What is the difference between good and bad self-promotion?
Let's get rid of the word "self-promotion" and refuse to think that way. I don't ever want to be self-promoting. I don't like that language. I'm going to say, "If what I'm promoting here is myself, then I don't want to do it." Of course, a person can always say, "Well, that's what you're really doing," but I still think it makes a difference.
What I'm promoting is a truth that, by grace, I believe I have seen: God is most glorified in us when we're most satisfied in him. And so I'm promoting that truth.
That's what the Bible says to do: "Declare his glory among the nations!" Alright! You've got to open your mouth and say what you've seen with your eyes about his glory. You've got to say that! The Bible would never call that self-promotion. You're supposed to die in the process! That's not self-promotion.
The very process of true spreading is a process of self-denying. "He who would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me," meaning, "Follow me into proclamation, into gospel spreading, into serving people." Of course you're there, and you're using your hands, your mouth, your brain; but it's all death if you're doing it right.
So the language I use that may bridges the gap is "influence." Is it right for a Christian to want to be influential?
And the answer is—if what is influencing people is the truth, the beauty of Christ, the glory of God—"Yes, it's right and good." Paul did not want to walk in to Philippi and have zero influence on anybody. That's just crazy. It's damnable, right? It's unloving.
I know the way to heaven. I've been sent to go suffer much to tell people how to escape from their sin and have access to God. Am I going to say, "I don't want to have any influence here, because that's not humble"? No! That's not humble! That's wicked! It's selfish.
So I think we should get rid of the term "self-promotion" and ask the question, "How can you pursue influence in a good and bad way?"
And the answer would be—as Jesus nailed it in Matthew 6—"If you do your good deeds to be seen by men, you have your reward, and you'll get none in heaven." If I pray to be seen by men—or if I answer questions on video in order to promote my ego and my strengths—then I've lost all my reward right there and will be of little use to anybody.
But influence is good if it is driven by a heart that says, "I've seen some things in the Bible. They are precious beyond measure. Jesus Christ has become a friend beyond all friends and wife and children to me. I would love to commend him and all I've seen about him to as many people as I can."
He is worth it. He is worth recording for. He is worth dying for. And he is worth not recording for if that proves to be too ego-enhancing. I've got to constantly monitor the sin and the wickedness of my heart so that I discern as well as I can that I'm doing this for the glory of Christ.
I want to influence people. I want to bend people's ideas away from man-centeredness to God-centeredness. I want to bend them away from the exaltation of the human will to the exaltation of God's will. I want to bend them in all kinds of ways by the truth that is in the Bible. And I think that is right, and that keeping a check on your own ego is the way to pursue it. There are probably language ways to pursue it also.
One last thought. CJ Mahaney, a good friend and helper and encourager to me, has said, "Our self perception is as reliable as a carnival mirror." This means that other people need to help you refine your self-perception. So in answer to this question, "What can we do in order to avoid self-promotion or bad influence?" one option would be to ask people, "How are we doing? Are we doing things that exalt Piper in a sinful way? Are we doing it in such a way that it really has become a Piper phenom and not a God phenom, not a true phenom?"
And then you listen. I just listen, because my effort to deny myself and not be ego-centric is as reliable—without help—as a carnival mirror. So I must do it: I must get in front of the mirror of the word, and I must ask other people who see that word and me—perhaps better than I do.
When I've finished preaching a message somewhere out of town, and Nathan or David is with me, I often turn to them when we get back to the motel room and ask, "OK, is there anything you would change? Did I do or say anything unhelpful?" I want to be vulnerable. I'm 62 and they're 28 or whatever, and they feel awkward telling the 62-year-old preacher that he could've not said this, or done it that way. But they do!
Tom Rogstad—thank you Tom—once wrote me a letter and pointed out that something I had said in a Southern Seminary chapel came across to him as self-promoting and not Christ-exalting. And I took it. I took it. I said, "Guilty as charged! I'll learn from this."
So that's a piece of what we do to avoid having bad influence. We get others in our face.