Pity is a feeling of sorrow that you express toward someone who has suffered loss. Self-pity is when the person you are pitying is yourself. The self-pitying person looks at himself and feels sorry for himself because he realizes he has lost something that he wants back.
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Maybe the self-pitying person has done something that he regrets, or he does not like the kind of person that he has become. It reminds me–in an inverted way–of the story in Luke about the Pharisee looking down on the tax collector in the temple.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” – Luke 18:11
In this case, the Pharisee and the publican are the same persons; the entitled person is looking down on the pitiful person. And he disdains himself.
Let’s say that you’re both the Pharisee and the publican in the temple. You, the Pharisee, are looking down on you, the publican. And you wish you were not that awful person, the publican. You dislike that version of yourself.
If you had a more biblical view of yourself, you’d accept the fact that you not only make mistakes, but you’re capable of doing things far worse than anything you’ve done to this point.
The problem in view here is an over-inflated opinion, and when the person behaves poorly, doesn’t get what he wants, or doesn’t like his circumstances, he feels sorry for himself in a self-absorbed way.
Worse Than You Think
A right understanding of yourself, apart from the grace of God, assumes the role of the publican (Romans 3:10-12). Rather than wallowing in pity, you plead with God to have mercy on your pitiful self. It is that kind of attitude that the Lord lavishes with empowering grace (James 4:6).
We don’t like thinking about the awfulness of ourselves because we resist the biblical declaration that we’re rotten to the core (Isaiah 64:6). Only a person with a high view of himself would get hung up on his fallenness. If you want to change, you must go further down until you accept the role of the publican in the temple.
It is not wrong to assess yourself. A sober self-assessment is needful if you want to walk in step with the Spirit of God. The danger of self-assessment is the temptation to think wrongly about yourself. You can over-estimate yourself, or you can land in the ditch of self-pity.
The wise man understands his tendencies to misjudge himself, so he surrounds himself with gospel-centered friends who care enough to bring the loving and biblical adjustments that he needs to hear (Proverbs 27:6).
I Have Been Robbed
The self-pitying man feels robbed. His response is self-pity because there is something he wants. There is a feeling of being out of control. He will tell you it is because of his loss that he is not happy, content, or at peace.
The implication is that if he can get what he wants, he will be happy again. It goes like this: “I will be satisfied if I can get (fill in the blank).” If anything other than God goes in his (blank), it is idolatry.
Paul teaches that no matter what your circumstances are, it’s imperative that you learn the secret of contentment. Your conditions cannot determine your deep and abiding peace in God. If they do, you have misplaced affections.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13
Notice Paul’s spectrum of circumstance:
|The Worst of Times||The Best of Times|
|I can be brought low||I can abound|
|I am okay when I’m hungry||I am okay in times of plenty|
|I am content when I am in need||I am content in times of abundance|
I Am Entitled
Whenever the self-pitying man goes into “self-pity mode,” where he does not experience joy and contentment, he is communicating a sense of entitlement. “I deserve something; I am angry and will not be satisfied until I get the thing I crave.”
It is not the trial that is robbing him of his joy. Idolatry has chased his happiness away. He cannot be joy-filled and angry at the same time. Self-pity is a form of anger. The raw truth that his soul is expressing is, “I am mad because I am not getting what I deserve.”
This man does not understand the implication of the gospel, which says, “You deserve to go to hell, and it is only because of God’s mercy that there is a rescue of your soul!” The gospel-centered man’s mantra is,
You are doing better than you deserve. Anything better than hell is a perk, and though you are not getting some of the things you would like to have, like Paul, you have learned the secret to contentment. You find it in the gospel.
In Line With the Gospel
If you want to know if your life is authentically lining up with the gospel, assess yourself during troubled times, when things are not perfect. Your attitude about your troubles provides an accurate window into your soul, primarily as to how the gospel is governing your soul.
The gospel provides you everything you need in Christ. It may not give you everything you want, but it does offer you everything that you need.
Though you may grieve during a season of trouble, the gospel realigns your soul, fills your voids, and gives gratitude for disappointment. It is only the power of the gospel that brings contentment to your life regardless of your circumstances.
Call to Action
- Do you become angry when you do not get what you want? If so, what does your anger reveal about you/
- Do you grow sad when you can’t have what you want? If so, what is it about the gospel that is not satisfying to you?
- When you read Philippians 4:11-13, what goes through your mind as it pertains to you? How do you need to change?
Also published on Medium.