It almost rolled right out of my mouth. It was that close. But thankfully, the words never materialized.
“Joshua, I think your artwork is better than your classmates’ art.”
My family was at Joshua and Hannah’s elementary school for a book fair and after buying a few books and eating a hot dog and potato chip dinner (hey, it was free!), we ventured down to each of their classrooms to check out their recent art projects hanging on the walls.
As I examined Joshua’s self-portrait I found myself comparing his to the other portraits hanging on the wall. Joshua’s was clearly better than most and perhaps one of the best. And something deep within me was compelled to tell him that.
But then I caught myself.
It’s not that I don’t want to praise my son. On the contrary, I delight in affirming him. (I did share several aspects of his artwork that I appreciated.) However, there is a right way to do this and a wrong way. Telling him that his artwork was better than the others (even if it was) would be the wrong way.
Why? Because I would have been reinforcing the wrong idea that my son’s worth is determined by his relation to those around him.
If his artwork is better, then he has more talent and that makes him special.
If he can play a sport better, then he has more talent and that makes him special.
If he looks better, acts better, speaks better, works better, listens better, obeys better, laughs better, smells better…well, you get the idea.
This thinking – that worth is based on a comparison to other people – is born out of a secular worldview. And it is dangerous.
If we infuse this thinking into our kids’ hearts, they will develop an unhealthy (and sinful when you really press deep down into it) perspective of their worth. They will come to believe that their talents, abilities, appearance, and so forth are what makes them valuable, or sadly sometimes what makes them of little to no value.
So how should we measure our worth as individuals? We can begin to find an answer by examining the account of the Last Supper, especially when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11).
The Bible doesn’t record what the twelve did earlier that day (with the exception of Peter and John who prepared the Passover meal), but taking a bath was one thing they almost certainly did. A special occasion like the Passover would have prompted them to get cleaned up. The problem is that their walk to the upper room that afternoon would have left them with dirty feet. And that is why hosts in that time period would have the lowest slave of the house wash the feet of each of his guests – for practical reasons when you understand how people reclined around a table – but also as a sign of respect. It was a common courtesy.
What is interesting about the Last Supper is that the meal began without the feet being washed. If you are an optimist, you might surmise that none of the disciples felt comfortable assuming the leadership role of the host with Jesus present. Therefore, no one assigned the task to a servant. If you are a pessimist, you might believe that none of the twelve were humble enough to make sure their friends were treated to this courtesy.
Either way, the meal began, dirty feet and all. I guess after spending three years together, the disciples were used to it.
And then Jesus, the Master, arose from the table took off His respectable robe that had been given to Him, enrobed Himself in a slave’s attire, and picked up the shallow bowl used for foot washing.
That alone should strike a chord deeply within our hearts. This is an amazing picture of what Paul wrote about in Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus humbly clothed Himself in human flesh first and then He went even farther by wrapping that flesh in a slave’s attire. Not a king’s robe. A slave’s cloth.
And then Christ Jesus began to wash the feet of the twelve one at a time.
Andrew. James. John. Philip. Bartholomew. Matthew. James the Less. Thaddaeus. Simon the Zealot. Eighteen feet that would all be running away from Jesus in fear just hours after this.
Thomas. The one who would not believe in the Resurrection until he touched Jesus’ hands and feet.
Peter. The one who would deny Jesus three times the next day.
Judas. Yes, even Judas. The one who would betray Jesus with a kiss and the one who most likely was not even a believer.
What an amazing act of humility! What an amazing act of grace!
And in this act, we find the key to how we are to teach our kids to understand their true worth.
Was Jesus’ humility based on Him thinking that He was of less value than the disciples that day? By no means! He is the Son of God – the greatest treasure. That didn’t change at all. Jesus has all authority and all power. He is Creator God and we should never put Him under His creation.
True humility is not in thinking less of ourselves. Nor is it in thinking more of others in terms of worth. (That is just a different path to the same destination – minimizing yourself.)
We are created in God’s image. We are His image-bearers. God has created each one of us with a unique personality and abilities to be used for His glory. And if we are in Christ, He indwells us and we have been given His righteousness.
Do you see why it is dangerous to think less of ourselves? In the end, we aren’t thinking less of ourselves, but less of God who is in us and designed us.
That is where we find our worth. Our value is in knowing that we are God’s creation and that we have been transformed into the image of Christ because of the gospel. That is what we need to instill in our kids.
It’s great to praise them for when they paint well. Or when they play a sport well. Or when they obey well. But never attach their worth to these praises. Never lead them to believe that doing these things increases their worth. Anchor your kid’s worth on the gospel. My son, Joshua, needs to know that He is of unquestioned worth in Christ no matter how well he paints or does anything else for that matter. And so my calling as a father is to battle within my own flesh and to work hard to point Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb to the cross. That is where they find worth. My praises need to center on their faithfulness to live a life pleasing to Christ in gratitude and with joy. Did they paint for God’s glory? Then it deserves praise. Did they play for God’s glory? Did they sing for God’s glory. Did the earn that grade for God’s glory?
When our kids develop a sense of worth based on the gospel, it will prompt acts like Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet. It must.
Because the gospel is the great neutralizer of worth. If my worth rests in being God’s creation, then so does everyone else’s. And that forces me to see others differently.
That homeless person is of no less worth. Neither is the drug addict. Or the guy who weaves through traffic like a mad man. Or the other guy who drives 10 miles under the speed limit in the fast lane. Or the kid who struggles to make C’s in school. Or the staunch atheist who writes books about the folly of believing in God.
I am above none of them. Nor am I beneath any of them.
And the gospel compels me to serve them in humility. To love them. To seek God’s glory by directing their attention toward the gospel. I will emulate Jesus and think of others more – not in terms of value, but in terms of priority. I will understand that I am a recipient of the gospel and that I have the ability to point others to that same gospel. That becomes my priority. That is why I choose to think more highly of others.
As you prepare to teach your kids about how and why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, give the Holy Spirit space to search your mind and heart concerning how you determine your own worth. Ask Him to help you put to death any of the world’s thinking that has a foothold in your mind or heart. Then consider how you can encourage your kids to find their worth in Christ alone. Be prepared to lift the spirits of some kids who believe the lie that they have been told that they are worthless. At the same time, be prepared to lovingly chip away at the narcism of some kids who believe they are special because of what they can do. Talk with your kids about the dangers they face in this area as they grow up in a selfie and social media saturated culture that promotes bragging, boasting, and comparison. Help them remember the gospel.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the April 19, 2015 session (Unit 32, Session 2) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.