Self-exaltation is, I think, the single most common sin in the world. Idolatry is the root of every other sin, and self is far and away the most common target of worship directed away from God. Modern America's particular brand of this sin is our obsession with fame. This particular brand of idolatry has seeped into many corners of the church, as well as culture at large. We live in an age that glorifies people with big personalities and bigger followings; quiet faithfulness is not terribly interesting or laudable from the eyes of most American Christians.
Men like John Piper or Matt Chandler (to name but two of the more popular preachers for the Reformed crowd) find themselves the center of attention, emulated and even adulated by crowds of young Christian believers. Evangelicals in general see big churches (and correspondingly, popular preachers) as the ultimate measure of success. Popularity is the barometer of God's blessing.
This view is deeply contrary to the gospel, which points us again and again back to God's greatness and worthiness to be worshipped—and which highlights how our self-worship destroys so much. To be perfectly fair to men like Piper and Chandler, they handle all the fame well, doing their very best to point all the glory back to God. Yet as Piper himself has acknowledged in a very public way, fame can be poisonous. It puts the attention on us instead of God; faithfully and consistently turning that attention toward God is difficult enough when it is only external—but our deceitful, wicked hearts are harder still to turn toward him, especially when the praises of man sound strongly (and sweetly).
Blogging, interestingly, fits right in this same vein. A friend of mine, Wes Martin, noted recently that the lure of fame has a particularly insidious temptation for those of us devoted to sharing Christ-exalting truth on our blogs. On the one hand, our goal is to edify other believers, stirring them up to follow Jesus more faithfully and wisely. On the other, popularity is always tempting us. Sometimes it is the overt and obvious temptation to write something provocative just to get more hits, or not write something controversial to avoid offending others. At other times, though, it is the quiet sin of pride at advancing the kingdom of God—and being known for it. We want the kingdom to advance, but we want it to advance through us, with our name being known and honored for the part we played.
As I have passed 5 years of blogging, and am quickly closing in on the end of this 25-day-long experiment—as I near a year of work on Pillar on the Rock—I am deeply, intensely aware of this struggle in my own heart. Over the course of the last year in particular, since I actually began tracking the traffic to my sites, I have wrestled with the question of why I care whether I have many readers. (And I do. I care a lot sometimes.) I have to constantly ask whether my desire to see these sites grow, especially Pillar, is rooted in selfishness or in the love of God. Sometimes, to my shame, it has been the desire to feed my ego, not to see others edified and my Savior glorified.
I want this blog to grow. I want Pillar to reach a wider audience. In large part, those desires really are because I believe the things I write about are important—and of course, I believe the things I'm saying about these topics are accurate. (Here, too, is a temptation toward arrogance and ego-stroking: do I write simply because I think I am the only voice saying these things, or because I overvalue my own wisdom? The same temptations rear their ugly head.) In part, however, I recognize that I write because I want people to like what I have to say, and accordingly think well of me. I want my wisdom extolled. I want my words to be widely appreciated.
In short, I am guiltiest of all: I use posts that allegedly make much of God—sometimes posts that really do make much of God—to make much of myself. The real goal is Chris-glory, not God-glory, however much the words on the page may run the opposite direction. My heart is wicked and prideful. In myself, I twist even the things of God to my own ends.
With Paul, I am left saying,
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)
Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus: he will deliver me from this body of sin. Amen.