Viewing Ourselves in the Third-Person

I’ve heard people tell self-centered kids or those who otherwise feel entitled that “It’s not all about you.” We might not be that blunt, but I think all parents that are trying to raise selfless and grateful kids try to convey this message to them in one way or another.

Like many from my generation, my parents had more subtle ways of conveying this message; like when we didn’t eat all the food on our plate, they’d remind us that people in China were starving. Or when we asked for new shoes they would tell us about African children they saw in National Geographic that have never even worn shoes (I don’t know if my mom brought up the African women in National Geographic when my sisters asked for a new bra).

Regardless of how it’s said, the message is that we should be grateful for what we have and that the world doesn’t revolve around us; we have to view lives in the context of the whole world.

I thought about this recently while reading the Bible. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but I now believe this “It’s not (just) about us” message is Biblical. I think this is the reason that most of the New Testament, including all four Gospels, were written in the third-person.

For instance, Mathew wrote the following (about himself) as if he was a casual observer watching this unfold from fifty feet away: “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” (Matthew 9:9)

In his Gospel, John adds some mystery to his third-person account by referring to himself as “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John never reveals that he’s the author of the fourth Gospel until the end of the last chapter.

But my favorite example of this third-party writing is the Apostle Paul. If you didn’t know his writing style and something about Biblical history, you might think he’s schizophrenic when you read the following: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words…” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) It’s only when you read the whole chapter that you discover this mystery man that Paul was referring to was himself. It seems that Paul had what people today would call an “Out of Body experience.”

Paul wrote about everything that God did in and through him in the third-person. As he says in the first verse (of the same chapter) that “Boasting [in the first person] is foolish.” But he goes on to say that speaking (in the first-person) about his “weaknesses” (sins, temptations and overall human frailties) is good and necessary (in order to relate to others). A few verses later, Paul gives God’s answer to his prayer about one of his weaknesses. It’s one of my favorite verses, but it can only be fully understood if read in the context of this whole chapter:

my grace

By speaking and actually viewing themselves in the third-person, I believe that Paul and the other Apostles were following the example of Christ. Jesus referred to Himself (in the third-person) as “The Son of man” or “The Son of God” when speaking of His mission and when He performed miracle etc (“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10), but He spoke in the first-person in regards to His human weaknesses; while hanging on the cross, He didn’t say “The Son of man is thirsty;” He said “I thirst” (John 19:28).

I thought about how different this was from many people today. We hear many people (think politicians) boasting about their accomplishments in the first-person and speaking about their human frailties in the third-person – as if some literal third-person was to blame.

Here are a few other things that I learned from this study:

  • First-person thinking is natural; third-person thinking is intentional.
  • Those who view their life in the third-person filter everything through the eyes of God and through the eyes of others; this is why John identified himself as the “The disciple whom Jesus loved.”
  • To fulfill verses like the following, we must take a third-person view of ourselves “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (Matthew 7:12)
  • Hypocrisy and self-righteousness are sins only committed by those who view themselves in the first-person.
  • Legalism/religion is for those who view themselves in the first-person; grace comes to and through those who view themselves in the third-person.
  •  Those who view themselves in the third-person (through the eyes of God and others) have a much easier time ignoring their negative first-person thoughts.

I think Christians should follow the example of Jesus and His disciples – we should own our weaknesses and credit God for the good He does in and through us. To be a Christian is to be a servant of God and of others; It’s not (just) about us.

About Bill Sweeney

In 1996, Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and the doctors told him he had 3-5 years to live. He is now completely paralyzed and unable to speak, but by God’s grace, he’s still alive and through his blog shares a message of hope in Christ - Unshakable Hope!

Posted on October 3, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 113 Comments.

  1. This is so true, yet so hard. The woman who cuts my hair always says blow drying would be so much easier if we could take our head off and put it on a shelf but that, of course, would not work for long. Seeing ourselves in third person is hard, yet seeing ourselves as instruments of God is even harder. Let’s all stop and take an inventory of who we are and what we are called to do.

  2. Being grateful is my goal in life and may God keep me humble. It is going to hurt but it would be all worth it in the end… Great post. 🙂

  3. I love the premise of this post. I am increasingly aware of my self-centeredness. Of my tendency, when talking to others, to steer the conversation to me–talking about my stressers, desires, joys, whatever. Not that this is bad in and of itself, but I’d so much rather spend my time encouraging others to share their heart. If only I’d quit talking long enough! 😉

    I am also trying to be others focused in my reactions. One night, I was out with a friend, and this person said some hurtful things that, quite frankly, were uncharacteristic of her. It hurt. At first, I’ll admit, I took it very personal. I felt judged, not accepted. But then I reminded myself of the importance of grace and that no one, not even our closest friends, will be the friend we’d like or need all of the time. In fact, they will probably have more than a few inconsiderate actions and responses, but just as Christ offers me grace (for those very same things), I need to do the same.

    Well, I prayed on this for some time, as my initial reaction was to sort of withdraw. (I suspect I’ll need to fight this diligently as that tends to be how I handle pain.) Then I paused and considered the encounter from my friend’s perspective. What was going on with her that caused her to snap in such an uncharacteristic manner? Was she stressed? Hurt? Maybe not feeling well?

    I don’t know and may never know, but I know as her friend and recipient of God’s grace, I am to assume the best in her, snarly words and all, remembering I only see one view–the outer behavior. But God sees (and will deal with–through healing or chastising, or however else He deems best) the heart, which is where our words and actions arise from.

    • Thank you for sharing that story about your friend, Jennifer. I guess it all comes down to giving people, especially our friends, the benefit of the doubt. We’ve all unintentionally hurt people when we’re feeling bad emotionally or physically.

  4. Very thoughtful. Christians first-personalize Jeremiah 29 “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you a hope…a future.” They preach as though the Gospel centered around us. Well, as the Sun does not orbit the planets, neither does the Good News. Our story threads through the great redemptive tapestry. Our story is part of HIS STORY (history). God’s plan for our life is in fact the outworking of His greater redemptive saga.

    Lovely meditation.

  5. Another one that makes ya think! I was going to say that this is one that I’d come back to and re-read and then came back and re-read it!;-)

  6. Hi. I watched a great movie recently where a coach, was developing a team “mentality” every time any of the boys said I on”play time” everyone did 100 push ups. It was amazing to see the spirit of entitlement wane away and the bonded into one “we” and a selfless spirit played forth. Needless to say victory was theirs! What if our Kingdom “mentality” was a “we?” twe

  7. Very interesting insight. Thank you for sharing. It makes me consider what I write to see if I am being helpful in a third person kind of way or making it all about me. Thanks for the challenge!

  8. You are amazing! So true! God just taught me this principal of weakness and strength on Thursday while in my car. Reading your post only made it even more clear. Appreciate you and your family.

  9. I never thought of it this way but it makes total sense. Thank you for sharing that important perspective…

  10. I love this perspective!!! Lately my husband and I have made an intentional noting of how many times “I, me, my, mine” are being used . . . sadly, more often than we thought 🙁
    I agree with numerous other readers, this is a well-needed reminder! Thank you…

  11. Keep shining your light into our lives! ♥

  12. Just wanted to add my kudos to the many who’ve already commented. GREAT post, Bill! “He must become greater; I must become less,” John said (John 3:30). You’ve shown us the way for that to become true in each of our lives!

  13. I guess I don’t think about it consciously. This is such a great lesson you presented. Thanks for this! It all makes perfect sense. We have to be careful the way we word things. When teaching Sunday school, I tried to never say “I” but rather “we.” And, I tried to always avoid “YOU” because I was as much a part of the group as anyone. I think it makes a difference. Take care of yourself and I hope you have a great week! – Amy 😀

  14. Bill, this is fabulous! It is so contrary to what the world teaches. I find that when I do own my weaknesses and credit God with anything good that comes from me it makes some people very uncomfortable. They feel a need to make sure I’m not suffering from some horrible self-esteem issue. I would find it funny, if it weren’t so sad. To give all of the glory to Him and see myself clearly with all of my faults and strengths is pure freedom. I love this post. I never thought of it in terms of first or third person. I may try a writing exercise with this concept. Grace and peace to you this week. Praying for you. 🙂

    • Thank you, Rebeca. I think you’re right; giving credit to God for our successes, blessings and good works, would seem strange to non-Christians, but pretty much everything about Christianity seems strange to non-Christians (it did to me, anyway:-)

  15. Hi! I loved this…and how timely..I have been struck with the idea of “individualism” in our society and how it relates or does not relate to our faith…and your posting is just so timely..I’ve been noodling for over a week not sure what to say about that…loved your perspective and very insightful, as usual! thank you! I enjoyed your post very much! Wishing you happiness and health!

  16. I love your observations, Bill. It makes me remember how bowled over I was the first time I read Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”. First words are: it’s not about you. Now I know I live my life before an audience of one, the only One who matters.

    I will read the Bible now with attention to this different slant. Thanks Bill!

    • Thank you, Vera. I had forgotten that line from “The Purpose Driven Life.” Thanks for the reminder. (You must read a lot; you refer to books you’ve read or are reading in a lot of your posts and comments:-)

  17. magnificent analysis dear friend ! Faithfully Debbie

  18. Hi Bill. This is a great article and made me think of another passages of scripture. Luke 18:9-14
    God bless.

  19. Beautiful insight. A gem to ponder. Thank you for writing this.

  20. Wow! Very interesting topic! I learned some new things from reading your post, Bill. Thank you. I admit I have said to my kids, “The world doesn’t revolve around you!” I have moments when I feel frustrated with how self-centered my son or daughter’s behavior was. Then the Lord reminds me that there are times I’ve acted selfish, too! Thank you for encouraging us to view ourselves in third person. We were created to serve and glorify our amazing King. It’s all about Him!

    • Thank you, Danielle. I think every parent has told their kids that the world doesn’t revolve around them – especially during those times that we think the world revolves around us:-)

  21. “Those who view themselves in the third-person (through the eyes of God and others) have a much easier time ignoring their negative first-person thoughts.”

    I loved this idea. I am so self-centered and plagued with negative thoughts about myself. If I were to KEEP my focus on how God thinks of me I know I would be a-ok, because I am totally a-ok in His book. But I think “I know better” (than God?!!)

  22. I love this, great insight! KD will start intentionally thinking in the third person. 🙂 . . . . I prayed for you during my bike ride this morning, wondering how you’re doing.

  23. Glad to see you back Bill, I’ve had you on my heart and thank you for this wonderfully insightful post.

  24. Bill, your words, as always, point us to the Truth. There is only One who is good. If it were just about us – we’d be in a bad situation, indeed!

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  25. Had not thought of this —thank you for new insights. Good to read a post of yours…I always know they will be edifying.

  26. Wonderfully said! I continue to pray for you and your wife…press in, He is near. ~Zoey

  27. Amen to you and the post and all the comments of the other bloggers. Great post with much food for thought. Thank you! 🙂

  28. This is so true. I see it on the internet as we all try to give our profile sounding important without sounding important! This is a “Me” generation and getting more so daily.

  29. The person who read your blog was very blessed!

  30. First, I am happy to see your return; secondly, this is one of the most wonderful posts I’ve read in a very long time. I was (past tense) going to be writing of the same ideas, just not in the context in which you did.
    I KNOW it’s not about us, it is about our Faithful, Loving God. God created us for His pleasure and far too many today think God should be who and what “they think ” He is. May I reblog Bill?
    Blessings to you and family!

  31. Really good and insightful!

  32. Wonderful insights. BTW. Had you on my heart this am and was praying for you. Blessings for all you do

  33. Beautifully put. To look at ourselves and others through eyes of faith (that third person) is to broaden the scope of our perceptions from the immediate to the eternal. Ka-Pow! I like your style Brother Bill!

  34. Very refreshing insight. Thanks for sharing! Going through tough times it helps to see we are not the only ones. Be blessed…

  35. Hallelujah !! Thank you for writing this beautiful article.

  36. Something I never noticed before! Thank you for your wonderful insight.

  37. Fantastic thinking and writing (as usual). This one is an instant classic!

  38. Fantastic thinking and writing (as usual). This one is a classis!

  39. I’m going to chew on these thoughts. I’ve never heard this perspective from the pulpit. Thanks for sharing!!!!

  40. A brilliant eye opening post… one I will read again and have posted the link to a few others… it is actually an awe inspiring post… thank you…

  41. Great post! I shared on Twitter. Thanks and God bless you!

  42. Once again a life changing post from you my friend! Gonna come back and reread this ine a few times!

  43. Reblogged this on Sweet Rains.

  44. I love this! What a great observation! Thank you! Reminds me, too, of how the prophets of old when praying and asking the LORD to forgive sins, included themselves as they prayed for the entire nation. This also fits in with a study our ladies’ group is doing about our thoughts. So cool how the Lord fits things together! 🙂

  45. Very thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing. PS How is Ann doing?

  46. This morning I read John the Baptist, “I must decrease so He can increase”. Only true submission to Him enables us to become that ‘third person’, and to do it gladly. Thank you for your beautifully written reminder.

    • Thank you. I love that statement from John the Baptist. He was another one with a third-person view of himself; when asked by the Pharisees who he was, he didn’t say that he was John the Baptist, like Jesus, he identified himself with what the Old Testament said about him – “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming!’” (John 1:23)

  47. Interesting perspective. I like it and am challenged by it. 2 Cor 12:9 is my life verse.
    Thank you, tracey

  48. This is a “great” insight Bill! I will definitely meditate on this. Thank you very much for this article.

  49. Excellent post. Too many of us, the reader here included, have “I” disease. Would like to repost this.

  50. To God be the glory! Thank you, Bill.

  1. Pingback: “Viewing Ourselves in the Third-Person” 12/03/2014 by Bill Sweeney | God's group

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