Want to be well-known? Famous? Lauded and recognized by many? Well, you should be famous for something. Paul says this in Philippians 4:5:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…
I’ve often skipped over this verse. It’s sandwiched between the famous command to rejoice, and the famous command to pray rather than to be anxious. It wasn’t until this week that I really paused to take a close look at this command.
D.A. Carson explains what this verse means in his book Basics for Believers:
It refers to the exact opposite of a spirit of contention and self-seeking … What is in view is a certain kind of willed, self-effacing kindness.
That suggests that there is some irony in Paul’s exhortation. We crystallize it if we over-translate: “Be known for being self-effacing.”
Or, be famous for not trying to be famous. He then quotes A.W. Tozer:
The grosser manifestation of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy … Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.
I was passed over for something earlier this year that should have come to me. I felt slighted. It took a while for me to identify my issue as a preoccupation with self rather than a preoccupation for the glory of God. It was humbling to me. I wasn’t obeying Paul’s command.
Why should we do what Paul says? Because the Lord is at hand. This either means that he’s nearby, in which case it’s foolish to try to get the glory. Or it could mean that he’s coming back again soon, which again makes it foolish for me to try to hog the glory. When we understand that Jesus is nearby, or that he’s coming back, how could self-promotion ever make any sense?
Be famous, Paul says, for not trying to be famous. Be okay with being overlooked. Be okay with getting less than your due, a smaller share than what you had coming. Let this be what you’re known for. Be famous for not trying to be famous.