My favorite show of all time is NBC’s “The Office,” and judging by the number of reruns that air continuously on various cable channels, I don’t think my choice needs defending. However, perhaps surprisingly, I don’t merely value the show for its comedic value; I also think it worth watching for the way it brilliantly teaches real life lessons by parodying real life situations.
One of the show’s recurring themes centers around Michael Scott’s narcissism, and the way in which his self-centeredness blinds him to reality. We laugh again and again as Michael misses obvious signals because of his obsession with himself. Michael is blinded by his own ego.
We laugh at Michael Scott, but we intuitively know that narcissism is infuriating in real life. Anyone who’s ever really worked under a narcissistic boss will have trouble finding comedy in the experience. Narcissism so centers the attention on the self that the person infected by it loses the capacity to show empathy to those around her. To be a narcissist is to be blind.
Narcissism doesn’t just block empathy; it also stands in the way of our ability to read our Bibles. The narcissist approaches the Bible with one question, “What’s in it for me?” Narcissistic Bible reading will have trouble maintaining interest when the passage under consideration seems obscure or not immediately relevant to life. The narcissist will always opt for tattoo-worthy slogans that can be ripped from original context and placarded over one’s own life with little effort.
And herein lies the real danger of narcissism: If you can’t read the Bible, you can’t know God. The Bible, after all, is a book about Him. When we make it a book about us, we blindly prohibit ourselves from enjoying one of the great privileges we have been given as creatures: the ability to know God through Christ.
In my church, we have been studying Exodus, chapter by chapter. Whenever you commit to such a study as a pastor, you commit to discuss whatever subjects arise in the text. In other words, expository preaching takes control of the sermon’s topic away from the pastor and hands it to God. Expository preaching is, therefore, both liberating and terrifying.
This past Sunday, we entered the world of Old Testament case law. Right after the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai in Exodus 20:1-21, God gives Moses another set of laws. For three whole chapters, God spells out laws governing worship, slavery, society, and commerce. These laws are specific and direct. They are highly contextual and seem a world removed from our own.
If we approach this section of Scripture as narcissists, asking only, “How does it relate to my life?” we are going to be disillusioned and confused. However, if we begin with the correct assumption that the Bible is not about me, but about God, then we can begin to make sense of this thorny passage.
If Exodus 21-24 is about God, then the correct starting question is something like, “How did God want his redeemed people to live after the Exodus?” That question gets us to the heart of the issue and allows us to look beyond the weirdness of the laws to the deeper question of, “What was God trying to do when he gave these laws?”
My sermon outline ended up consisting of four moves: God wants distinct people, God wants devoted people, God wants compassionate people, and God wants blessed people. The God who acts in history to redeem people for himself gave these laws so that his people would be distinguished from all others by virtue of living lives characterized by exclusive devotion to him and loving compassion toward others. This life is the blessed life.
The God who gave these laws is the same God who has redeemed his church today in the New Covenant through his Son Jesus Christ. The method of giving case laws might have changed, but God’s desire for his people remains the same. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
God still wants his people distinct, devoted, compassionate, and blessed, and he’s accomplished this today through Christ. If you want to understand how the Bible applies to your life, you’re going to have to stop reading it like a narcissist. You’re going to need to embrace the reality that it’s first and foremost not about you. It’s about Christ.