I’ve been thinking lately of the words “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” We use them constantly as we talk to each other, and we should. I find it disingenuous to attempt working around them. Trying to substitute “some people think,” “it is considered,” “everyone knows that,” or “it’s obvious that” for the more direct “I think” and “I believe” are at best clumsy covers. You have to speak from your own viewpoint; it’s the only one you have and, therefore, you have to own it. Personal pronouns are necessary.
Your viewpoint, however, communicates how you see yourself and your place in God’s greater world. John the Baptist had no trouble owning his mission using first person pronouns—“I myself did not know him [the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world], but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:29-34).
John spoke in the first person, but he did so to communicate not how important he was, but how important others were. He acknowledged that he served at another’s invitation and that he did so for other people’s sake, not his own. Beyond that, when his service was no longer needed, he slipped quietly off the stage (John 3:27-30).
In other words, John’s personal pronouns communicated his viewpoint that others were vastly more important than himself. His use of “I,” “me,” and “myself” did not put him at the center of the story, but moved him to the periphery so that another could take center stage.
The apostle Paul does the same thing. He was very willing to tell personal stories, but in such a way that he didn’t remain the central focus (Romans 7:14-25; 2 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). After Paul spoke, you saw Jesus even more clearly than before and you were drawn to his beauty that much more.
Becoming Aware of How I Replace Christ
These are challenging waters for me. I’m called to share my life with others, openly, to connect with and minister to them, and yet I am tempted in those moments to upstage Christ and honor myself. Worse, there are twin pits to fall into: through pride I can aggressively take center stage, or through false humility I can stand out equally, drawing just as much attention by never talking about myself. Even worse, if I truly believe that my heart is deceitful, I am most likely unaware of how I am tempted or even when.
Thankfully the Spirit is not unaware and actively prods our consciences when we’re in danger. Here are three questions that he uses in my life to help rescue me by bringing me to greater awareness:
1. Do I regularly only share one kind of story, such that I am always the hero or conversely, always the goat?
Two realities function within every Christian every day. We continue to wrestle with indwelling sin while we are being transformed into the image of Christ. That means every day I should see clear evidence of the flesh in my life with its relentless hatred of God and I should see equally clear evidence of the operation of the even more relentless Spirit. That means when I talk about myself, I should talk both about my need of Christ along with where I see his ongoing presence in my life. If I’m not speaking of both, I need to ask why that is.
2. Do I unnecessarily call attention to myself in such a way that it doesn’t enhance the story, but enhances me?
I find it so easy to drop side-comments as I’m sharing my life that add nothing to the narrative, but that communicate something about my position, my uniqueness, my role, my important friends, my giftedness, my diligence, my popularity, etc. Comments that add nothing significant, but that do serve to make me seem more special.
Hyperbole also fits into this category. What is it about exaggerating that feels so much more compelling in the moment than truthfulness? It certainly doesn’t serve to care for the person I’m talking with; therefore, its purpose must be to serve … me. If I don’t think a story is funny enough, grand enough, sad enough, moving enough without needing to stretch the truth then the problem is not with the story. It’s with me wanting a “better” one.
3. Do people seem more taken with knowing me than with knowing Jesus?
Ambassadors represent another. That’s their function and their purpose. And it’s ours as we engage with other people. They’re to have a sense of what it’s like to be in God’s presence as they experience being with us (2 Corinthians 5:20). But ambassadors never substitute for the person they’re representing. To do so would be to be a poor ambassador as you would really be representing yourself, not another.
If someone after talking with me is more interested and excited in being with me than with Jesus, then I am no longer functioning as an ambassador of Christ, but of myself. On the other hand, if in sharing myself, someone is more drawn to want to be with Jesus, then I’ve shared well.
Even with these guidelines I find myself misusing words daily to honor me over Christ. Thankfully, He empathizes with even this betrayal and longs to help. Tempted in every way that I am, He knows how to give me grace in my time of need. The Word-made-flesh never misused words to steal glory for Himself, but He understands how great the temptation is to do so. Therefore, He continues speaking for me, interceding for me, and empowering me as I learn to honor Him and care for the people around me as we share our lives with each other.
Join the Conversation
Using the three questions above, how would you assess your level of Christlike other-centeredness?