A few months ago, in a hospital waiting room, God’s providence brought to my attention the last broadcast of the Oprah Winfrey Show. In the segment I saw she was talking about the success of her show over the years. Its success was due to one factor: “Women want to be affirmed.” I would affirm that statement, and add to it that women are not the only ones who want to be affirmed. Everyone wants to be affirmed.
But in reality, great evil lies in those words. The evil becomes evident if you rephrase the basic statement, with only slightly different words. “Everyone wants to be told that he is right.” “Everyone wants to be told the world agrees with him.” “Everyone wants to be stroked and flattered.” “Everybody wants to have his ego fed until it is enormous.” “Everyone wants to have his vanity validated.”
That way must not be your way. That way is the way of spiritual weakness. That is the way that will cripple you, and make you wholly ineffective in the kingdom of God, and of no use to the cause of God. You will be unprofitable and unserviceable. In short, that way is not the way of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Not self-affirmation, but self-denial is the way of the disciple of Christ. Not self-admiration and self-esteem, but the crucifixion of self.
In fact, God’s Word says, “No,” much more than it says, “Yes.”
Scripture gives us instruction, and Scripture gives us two examples.
Look first at one of the main passages of Scripture that declare its own inspiration (). There it says not only that Scripture is God-breathed, but also that it is then profitable, and for what it is profitable. Among the four, there are two words that say, “No.” Scripture is profitable for reproof. Reproof is telling you when you are wrong and explaining how you are wrong. Also, Scripture is profitable for correction. The Word tells you that your way is wrong, and that this other way is the correct way for you.
Scripture over and over proves its statement in. Scripture everywhere comes between you and your ways. The commandments get in your way and confront you: “Thou shalt not!” Over and over in Proverbs the word of wisdom both corrects and commends the humble receiving of correction. Only fools go on in their own ways, affirming themselves in their foolish company ( ). The prophets constantly called the people from walking in their own sinful ways to walk in the way of God’s commandments. The apostles in their writings warned against false teachings and sinful ways. The apostle Paul commanded Timothy to reprove and rebuke as part of his work in the ministry of the gospel ( ).
The second example is our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not an affirming teacher. He was no flatterer. He taught with authority. He said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…, but I say unto you…” (). To the woman who blessed Him for His teaching, He responded, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” ( ). With His words He shattered the delusions and rebuked the errors of His audience. He tore down their idle dreams and fancies, laying bare their true need. He did not affirm Peter’s boasting, but told him he would deny his Lord three times. He often rebuked His disciples: “Oh ye of little faith.”
Are you ready to hear this Word of God? Are you ready to hear each and every word that it says to you? You and I are ready and eager listeners when it says yes. “Yes, that is what I believe.” “Yes, that is my way.” “Yes, I agree completely.” What is our reaction when it tells us “No”? We quickly fly over such words. We think those are written for someone else. We might find them too difficult to explain, so we go to something easier. If such is our reaction, then truly we are not teachable, and then we are not proper disciples of Christ.
Young people, you are at a critical age for this. Your minds and hearts are much more trainable and teachable than the minds and hearts of those who are older. Habits practiced now will be that much harder to break when you are older. Habits of listening and habits of thinking are all included. Where you open your hearts and minds now will be where you open them later. Where you close your hearts and minds now will be where you close them later. Keep them open now to reproof and correction. Keep them closed now to flattery and vain affirmation.
Practice that openness with Scripture. Go to the Word of God in prayer, asking Him to correct you, to rebuke and warn you. Think of the beatitude of: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” Heed this praise of God’s law ( ): “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Your way needs cleansing, and you cleanse it by shining on it the light of God’s Word. That light will clearly show those ways from which you must turn. Remember the plea of : “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Expect an affirmative answer to that prayer as you read that Word. And where it does its work of reproving and correcting, submit.
Follow where it leads, cutting away from you those actions and thoughts it forbids. Yes, you will experience the pain of self-denial, but that pain signifies growth in a disciple of Christ. The old dies hard, but the newness in its place is life and peace. The crucifying of your flesh with its affections and lusts is the way to walking in newness of life (; ).
Receiving correction from Scripture, you will also be strengthened to receive reproof and correction from others. The same Word of God calls you to submit to all those who have authority over you, including your parents, your teachers, your pastor, and your elders. They also have the calling from that same Word of God to reprove, rebuke, correct, and admonish you ().
Practice that same openness with those in authority over you. Pray to the Lord, asking Him to correct you through them. Hear His answer through them, when they say “No.” Then you have the opportunity to prove that you are good disciples of your Lord. As you would listen quietly and carefully to the Lord, so you listen quietly and carefully to them. As you would change your ways before your God, you quickly and quietly change your ways when they admonish you. By your self-denial and self-correction you show the delightful power of God’s grace.
This way of self-denial makes you stronger in your fellowship with your God. You find that, more and more, your walk is before God and under His loving care and guidance. His Word becomes more and more your joy and peace. Another benefit of self-denial is that you are strengthened in bonds and ties of fellowship with others. Because your habit is self-denial, you are able to see better the needs of others, to attend to those needs, and then to give yourself to fill those needs. Learning to say “No” to yourself, you are strengthened to say “Yes” to God, and also to others around you, to those in authority and to your fellow saints.
What strength is yours! Yes, your strength is first meekness and humility before the Word. Your strength is to hear and obey where the Word says “No.” That strength overcomes your weak pride and vanity, to bring them to nothing. Then you will be strong to be filled with that Word alone, and then strong to obey it, in obedience to your gracious Savior, Jesus Christ.