The Truth about Bootstraps

Written by Drew on January 4th, 2007

We have an old saying, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Taken figuratively, that’s good advice. It means improving your situation by your own efforts, without outside assistance. Sometimes our problems can’t be solved by anybody but ourselves.

But have you ever tried literally to pull yourself up by your bootstraps? It doesn’t work. The laws of physics will only go so far—it is impossible for a person to lift himself up.

This is what Jesus was trying to say in the Parable of the Wedding Feast, a story that he told at a dinner held at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Read carefully:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Lk. 14:8-11, emphasis added).

The Lord gave his fellow-diners some helpful advice. They thought they could seize honor by merely choosing the right seat. But he taught them that exaltation is given, not taken.

The word translated “exalt” in the New Testament literally means “to lift up.” You can lift others up; you cannot lift yourself up. It’s like pulling on your own bootstraps—you won’t lift yourself even an inch off the ground.

The only places in which the word “exalt” is used to describe an action one performs on himself are the passages that condemn the sin of pride. In these places, those who attempt self-exaltation are guaranteed they will be humbled (Mt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14).

On the other hand, notice how the Lord exalts those who choose humility over pride. James wrote, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:10). Similarly, Peter said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Bootstraps are for pulling on your boots so you can serve others. They do not work when it comes to levitation. Pride is not the answer. Try humility. Let God lift you up.


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