“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (7:18)
There are at least two characteristics of every false teacher and would-be messiah. First, he speaks from himself; that is, on his own authority, not God’s (cf. Jer. 14:14; 23:16, 21, 26, 32; 27:15; 28:15; 29:9, 31; Neh. 6:10–12; Ezek. 13:2, 6). And second, he seeks his own glory, not God’s. False prophets invariably proclaim their own musings to attract followers and secure personal gain. Their goal is not to feed the flock, but to fleece it. The prophet Micah graphically depicted the greedy false prophets of his day: “Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray; when they have something to bite with their teeth, they cry, ‘Peace,’ but against him who puts nothing in their mouths they declare holy war” (Mic. 3:5). In verse 11 he denounced them as “prophets [who] divine for money.” Isaiah called them greedy dogs who are never satisfied (Isa. 56:11). And Ezekiel warned, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock’ ” (Ezek. 34:2–3). The apostle Paul characterized false teachers as “slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites” (Rom. 16:18), “whose god is their appetite” (Phil. 3:19), “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5), and who are guilty of “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11). Peter warned that they greedily exploit people (2 Peter 2:3; cf. Acts 8:18–19), because they have “a heart trained in greed, … having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:14–15; cf. Jude 11).
Instead of seeking to honor God, false teachers seek honor for themselves. Jesus castigated the scribes and Pharisees as those who “do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matt. 23:5–7), and “for appearance’s sake offer long prayers” (Luke 20:47). False teachers are “those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh” (Gal. 6:12) and “boast according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 11:18). Like Diotrephes, they love the place of prominence (3 John 9). But those whose goal is to “be honored by men.… have their reward in full” (Matt. 6:2; cf. vv. 5, 16).
Jesus, however, never sought His own glory (cf. 5:41; 8:50), since He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), for He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 2 Cor. 10:1). “Although He existed in the form of God,” Paul wrote, Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24). False teachers are materialistic, but “the Son of Man ha[d] nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58); false teachers are self-seeking and demanding, but Jesus “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:4–5)—thus performing a menial task normally reserved for the lowliest slaves.
That Jesus came seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, instead of glorifying Himself, verified His claim to be the true Messiah, and showed that there was no unrighteousness in Him (cf. 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22). It is not surprising that the Jewish leaders rejected the One who sought God’s glory, since they were those who “receive[d] glory from one another and … [did] not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (5:44).
18. He who speaketh from himself. Hitherto he has showed that there is no other reason why men are blind, but because they are not governed by the fear of God. He now puts another mark on the doctrine itself, by which it may be known whether it is of God or of man. For every thing that displays the glory of God is holy and divine; but every thing that contributes to the ambition of men, and, by exalting them, obscures the glory of God, not only has no claim to be believed, but ought to be vehemently rejected. He who shall make the glory of God the object at which he aims will never go wrong; he who shall try and prove by this touchstone what is brought forward in the name of God will never be deceived by the semblance of right. We are also reminded by it that no man can faithfully discharge the office of teacher in the Church, unless he be void of ambition, and resolve to make it his sole object to promote, to the utmost of his power, the glory of God. When he says that there is no unrighteousness in him, he means that there is nothing wicked or hypocritical, but that he does what becomes an upright and sincere minister of God.
18 Jesus now strengthens his case for accepting his teaching as coming from God. He points out that those who speak on their own do so for personal benefit. When people promote their own ideas, one can be sure that the ego is involved. The desire to convince others leads to a biased presentation that cannot be taken at face value. But Jesus is not trying to win favor in the eyes of others. His desire is that “the one who sent [him]” receive “honor.” It follows that, since he works for the honor of God, he is “a man of truth,” and “there is nothing false about him.” These words came as a stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of the day. They were consumed by the desire to gain recognition, even if it required the manipulation of what they knew to be true.