1Corinthians 4: I don’t even rank myself.
Some of the church members in Corinth have concluded that Paul needs to be put in his place. He’s a long way distant and they like Apollos better anyway. Paul tells them that he’s not interested in their “preacher rankings” and is happy to drop out of the race, adding that he’s quite sure Apollos feels the same way about it. Frankly, they don’t have the proper credentials to judge anybody. If anyone is going to do some judging it’s the one who knows the heart, Christ. Beyond all that, Paul isn’t just saying these things because their attitude has gotten under his skin. As a loving father wants to help his children grow up. He wants them to move on in their spiritual walk. Their current attitude is childish and unproductive. In spite of the fact that they have everything needed to mature in their faith they’re stuck at a nursery-level spiritual life. When he comes in person Paul, their spiritual father, intends to help them move on up. His arrival won’t bring another round of debates. Rather, it’ll be marked by his spiritual power and authority in Christ. I know there’s more going on here than this, but I find in this passage a caution against personality driven religion. No doubt, there are some church leaders who encourage a cult-like following, but most aren’t trying to build an earthly kingdom. Like Paul and Apollos, they want to make Christ-like, Christ-following disciples. I find it interesting that before there was radio and television and book writing preachers church folks were already tempted to focus more on the preacher than on Jesus. Paul says, “Don’t do it!”
Take Away: The preacher can’t save you – keep your focus on the One who can.
Minding my own business
John 21: Master, what’s going to happen to him?
John finishes his story of Jesus with the account of an early morning, and private, encounter with the resurrected Savior. Our Lord and his disciples have breakfast together and then Jesus and Peter go for a walk. Peter, who denied the Lord three times, is now asked three times if he loves Jesus. Each time, as a result of his declaration of love, he’s given responsibility in the Kingdom. By the third time, though, Peter is burdened with the repeated question. Jesus responds by explaining to Peter that his love will be his source of strength in difficult days ahead. He’ll be a prisoner and will be led to places he doesn’t want to go. In the midst of such a trial, Peter will find strength in his love for the Lord. Meanwhile, following along is the disciple John. Everyone knows John is Jesus’ favorite and Peter wants to know what’s coming for him. Jesus, though, isn’t going there with Peter. Peter needs to worry about Peter and not about the beloved disciple. I think we tend to concern ourselves with what God is doing in the lives of others too much. We forget that we aren’t called to make Christian clones of ourselves but are to “feed the sheep” and let the Master handle the rest of it. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned when I see someone struggling or has even lost their way. Of course I’m concerned. Still, I need to be careful to love them and encourage them to follow Jesus and not be too focused on exactly how the Lord might want that to happen in their life.
Take Away: I love others and want to see them allow the Lord to lead their lives, but my main concern is to keep things clear between myself and the Lord.
Navigating through a maze at night
Jeremiah 17: The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful.
I think it’s in order to quote more from this passage: “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.” There’s much of our humanity that we humans can’t figure out. I may do something and then wonder why I did it or I may state a position and then realize that my reasons are not as clear as I thought they were. Jeremiah tells me that the heart of my life is a dark place. If you look at the passage again, you’ll see that he isn’t talking so much about darkness as “wickedness” (although I do think we’re sinners by nature and need to let the Lord deal with that aspect of our lives) as he is talking about “mysterious.” In other words, Jeremiah points out that our lives are a tangled web of desires, hopes, hurts, and misconceptions. Finding one’s way through all that is like navigating a maze at night. In a word: impossible. However, the Lord can find his way to the core of issues within me. He searches my innermost being, getting to the root of why I am the person I am. So what do I take away from this concept? For one thing, I see that I’m not qualified to judge others. I can’t untangle their lives so I had better leave the judging up to the One who can. Also, I come away from this passage reminded of how important it is that I rely on, and listen to, the Lord. He unravels the mystery of my life. Sometimes, he sees my failure and, looking through all the darkness, says, “That’s okay. You did your best, I judge you ‘not guilty.'” It may be though, that he’ll say, “what you did was plain sin. You rebelled against me and even though you can make surface excuses, I know better. Repent and make it right.” He knows me better than I know myself as he navigates to the very core of my being.
Take Away: The Lord knows me better than I know myself.