“… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
“… no one can credit me with something beyond what he sees in me or hears from me …” (2 Corinthians 12:6b)
Paul had found it necessary to defend his ministry to the Corinthian believers because of some “super apostles” (11:5, 13; 12:11) who had come into their midst. In that uncomfortable position he felt forced into a certain “boasting.” So he boasted in his hardships and humiliations (11:22-33) and only then turned to his revelations and spiritual experiences (12:1-5). He stopped himself at that point insisting that no one “credit [him] with something beyond what he sees in [him] or hears from [him].”
Paul’s general approach and these specific words are instructive to me.
Most boasting is merely an attempt to present yourself to another as something more than you’ve been able to evidence through your actions and words.
Paul insists that the proof of one’s authority and worthiness of respect reside in demonstrable actions and words in a specific relationship, not in victories or triumphs in other realms and relationships. I am only as good as my ministry to you. I am only as worthy of respect as my words and actions with you demand. Titles, reputation, accounts of other triumphs matter little to the person who stands before me at this moment.
If I have not demonstrated the character of Christ in my relationship with you, my stories of other triumphs will matter little. If the Spirit has not found ways to express His sweet graces through me in relationship to you, why should my track-record elsewhere with others shape your view of who I am?
The immediacy of Christ’s presence through His Spirit made manifest in our words and actions is the only calling card any of us in ministry really have … or need. Let us be known for His present presence in us and made manifest through us. If we are to be respected at all, let it be for what Christ has done through us. Let my reputation with you hang upon the present grace of Christ that actively flows between us by His Spirit.
“A preacher had better stop in his tracks if he finds himself moving from the apostolic to the mechanistic stage; he had better do something radical then and there. He had better drop everything and get into the woods with his Bible and read until he has a new Bible and pray until he has a new prayer, and come back a new man with a new message. A lot of churches think they need a new preacher when they simply need the same preacher renewed. Many a preacher thinks he needs a new pastorate when he needs to be renewed in the same pastorate. Robertson of Brighton wanted to resign from the ministry, but God impressed him that what he needed was to have his commissioned re-signed.
Not every preacher loses out because he went into false doctrine or had a moral breakdown. Some leave their first love in a round of church duties. Perhaps more leave it that way than in any other, for it is so deceptive: they are not aware of getting over it. They work at it harder than ever, but the harder they work, the farther they get from the thing they started to do.” (Vance Havner, “You’ll Get Over it!” in Jesus Only, p;.38-39)
The other day a man—a younger man—observed to me in conversation that I am now in my “legacy years.” Read that, if you will, as: “You’re in that stage of life where you’ve really achieved pretty much all you’re going to achieve and now it’s just about deciding how you want to exit the stage.”
Hmph. Well, thank you very much!
But there is some truth in what he says. In a mere fifteen years, should the Lord grant me that long, I’ll be 70 years old.
Not sure how that happened, but here I am. I feel great. I am in good health, thank the Lord. I dream dreams, have plans and have vision of what God will yet do. I’m not in the grave or the nursing home yet.
But still …
Earlier that same day in my personal devotions I happened to be studying Philippians 2:16: “… so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
While studying I stumbled upon this statement by a commentator from the late 1800’s: “As the Apostle advanced in years the final result of his labours would have increasing prominence in his thoughts” (H.A.A. Kennedy).
Hmmm … even the great Apostle, the longer he lived, thought more and more about what his life and labors had amounted to. What would he have to show for it all at the throne?
That says several things to me as I think about this whole “legacy” thing.
First, I note that Paul wasn’t looking back as much as he was looking forward—to the great assize at God’s throne when each will give account for what has come of the grace of God extended into their lives. Legacy is not about nostalgia. It is about accounting for grace received. On that day, what will I have to show my Savior for all He has done for and given to me?
Second, “legacy” is not about what I’ve done (and certainly not about what I’ve accumulated), but about people, about lives changed by the grace of God that have flowed through my life. To whom will I be able to point on that Day?
Third, while it is a natural thing to think about “legacy” as we grow older, it is more than that. It is a supernatural thing. As a believer it is right for me to look for signs that God has produced something through my life.
Fourth, Paul’s words approve our desire to “see” at least some measure of the fruit God bears through our lives. I agree with whoever it was that said God lets you see just enough of what He is doing through you to give you hope to carry on, but not enough to make you think you could do it without Him. For His own sovereign purposes God may send seasons when He obscures almost totally what He is producing through us. But it is permissible, even appropriate to ask God to give you some glimpse that you are on the right track and bearing fruit for Him.
So I put that together and realize that what I want to be true on that great Day had better be true of this very day. What will matter in eternity had better become all important in the moments and minutes of my life here.
People matter, relationships must be a priority. Grace and truth must be the dominant quality of those relationships. The Holy Spirit at work through me and into the individual before me at any given moment is the big thing. And being able to at least “see” something of what He is doing—this gives me hope and sustains me as I anticipate that Day in which I will stand before God’s throne and review with Him what I’ve got to show for all His mercy to me.
God is not through with any one of us. No matter your chronological age these are still the days of “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20-21). It is for that very reason that we ought regularly to sneak a peek at the approaching Day, look to the throne, and prayerfully consider what we’re going to have to show for all this.
“Walter Wilson, a medical doctor and pastor/teacher in Kansas City, worked hard and wrote much to help preachers on this subject. In a series of lectures that he delivered in Chicago many years ago, he astonished the group by stating that one hour of abandoned preaching was equal to eight hours at the executive desk and twelve to fourteen hours of manual labor. As a doctor he sustained these statistics with tests that he conducted on preachers of all ages and sizes. His text for that series of lectures was taken from those words in the Gospels, where Jesus declared, ‘I perceive that virtue has gone out of me‘ (Luke 8:46, KJV, emphasis ours).” (Stephen F. Olford, Anointed Expository Preaching, p.56)