Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman. ~ Proverbs 25:6-7
Do you want to get ahead in life? Here’s the advice of Stanford University business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer: “Leaders are not modest, and more importantly, the extensive social science research on narcissism [and] self-promotion…shows that these qualities and behaviors are useful for getting hired, achieving promotions, keeping one’s job, and obtaining a higher salary.” In other words, if you want to get ahead in life, let everyone know how great you are. Trumpet your accomplishments. Place yourself among those who are recognized to be the greatest. And make it seem unthinkable that anyone would consider you unworthy of being in that position.
King Solomon’s advice in today’s Bible passage is very different. Instead of encouraging us to promote ourselves, he says, “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men.” In fact, Solomon warns that far from being a path to greater success, promoting yourself actually is an easy way to find yourself humiliated.
So, whose advice is correct? Should we promote ourselves or not if we want to be great?
Greatness for a follower of Jesus is very different from greatness as the world defines it. Worldly greatness is all about promoting yourself and having others serve you. Greatness in Jesus’ kingdom is all about taking attention away from ourselves and selflessly serving others.
Jesus, of course, is the perfect example of such selfless service. As Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus’ entire life was not about promoting himself, even though he was the Son of God. His life was about serving us by keeping God’s law perfectly in our place and by dying on the cross to pay for our sins. Jesus’ greatness came through his service to us, and in his humble service he was exalted.
By his humble service, Jesus also has exalted us. We who believe in him are great, but not because of who we are in ourselves or because of anything we have accomplished by ourselves. We are great because in Jesus God has made us his dearly loved children. Regardless of how the world may see us, in God’s eyes we are kings and queens. And we who have been so exalted by God have no need to seek to promote ourselves.
Dear Jesus, thank you for humbling yourself so that I might be exalted. Help me always to find my greatness in you. Amen.