“For we are not, like so many, peddlers God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in sight of God we speak in Christ.”
2 Corinthians 2:17
I’ve had several moments of crisis. They come when I wonder why trying to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ doesn’t seem to work.
Now, that frustration is an emotional reaction. It’s a visceral, heart-level response to something going on in my mind: I have an inaccurate definition of the word work as used in that sentence.
You see I often (and I mean often) judge whether or not my preaching and service to the Kingdom of Jesus worked by whether or not everyone loved it, whether or not it was painful, or whether or not I felt good after.
Now it isn’t like these are absolutely worthless or childish metrics. But taken by themselves, isolated from more important data, they don’t tell you very much about whether what you just did for Jesus was successful.
Because by at least two of them Jesus’ ministry would be deemed a failure.
Jesus was, at the end of His earthly ministry (and many times before the end, one of which you can read about in John 6), absolutely despised by almost everyone who saw Him.
So then, was it time for the Messiah to recalibrate? Maybe do some self-examination?
Now, Jesus is God incarnate, so obviously we do need to self-examine in a way that He did not. But it is a mistake, a serious one, to think that simply because you are disdained, maligned, or abandoned you must be doing something wrong. You may be doing something wrong, but those facts by themselves are not enough to reach that conclusion. Because those facts can also mean you are doing something very right.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was tortured and murdered and mocked.
Stephen, one of the first Christian church members, was reviled and stoned to death.
Paul, the first Apostle to the Gentiles, was beaten, imprisoned, and probably executed by the government in Rome.
If we are truly Christian, then we are called to preach the truly Christian News (Matthew 28:16-20). And the News of Jesus Christ, while always good, is not always popular.
The adoration of those who hear you speak the Gospel or see you try to live in obedience to it isn’t a very good indicator of your success. And since repentance from sin and life-altering faith in Jesus Christ aren’t always popular, the level of pain or heartache you have after speaking the Gospel or living it isn’t a very reliable sign of success, either.
So what about my moments of crisis, the times when I wonder if I’ve done anything worthwhile? When I wonder if I am still called to pastor or preach or shepherd?
The validity of those feelings has to be determined with other factors taken into consideration. The rejected Jeremiah, exiled Apostle John, and jailed Simon Peter won’t let me think that large-scale acceptance is a necessary characteristic of Christlike success.
I get to spend one life doing something. Just one vapor a few decades long before eternity comes and I am called to give an account of my thoughtless words and selfish days, and before I (hopefully) receive a reward and praise for blood and sweat spent on the Kingdom. I can’t continue to waste moments of it lamenting my impotence at drawing crowds. My inability to earn adulation. Some receive a gracious and thrilling response, like Jonah, and some don’t. I can’t become discouraged by how few standing ovations my life merits. Time is short, and the Master of the house can come at any moment.
If I really believe what I believe, then God’s opinion of my service and work and sins and screwups should matter more than other human being’s. It doesn’t often, and that’s a problem.
In an earlier letter to the same church, Paul wrote this: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (from 1 Corinthians 4).
If you are loving and living for the wonderful, healing Gospel of Jesus Christ, you will be rejected at times. You may be deserted by Christians By those who love Jesus but are rebelling against His goodness and Kingship. You may suffer from genuine, honest disagreements with others who are faithfully following Jesus (this happened with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15). You may be hated by mother or father or brother or sister.
You may screw up and be the rebel or deserter yourself.
All right, it’s a part of this war. We’re told by Jesus to count the cost (Luke 14:28-33). Bullets are flying and we are still dirty and rebellious soldiers fighting in hostile territory. And we’re doing it with less-than-perfect cohorts. So dust yourself off, take joy in knowing how the war ends, and then eyes back on the King. His judgment of our valor, sacrifice, treachery, or cowardice is what matters. His.
So to all the weary warriors, I am with you. But He went before us, and He is what we’re fighting for.
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 2 Corinthians 5:9-10