Today many people are in love with themselves above all else, including God. Taking care of “numero uno” is the main thing. Self is the basic standard for truth. Today, society tells us the most charismatic and authentic individuals are those who are “true to self.” Psychologists push self-help titles about inner-acceptance both in academic circles and on mainstream bookshelves.
With this as the standard we believe that we can follow our own consciences no matter what anybody, including God, says. When we are faced with a decision that includes somebody other than ourselves in order to not feel guilty, if that decision has negative consequences for them, we bring to mind a statement, many think is in the Bible, to justify our the decision. That statement is “to thine own self be true”. Surprise, it’s not in the bible.
“To thine own self be true” originated in “Hamlet” the tragedy written by Shakespeare. Polonius, the older counselor of Prince Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius, is giving advice to his son Laertes (who was about to leave Denmark and return to France) when he says: "This above all things: to thine own self be true" (Hamlet, 3.1.81). Instead of this being license to let his conscience be his guide it was actually an indictment of Polonius’ character and not a sign of personal integrity. Quite different from the way we use the saying today.
We apply the saying by living our lives to ourselves and we don’t let anybody influence us to do anything you don’t want to do. On the other hand the Bible says;
Philippians 2:3-6 (NLT)3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
It’s impossible to be true to self above any and everybody and at the same time be true to God. If you are true to self above God then you can’t obey what Jesus said were these two greatest commandments. If we put ourselves first then we cancel out a “real” scripture. One we love to quote, especially when we give to the church and others.
Luke 6:38 (NLT)38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
If we were really true to ourselves we would give to others first. That is being true to God and others first and you can see what Jesus said is the result of putting others first. Putting others first doesn’t mean that we put ourselves into position to be manipulated by other’s greed or wants. When we are true to God and not ourselves we will allow Him to lead us.
Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Personal integrity and authenticity are encouraged by the Bible but “being true” is linked to seeking after God’s glory – not our own.
How good is Polonius’ advice anyway? We can only trust our conscience to guide us as far as it is led by the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves we are corrupt, bankrupt and completely unreliable.
Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?
Our example should be Jesus. He was all about love and putting others above Himself.
John 13:13-17, 34-35 (NLT)13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
What is Truth Anyway?
Merriam-Webster defines truth as the quality or state of being true. The definition of true is to be in in accordance with fact or reality.
To know the truth you have to know the One who is Truth
John 14:6 (NLT)6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
He said that He was the truth and the life which means “I am the way to God Almighty in that I am the truth and the life.
John 7:28 (NLT)28 While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him.
Jesus and the Father, who are One, are Truth, the purest form of authenticity. To know truth you must know Jesus Christ because He is the center of the glory of God.
Where Does the Truth Come From?
John 7:38-39 (NLT)38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)
The Holy Spirit gives you the unique ability to discern truth from error, sort of like a built-in lie detector.
John 16:12-15 (NLT)12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’
How Do You Get Truth?
John 8:31-32 (NLT)31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
You get truth by believing in the One who is Truth, Jesus Christ.
Acts 4:12 (NLT)12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NLT)5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.
John 6:47-51 (NLT)47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.48 Yes, I am the bread of life!49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died.50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die.51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
No, “to thine ownself be true” is not in the bible and it’s really not true at all. Truth is not something that changes from person to person or era to era, or culture to era. Truth is eternal and it matters. Truth is, as it said in John 7:28, the one who sent and revealed Himself in Jesus. When we abide in Him and listen to his Spirit then we know and have Truth. We are no longer concerned about self first and everybody and everything else, including God, second. That’s being free. That’s being real. That’s true authenticity. This is real Truth.
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.