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Learning to heal ourselves - Text

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Learning to heal ourselves


1 Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7 

Bible reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 , 3:21 – 4:7  

Paul Thompson and Tim Keller

This is an a sermon based on the book “The freedom of self forgetfulness,” by Timothy Keller. The   speaker has used his own words, with the exception of a few phrases. The free audio sermon can be found here. Editor


I want to break all the rules and preach another man’s sermon this morning

Hold up the book – Freedom from self forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

The book is available and you can down load the message from the web if you wish.

I’ve summarized the book, but lifted some of the phrases strait out of the book.

I’m doing this because I really believe this message can radically heal and change us and our attitudes towards one another if we take it to heart and apply it daily in our thinking and lives.

In the two passages that we read the Apostle deals with the problem of pride or boasting which had caused division in the Church at Corinth.

In the passage we are going to consider; 1 Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7 he shows us the cause of this division which is a wrong thinking about ourselves, our egos, our identities. And the right way to think about ourselves especially as it relates to pride and humility.

In traditional cultures the belief is that people have too high a view of themselves.

But in modern western culture the popular thinking is that people have too low a view of themselves. This is one of the explanations given for crime, mental illness and suicide in society.

But here in our passage we are given an approach to ourselves and seeing ourselves that is radically different from both traditional culture and modern thinking.

There are three things Paul shows us so we can learn to heal ourselves

  1. 1.We need to understand ourselves
  2. 2.We need to forget ourselves
  3. 3.We need to know how to forget


1. We need to understand ourselves

Look at end of verse 6 in Chapter 4 of 1 Cor

“Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.”  Don’t be proud of one person over another.

Paul uses this word pride five times in this letter; it has been identified as one of the themes he corrects in his letters.   

The word means to be overinflated, puffed up swollen, to go beyond its proper size

A related word is bellows. If you put air into a human organ it will become overinflated and endanger of bursting.

What Paul is saying is this is a picture of our egos.

This image or picture suggest 4 things about our egos

They are empty, painful, busy and fragile

Firstly our egos are empty.

Because we are empty inside our egos are puffed up. They are overinflated because there’s nothing at the centre – we are empty.

One wise person has said; "The human heart tries to build its identity around something other than God.”

Where did we first see spiritual pride? In the Garden when Eve said “Has God said. Spiritual pride says; I’m competent to run my life, achieve my own sense of self worth.

But because of the fall our egos are built on something other than God.

This means they search for specialness and purpose.

If we try and put anything in the place where God should be its too small and rattles around.

So firstly our egos are empty, but  

2ndly our egos are painful – why?

Because they are overinflated.

We hurt within because we have this ego that is stretched to being uncomfortable.

Notice how we only are aware of a member of our body when it is in pain. We don’t say how wonderful my big toes are working today.

But when years ago I dropped a large tin of paint on my big toe (I was in bare feet) boy did I notice my big toe – because it was now crying out in pain.

Our egos hurt because like my big toe there’s something unbelievably wrong with them.

Our egos are always drawing attention to themselves; how do I look, how am I being treated by this person?

People say “My feelings are hurt.” It’s not their feelings; it’s their ego, their self, their identity. Our feelings are fine. It’s our egos that hurt.

Think about it – it’s very hard to get through a whole day without feeling,

Ignored, stupid, shamed or down on ourselves.

That’s because there’s something wrong with our ego, our identity our sense of self or personhood. Because it’s always expressing pain.

But it’s not only empty, painful but

Thirdly our egos are extremely busy.

In other word’s they are always drawing attention to themselves.

We try to fill that gap by being busy either comparing or contrasting ourselves with others.

Look at verse chapter 4:6

Paul doesn’t say; “Then you will not take pride.” No, he says

“Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” 

This is what it means to have a normal human ego, a normal self, a normal identity.

But they way that we humans deal with the pain we carry is to fill this void in us is by our egos comparing itself with other people.

At the very heart of pride is competiveness

C. S. Lewis speaking about pride in Mere Christianity said this;

 “Pride gets pleasure in having more than the next person. We say we are proud of being richer, cleverer, and better-looking than others. But if very one became rich, clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.”

In other words we are only proud of being more successful, more intelligent, more good looking. But when we are in the presence of someone who is more successful, more intelligent, more good looking we lose all pleasure in what we had.

So pride is the pleasure of being more than the next person.

Fourthly our egos are not only empty, painful and busy but fragile

Why are our egos fragile?

Because anything inflated is in danger of being deflated – they are like the balloons you have at kid’s parties – expecting they are going to pop.

If we are puffed up and not filled up it comes down to the same thing.

If I have a superiority complex it’s not different from having an inferiority complex.

The superior person is in danger of being deflated and the inferior person is in danger of being inflated

So whether we are inflated and proud or deflated and feeling inferior it’s the same thing.

So our egos are fragile.

Let me illustrate

A few years ago Madonna gave an interview and this is what she said

“My drive in life comes from a fear of being middle of the road. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still middle of the road. And uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.”

Madonna knows herself better than most of us know ourselves.

Whenever she accomplishes something she says to herself; “Now I have the verdict I am somebody. But then the next morning she would wake up feeling empty because her ego was again empty and can’t be satisfied.

This is what Paul is talking about to the Corinthians. Their egos are empty, painful, busy and fragile. That’s why they are fighting over Him, being guilty of spiritual one-upmanship over each other in the church.

But Paul’s words are able to help heal us and transform us to a new way of thinking when we are attacked and slandered.

Paul wants us to know the difference the gospel makes and how it has changed things for Him.

The gospel has transformed his sense of self worth, self regard and who He is

His ego operates in a completely different way now.

So in order to heal our hurts we must understand ourselves, that our egos are empty, painful, busy and fragile but

2.  Healing our hurts means forgetting ourselves

In verses 1 and 2 of Ch 4 He reminds them He is a minister with a ministry to carry out.

Then he tells them he doesn’t care if they judge Him or a human court.

Look at chapter 4: 3 – 4  

The word judge means “Verdict.”

Whereas Madonna craves the verdict of “approval.” Paul doesn’t need the verdict of either the Corinthians or a human court that He’s someone.

Paul is saying “I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

Why can he say that?

Because His self worth, how he thinks about Himself is not based on other people’s verdict or evaluation of Him.

How do we get to the place where we don’t care what people think of us.

If we where to ask a counselor most would say, “Don’t be controlled by other peoples standards or opinion of you.” No, “Decide what you want to be and then be it.”

If someone has low self esteem we are quick to tell them of all their achievements.

But Paul’s approach is radically different.

He doesn’t care if the Corinthian are judging Him.

He doesn’t even judge himself.

Look at v3 again

Notice what He says in verse 4 

He says He has a clear conscience. But that doesn’t mean he is innocent. Stalin might have had a clear conscience but it doesn’t mean He was innocent of ordering the death of millions of His own people.

How would Paul answer the counselors of our day that we should set our own standards?

He would say; “It’s a trap.” Why, because boasting that we can live up to someone else’ standards might sound great.

But the reality, the truth is it can’t work, it can’t deliver.

We can’t live up to our parent’s standards or the mob’s standards or the other mobs standards. If we try to this only makes us feel ashamed.  

It’s a trap, it’s not the answer.

So Paul doesn’t look to the Corinthians for his sense of self worth, identity and he doesn’t look to His standards for it either

So where does He look for his identity?

He takes us into new territory, into a new country or place we have never been before. It’s off the map.

The Apostle Paul was easily one of the great leaders in the history of mankind. He was by nature incredibly confident. He had pluck, nothing fazed him. He just keeps moving forward no matter what stood in his way.

Yet He said to Timothy

1 Tim 1:15 “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am Chief.”

Not I was chief, but am chief. “I’m the worst sinner.”

Friends this is off the map, this is so radical

We aren’t used to someone who is totally honest about who they are, yet has incredible confidence.

Why can’t we do that friends?

Because we are all the time judging ourselves  

But Paul doesn’t do that.

Why? Because he refuses to let the Corinthians or his own standards or sins destroy his sense of self, His self worth, and His self identity.

So even though He knows He is the chief of sinners he not going to let that cripple him from doing what God has called him to do.

Aren’t we so different?

If I think of myself as a sinner, who is filled with pride, anger, greed and lust I have no confidence in myself

But Paul is so different – we judge ourselves by our standards and our egos condemn us and we feel either deflated  or we compare ourselves with others by our standards and we become proud, puff up and full of ourselves.

But Paul says He has learnt, He’s reached the place where His ego, His self is not puffed up but filled up -

In other words He’s filled up with humility – He’s humble, His self is humble. His ego isn’t drawing attention to itself, calling the shots.

He’s not thinking about himself anymore.  

So whether he does something wrong or good he no longer connects it to himself any more.

How liberating is that friends!

C.S Lewis at the end of his chapter on pride in his book Mere Christianity

Says; “If we were to meet a truly humble person we would never come away thinking they where humble. The thing we would remember is how much they were totally interested in us.”

At the center, the heart of gospel humility is not needing to think about myself.

We have stopped saying; “I ‘m in the room with this person, does that make me look good?”

No, gospel humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation with myself. I stop thinking about myself.

I have the freedom to forget about myself.

To be truly humble means my ego is not puff up but filled up – that is radical

Are we talking about high self esteem or low self esteem?


Because he doesn’t give a rat’s tail about others opinions of Him or his own opinion – that’s his secret and it wants it to be the Corinthians and therefore ours.

Here is a quick test we can do on ourselves

The person who is self forgetful is never hurt badly by criticism. It doesn’t devastate them or keep them up late at night.


Because when we are devastated by criticism we are putting too much valve on what others think of us. Their opinion of us.

So when someone who is neither puffed up but filled up gets criticism it doesn’t devastate them.

They listen to it to see if it’s an opportunity to change.  The more we understand the gospel the more we want to change.

Friends don’t you want to be a person who doesn’t need people’s approval.

To be a person who is free from people’s approval or disapproval.

Don’t you want to be a person like that?

But we say, “I’ve never meet anyone like that.

If we follow where Paul is taking us we can start to enjoy things for what they are.

My role as a husband or wife and mother is not about me. I can begin to enjoy this role. I’m not trying to constantly put together a resume to fill up my emptiness.

No gospel humility is forgetting myself. That’s true happiness.

Not thinking more of myself as western culture says or feeling shame as my indigenous culture says I should feel.

No, instead thinking less of myself.

We have seen - we can learn to heal ourselves when we understand ourselves, and forget ourselves. Now

3.  How do we forget ourselves?

How did Paul forget about himself, how did he become self forgetful?

He tells us in Chapter 4: 3 – 4

The word innocent here come from the word justify. It’s the same word he uses throughout Romans and Galatians.

If I try and justify myself. I try and prove I’m not guilty. I’m blameless, innocent.

Paul is looking for what Madonna is looking for. What we are all looking for.

An ultimate verdict – that we are important and valuable.

Often we look for that verdict from our family and friends every day. Every day we put ourselves back in a courtroom.

Paul is using the court room as a metaphor, a picture.

Aren’t there some days when you feel your winning the trial?

Then there are others when you think your losing.

But for Paul the trial is over, he’s out of the courtroom. It’s gone.

The ultimate verdict is in.

How could that be? He knows he can justify himself. Prove his own innocence to himself or others.

What does he say? Look at verse 4b “It is the Lord who judges me.”

The Lord is my judge; it’s only his opinion, his verdict that counts.

Think about it… It’s only in the gospel that you get the verdict before the performance.

What does our culture say everyday to us? Your performance is never good enough. Often we never seem to be able to please our husbands or wife, kids or boss.

And what’s the verdict on that?  Shame, shame on you for not obeying the Elders, the Aunties and we feel terrible – and we say that’s why there is drug and alcohol abuse and suicides among our people. And we give the reason because these people have low self esteem. But as we have seen that’s not correct. Christ is not filling that space that God made for Him to fill.

Only in Christianity does the verdict leads to the performance not the performance to the verdict.

For Paul, he’s out of the courtroom. The verdict has been given.

How can that be?

Because Jesus went on trial instead of him. Jesus marched into that courtroom.

He was on trial. It was a Kangaroo court. Unjust charges where bought against Him.

Like a lamb before the shearers, He was silent. Why?

As our substitute. He went to trial for us and took the punishment we deserve. He faced the trial that should be ours so we don’t need to face any more trials.

I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done.

Then the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and finds me more valuable than the entire world’s wealth.

How can we worry when people attack us now? When they ignore us now?

Maybe this is all new to you.

You say I’m a Christian. My behavior’s pretty good, I go to church, I hope to be in heaven one day.

Listen, a true Christian identity doesn’t operate from building your identity on being good, going to Church and hoping to go to heaven.

Friends, if you repent of forgetting yourself it takes you out of the courtroom.

The trial is over friend.

Maybe your saying that’s amazing, you mean it’s not about my performance to earn me a place in heaven.

No Jesus has done it all. Keep looking into his death; keep asking questions until you understand the big picture of His salvation.

But maybe you’re different.

You’ve believed the gospel for years – but every day you feel yourself sucked into the courtroom.

For us we have to relieve the gospel, speak it to ourselves daily.

 Pray it and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom when we should not be there.

So let’s learn how to heal our hurt egos as Paul did.

Let’s understand ourselves – That we, our egos are empty, painful, busy and fragile.

But let’s forget ourselves and learn how we can forget ourselves.

Friends because of Jesus, His perfect life and death the verdict is out.

God invites us to be healed by learning to live daily in the glorious freedom of forgetting our selves because we have been judged and found not guilty in Christ Jesus.

What a gospel, what a Saviour.

What did Paul say to the Christians at Roman?

Romans 8: 1a “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…”

May God help us to believe there is now is no shame. Our shame is gone; we can forget ourselves because in Christ we now have honour. The honour of being His Sons and daughters.   Amen




















Last Updated on Saturday, 11 October 2014 10:42  

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