When a word or term is bandied about, its original meaning tends to get encrusted with a certain dullness of familiarity. For instance, when we say it is seven o’clock (or one, or six, or ten o’clock) we actually are saying it is seven OF THE CLOCK. We unconsciously use the contraction, and we don’t envision those once ubiquitous, round time keepers with a big hand and a little hand that gave us the full phrase “of the clock.”
Analogously, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the original meaning of self esteem. Let’s look at the term’s two words in turn.
A friend or co-worker who is greatly appreciated might be called, “esteemed friend” or “esteemed colleague.” If we are dealing with a capable and respected adversary we call him “worthy opponent.” That is how we esteem him. When we use the phrase “in my estimation” we are expressing our judgment about the quality, dimensions, or value of something.
Self of course is the word we use for that one person each of us calls me; that one person who addresses other people using that little vertical (in English) pronoun I.
So self esteem is simply judgment about that one person. It means “I judge myself to be thus and so.” And in this writer’s estimation, there is a popular assumption that unless we esteem ourselves to be good and lovely and wonderful in every way, there is something wrong. Let’s turn to the Bible. Let’s check that out in light of God’s word.
How should we esteem ourselves in comparison to the majesty and glory of God? Consider the reactions of various Biblical persons when they were presented with a stunning (often miraculous) demonstration of the same. They hasten to fall on their faces and bemoan their unworthiness. They have a sense of being undone. They become absorbed with a sense of wonder, awe, and adoration. We should esteem ourselves as very little compared to God (cf. Psalm 8), yet be filled with wonder that He esteems us of great value:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6,7)
How should we esteem ourselves in regard to others?
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Philippians 2:3) Well there’s a radical idea!
The original language word translated BETTER in that verse refers more to position than to intrinsic value. An analogy is that both a husband and wife bear the holy image of God, but God has made the husband the head of the wife. So although the Bible does not command us to esteem ourselves inferior to others, it commands us to have a lowliness of mind which counts the interests of others of greater importance than our own. It’s part of what it means to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Often our self esteem is tied to our rate of pay, net worth, or other economic quantifiables. Once again, to the word and to the testimony.
“…He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6,7)
“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28)
Self knows its greatest joy when it is not concentrating on self, but on the glory of God. And God commands each self (person) to esteem others better than self. And tying one’s self esteem to wealth or status only leads to robbing self of the blessedness known by those who give:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (from Acts 20:35)
How to improve your self esteem? Adore God. Major on how you esteem others. Count wealth in all its forms primarily as means to glorify God and bless people.