I am speaking to my First Priority group at school next week, and I plan to speak about a Christian's self-esteem. I found your article very informative and insightful. However, I was wondering why it is a sin to rejoice in the gifts which God has given us. Is it wrong to look in the mirror and honestly thank God for youthful beauty or good hair? Is it wrong to take pleasure in hearing one's voice when singing solos at church? And what about clothing? Is it wrong to enjoy fashion and looking nice? I am asking these questions in all seriousness. Before I read your article, I thought that it was alright to be grateful for good looks and talents--both are gifts which God intended for us to utilize. If one recognizes gifts from God and praises and thanks God for his or her gifts, is it wrong to be pleased with the gifts? I don't understand, and I would like to be clear on everything before I speak to others about the subject. I would really appreciate an honest reply.
Who is "email"?
I apologize for not being clearer in my article. Please let me try to clarify. All of the "false standards of confidence" that were mentioned in the article, such as beauty, health, wisdom, riches, etc., are not evil. As you mentioned they are gifts, which not everyone is given. However, such gifts are not suitable bases for feeling confident, because all these things can and do go away. Neither are they necessarily a reflection of God's favor. This is one of the principle points of Ecclesiastes. Sometimes good things happen to wicked people, and sometimes terrible things happen to good people (Job for example). They are gifts, and you should be thankful for all of the gifts that God has given you - just don't let the gifts become the basis of your confidence ("go to your head"). The Giver of the gifts should be your foundation for confidence, not the gifts themselves.
You are right. God does expect us to use our gifts. The parable of talents teaches us that not only does God expect us to use our gifts, but He will hold us accountable when we do not (Matthew 25:14-46; James 2:14-26; James 4:17). Again, being thankful for the talents and using them is altogether different than being confident in such talents. Usually we end up attributing the talents to ourselves (Remember King Nebuchadnezzar, "Is this not great Babylon that I have built!?"), and forgetting about God, if we are not careful.
Now as a side point, how can you tell? How do you know if your confidence is in the Giver or the gifts? This is not a complete answer, but I believe it is seen by imagining ourselves in Job's position. Imagine you lost everything. Let's say you were horribly deformed from some birth defect, and everybody made fun of you your whole life. Let's say your parents cannot afford anything but clothes from Goodwill and everybody knows it. Let's say you are tone-deaf, like me, and you couldn't carry a note in a bucket.Looking and sounding like that, would you still have the courage to stand in front of your group next week?
It is hard to imagine, and very hard to be honest with ourselves. However, I think the Devil is not resting on his laurels, but he is busy today just like he was during Job's day. Sooner or later, the Lord might let the Devil take away your or my gifts. What will we do then? If it is a weakness, I imagine the Lord might let it happen, because it might be for our own good. That's for free. I am sure you could come up with better ways of helping to examine our hearts. That's the only thing I can come up with off the top of my head. The story in the article is also useful, because most people, including myself, sympathize with the second family. When the roles are reversed, we tend to enjoy the vengeance. Such a pleasure may indicate a jealousy, which is pride just temporarily turned wrong-side out and looking for an opportunity.
Do rejoice in the blessings of your youth (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1), because someday you will definitely not have them. God wants you to enjoy them, just don't misuse them or place your stock in them, because they are vanity. One day they will be gone -what will we do then? "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised" (Proverbs 31:30). The Christian's emphasis is not in outward things such as clothing (I Peter 3:1-6). It is to be on the "hidden man of the heart". God leaves it up to us to make a decision on the balance. It is fine to dress nice (but not immodest), and it is good because it is hard to teach people the gospel if they can smell you haven't had a shower in3 days, but one should not emphasize it. If your looks get in the way of your efforts to evangelize or be a Christian, then they may be overly-emphasized.
Using a personal illustration, I like to lift weights. Body-building is something that genetically comes to me. I used to try to run track and cross-country, but I am just too big for that. Not everybody is built to do everything as well as everybody else. My natural abilities lie in the realms of strength. I enjoy lifting-weights, and I enjoy seeing the progress, and I am thankful that I can do it and enjoy the health that is associated with it. However, I can't let it go to my head. I can't let weightlifting become more important than spiritual things. My wife and I just had our first son, and I don't have time for all the things for which I used to have time. Will I let "pride of life" prevent me from giving up weightlifting so I can spend more time with my family, or can I discount the "praise of men" in exchange for "providing for my own"? These kinds of choices show what's important to us, and offer insight into what is the basis of self-identity and confidence.
Well, I must confess that I threw this together pretty quickly, so my grammar might be confusing. If you have any other questions, please send them. I'll be glad to do the best I can to answer them.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to be pleasing to Him,
BTW, have you ever considered why churches have people to sing solos? What's being emphasized? The words or the vocal talent? Why not let everybody sing? The command to sing was given to all Christians, not the choir (Ephesians 5:18-21 - no indication is made of a special group, all Christians are to obey all these commands; Colossians 3:16-17 - "teaching one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs"). If it's not the voice that is emphasized in a solo, then why do people not prefer congregational singing. In the beginning of the church, everybody sang, but a long time ago, somebody thought it was better to have choirs and soloist and ultimately musical instruments, which cannot teach or admonish at all. Often we find ourselves doing things, not because the Bible teaches it, but because "we have always done it that way". It is really all right to have human traditions as long as they do not contradict God's teaching (Matthew 15:1-9). Did God command musical instruments, choirs, and soloists, or did He ask us to do something else? We must always be careful that we do not add to and contradict God's Word with our human traditions (Revelation 22:18-19). I don't mean to pick a fight or argue, in fact I won't, but since you mentioned it, and we may never speak again, I thought I would mention it so you could think about it.
MBTW, we have some online studies and articles on our web-site about such things, if you want to explore these ideas further. I pray this is ultimately helpful for you.