Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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True Greatness

Whoever desires to be great...

by Dennis Pollock

I have a confession to make. I get a little annoyed with preachers who constantly focus on our “destiny.” I am not talking about our heavenly destiny here, but rather some perceived destiny of greatness and supreme accomplishment while on this earth. There are a couple of notable current television ministers who do this, and it seems that no matter which verse they may begin with, they will rapidly convert the main message into a theme of “you can do it,” “you can be it,” “you are destined for greatness” – essentially, they are saying: “God wants to make all your wildest dreams come true.” They beat this drum so regularly and so consistently that you wonder how anyone could appreciate such a cotton candy theme which is long on hope but exceedingly short on theology or Biblical truth. Inspiring stories they present in abundance, but Bible verses are rare, and the message of the cross of Jesus and the crucified life are nearly non-existent.

And yet some of these ministers have large churches in the tens of thousands and speak to millions through television. They draw enormous salaries and live in homes of which most of the more common Christians who follow them could only dream. Sometimes, when hearing these cheerleader sermons, I am tempted to say, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Does such preaching do any good for anyone? Perhaps it does. There are some people, so beaten down by life and cruelly devastated by tragedy or failure that this kind of preaching may be about all they can take, and could serve as a ray of hope that helps them grind it out through their season of pain until the clouds break and sunshine breaks through. So I am not prepared to say that such preaching is entirely worthless.

Candy Diet

The problem is that many of these ministers are pastors and are preaching to the same folks Sunday after Sunday, year after year. To enjoy a sweet bowl of ice cream with strawberries is a great treat occasionally, but to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, day after day cannot be a truly healthy diet. What? Are there no vegetables to be had? Can we not get a little protein from a steak or some chicken once in a while? To be reminded week after week of how much potential you have, and how much greatness lies within you is just a little too much!

In the physical world there is a lot of controversy over what makes up the best diet. Some insist we should all be vegetarians; others insist upon going low carb, some tell us to avoid all the middle aisles of the store, and eat only from the produce section. So many diets, so many opinions. And nearly all the gurus of dietary disciplines back their ideas with various studies and case histories.

But what about the spiritual diet? As you think about the ideal church and the ideal pastor, what would make up a balanced and healthy spiritual emphasis in the preaching? Is there any way to know this? Sadly, people often decide the value of preaching by the skill of the preacher, or his passion, or his eloquence. But skillful preachers are no more likely to be sound Biblically than Hollywood actors are qualified to opine on politics.

Our Model

Fortunately, we have a foolproof model of what solid preaching and teaching looks like. It is found in the epistles of the apostles. These men walked with Jesus and had absorbed His teachings, His ministry, and His passion. When you open your Bible to one of the epistles of Paul, or John, or Peter you are getting more than some inspiring words from the ancient followers of Jesus. You are receiving a great big, healthy dose of sound theology! Find out what they believed, taught, and emphasized, and you have a pretty good model of what ministry should look like today, tomorrow, and, if the Lord delays His coming, a thousand years from now.

Were the apostles “destiny preachers?” Well, not really. For sure we are taught to “press toward the goal for the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.” But when you consider what they said, and how much they wrote, they really didn’t spend a lot of time telling believers how great they were and what amazing attainments they could achieve in this life. In this little devotional we will observe the heart of what the apostles taught and focused on, in the hope that we can obtain a good idea of what solid, Biblical preaching today should be all about.

Instruction

First, we find that the epistles of the apostles were heavy on teaching and instruction. They taught about Jesus Christ first and foremost: who He is, what He did, and the nature of the salvation He provides. They were eloquent (Paul, especially) but they were not grandiose or bombastic. They carefully argued and taught about the nature of the redemptive work of Jesus. They backed their arguments with liberal doses of Old Testament Scriptures. Much of Paul’s epistle to the Romans fits into this category. In Romans three, Paul writes:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift…

This is not the kind of teaching which, if heard in a church service, would cause people to stand up and cheer with tears running down their cheeks. It contains no heart-rending inspirational stories. Paul is simply reminding believers that our acceptance in God’s sight comes exclusively through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He says nothing about us achieving all our dreams and succeeding beyond our wildest expectations. It is a calm, deliberate, and reasoned attempt to persuade the reader that we are saved and justified by the grace of Jesus rather than the works of the law. Although I have quoted from a single chapter, I could just as easily have chosen passages from nearly any chapter of the book of Romans. It is heavily “theological” in nature, and since we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, we must assume that God thinks this kind of teaching and instruction is good for men and women.

The apostles certainly wrote about more than the redemptive work of Jesus, but it is significant that they devoted so much of their writings to this topic – especially considering that they were not writing these letters to sinners in an attempt to convert them to Christ, but rather to the churches, to people who presumably were already Christians. Still they felt the need to make the Person and work of Jesus a major theme, or in most cases the major theme of their writings. Sadly, many pastors today feel that, since they are preaching mostly to believers, any words about the cross and redemptive work of Jesus would be superfluous.

How Shall We Live?

Another major component of the epistles of the apostles were exhortations to godly living and behavior. After declaring what Jesus had done for them, they then went on to address the question: “How should we then live?” An example of this may be found in the first epistle of John:

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4-6).

Peter writes to the women:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct (1 Peter 3:1,2).

Once again, this kind of teaching is not exactly “dynamic;” it would not bring rousing cheers and move people to stand on their feet and shout ecstatically if it were preached in a church service. Nor does it promise total personal fulfillment and the accomplishment of all our dreams. Nevertheless, these kinds of exhortations make up a significant portion of the writings of the apostles. God seems to feel that our behavior and our lifestyle is of the utmost importance, and apparently we need frequent reminders of precisely what that lifestyle looks like.

Parts A and B

The apostles seemed more concerned with our godly day to day living than with our “destiny of greatness” that some modern preachers hammer home with mind-numbing regularity. Paul’s epistles were normally divided into two sections. In the first part of the epistle, he would declare the redemptive work of Christ, and then around midway through the letter he would transition into simple, basic instructions for men, women, and children about how to live out their faith in Christ in all godliness and holiness. An example of this second kind of instruction is found in Ephesians:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1, 2).

Most of the Biblical exhortations to godly behavior are quite simple, and hardly revolutionary. Husbands are called to love their wives, women are told to respect their husbands, children must obey their parents. Stealing, lying, and hateful speech are condemned. Love, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy are encouraged. These instructions are basic, but of course they are a lot easier to write and read than they sometimes are to carry out in our day to day living.

There is little said about us achieving greatness, or following our dreams. The big emphasis is upon trusting Christ, sharing Christ, living responsibly, and showing compassion to one another. You may ask, “Is it wrong to desire to achieve great things?” It all depends upon the greatness you desire. If all we want is to become well-known, or make big money, or feel good about our career, then we are surely missing the mark. The truth is, the only great one is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any greatness associated with our life has everything to do with the measure of Christ which is manifested in us. The only dreams worth pursuing are His dreams, not our own.

Glorifying God

Whether His dreams and His plans for us lead to international fame, phenomenal success, and fabulous riches, or whether they involve us living a simple and modest life, and being unknown to all except our immediate family and friends, matters little. What does matter, and matters immensely, is whether we can say to the Father at the end of our lives, as Jesus did, “I have glorified You on earth. I have finished the work You have given me to do.” This is the dream we must pursue, and the great objective which eclipses all others. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and stop worrying quite so much about your “destiny” or the measure of greatness to which you have or have not attained.

Our ultimate destiny is found in Jesus Christ. We are called to love Him, abide in Him, follow His will, and seek nothing more than that classic declaration by John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” To die to self and live entirely for Christ is the essence of greatness.

Those who teach and preach would do well to emulate the apostles, whose inspired epistles make up such a substantial portion of the New Testament. Tell us about Jesus, speak often about His great redemption, and remind us of His surpassing greatness. Instruct us to live decent, responsible, and compassionate lives, in the beauty of quiet simplicity. Encourage us to follow Christ’s path for us and to be content with that path, wherever it should lead us. Don’t make us feel that unless we are wealthy and famous we are somehow missing the boat.

A contented life in Christ is God’s desire for His children. It is a pleasant life, not complicated by overwhelming ambition, not diluted by worldly distractions, and unencumbered by constant controversies and conflicts. In such a life true greatness is found.


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