At some point in life we all learn that “networking is key”. And that is the nice way of saying that in order to get ahead in your job, in your social life, in your role, the most important thing is who you know – not so much what you know. If you went to college, or even high school, you saw that guy (or you were that guy) who idolized the professor, who was looking for your way into the community, who always had the savvy question, who followed the professor around, you know…the lackey. And when this guy finds himself out in normal social interactions, he drops the professor’s name as his authority or as his validation.
The name dropper.
Are you a name dropper? Either you are, or you know someone who is.
Do you find your identity in the people you know, and the people who know you? Do you try to prove yourself by the circles in which you run?
Insecurity and the need for approval are core problems for humanity. They have been around as long as people have been around. The root of the problem is pride, and wanting people to notice and affirm us. If we know that we have not yet earned a voice in a community, we often quote those who are widely recognized as experts in their fields. Those who need affirmation will often seek out those experts and attempt to latch themselves to the expert’s coattails and ride into the inner circle. Those who have failed to make a name for themselves will often surround themselves with the experts in order to be found in good company and be able to throw out names as “friends”, in order to be elevated by proximity.
For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
– 1 Cor 1.11-12
The Corinthian church had this very problem. Paul planted the church in Corinth, and after he moved on Apollos succeeded him as the pastor. The congregation began to break down and form factions and they split themselves by who they considered the best teacher. Some were loyal to Paul, some were loyal to Apollos, some branched out and said that they submitted to the teachings of the Apostle Peter (Cephas), and those “holier-than-thou” few tried to trump the game by saying, “We are loyal to Jesus Himself”.
Paul, when he heard of the divisions, was appalled. He was humble and loved God and fully understood his role in the game. His response to the division was to write the letter of First Corinthians and to tell them that the very fact that they are having the debate and division is wrong. He could have affirmed himself and told everyone to follow him, but he knew that even though he was the “expert” and that he was one of the voices being idolized, he loved God enough and was humble enough to tell them not to look to him, but to look to God.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walkin like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
– 1 Cor 3.1-7
Planting alone is nothing. Watering alone is nothing. If you plant a dead seed, if you water seedless dirt, you have done nothing. God alone takes the dead seed and causes life to emerge from it. Paul knew this and Paul was grateful for the opportunity that God gave him in planting seeds, but he never gave himself credit where credit was not due, and he was not impressed by anyone’s name or role. God alone was worthy of honor and praise in Paul’s eyes, and he desired that those he taught would learn to have the same heart.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
– 1 Cor 1.30-31
God causes the growth. It is by God alone that we are spiritually alive and that we have any spiritual maturity. Therefore, if we are going to boast, we should boast in God.
Now, some of the people at Corinth were saying “We are of Christ”. But their heart was not one of humility, they were trying to play the trump card and win the game. What is the difference? It is like saying we have a sports team and God is our supporter, rather than joining God’s team on which He is the captain and we are the support. In your mind, is God on your side? Or are you on God’s side? Have you taken yourself out of the picture enough to be humble and ask God what He is all about? Or are you trying to force Him to bless your decisions and efforts?
So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
– 1 Cor 3.21-23
Paul says that we should not boast in man or in who we know because by the very nature of being in Christ, everything belongs to us. Jesus Christ is the heir of the world: everything in it belongs to Him (Heb 1.2). And we, when we are found in Christ, become coheirs with Him (Rom 8.17). Therefore everything belongs to us, and thus it is futile and silly to boast in something of the world! We should boast in Christ alone – in who He is and in what He has done. Not that He supports us, but that we support Him – that we are in Him.
So are you a name dropper? If so, then check your heart. God is not impressed. And those who are in Christ are not impressed, either. Are you the expert whose name people drop? If so, be careful of the responsibility and remember to point people back to God and encourage them to boast in Him and in their salvation, not in you. Look to Jesus, focus on Jesus, remain in Jesus and everything belongs to you. You will be satisfied, you will be loved, and there will be no need to affirm yourself or make more of yourself by self-adulation or assertion. Jesus is enough.
Let us be careful of the opposite extreme, too, which refuses the voices of the wise for the sake of rebellion. The heart problem here is the same; namely pride. If one despises the system of networking and wants to prove himself and pull himself up by his own bootstraps, then he throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We can and should learn from the example of those who have gone before us and we should learn from those who are mature. We must be careful only to keep people in their appropriate place. We will find that when our focus and hearts are right, when we are resting in Jesus, that we can affirm the teachings and words of the experts without being caught up in pride and searching for approval.