Know Yourself Inside and Out

by Joe McKeever

Editor's note: The articles in this series on leadership qualities and functions in the church are drawn from a larger series written by Dr. McKeever.

Many years ago, when I was a young pastor and a seminarian, my wife and I caught the movie, A Man for All Seasons, an account of Thomas More in 16th centry England adapted from Robert Bolt's play. I was transfixed by Bolt's depiction of this man whose integrity and personal strength in the face of pressure from King Henry VIII stood him head and shoulders above his generation. After seeing the movie, I read everything I could find on St. Thomas More.

I didn't have to read very far before discovering More to be a far more complex figure than the play had made him out to be, one who would have had citizens who believe as my denomination does burned at the stake. That took the shine off his character for me. However, I love the movie so much I own it, and have bought the book containing Bolt's play. Memorable lines from the play have made many an apt illustration for my sermons over these decades.

In his introduction, Robert Bolt pays tribute to the chief characteristic of Thomas More that made him who he was. "As I wrote about him, [More] became for me a man with an adamantine sense of his own self. He knew where he began and left off, what area of himself he could yield to the encroachments of his enemies, and what to the encroachments of those he loved."

He knew where he began and where he left off. What a fascinating way of putting it. Knowing himself so thoroughly, More was able to turn down all kinds of bribes and threats thrown his way to entice or coerce him to violate his own conscience. He ended up paying for this kind of steadfastness and integrity with his life.

The ancient Greeks made much of the importance of a person knowing himself. We don't hear much about it these days, which is a shame because many a heartache and tragedy in life could have been avoided by a person truly knowing himself.

Here are some questions to help us know ourselves and to decide how well we do.

1. What are you good at? This is about one's strengths, talents, gifts, and likes.

2. What are you not good at? Some things you cannot do, prefer not to do, would never ever do.

3. What is your greatest strength? What do you do best of all?

4. What is your greatest weakness? What is the area you have to stay alert concerning and guard yourself lest this temptation trip you up?

5. What do you believe strongly? Identify two or more beliefs which mean more to you than any other.

6. What do you definitely not believe? "I could never believe that," we've all said at one time or another. What do you positively declare you could never believe?

7. What would it take for you to deny your God? This is another way of asking, "What is your price?" Bible students will recall this as the subject of a discussion between God and Satan in Job 1-2.

8. What would it take for you to drop out of church and turn your back on the Christian life? We've all known church members to do this very thing, so the likelihood of it happening seems to be rather high. What would it require?

Here's part of two scenes from A Man For All Seasons. Thomas More has been accosted by a hanger-on named Richard Rich, a wimpish sort of fellow who stands for nothing except himself and is always hoping to be appointed to high office.

Rich: "[People say,] A friend of Sir Thomas and still no office. There must be something wrong with him.'"

Thomas More: "The dean of St. Paul's offers you a post, with a house, a servant, and fifty pounds a year."

Rich eagerly asks, "What? What post?" More replies, "At the new school." Rich says, "A teacher!"

More: "A man should go where he won't be tempted." Then he tosses Richard a silver cup.

Rich calls it beautiful, More tells him it's Italian and that he can have it, but, "You'll sell it, won't you?"

Rich: "Well...I...Yes, I will." He'll buy a gown like More's, he says.

More: "It was sent to me a little while ago by some woman. Now she's put a lawsuit into the Court of Requests. It's a bribe, Richard."

Then More adds, "But Richard, in office they offer you all sorts of things. I was once offered a whole village, with a mill, and a manor house, and heaven knows what else-a coat of arms, I shouldn't be surprised. Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one."

Rich: "And if I was, who would know it?"

More: "You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that.... Oh, and a quiet life."

Toward the end of the story, when Thomas More is on trial for failing to support the king and Richard Rich is testifying against him, he notices Rich wearing a medallion around his neck. He says, "That's a chain of office you're wearing. May I see it." A moment later: "The red dragon. What's this?"

Thomas Cromwell answers, "Sir Richard is appointed attorney-general for Wales."

More looks at the young upstart and says quietly, "For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...but for Wales!"

Let us make it clear here that the task of understanding and truly knowing oneself is a lifelong occupation. One reason this is so is that we are always in transition, growing and learning, failing and succeeding, with starts and stops, always becoming something more or less than before.

When the youthful David stood facing Goliath, he presented a complete image of one who knew his strengths-courage, skill with a sling, faith in God-and his weaknesses: size, lack of armor, lack of experience in hand-to-hand combat with giants. He glared across the valley at a giant with tremendous strengths, but one glaring weakness: Goliath's armor left an opening for his eyes. When David was looking for a place to aim his stone, he chose his opponent's most prominent weakness and imbedded the rock in the space between his eyes.

It's never enough to know our strengths and to use them wisely. Unless we also know our weaknesses and protect ourselves in those areas, we will be defeated at the very moment we are doing what we do well-and will be completely surprised in the process.

In later years, when David fell into sin with Bathsheba, then committed wrong after wrong in a vain attempt to cover it up, he no longer knew himself the way he had as a youth. Age and experience had changed his strengths and presented him with a new set of weaknesses. His complete self-centeredness and sexual lust did to him what Goliath was never able to accomplish.

I'm often amused at the way some people argue over tiny elements of the person and character of God. What is there about the human spirit that makes us think we can comprehend God when we know so little about ourselves?

Someone once asked a friend of Albert Einstein if it was true that only ten people in the world truly understood the man. He replied, "Oh, no. There at least twenty, but Einstein is not one of them."

Dr. McKeever, a pastor for more than four decades, writes and creates
church-related cartoons with equal felicity. He presently serves as
director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad