming vassals, their nation was looted and destroyed. No wonder Jonah chose to flee instead of preach repentance in the capital of this empire. Not only was there cause to fear for his personal safety, Jonah also knew that God might convert and forgive them, and he wanted nothing to do with that. After all, who wants to introduce his enemies to a “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2b)?

Nonetheless, Jonah’s flight was futile; he eventually obeyed God’s command (3:3) and preached repentance on the streets of Nineveh with resounding success. Just as he feared, “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (3:5). By the end of the book, the prophet was downcast once again, clearly disappointed in the generosity of God’s grace. It is one thing for the Lord to choose to love His people, the Jews, but compassion for Assyria was too much for Jonah to take. Of course, Jonah should not have been surprised at the Lord’s bold love initiative beyond His chosen people, for years ago He had told Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19). So instead of condemning a rebellious and unruly people who did “not know their right hand from their left” (v. 11), God sent a prophet to preach His Word—and, consistent with His loving character, He gave the city life.

Like Jonah, Christians today may be tempted to wipe their consciences clean of any responsibility for the adherents of other world religions, some of whom wish the Church great harm. Nonetheless, Christianity leaves no room for hatred or apathy. When Jesus said “something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41), He was referring to Himself. He had come to be preached to all nations: the friendly and the militant, the safe and the dangerous, the open and the closed. May the Lord spare the Church today from the indifference, indeed the disdain of Jonah. May He also spare her from those who might think that if God were to convert even a terrorist, He would be loving too much.

Every Christian Family a Little Church

As new believers in 1950, Bob and Fae Tripp were committed to raising their children according to the Word of God. Their children knew that Sunday worship “was a nonnegotiable part”1 of their weekly schedule and that each day began with a time of family devotion. Bob was not a pastor and not even a great teacher, but he was faithful in leading his family to understand what 19th-century Presbyterian pastor and Princeton professor James W. Alexander called the “feeling that God must be honored in everything, that no business of life can proceed without Him.”2

Family DevotionsThe Tripp family sounds as if it could have existed in Puritan Scotland during the 17th century when even “the humblest persons in the remotest cottages honored God by daily praise”3 and family worship. But Bob lived in the middle of the 20th century, when the practice of family worship had been largely dismissed, even among the best churches and best Christian men.4

Early in the morning, before the first light of dawn, the Tripp family was roused from their beds. They gathered with sleep still in their eyes because Bob was convinced that it was important for every member of his family to be involved. In these small gatherings, he would read from Scripture, they would pray for one another concerning the day ahead, and they would lift their voices in praise of their Savior Jesus Christ. The Tripp’s oldest son, Tedd, had recently been hired to work at a factory requiring him to leave the house long before the rest of the family would normally wake. So rather than let his son begin the day without the benefit of family worship, Bob woke the others, letting them return to bed only after Tedd had left the home strengthened by their corporate devotion.5

In the years to come, the younger son Paul could not remember much of what the family read during these early morning meetings, but he was always impressed by his father’s “unaltering commitment to family worship” because “nothing got in the way” of gathering them to participate in their “time of reading and prayer.”6 Bob’s efforts to teach his family to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33) played no small part in their later openness to the calling of God. Both boys came to a saving faith in Christ at an early age and later committed their lives to vocational ministry. Both Paul and Tedd have been pastors and seminary professors, and both have written books on Christian parenting.

It is possible that these young men would have heeded the call of God upon their lives had they not been trained to honor and worship Him daily at an early age. But without such benefits, the Tripp brothers might well have left the church in adulthood, as is the case with 88% of churched youth today.7 Surely it is time to revive the practice of family worship and to believe with Jonathan Edwards that “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church”8

 

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Endnotes

1 Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Philipsburg: P & R, 1997), 190.

2 James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Family Worship (1847; repr., Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1998), 33.

3 Ibid., 11.

4 Donald S. Whitney, Family Worship: In the Bible, in History & in Your Home (Shepherdsville, KY: Center for Biblical Spirituality, 2005), 1.

5 Tripp, 190.

6 Ibid.

7 Alvin L. Reid, Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 44.

8 Quoted in Whitney, 15.