By Rob Genin

Most everyone wants to advance in their career or business. How is the question. Modern advice is to promote yourself like a brand or product. Here is an example: “How people perceive you at work has always been vital to a successful career. Now with the Internet, social media, and the unrelenting hum of 24/7 business, the ability to brand and promote yourself effectively has become absolutely essential.” (Dan Schawbel, Promote Yourself)

That is a common sentiment, and it sounds pretty reasonable, does it not? I want to affirm that the wise use of business tools is important. However, we also have to process our ideas through the lens of scripture to test whether modern wisdom is actually wisdom. While the world 2,000 years ago looked very different from a technology standpoint, the concept of self-promotion is not new. Consider what the apostle Paul told a group who was being courted by some very savvy self-promoters:

 “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise…. but ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 1 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18

Paul was experiencing a significant challenge in the Corinthian church. A group of men who called themselves “super apostles”, gave eloquent speeches and charged speaking fees to support their work, had come in and impressed the Corinthians. Paul had loved this church and was the first to share Jesus with them, yet they were now wavering in their support of Paul and reconsidering the message of salvation by faith alone. Paul pleads with them to change course –but he does not try to outdo the self-promoters. He does several other things in the course of the letter:

1) Paul reminds them that he serves them for free, to prove he is not serving for selfish gain (11:7-12).

2) Paul warns them that the devil has good marketing, too, but does not care for them (11:13-15).

3) Paul tells them of all the hardships he has endured to tell people about Jesus (11:16-12:12).

In the conclusion of his argument, Paul uncovers the secret to a different focus – “If I must boast, I will boast of the things which show my weakness (11:30)”. God told Paul, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong (12:9).”   

Instead of promoting himself, Paul praised God, who gives strength in weakness. Paul warned his hearers that some people promise things they do not deliver, and contrasted that with the cost he paid to tell them about Jesus. It is not a perfect analogy between this church and the marketplace, but these insights are instructive. Faced with a competitor that was not only taking ‘market share’ from Paul, but misleading people about essential truth, Paul focused on clear, logical communication rather than emotional appeal or manipulation.

In response to Mr. Schawbel (and many others saying similar things), I believe there is a stark and important difference between branding and character. Branding is an external face we present to others, often airbrushed or sharpened to a point. Flaws must be hidden as unhelpful to “the brand”. Character, on the other hand, requires a high cost to demonstrate and prove. It requires honesty when we fail to live up to our standards, rather than simply a PR campaign to clean up the mess and damage done to our brand.

There is a way to do business that affirms character in the deepest places. It will cost us. The growth that comes from such a mindset will likely be slower than those who are slick at self-promotion, but the growth will be solid and enduring. That kind of steady faithfulness is a message that people will love to share, and word of mouth gives the greatest credibility. Most importantly, it will be growth that allows for honesty about our weaknesses and glorifies God who strengthens us in our weakness.