“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a)
We are taught from a young age to be proud of our achievements. Yet the Bible constantly warns us about pride, with passages like “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
So where do we draw the line? Can we speak about what we have achieved and still be godly? Or do we have to keep quiet about our performances and just go about our work quietly? If this is what we are supposed to do, then what did Jesus mean when he said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The key is our motivation. As with everything else in our lives, our purpose in talking about our achievements and our good deeds should be to glorify our Father in heaven. Our focus in what we do in our lives, should be for God not us. Our identity needs to be in him, not in what we do.
It is only natural to want to build up our identity. If our identity is in our achievements then we will make sure everyone knows and do whatever we can to draw attention to it. We might also try to exaggerate the importance or significance of what we have done. Perhaps we might even try to claim achievements that aren’t actually ours.
But if our identity is in Christ, then we will not hesitate to give him the glory, because by building up Christ we build up our own identity. As Christ grows in us, and we and other come to recognise his work in our lives our identity is strengthened and we become more confident.
But it is more than just focusing on God instead of our own achievements. We need to be able to recognise our achievements for what they are, instead of ignoring them (which is false humility). If we claim to be Christian then we must come to terms with the truth Jesus tells us. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)
We are nothing without Christ. So when we talk about our achievements we must recognise the truth in what we read in today’s passage. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Recognising that it is God who gives us the ability to achieve great things puts everything in context. It is only when we have our identity in Christ, and give him the glory in all things that we can live a fulfilled life and have true self-esteem.
As an example it is worth looking at King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4). Like most of us he was quite happy with his own achievements. “He said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven…‘Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals…until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’ ” (v30-32)
If you can achieve great things without Christ, imagine how much greater your achievements will be when you acknowledge him as the real reason for our achievements. As Harry S. Truman once said “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
King Nebuchadnezzar observed, “I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (36b-37)
True humility is making sure that credit is given to those to whom it is due. In our case we must always give credit to our heavenly father for all our achievements. “For it is we…who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3 v3)