by Steve Clay

What do you love more than anything else? What is it that you are convinced will make you happy? These questions form a basis for what we live, whether we are aware of it or not. All of us live for something... something we treasure, hope in, and in which we find pleasure. 

I am amazed at how much we (me included) crave the approval and praise of people, believing it is essential to personal well-being and happiness. This craving for praise is an infectious disease that leads us in a direction opposite than that which engenders faith and joy. With the self-esteem movement making its impact on our culture, it seems that most of us have come to believe that to think well of ourselves—or more accurately, to be thought well of by others—is of paramount importance. Why is this and what is the result?

The account of the tower at Babel in Genesis 11 gives us an opportunity to see what people, steeped in human pride, caught up in their own praise, do.

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. 2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The inhabitants of the land of Shinar had made the decision that it was in their best interest to disobey God, who had told them to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9). Instead, they had decided to put down roots. What were they seeking to do? Looking at verse 4 we see their intentions.

It was their goal to build a city in order to settle and not be scattered, and to build a tower in order to make their name great. In other words, their disobedience in failing to spread out over the earth was driven by a love for the praise of themselves (“make for ourselves a name”) rather than a love of praise for God, and their quest to find security was found in their own means and methods (“build for ourselves a city”), rather than in obedience to God. The quest to find happiness outside God’s clear intentions was their desire, as was the source of original sin in the Garden. What is the fuel for this strategy but human pride. In our pride we want to make a name for themselves.

The longer I live, the more apparent it becomes to me (and is confirmed in scripture) that loving men’s praise is a futile effort for attaining anything of value. In fact, praise-seeking fuels and stokes the fire of flesh that already burns wrong in us. Joy will never be found in the praise of men. It is fleeting at best. Joy will only come in being found in Christ and in knowing and praising God. And security won’t be found in what we build, in our accomplishments and reputations, but rather in God and in what He has done. Humble obedience flowing out of an intimate knowledge of God—that is the pathway to joy and security.

I might also note that the Tower of Babel follows the flood, in which God destroyed the world because of rank and worldwide sin. However, we can see that Noah’s descendants did no better. The problem was not solved in the flood. Sin’s power was still in man after the flood. Acting independently of God, seeking his own way and pleasure apart from God, is the DNA of sin in the heart of every human. This is the lot of mankind apart from the redeeming grace of God.

Those who know Christ by means of the gospel, and find their identity and happiness in Him, have much for which to be thankful. It is He Who has blessed us beyond measure, to Whom belongs all of our praise, and in Whom is our very security! His redeeming grace is the only means by which we change from loving the praise of men to loving the praise of God, and by doing so have a sure source of happiness, contentment, and security.