“… 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.
“What is the difference between repentance and remorse? The question demands an answer. Not all that weeps is truly broken. Not every promise of reform produces real change. The Scriptures make clear that ‘godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.’ (2 Cor. 7:10). Not all that appears religious in its regret is genuine repentance. It may be nothing more than remorse …
Remorse is sorry for being caught; repentance is grief over the sin. Remorse is distress over the consequences, repentance is broken over rebellion against a holy God. Remorse is temporary and fleeting, but repentance is lasting and life-changing. Remorse is the embarrassed cry of an unbroken soul being caught red-handed, while repentance is the believer’s cry of horror over the darkness of his own soul. Remorse hides self-will under the cloak of contrition. When the spot light is off, self-will crawls out from under the wraps to ascend the throne once again. Real repentance, on the other hand, comes clean, slays self-will and ushers Christ back to His rightful place on the throne of our lives. Real repentance begins in a moment, but becomes an abiding attitude and orientation to life.
Mere remorse is Satan’s tool to torment a bankrupt soul, to deceive that soul into believing it has done business with God. Repentance is God’s gift to liberate a soul that has been undone before His infinite holiness and to usher it into the new life He offers in Christ.” (Praying Through, 139, 149)
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:10)
“Remorse is sorrow for being caught; repentance is grieved over the sin. Remorse is distress over the consequences, repentance is brokenness over its rebellion against a holy God. Remorse is temporary and fleeting, but repentance is lasting and life-changing. Remorse is the embarrassed cry of an unbroken soul being caught red-handed, while repentance is the believer’s cry of horror over the darkness of his own soul. Remorse hides self-will under the cloak of contrition. When the spot light is off, self-will crawls out from under the wraps to ascend the throne once again. Real repentance, on the other hand, comes clean, slays self-will and ushers Christ back to His rightful place on the throne of our lives. Real repentance begins in a moment, but becomes an abiding attitude and orientation to life.” (Praying Through, p.149)
The Bible works. The Bible is true. The Bible works precisely because it is true.
But what precisely does that mean? What does the Bible do?
I ask because the fact is there are many, even within the ranks of Evangelicalism today—even among ministry leaders within Evangelicalism today, that doubt this.
The widespread dependence upon other things, rather than the Bible to produce the desired effect of ministry labors. Things such as programs, celebrities, music, staging, choreography, lights, lasers and smoke (yes, I’m serious!), marketing, makeup, organizational structure, etc., etc., etc. To any combination of these add generous seasonings of hype, pizzazz and zest and you’ve manufactured a “move of God.” The crowds will follow.
And in all things change is essential. We have a culturally inbred disdain for anything that we even think might smell of “yesterday.” New sells. Old repels. It is enough to make one wonder about the shelf-life of the things of God. Things like prayer and the Bible.
We are—in a word—pragmatic. Pragmatism is not concerned with whether something is true. Pragmatism asks “Does it work?” It has no time for anything it deems to be theoretical. Philosophizing and dreaming are deemed a waste of time. Just tell me, “Does it get the job done?” Thus the famous line by the TV psychologist: “How’s that working for ya?”
As good 21st Century, North American Christians we take the same basic approach to the things of God. If it doesn’t “work,” we conclude, without a moment’s hesitation or even a nanosecond of reflection, that we need to just move on to the next ministry technique, trend, fad or hot topic. If people aren’t buying the Bible right now, try talking about their needs. If they aren’t interested in gathering for prayer, talk with them about what they are interested in. The hope—latent and under the surface, almost so much so as to be completely forgotten—is that eventually they’d come to like the Bible and be willing to pray.
The concern in all this is: who defines what it means to “work”? Does it mean, as we hear people say, “That just doesn’t work for me”? What do we mean when we say the Bible works? By whose definition? By what standard? On whose timetable?
I am afraid that in all this we forget that we live and labor on an eternal continuum. This is not just something we should do, a perspective we ought to have, but something that is in fact real. Eternity is real. And if it is, the finish line is not where we—bound by and living in time—naturally conclude it to be. So I ask, when is it ever time (in this world) to decide something, defined and demanded by the Bible as unchanging, “doesn’t work”? It may not appear to be effecting the change we long for and, indeed, which God promises—but is that the fault of the Bible or is it possible that the fault resides elsewhere?
If we abandon the Biblical and embrace a time-defined pragmatism in ministry, when are we ever going to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
Perhaps our contemporary spiritual bankruptcy is because we’ve drawn artificial, time-bound, self-centered timelines by which we decide if something “works.” Maybe things don’t “work” because we’re using them to the wrong ends or are evaluating them along an arbitrary timeline.
Could it be that our preoccupation with self is something to be repented of, rather than something to be cultivated and coddled in marketing our newest ministry strategy. Is it possible that our impatience with the Bible and prayer as “terribly inefficient” betrays the real reason the power of the Scripture doesn’t show up more often in our thoughts, words and actions. Maybe all this “doesn’t work for me,” precisely because we’ve got “me” in the center of everything when the center of center stage is reserved for Someone Else.
The Bible is true. It is for that very reason that it works. The Bible does what it says and performs what it promises. It may not do as I wish. It may not cater to my interpretations. It may not inquire about my deadlines. But it will do just what it says it will do. If that appears not to be true, step back and examine the grid by which you are examining the Bible. Today may be too soon to prove the Bible “works” (for not all is promised to us instantly), but I can assure you that tomorrow will prove the ultimate failure of whatever you may have substituted in its place.
Which should we, as followers of Jesus Christ, aim for more: impact or intimacy? Should we strive to be used of God? Or should we strive to know God and to be known by Him? It is not an entirely either/or proposition, I admit. But too often it is an unexamined question. Perhaps we’ve never thought about it. Or maybe we’ve assumed an answer. But may I drag it out into the open for a few minutes?
If we make impact our aim, what happens? Who knows, maybe we’ll attain it! But then how would we know that we have? How should one measure impact for God? Numbers? Size? Budget? Name recognition? Influence? Position?
It is a dangerous path to trod, is it not? It is filled with plenteous landmines planted by the world, the flesh and the devil.
But even if we miss the landmines, what does aiming for impact get you? In proportion to the purposes laid upon him and within his own lifetime would Abraham have been considered successful? Probably not. How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel or most of the rest of the prophets? Not likely.
What is it the writer to the Hebrews said regarding the greatest people of faith? “… none of them received [in their lifetimes] what had been promised.” (Heb. 11:39b)
Here’s at least part of the struggle – Impact is a highly pragmatic thing, which is fraught with opportunities for compromise. Intimacy, on the other hand, is a personal, relational matter in which all that matters is the relationship to the other person (in this case, God).
Pursue impact and you’ll never rise above a performance-based intimacy, even if outwardly successful. If you produce you will matter – or at least you’ll think you do. But this is anti-grace; it is pro-works. It is self-righteous. It is thus anti-gospel. Pursue impact and chances are you’ll miss out on intimacy. But pursue intimacy and you may just make an impact. Any such impact may not be immediately detectable. In fact you may not even be able to take an accurate impact-reading before you’ve left this life. But if you do make an impact by pursuing intimacy, it will be God’s doing. If you do, it will be by grace. If you do, it will be to God’s honor and glory, not your own.
But there is a certain danger in both paths, isn’t there? The danger of pursuing impact is in the pragmatics. I will do whatever it takes to produce – perhaps even things that will diminish my intimacy with God (not to mention my intimacy with the others He has put in my life). The danger in pursuing intimacy is in the subjectivity of it. When am I authentically intimate with the Almighty? When is He genuinely intimate with me? Many along this path fall victim to false voices, ideas and promptings.
Characteristically, Jesus made the matter of intimacy simple and clear. He declared that He is intimate with the one who is obedient to His Word! “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
All of this reminds me of Paul’s great concern for the Christians of Corinth: “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3, nasb) I think often of that last phrase – “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” That sounds like a life of intimacy.
I want desperately to be used of God. I want—even more desperately—to walk closely with Him, even if there is no apparent outward impact from my doing so. For I believe that any impact made while not walking intimately with Him is negative impact—no matter how spiritual it may appear on the surface. And I am equally convinced that a life of true intimacy with Christ will never be without radical and lasting impact—regardless of what the temporal, time-laden readings may say.