Life involves choices. Making choices involves consequences. We all stand at crossroads many times a day, and the path we choose will effect where we end up. Paul has been teaching us these last few weeks that how and what we choose to worship has formidable consequences.
His purpose is to urge his readers, the Christians in Rome, to worship God truly by offering him their bodies as ‘a living and holy sacrifice’. He explains that the consequences are a new mind that can think clearly and understand God’s ‘good and pleasing and perfect’ will.
Some people choose deliberately to worship another way, and give another sacrifice. That choice bears the consequence of a mind that is unable to understand. When God gets angry at sinners, it is these people he is angry at. Surprisingly to some, the focus of God’s anger is not the serial killer or the evil dictator. God’s greatest anger is reserved for false worship. Proverbs 6:16–19 says that God ‘detests’ seven things, including haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who sows discord in a family.
I want to take some time this morning to talk about these people, because you will meet them and need to know about them. You may have family members like this.
I subscribe to a weekly newsletter written by Dr. Alan Godwin, a Christian psychologist. He writes about ‘drama people’. These are people who are difficult and manipulative.
Reading about these people and reading Romans 12 is educational. Dr. Godwin’s ‘drama people’ are the opposite of what Paul is showing us we can be. Paul says that when we offer our bodies to God in true worship, God gives us new minds. We are at last able to see clearly and know ourselves accurately. As a result we will be humble.
Drama people could be called sinners in Christian language. They are people living in the darkness who cannot think straight and have no idea what they are really like in God’s eyes. They are not humble, they are proud and arrogant and selfish.
Today, using Dr. Godwin’s insight, we will look at the narcissist. First of all, it is not a disease; it is a disorder. There is no cure, except for the narcissist to start to practice true worship. Narcissism has become a term that gets used so routinely it has lost its precise meaning. It’s a common misunderstanding to think of narcissism as excessive self-love, but it’s more precisely about the love of image. As we all know, the term derives from Greek mythology where the hunter, Narcissus, saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with the image. He died staring at his reflection. Or as Paul might have said, he worshipped himself.
A narcissist does not have attacks of narcissism the way we have attacks of guilt. It is a way of life that is there all the time. It’s an ongoing way of being. When a narcissist is humble it is an act or pretence.
A narcissist exaggerates their achievements and talents, and expects to be recognized as superior without any achievements.
In narcissism world, being perceived as great is more important than actually being great. Image is more important than reality. A person who has positive self-esteem doesn’t see only their positive attributes. They see the good along with the bad. They therefore have a neither overly-positive nor overly-negative self-appraisal. Paul says in Romans 12:3 that when we worship God truly we will have new minds and be able to be ‘honest in your evaluation of yourselves’, unlike those people whose worship is false.
The narcissist has an excessively low view of himself internally. Consequently, he strives to maintain a grandiose exterior. The job the narcissist assigns to everyone who has a relationship with him (or her) is for you to keep his external attributes polished and shiny.
The narcissist is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. You all know my wife, Yuri. She makes me look good. I’m quite certain that people think more highly of me because I’m married to her. But that’s not why I married her. I married her for love and because of the amazing person she is.
A male narcissist, on the other hand, might marry a “trophy wife.” A female narcissist might marry a rich and powerful man to enhance her status. The relational stance of the narcissist is, “I like being around you because it improves my image.”
The narcissist believes he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people. Paul talks in Romans 12 about the need to be transformed, but the narcissist doesn’t see any need.
The narcissist requires excessive admiration. The narcissist’s favourite subject is himself and so that should be your favourite subject as well.
The narcissist has a sense of entitlement. He has unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations. These are the people about whom it may be said, “The rules don’t apply to him.” The narcissist sees himself or herself in a special league above all the rest of us.
The narcissist is interpersonally exploitative. He takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends. The narcissist happily steps on you to lift himself up, and feels quite justified in doing so.
The narcissist lacks empathy. He is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. Empathy is the quality that enables you to feel bothered if a personal flaw adversely affects the other person.
Narcissists are empathy-deficient. That’s why we say things like, “It’s all about him” or “The world revolves around her.” Narcissists are oblivious to the needs of those around them. There is one exception. If caring for you makes me look good, I’ll do it.
We will soon come to Romans 12:5, where Paul talks about the body of Christ. “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other,” he says.
When your tooth aches, is it only your tooth that hurts? No, it seems to hurt all over. If you hurt any part of your body, the whole body suffers. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.”
The person who has walked the wrong road and engages in false worship has a mind that is become dead to this and cannot share with others in joy or suffering. If one of us feels pain we all feel pain. The narcissist has grown so dark from walking the wrong path that they cannot feel your pain.
The narcissist is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her. The narcissist wants what he doesn’t have and has convinced himself that others are after what he’s got.
The narcissist shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes. Getting along with a narcissist requires you to worship at the feet of his greatness. He loves people who love him and trashes those who don’t.
The narcissist is the opposite of how Paul is showing we should be. Dr. Godwin calls them drama people because of the great drama of trying to relate to them. They are so blind to their own faults, so totally sure of their rightness, that other people start to doubt themselves.
These people want you to worship them, and so they are dangerous to our faith. They will lead us away from Christ and into false worship if we don’t resist them. We need to grow in discernment so that we can spot these people. We will be able to discern clearly when we worship truly and have been given new minds by God.
I suggest that you don’t try to discuss or argue with a person such as this. You cannot debate with them or reason with them. Love your enemy and pray for them. They need God to transform them.
These are some of the worst of ‘the behavior and customs of this world’ that Paul strictly says we should reject. Don’t copy them, he says in verse two. Instead let God transform you.
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)