Without Excuse, But Not Without Grace

Jeff Relationships

We enjoyed a great Sunday service at New Bridge this past weekend. A new friend came and blessed the house with a message that was both pastoral and prophetic. When Vincent Campbell opened up his message, he said, tongue-in-cheek, “I don’t need to bring the greatest message you have ever heard today, but I don’t want it to be the worst. Do you remember the worst message you ever heard? Think of that guy. I want this message to at least be right above him.”  All of us in the audience laughed and, forty-five minutes later, most of us recognized that Vincent had delivered one of the most impacting messages we had heard at New Bridge in the last two years. It was a great day. Though Vincent was clearly joking when he referenced his desire to never be known as the bearer of anyone’s least regarded sermon, my mind went to a place in Scripture where some disciples were having a very real conflict with one another. They were not worried about coming in last, they were jockeying to determine which one of them was to be viewed as the top dog in the Kingdom.

“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” – Luke 9:46

More than once, I have heard a pointed message surrounding this low moment of the disciples. Honestly, I have preached this scene a couple of times myself. Invariably, whoever is teaching or preaching it gets around to slamming the disciples for their overt arrogance, blind pride and deep presumption. Could you imagine the audacity of any of us carrying on a conversation like this today? Can you conceive of declaring to other believers that you are the greatest in the group? We are far too pious to engage one another concerning who is a superior asset in the Kingdom. We would blush to be engaged in such a conversation – to exalt our position, our gifting, our education, our pedigree – never!

Yet I want to submit today that it is possible that we actually do this far more often than we might think.

When you talk negatively of another in their absence, you are emulating the same spirit the disciples did in Luke 9:46.

When your inner thoughts or your spoken words lend themselves to lowering the value of another person in your own eyes, or in the eyes of the people with whom you are speaking, you are mimicking the disciples in Luke 9:46.

When your critique of what another brings to the Kingdom by way of service, gifting, offering or investment is made in contrast to what you bring to the Kingdom, you have fallen into the same hole that the disciples did in Luke 9:46.

In each and every instance wherein we find ourselves lowering the value of another in order to elevate the value we assign to ourselves, we have become the thirteenth disciple in that infamous dialogue in Luke 9:46.

We are far too sophisticated to come right out and declare to another believer, “I am greater than you are.”  Yet, if we listen carefully to our own thoughts and dare to analyze our own words, I believe we will find ourselves made aware that we are occasionally no different than those twelve brash men who jousted with one another for the rank of superiority in the Kingdom.

Here are some things I have learned over the years that help me to tame that kind of undesirable spirit that lurks within all of our hearts:

  1. There is always someone far more capable, noble, spiritual, wise, gifted and sincere than me. I accept that to always be true. I am not the best, the greatest, or the highest example against which others should measure themselves. There is always someone greater than I.
  2. We are taught in 2nd Corinthians 10:12 that it is always unwise to compare ourselves with others. Typically, when we do this, we make sure we are comparing ourselves with someone we deem to be less than we are. This is the exact opposite of loving that person.
  3. Nobody has to be devalued in order for me to understand my own value. I do not become greater by thinking or speaking of them in ways that deflate their worth.
  4. The only valid comparison in the Kingdom is when God compares us to His holy, righteous and perfect Son, Jesus. When that comparison is made in Scripture, the conclusion is that we are dead, unrighteous, ignorant, blind and condemned sinners worthy of eternal judgement. That comparison is worthy of all of our attention. If we keep that comparison in the forefront of our thinking, we will not be susceptible to devaluing others.
  5. God has, in spite of all that is lacking in us, made us complete, accepted, beloved and treasured in Jesus. The Father actually foregoes His judicial evaluation of us once we are in Christ. He views us completely on the imputed merits of His perfect Son. In light of this, how in the world can I not accept His other children in that exact same manner?
  6. Solomon taught that hatred raises up division while love compensates for weaknesses and sins (Proverbs 10:12). Peter declared that, when we love one another, we will act in ways that do not disclose others’ sins, weaknesses or failures (1 Peter 4:8). The great revelation of love in 1 Corinthians 13 clearly shows that love goes out of its way to elevate the other person, to seek their highest good, and to interact with the other person in kindness and humility. When we critique, slander, gossip or compare others, we are not operating in love. We are in the flesh.

These guidelines have helped me over the years to keep my heart in check. More times than I can count, these same principles have enforced a silence upon me when I am around others who are taking verbal shots at one of their Christian brothers or sisters. When that nasty-little-something wants to rise up in me in order to declare that I am greater than another, the Holy Spirit consistently brings me back to that place where I become crystal clear that the Father has accepted me in the Son – nothing more and nothing less. He doesn’t constantly critique me to keep me in my place. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not get together to gossip about all that is lacking in me as they rest in their absolute perfection and clear superiority to me. In fact, when God deals with me it is ALWAYS in grace. He is not above correcting me but, truth be known, the vast majority of those corrections are brought to me privately – just between Him and me. He never demeans me to another one of His children. He has no need to knock me down a few pegs in order to preserve His greatness.  Actually, He displays that greatness and superiority by stooping in grace to meet me in the midst of all that is lacking in me. That’s how God interacts with me. I want to be like Him in my interactions with you.

I am to endure what is lacking in others as they endure what is lacking in me. I am to bless them, not criticize them to others. When gossip finds our lips, we are partnering in that moment with Satan himself. We literally yoke up with the enemy when we belittle others. When we bless, encourage, edify and speak well of others, we are partnering with God himself.

Maybe the twelve strutting disciples in Luke 9:46 were not as different from us as we think. Maybe we would do well to not criticize them for doing openly what we do in shadows of pious religiosity.

Maybe we are without excuse.

Yet, hallelujah, we are not without grace to begin to change.