How do people regard me?

Audio version here

The most common argument among the early disciples of Jesus focused on their desire to be considered the greatest.

We might find it unusual and disturbing that they openly pursued self-promotion, but the core issues underlying their preoccupation with status are far more common than many would admit. Perhaps we don’t flagrantly advertised interest in greatness, but that doesn’t mean we are free from concerns about how others regard us.

Who is considered greatest?

During the final days of Jesus’ mission on earth, He ate with his disciples and during the meal drew attention to the bread as symbolic of the giving of his body for them and the cup as symbolic of “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Then (as Luke’s gospel records), the subject turned to the one who would betray Jesus. “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” (Luke 22:21-22).

At this, the disciples began to “question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this” (Luke 22:23). It’s stunning to move to the next verse and see how the conversation of the disciples shifted to a “dispute among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). 

How cold to engage in this kind of dispute after hearing of the Lord’s sacrificial death and of one who would betray him! But Jesus seized the moment as a teaching opportunity about true greatness in his kingdom. 

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:25-27).

Jesus does not oppose authority but requires a transformation of it. The normal practice of kings exercising authority will not do for the Lord’s kingdom. Benefactors were wealthy people whose giving secured status and leadership for them in their cities. This approach to giving as a means of self-advancement and self-promotion contradicted the Lord’s kingdom. Serving others to secure status for oneself is a betrayal of servant-love.

Preoccupied with perception

“which of them was considered to be greatest” (24; also, Luke 9:46-48). Look closely at the word “considered” because it reveals a common human concern for how others “regarded” them or how others “thought of” them. Let’s be honest about how easily we can become preoccupied with how we are regarded or considered by others. It’s tempting to build self-perception on how others perceive us. This is the underlying concern relating to preoccupation with status or greatness. 

The dispute among the disciples is motivated by desires for self-promotion. It seems to reveal a deeper insecurity and a need for recognition and affirmation from others. It’s not too far from the warning Jesus gave when he said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

The cultural environment of religious and political leadership during this time was focused on the pursuit of power, control and personal exaltation. Of course, this focus is always a danger for leaders. In a piece I wrote about the danger of insecure leaders, I stated that,

“Leaders are easily misunderstood and often wrongly judged as self-seeking and self-promoting.  Sometimes they are guilty as charged. A leader unwilling to admit that he occasionally battles temptation toward self-promotion is probably one you shouldn’t follow. Yet people often wrongly project evil motives on leaders because they either feel threatened by them or jealous of them. Like most leaders, I’ve experienced the full spectrum. I’ve been guilty as charged and wrongly accused. I believe leaders are more vulnerable to selfish motives when they’re younger and more likely to be falsely accused when they’re older and more established in their leadership.”

For reflection and discussion

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important (or, accepted). They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves” (or, to have others think well of them) (T. S. Eliot).

I added the words in brackets to cover the full range of issues involved in this concern.  

Radical Kingdom re-orientation 

Jesus rejected the patterns of greatness in society when he said, “But you are not to be like that.” He then set a new model before them in his own example, “But I am among you as one who serves.” This is the way Jesus summed up his entire mission, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Truth for confronting preoccupation with self-perception

  •  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
  • “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8).
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
  • “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT) 

Steve Cornell

 

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of ordinary lives for Christ.

Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The popular emphasis on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is boring or some form of compromise. This could end up producing a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live their daily lives fulfilling ordinary duties.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of life with a spirit of discontentment.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a (you fill jn the blank)….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

A needed message 

  • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you     before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
  • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

On our way back to glory!

Those who receive God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation begin an adventuresome journey back to glory!

Buckle up for the ride!

It won’t always be easy and it might even get a little dangerous. It will involve a good bit of suffering and an ever-present groaning. But all our suffering will be offset by joy grounded in a hope that cannot be shaken (Romans 8:18).

Do you think of your life this way?

I feel certain that most Christians need a better vision of the greatness of their salvation — a panoramic view! We must learn to think of salvation as a return to full and final glory — a return to the Imago Dei (image of God).

A panoramic view spanning four phases of glory

The starting and ending point for understanding our lives must profoundly shape our worldview.

The panoramic view of the gospel is too often truncated when we tell the story of salvation. The outcome is a weak understanding of salvation and an inadequate grounding for the living hope that belongs to us in Christ.

One who pioneered the journey for us:

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered” (Hebrews 2:9-10)

Steve Cornell

A new radical needed

I think we need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Who knows, perhaps it could become the new radical! I fear that all the emphasis we hear on being radical has given many people the feeling that ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise.

“I am just a mom.” I am just a mechanic.” I am just a waitress.” “I am just a ….” On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, maybe God is more likely found in the “just.”

The words of the apostle Paul must be heard today: “….make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14). 

These words are so needed because we’ve lost touch with the glory of being called to lives of faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life.

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in the secret places. “Be careful” Jesus said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

There is a kind of quiet but needed glory in being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employees, — just common followers of Jesus. Have we lost touch with the glory of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and neighbor by separating it from faithfulness in our mundane duties? 

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”’” (Luke 22:27).

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

What would it look like if we had renewed zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). 

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). 

“Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things.” Clyde Kilby

Steve Cornell

Ask for whatever you want me to give you

One of our sons recently said to me, “Dad, you’re the wisest man I know.” I was humbled by these words of appreciation because I know how foolish I  can be at times.

I just don’t think of myself in these terms. If I had said, “Yes, your father is wise and it took you too long to find out”  I would have exposed my lack of wisdom.

I think about the warning from Proverbs 3:7 not to be “wise in your own eyes.”

Perhaps even the title of my blog (Wisdomforlife) could sound a little arrogant as if someone should look to me for wisdom. The truth is “the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). And “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Don’t ever follow my counsel if it doesn’t line up with God’s truth! 

But my son’s compliment caused me to reflect on an intense time in my life just before I began pastoral ministry (29 years ago). I distinctly remember a prayer that filled my heart during that time. The scene from which this prayer originated is amazing. 

“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’” (I Kings 3:5).  

What would you have asked for? Long life? Prosperity for you and your loved ones? Wealth and influence? 

“Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’” (I Kings 3:6-9).

In thinking about God calling me to pastoral work, I quickly identified with this prayer. But after spending a bit of my life running the streets of Philadelphia and finally being thrown out of High School, there were plenty of rough edges for God to refine. I adopted this as my prayer and then found that the path has often felt like an uphill climb with the wind in my face. Yet God has used it to remind me that He “put His treasure in a jar of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). I had no idea what it would involve to answer my prayer for wisdom. 

Wisdom is not easily gained! Scripture says that, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (Proverbs 22:15). Words alone will not dislodge the foolishness. Sometimes I’ve been confused and discouraged because I ‘ve felt that God’s “rod of discipline” has been heavy on my life. But dislodging the foolishness has not been an easy project. How true are these words of Scripture, 

“God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11). 

The rest of the story

“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for — both wealth and honor — so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

still learning to walk in obedience by grace,

Steve Cornell

Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God?

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Do we have any way to know who will be in heaven? Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God – with their Creator and Redeemer?

It seems far too easy (and perhaps less disturbing) to attach our hearts to reassuring clichés on this matter. We say, “Only those who accept Jesus as Savior go to heaven.” Or, “Only those who believe in the gospel go to heaven.”

These are not necessarily wrong statements but they possibly conceal something Jesus revealed. 

Here we must be careful because Jesus did not separate matters as sharply as our doctrinal statements sometimes  do.

Case in point

When the disciples asked Jesus about greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1), Jesus made one of what are called his entrance sayings.” These are specific statements about who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (It will do no good to separate kingdom and salvation as if you could have salvation without entering the kingdom).

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2).

This is similar to what Jesus said at the beginning of His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). 

But if we said that only those who are humble will be in heaven, do we condition salvation and eternity in heaven on human effort? Doesn’t the Bible teach that God’s salvation is a gift and not based on works that we do? (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus shocked his audience with another entrance saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 7:21; 18:8,9; 19:17, 24; 25:21,23).

We must not read the teaching about the imputed righteousness of Jesus (taught in the epistles) back into this saying. Nothing would have been further from the minds of those who heard Jesus. 

Instead, what Jesus intended in His demand for “surpassing righteousness” becomes clear in Matthew 6:1 – ““Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” Don’t prostitute what is sacred to promote yourself. Heavens inhabitants resist image promotion and ego-building.

The mindset of the kingdom is concerned with being seen by the father in secret not recognition and honor from people.

Humility does not come naturally:

None of this is natural to us. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Only the path of self-humbling leads to the kingdom. And greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is the opposite of greatness in earthly kingdoms Jesus said, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

Becoming childlike is not a reference to being innocent as a child or having the simple faith of a child. Jesus is dealing with love for status. Children were a cultural example of non-status and mostly exhibited unconcern for status.

Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2). ”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).

Interestingly, Jesus used the present tense: “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”–not “will be” but “is.”

This implies a continuity of disposition between now and a time to come– the disposition of the redeemed.

Socio-economic and Spiritual:

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Luke, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20). In Matthews account, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Luke used socio-economic categories. Matthew used spiritual categories. Is there a relationship? Do riches push people away from God? Does wealth lead to a self-sufficient pride?

“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

What a great place heaven will be!

Heaven is open to the poor in spirit and closed to the proud in spirit. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Yet humility seems so out of reach. The moment you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it. And it’s possible to be so humble that you’re proud of it.

The Puritans wisely suggested that even in our repentance there is likely something to repent about — how proud we are for being so repentant! Is the starting point of true repentance found in repenting of our repentance. Sound confusing? It doesn’t to repentant people.

“Unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).

Should we say that humility begins when we know we don’t possess it and cannot attain to it? Can one ever really know he has reached a state of humility? Would this matter to humble people? Our cry must remain: “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

When Martin Luther dedicated his life to be lived as a monk and offered his first communion he was profoundly overwhelmed with a sense of his own sinfulness in view of the greatness of God and the sacrifice of Christ. When he came to the words, “We offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was suddenly filled with terror. “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty?” he thought. “The angels surround Him.  At His nod the earth trembles.  And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that’?  For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.”

This is poverty of spirit!

It’s a person’s attitude toward himself before God as he recognizes his spiritually bankrupt condition. It’s an awareness that he has no claim before God beyond a cry for mercy.

Llyod-Jones said of the poor in spirit that he is truly amazed that God and man would think of him and treat him as well as they do. Contrast that with the attitude of entitlement that permeates affluent cultures. Then compare it with the attitude of those welcomed into the kingdom in Matthew 25:34-40.

This attitude is observed in Isaiah when he encountered the Holy God, high and lifted up—and responded in personal devastation, “Woe is me for I am undone…” Upon receiving a fuller understanding of the holy character of God, Job cowered back and said, “I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

Prior to his conversion, Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched as Thou didst grow nearer”? The apostle stated it clearly: “Oh wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). There is only one answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

Probing questions:

  1. What are the consequences of the absence of poverty of spirit among those who profess to be the people of God?
  2. Have we lost our sense of awe at the terror of the great and awesome God?
  3. Has this loss been behind our sense of liberty to cut moral corners, to trivialize our sins, to demand our rights—to question God’s Word and authority—to write off guilt as a feeling God would not inflict on us?

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

“God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, and awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. Fear and love must go together. God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’” (Mark 8:35) (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to be)

Steve Cornell

Short audio: The dress code for Church