By LESLIE LUDY
As Christians, we often spiritualize the idea of self-promotion. After all, the more successful and popular we become, the better Christian witnesses we will be, right? But surprisingly, that’s not God’s pattern at all.
At the peak of John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus started baptizing, and people began coming more to Jesus than to John. John’s followers seemed disturbed by this trend, and told him, “Behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him”! (Jn. 3:26). They must have felt jealous on behalf of John, thinking, “Why is John suddenly getting overlooked? People aren’t noticing him as much now that Jesus is around! John should do something to promote himself and his ministry!” And yet John knew that his sacred commission was to make Jesus – not himself – known to the world.
He told his followers, “I am only the friend of the bridegroom; not the Bridegroom Himself; when the Bridegroom is seen, my joy is complete” (Jn. 3:29, paraphrase). And then John made a truly profound statement, completely opposite of the self-promoting messages we are so used to today. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). What an amazing attitude! His primary concern was getting out of the way, so that Jesus could be seen. John knew that if he tried to take center stage, Jesus would not receive the glory that He deserved.
The same is true in our own lives. When we try to be seen and applauded, Jesus fades into the background, and people look at us, not Him. But when we focus on getting out of the way and pointing others to Him, He receives the glory He deserves. This doesn’t mean we can never cultivate the unique talents and strengths that He has given us. It is certainly possible to use our gifts to glorify God (in fact, that is why He gave them to us in the first place!) But first, we must ask some critical questions: “Am I doing this for His glory or for my own applause? When people see this part of my life, are they drawn closer to Jesus, or are they merely impressed with me?” If we are more concerned with what others think of us than what they think of Jesus, then we have not learned how to be a faithful “friend of the Bridegroom” as John the Baptist was. If we are pursuing our dreams in order to “get what we want out of life” rather than to lead others to the Source of true life, we are missing a crucial part of the Christian life.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The word “deny” here means “to forget one’s self and lose sight of one’s own interests.” What an incredibly different message from the “do what makes you happy” notion that our culture promotes! Jesus says that in order to truly follow Him, we must lay down all pursuits of self-glory and seek His glory alone.
I once heard a true story about a young woman who left everything – all her dreams and personal pursuits – in order to share the hope of Christ among the destitute and dying in a foreign country. One day she was walking down a filthy alley, watching several sad old men sifting through garbage cans in search of food. They were long-time drug addicts at the end of their miserable and hopeless lives; their bodies shriveled and wasting away, their souls lost and despairing. No one knew their names or cared whether they lived or died. As the young woman watched the heartbreaking scene in front of her, she silently said to God, “It would be worth my whole life if I could just reach one of these old men for You, Lord.”
At the peak of her youthful potential, when she had her whole life ahead of her, this young woman was ready to leave it all behind just to lead one hopeless old man to Jesus Christ. Such a self-sacrificing attitude might at first seem foolish to our logical minds. If we could speak to her, we might say, “You are such a bright and beautiful young lady; don’t throw away your life for the sake of one old man! Surely there are better ways – bigger ways – for you to make an impact in God’s kingdom!”
But God doesn’t measure success the way we do. Mary of Bethany poured out her most priceless ointment upon the feet of Jesus without applause, recognition or fanfare, and some thought it was a waste. Yet Jesus said, in essence, “what she has done for me is a picture of the Gospel itself” (Jn. 12:3-8).
The apostle Paul had loads of worldly accomplishments and accolades that he could have been leveraged to gain a bigger platform for his ministry. But only when he was willing to consider his earthly achievements worthless and become a fool for Christ’s sake, was he truly effective as a witness of the Gospel. (See Philippians 3:8 and 1 Corinthians 1:27.)
Jesus said that if we cling to our lives, we will lose them, but if we are willing to give up our lives for His sake, we will find true life. (See Matthew 10:39.)
Instead of striving to be noticed and appreciated, we are to take an entirely different posture into every area of our life – one of humility and self-denial. Whether we are recognized and applauded, or disregarded and overlooked, it should make no difference to us. A woman who has truly taken up her cross to follow Christ only cares about knowing Him, and making Him known.