St. Paul told the Roman Church, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” (Romans 12:3, NIV). The NIV supplies the words “of yourself” – they are not in the Greek text – which is something like “do not overthink.”
It does not seem to me that Paul is saying, “Don’t be conceited,” although that is what most people take him to mean. If that is what he meant to say, Greek offered him the vocabulary to say it, a vocabulary he makes frequent use of elsewhere. But here he uses a different word, one he may have coined himself, since it appears nowhere else in the Bible.
To translate the word Paul coined, I had to coin one myself. So here is the Looper translation: “For through the grace given to me I tell every one of you not to exaggerthink…”This doesn’t necessarily refer to thinking you are more important than other people. A person who exaggerthinks may be quite humble but her mind inflates what she can do, what she is called to do, and makes her responsible for how everything turns out.
People who exaggerthink often take on more than they should, robbing other people of service opportunities and wearing themselves out in the process. That is exaggerthinking.
The exaggerthinker is liable to assume that the truth he sees is the whole truth, which makes it difficult for him to listen to other people. But only God sees the whole truth. He has 360-degree vision. We don’t.
But we do see parts, and when we stop exaggerthinking, we realize that other people see parts too. In giving us the body of Christ, God has broadened our vision. The body of Christ sees more than any one person can see. As such, the whole body of Christ (and not just the individual) is needed to discern the whole will of God. It is only “together with all the saints” that we “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…” (Ephesians 3:18).
One of the biggest problems with exaggerthinking is that it leaves us believing that it all depends on me. When I exaggerthink, even though I am fully aware of my sins and weaknesses, even though I don’t mean to do so and would scoff at the very idea, I cast myself in the role of savior. It would be comical if it were not so painful.
The exaggerthinker believes it’s up to him to save the church, save the business, save the relationship, save the family, save the truth. No one else will do it. Perhaps no one else can do it. Unless I do it, it won’t get done.
People who think like this end up like Elijah: depressed, anxious, shame-bearing, and alone. Remember what was going over and over in his mind? “It’s all up to me and I’m not up to the task. My best is not enough. I’m a failure. I just want to die.” To which God said (in effect), “Elijah, you and I need to have a talk. But just so you know, I have plenty of people who are ready to help. You’re not the only one. It doesn’t all depend on you.”
Listen: we already have a savior. We don’t need to be one. It is not all up to you or me and it never has been. God has resources we know nothing about.
All of us exaggerthink at times, in one way or another. I say that as one who has often engaged in it. You may say, “I don’t do that. I know I’m a nobody.” But that is exaggerthinking in a negative direction—just the kind of thing Elijah was doing, and it was ruining his life. It will ruin yours too. It will rob you of joy. It will make it impossible for you to trust God. And it will separate you from others.