Someone has rightly observed that the list of perils found in the third chapter of Paul’s second epistle to Timothy is a description of humanism. But what the world at large both commends and encourages, the Word of God condemns and discourages as dangerous. We should be unceasingly vigilant regarding these attitudes and actions so that their incessant promotion around us makes no inroads in our hearts and minds, for the world encourages us to embrace that which the Bible declares to be perilous. The peril we examine today is particularly dangerous because it expresses itself so subtly and pervasively.
“Men shall be . . . highminded” (II Tim. 3:4). To our modern ears, the KJV translation may leave the impression that this attitude is a positive thing. The term highminded can be used today to describe someone who holds exalted opinions or feelings, someone who is not base or petty. That is a positive thing. But the Greek word translated highminded in our text is accurately translated as conceited by the NASB. The Greek word is variously defined by Vine as “to wrap in smoke,’ by Robertson as “puffed up,” and by Vincent as “’clouded’ with pride.”
Could any single term better describe the attribute of self-esteem that is evangelistically promoted by both secular and religious humanists everywhere? In many ways, this characteristic is the emblem of humanism—and rightly so. If, as humanism teaches, man is the highest creature to have yet evolved, should he not quite properly think highly of—even revere—himself? And is it not a “sin” to disesteem himself? The answer to that question is self-evident to a humanist. So the obverse of that becomes his religion: he promotes the self. It is his duty; it is his highest act of devotion; it represents the summum bonum of his existence.
He cannot see that “highmindedness,” or conceit, is the essence of sin. And though some of the more brazen would acknowledge it, most cannot see that such a spirit expresses deliberate rebellion against God. They do not see it because they are “puffed up” with their own worth and importance. They cannot see it because their eyes are “wrapped in smoke” and their hearts and minds are “’clouded” with pride” and self-righteousness.
But as one commentator observed, the “highminded,” those who think so well of themselves wholly apart from the redemptive work of Christ to deliver them from sin, are like balloons filled with too much air. They may appear to be impressive, but total destruction is one small pin prick away, or even a gentle bump.
God and the conceited humanist have views that diverge 180o. When the world around us holds such high opinions of sinful human flesh, peril abounds. And we should be wary. But it is not just the lost world that waxes conceited. Conceit is part of the believer’s fallen nature and is a dangerous characteristic to be avoided in ourselves. For example, whose opinions do we value? Do we allow the Word of God to formulate our view of the world and of ourselves, or do we take the liberty of dismissing those parts of God’s Word that we find inconvenient or disruptive to the lifestyle we choose to pursue? Such an attitude is evidence of “highmindedness.” As believers, we are to be meek, self-forgetful, submissive, obedient—all qualities that are anathematic to the flesh but essential if we are to honor God and receive His blessing. In a day when pride and self-esteem are promoted—contrary to Scripture—as virtues, faithful believers will be on guard against the peril of conceit both around and in us.
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