Monday, June 9, 2014

Do You Speak of Yourself, or Him?

Life of Christ 98

          During the tense give and take between Jesus and the crowd in the Temple for the Feast of Tabernacles He gives them an evidence of the veracity of His claim to be speaking God's truth. 'He that speaketh of Himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him' (John 7.18).
          One of the little noticed yet completely true facts about the life and ministry of our Lord is that He rarely, if ever, mentioned Himself. Look at the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount, for instance. He spoke of how others could receive blessing. He spoke of glorifying the Father (Matthew 5.16) by living right. He spoke of the Ten Commandments, explaining their actual intent. He spoke of living for and loving others. He spoke of genuine private communication with God. He spoke of prayer. He spoke of fasting. He spoke of giving. He spoke of hypocrisy. He spoke of God's tender watch care and provision. He spoke of judging correctly. He spoke more on prayer. He spoke of salvation. He spoke of false prophets. He spoke of foundational Christianity. But what He didn't do is give seventeen illustrations of how He Himself was a wonderful example in these areas. This, even though He actually was a wonderful example in these areas.

          He didn't speak of Himself. He spoke of His Heavenly Father, Israel's God, Jehovah. 'For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak' (John 12.49). 'The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works' (John 14.10). 'He that loveth me keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me' (John 14.24). 'My Father is greater than I' (John 14.28). 'I shall shew you plainly of the Father' (John 16.25).
          As a teenager, and then a young man in Bible college, I was rather enamored with the pulpit presence of men who could spin a yarn, tell a story, and illustrate some wonderful philosophy with the events of their own life. The older I get, however, the more I look back on that and wonder just what I was thinking. One of the great tests, I think, of a preacher, is to run his preaching through that collection of verses I just gave you in the last paragraph in order to see  just exactly how applicable they are to his preaching. In plain language, a preacher who constantly refers to himself, and to his own exploits is well-nigh spiritually bankrupt.
          Of course, this is not just a flaw reserved for preachers. Christians of all stripes and positions in life can be found guilty of focusing primarily on themselves, thinking about themselves, and speaking about themselves. As I understand the Word of God, the mature Christian is focused on God first, and on other people second. In his own estimation he is a distant and often forgotten third.
          These are the kinds of people whom you have to persuade to pay attention to their own physical and financial needs because they are so wrapped up in others. These are the kinds of people who get very embarrassed by personal attention, praise, and plaudits. These are the kinds of people who don't care if their dress gets ruined by Sunday School kids, or their schedule gets bumped up a bit because somebody needs picked up for church. These are the kinds of people who never do get to take that vacation on the cruise ship but they do manage to faithfully support an orphanage in Honduras for years. These are the kinds of people who don't think about themselves, don't focus on themselves, don't fret about themselves, and don't talk about themselves. These are the kinds of people who serve quietly, behind the scenes, giving themselves away in service, in prayer, in time, in energy, without reserve, for decades.
          This kind of Christianity is poles apart from the modern day prosperity Gospel types. It is poles apart from the carnal God-exists-for-me types. As I type this I'm thinking about a man who attended my church in Pennsylvania for a few weeks. He had retired as an automotive executive in Detroit, and had chosen to live in our area because of its inexpensive standard of living. This was back in the days when 20 in church was a good day for us, and consequently we noticed the tall, successful looking visitor as soon as he strolled through the door. After he had visited our church a couple of times I made an appointment with him, and as we talked he shared with me his salvation testimony. He also volunteered the time in his life when he felt closest to God happened to involve a Corvette. He had finally saved enough money to buy a new one, and as he drove it at high speed on the interstate for the first time he raised his hand in the air and thanked the Lord that God had let him live long enough to enjoy that moment. I remember sitting there, shell shocked in my mind, that this guy's concept of being close to God was finally getting to drive his own Corvette fast. Needless to say, he didn't last long in our church, and my opinion of his Christianity is quite low, at best. Such a selfish, consumerist spirituality is anathema to what Jesus died to give us.
Roy and Jo Jo Moffitt
         One of my college teachers made a life-changing statement, in passing, one day. I wrote it down, and it has found its way onto the list of things I routinely pray every Sunday morning prior to church. She said, 'Leave your world; enter theirs.' That teacher, Jo Jo Moffit, proved out in her own life her belief in that statement, and it has helped me numerous times. As the time for ministry approaches I want to lay aside all pre-occupation with my own struggles, concerns, needs, and goals, and simply enter into the world of each person I meet. Jesus, even better than Jo Jo Moffit, exemplified this very concept in His own life and ministry.

          The picture of our generation is one that is snapped, in front of a mirror, by someone who has posed ten different ways just to see how amazing they are. We call them selfies. There are no selfies in the Christ-like life. There is only Him. And them.

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