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Who – what am I?

Internet Bible College - Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul uses teleios (“perfect”) to describe a person who is aware of his true self; that is, he is not deluded about himself, but is mature and honest in appraising himself. He insists that such a person can make only one sensible decision, and that is to “press toward the goals God has established”. This he twice says is the mark of a “perfect” Christian. 

This self-knowledge has often been lauded as the quality possessed by a truly mature person − well balanced, scorning self-delusion, serene, a sure purpose, poised and confident. For example, the 2nd century Greek travel writer, Pausanias, tells of an inscription that was carved at the entrance to the Temple of Apollos, at the Delphic Oracle, on the heights of Mt Parnassus in central Greece −  

In the fore-temple at Delphi are written maxims useful for the life of men, inscribed by those whom the Greeks say were sages … (who) came to Delphi and dedicated to Apollo the celebrated maxims, “Know thyself,” and “Nothing in excess.” (1) 

The idea presumably was that there was little use in seeking to know the gods until one had a fair knowledge of oneself. Delusion about oneself would almost certainly produce delusion about heaven. If I am unwilling truly to know myself, then it will be impossible for me truly to know even another human being let alone God. Paul had much the same idea when he wrote –  

Do not think about yourself more highly than you ought to think. Think rather with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned you. (Ro 12:3) 

And I would say it is just as much a sin to think yourself less than you are than to think you are more. We should strive to know just what we are, and what we are not, and to live happily and comfortably within that framework.  

Then a companion aphorism was, “Nothing to excess.” This too was echoed by Paul – 

Let everyone see how moderate you are, for the Lord is near! (Ph 4:5)  

The idea of moderation as an ideal is very ancient. It goes as far back as the worship of the Sumerian god Enki, some five thousand years ago. By the time it had become a motto engraved upon Apollo’s temple at Delphi (4th century B.C.) it had been part of the received wisdom of mankind for two millennia. Three hundred years later, Paul too endorsed it, and made it one of his prescriptions for Christian life, pleasing to God and to the church. The two Delphic sayings belong together. Those who know themselves well will likely behave moderately toward others. And those who are moderate in all things, will be more likely to know themselves well. So, “nothing to excess,” but let a pleasant balance be a rule of the good life in Christ. Screaming fanaticism, frothing hysteria, wild emotions, irresponsible chaos, unrestrained action of any sort – these all violate the rule of moderation and ought to be shunned by right-thinking people.