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This is one of the questions the Apostle Paul addresses as he writes to the church in Corinth. He’s not after some superficial outward tinkering, but instead a deep–rooted, life–altering change that takes place on the inside. In an age where pleasing people, puffing up your ego and building your résumé are seen as the methods to ‘make it’, the Apostle Paul calls us to find true rest in blessed self–forgetfulness.
In this short and punchy book, best–selling author Timothy Keller, shows that gospel–humility means we can stop connecting every experience, every conversation with ourselves and can thus be free from self–condemnation. A truly gospel–humble person is not a self–hating person or a self–loving person, but a self–forgetful person.
This freedom can be yours…
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. He is the author of several books.
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Why forgetfulness brings a joyful freedom
This is a wonderful new outing from Tim Keller. Largely based on a sermon Keller preached at Redeemer in New York 10 years ago, it is good value £2.99 (incl P&P) and a quick read at less than 50 pages. [Seeing as you have to pay to download that particular talk anyway, you might as well choose to pay for whichever medium suits you best!]
But I’m very pleased this is out in print now, simply because it gets to the heart of such a crucial contemporary issue: the power of the Ego. Not that the Ego is a brand new problem, of course – it’s just that, as so often, we’ve derided and therefore rejected the ways of the ancients in dealing with it. This booklet contains all the hallmarks of a Keller treatment: close attention to the details of the text (in this case, a handling of 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7), explicit debts to the thought of C S Lewis, an appreciation of how contemporary thinking is developing and shifting, as well as a vital understanding of real people’s pastoral needs.
I was particularly struck by Keller’s analysis of the apostle’s image of the heart being ‘puffed up’, a metaphor related to a bellows. From this, he draws four characteristics of the ego’s desperation to assert itself: it becomes empty, painful, busy and fragile. (pp14ff) The more one considers each of these features, the more we’re forced to confront the reality. How do we fill up the empty and heal the pain? The western world is desperate for answers. But it has been completely barking up the wrong tree. But at least some have begun to realise this – and Keller introduces the hope for a path through on the back of a very interesting psychological survey:
"A few years ago, there was an article in the New York Times magazine (Feb 3, 2002) by psychologist Lauren Slater called ‘The trouble with Self-esteem.’ It wasn’t a ground-breaking article or a bolt out of the blue. She was simply beginning to report what experts have known for years. The significant thing she says is that there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society. She quotes three current studies into the subject of self-esteem, all of which reach this conclusion and she states that ‘people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the source of our country’s biggest, most expensive social problems.’" (p10)
At last! Some sense. But according to this exposition of the apostle Paul, freedom from either high or low self-esteem will never be found within our around us. True freedom to be, to love, to give (without manipulation, competition, or one-upmanship), just as Martin Luther discovered nearly 500 years ago, can only be found in the gospel, and in particular, the gospel of justification. For as Keller so frequently teaches:
"Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?" (p39)
And what joy such knowledge can bring. And forgetfulness:
"This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply think of myself less." (p36)
When we meet people like this, people whose hearts and minds are truly filled with Christ and not themselves, we can’t help but be drawn to them – for they never make us feel insecure, ignored or unloved. Just like people felt when they met Christ, as it happens. This is true attractiveness. But it is also what we long for ourselves. Here’s hoping that this great little book will have precisely this effect.
A 48-page gem
Tim Keller's latest book is 48 pages, but packs a great deal of wisdom into a small amount of space. It's easy to read, thought-provoking from the outset and would be a perfect book for a "non-reader" to dip their toes into.
Reading this book showed me the ugliness of pride and the slavery of being self-obsessed, but it didn't stop there; it showed me these things in my own life, not just in the abstract. Keller shows us that our natural state is one of pride, where our ego constantly seeks to make itself known. Keller then shows us the power of the gospel to draw our eyes away from ourselves and onto Jesus, in whom we find our new identity and status. Christ frees us from the terrible slavery to self which is the essence of sin - and it's glorious news. Keller's book left me convicted about my pride, convinced of the joy that "thinking of ourselves less" brings, and rejoicing in the power of the gospel to transform lives.
Within an hour of starting it I'd not only finished it but lent it to a friend with the encouragement "you have got to read this!" Having finished it, she then passed it onto her fiancé. It's so short, I fully expect he'll finish it this week and will pass it on again. Get hold of a few copies and give them out to friends, then get together and talk it through. I'd particularly recommend it for sixth formers or students who aren't big readers - it's so quick to read! - but also for struggling Christians all too aware of their own sinfulness, or those who are tempted by pride (and isn't that all of us at one time?). Highly recommended.
(If you've finished it and want to think more on the same issue, I'd also recommend Mike Reeves on "The difference Jesus makes to your self-esteem" (http://newwordalive.org/shop/src/series/164/title/The-Difference-Jesus-Makes) from New Word Alive 2012 (currently a £1 download), which digs a bit further into the same issues.)
How the Gospel Frees You From Yourself
Remember. We are told to remember many things. Our parents told us to remember to brush out teeth before bed, remember to clean up our room, remember to finish our lunch at school, etc. God tells Israel to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8) and to remember the day when they left the land of Egypt (Deut. 5:15). Remember.
Forget. We are told to forget many things as well. If we receive new training on the job we may be told to forget everything we thought we knew about how we did our job previously. While encouraging us in our Christian life Paul tells us, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:14). He also encourages us to forget about ourselves. Really?
This is exactly what Tim Keller brings out of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 3:21-4:7 in his new book the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. The primary verses in this section are as follows:
"But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:3-5)
In addressing the many divisions that were in the church of Corinth “Paul shows that the root cause of the division is pride and boasting” (p. 8). It is pride and boasting that shows we have a high view of self. But lest we think we can just think lowly of ourselves and be getting it right Keller reminds us, “A person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person” (p. 32).
If we are not to think too highly of ourselves or to lowly either, then how are we to think of ourselves? We are to be self-forgetful. How does this work? Keller explains:
"A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself." (p. 33)
So Paul will not be judged by others, but neither will he judge himself. It is only the Lord that judges. And here is where the freedom of self-forgetfulness comes in. “But Paul is saying that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict” (p. 39). The deal is that before we can even perform any of the good works we were created for (Eph. 2:10), we have been declared righteous in Christ at the moment of our salvation. It is then out of this declaration of being found righteous in Christ that we can and do perform these good and righteous works. This is the freedom of self-forgetfulness!
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness was truly a joy to read as well as a reality check as it exposed the depths of pride in my heart. I read the whole thing in one sitting which is best but I encourage readers to read it all the way through several days in a row. The further you read the more the point becomes clear. Just when I thought I had an idea of what gospel-humility was I read this book and realized I still had no idea. This is a must read for any Christian living in the self-absorbed culture of our day that has crept its way into the pews of our churches and the seats of our homes.