SELF – IN THE BIBLE

The Oxford Dictionary lists over 240 entries relating to ‘SELF’: about a quarter of which have negative or derogatory meanings, such as  ‘selfish’, ‘self-contempt’, and ‘self-aggrandisement’.
 
For several generations: British social organizations, together with the Church, were very wary about the whole matter of ‘self’, and, somehow, gradually developed a rather distorted view of it.
 
Perhaps in reacting against an apparent laxness, in preceding generations: the Victorians became rather definite in what they thought, said and did.
 
Although there was no official, hard-line approach to what was, or was not permitted, within national social structures: the general public seems to have allowed such a hard-line approach to develop; and to direct their thinking.
 
Social histories of those times: show that the big, and final test, about anything in question was: ‘Is it proper?’  If it was: it was ‘in’ and if it was not, then it was very definitely ‘out’.
 
Anything considered to involve an undue, and, therefore, improper, over-valuation of self; was very much ‘out’.
 
Going against such unlovely things as ‘self-centredness’ and ‘self-importance’, helped prevent them creeping into, and adversely affecting, the social structures of those days: but the Victorians allowed things to go far beyond that point.
 
Largely: they were solid, reliable people, who acted out of good intentions: but, for reasons we are not sure about; they seem to have taken an unnatural exception to ‘self’.
 
This is a bit strange; because if, in their dictionaries, the negative, derogatory usages of ‘self’ were also only a quarter of the total; then about 200 positive, acceptable usages would have remained.
 
Influenced by the Victorian world all around it: the Church began to look askance, at the place and importance of ‘self’.
 
It did not develop an actual doctrine, relating to: ‘The evils of self’, but, by the late 19th century, it was just as though it had done so, for ‘self’ was very much out.
 
This, too, is strange, for the Bible contains; especially in the gospels, and in Paul’s ‘Letters’; very few texts that take a negative view of ‘self’, and a wealth of material that teaches the power and blessings, that can come out of a proper recognition of it.
 
The influence of the Victorians was widespread and powerful; and lasted well into the middle of the 20th century: and, even today, the tail end of it can still be felt.
 
All aspects of Christian counselling: show that among the most prolific and ongoing causes of need; are a lack of self-acceptance, and a failure to enquire into; and recognize; the importance, place and purpose of ‘self’, in God’s sight.
 
There is no advantage in us considering the relatively few negative usages in the Bible: nor in listing the self-deprecating images that, all too often, Christians use about themselves.
 
Instead, it is time well spent, to consider the blessings to be discovered in allowing the scriptures to lead us afresh, into a better understanding of who we are, and where we stand, by the mercy, love and grace of God.
***
Some years ago, a thought-provoking word went round the churches: to the effect that, often, God had forgiven sinners; long before they had learned to forgive, and accept, themselves.
 
A similar word stated that, where much had been forgiven; much blessing was received: for which to be glad and thankful.
 
Someone of whom ‘much had been forgiven’ was Saul (who later became Paul). At Acts 7: 54 – to Acts 8:3, we read of him ravaging the Church, and causing great fear and suffering.
 
At Acts 9: 1-31, we read of Paul’s powerful conversion to faith in Christ: of his baptism, and of a widespread preaching ministry, that was so obviously God-given that, eventually, the apostles at Jerusalem accepted him; and counted him into their number.
 
Paul’s Christian ministries, helped bring about the great and positive changes, recorded, at verse 31: as the Church grew in number, peace, encouragement and effectiveness, through an unholy fear of Saul, being replaced by a holy ‘fear of the Lord’.
 
The Saul, who ‘ravaged’ the Church; may never have become the Paul who helped to rebuild it, and added greatly to it; if…
 
…if at the time of his conversion, he had looked backwards, and allowed guilt and self-denigration to set in, and to stay with him.
 
St. Paul’s ‘Letters’ say little or nothing about his past. Instead: they greatly encourage Christians to enter more fully into the mercy, love and grace of God the Father: through God the Son, and in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
 
In practice, Paul was given great things to undertake; and the gifts and graces that would enable him to fulfil them. However: in principle, his calling was no different from ours, today.
 
Although today’s Christians may be called to lesser things: it is still God who calls them into his service; and who supplies the necessary gifts and graces.
 
If God’s call is to be effective, then, as with Paul; there must be no looking back, no feelings of guilt or self-denigration, but, instead, hearts and minds that are gladly thankful for God’s love.
 
As sensible Christians, we know this: but sensible Christians can, from time to time, slip into negative and unhelpful thoughts about themselves, and where they stand, in God’s sight.
 
The Bible invites, almost commands, positive thinking about ‘self’, so that the ‘thinker’ in question is enabled to walk tall, to be very thankful, and to serve the Lord with gladness.
 
The ‘Creation Story’, at Genesis One; is superseded by that of the gospels: as they tell of re-creation; and of Christ’s followers receiving new, spiritual birth, through accepting him as their personal God, Saviour and Lord.
 
At John 16 and 17, shortly before being betrayed, and dragged away to torture and death; we find Christ fully engaged; not with himself, but with his followers, and the blessings that he was about to bring into being, for all those who loved him.
 
His understanding of the importance of each individual ‘self’, that went into the make-up of the whole of needy humanity: was such that he was prepared to sacrifice himself, for their good.
 
At John 16, we find ‘Christ’s farewell to his disciples, in which he said that he was not acting on his own, but in the power, and at the behest of, God the Father, who also greatly loved them.
 
At John 17, we find ‘Christ’s intercessory, or high priestly, prayer’. In it, there is a mingling of the original creation, of long ago; and the spiritual re-creation, that was being brought about.
 
Throughout: needy mankind was at the top of Christ’s mind.
 
Beyond our full understanding; he lifted the sinful people up, before his Heavenly Father, and declared them to be worthy of redemption: not by their own efforts, but through what he was about to do for them.
 
We believe that God’s Christ spoke; on our behalf: that the Father responded at once; and that the Holy Spirit became, and remains as, the source of the eternal good that blesses us.
 
If God, in his triune nature, holds humanity, and individuals, in such very high regard: how is that so many people, can so easily slip into taking a lesser view of themselves?
 
Put more personally: if, despite what we may think, God loves us very much: and if, through our belonging to Christ, he holds us in high regard: then may we never take a lesser view of ourselves. 
                                                                                                            Amen.