Would you rather be puffed up or filled up? The answer seems obvious, but Keller argues that as a culture we are constantly trying to puff up our egos. This 46 page book (with rather large print) is actually a sermon that Keller gave 10 years ago. It is based on 1 Cor. 3:21-4:7. He sets up the sermon explaining how the common belief in the past was that too high a self-esteem led to more sin and crime. Now it seems that we blame everything on too low a self-esteem. And yet, Keller points out that both types of people think too much of themselves. He recommends that we quit thinking of ourselves all together. How do we do that?
In quoting Kierkegaard, Keller describes the ego as constantly busy searching for it’s special sense of worth and purpose, and then building itself on that. But as we know, only God can fill that space. The ego will always be left empty. When Paul talks about not taking pride in one man against another, Keller explains that the Greek word used for pride is an unusual word, physioõ. Paul uses it 6 times in this epistle, and once in Colossians 2, and is used nowhere else in Scripture. It “literally means to be overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size” (13). Keller builds on this metaphor to explain how the natural condition of the human ego is empty, painful, busy, and fragile.
Our culture is so obsessed with low self-esteem that we try to heal it with pride. Keller takes on a common way that we try to encourage those with low self-esteem by saying, “It doesn’t matter what others think about you, it only matters what you think of yourself.” But Paul is telling the Corinthians that he doesn’t care what they think of him and he doesn’t care what he thinks of himself. He already has the verdict of what the only person that matters thinks of him, and that is “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Isn’t that what we all really long to hear? Keller reminds us that this is the unique glory of the Christian faith. We get the verdict before the performance. We are already approved in Christ, already beloved, and so we are truly free to forget about ourselves and genuinely love others.
Which is Better?
I read a review of this book that was favorable, but the reviewer said that he preferred the sermon over the printed version. So I thought to myself, “Hmm, I’ll have to look for that online and take a listen.” Before getting around to that, one of my elders asked if I would add this book to the church library. So I ordered it, read it, and then listened to the sermon. I think the reviewer was right. Keller is good at what he does—he can preach a good sermon. He doesn’t use eloquent speech or dynamic preacher cadence. His approach is rather conversational. This really draws the listener in as he adds contemplative pauses and emotional stresses on particular words.
Listening to the sermon preached by Keller was more powerful than reading the book. Having said that, I was glad to have the printed version as well. It was helpful to have read it before I took a listen. And it is great to have his words in print to go back to. I remember feeling the same way when I read The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods after listening to the Smashing False Idols series that he preached. Although many of the same words were used, the sermons were more dynamic than the books. Yet, as they were passed around at my book club, everyone was enriched by the books who had not heard the sermons. In fact, my mom bought a bunch of copies to hand out to people who would never encounter the sermons. It all just goes to show the power of the preached word.
All this to say, the book is definitely worth buying and a great resource to give away. And it got me thinking even more about how wonderful it would be to hear preached all those sermons on my bookshelf by Edwards, Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon. Thankfully, I do have a preacher who faithfully delivers God’s Word. I’m also thankful that many have been faithful to put these other sermons in print. Soli Deo gloria!