I am not the center

I am Not the Center: A Joint Post

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advancement of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ. Most of the brothers in the lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly.  Philippians 1:12-14

From Susan

Paul wrote those words from prison. Really, Paul?

I don’t know that I would have had the same attitude. I think if I had been writing that letter to the Philippian church, it might have gone something like this: “Please pray that I get out of this filthy place!  It’s no fair that I was thrown in here when I hadn’t committed a crime.  It’s cold, and I don’t have a bed, much less a pillow, and the food stinks.  Would someone please go petition my case to the governor or something?  Anyone have the funds to hire me a better lawyer? And would somebody at least try to smuggle me in a Snickers bar? You are coming to see me, aren’t you?  You haven’t forgotten about me, have you?  Because I think God may have.”

Do you see all the “I”s and “me”s in my letter? I sure do.  Paul’s version, however, had a completely different perspective.  “It’s actually a good thing that I’m in prison, because I’ve been able to tell my guards about Christ, and they are all talking about Him to each other.  And my arrest inspired other Christians to boldly share the Good News, so that more people have heard about Jesus because I am in prison than would have if I had never been thrown in here.”

Paul understood that it wasn’t all about him and his personal comfort.   God’s main goal was not to make Paul happy, and Paul was fine with that. He got it that there was a greater purpose for his existence – to glorify God in everything.

How can we apply that lesson today, in 2014?

From Jen:

How indeed. Everything within nags that I need attention, and everything without tells me that I am right. Silencing the demand for me seems impossible. But what is impossible on my own…

This is why Jesus said we needed the Holy Spirit. Living a God centered life isn’t natural, because it requires a shift in paradigm. The fleshly standard goes something like this: A successful life will yield the fruit of self-satisfaction. Wealth. Comfort. Fulfillment in friends and popularity. It will never be trampled on by another, never be overlooked. It will be the whole package of me-centered desires.

But the Bible paints a different picture for the God-centered life. One that bears the fruit of the Spirit living and working within. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control.

So even in prison there is love. Shackled in chains; joy and peace. Left in a moment by unreliable friends, yet there is patience, kindness, goodness. Poured out by God’s providence in a way that is painful? Faithfulness. Treated with brutality; gentleness. Wrongly accused; self-control.

The answer has remained the same throughout the centuries. I live a life in which I am not the focal point. The Christian life is a God-centered life. And the paradox is this: a God-centered life is never overlooked by the creator of the universe. A God-centered life is complete.

I am crucified with Christ

No Room for Boasting

Those who want to make a good showing in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised – but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.   But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. Gal. 6:11-14 HCSB

My husband has held a full-time ministry position since I before I married him, and for the time we lived overseas, I did too.  I’ve found that too often, the “lay people” put ministers, pastors and missionaries on a pedestal, and we invariably topple right off that ungodly thing.  

People who get paid to do God’s work are subject to the same temptation to boast in success as the rest of the world, but we might couch it in prettier terms.  “Church growth” is occasionally an euphemism for “look what a great pastor I am.”  That’s exactly the same sort of thing a business tycoon might brag about when his companies’ sales soar. Or, “She gave her life to Christ” might sometimes be “I was so skillful and bold in sharing the gospel.”  That sounds awfully similar to “I am a great salesman/public relations executive.”

I’m certainly not saying all full-time ministers think those things.  I’m merely saying it’s tempting to grab a little glory for oneself, no matter what your vocation.  And I picked full-time ministers as my example because the author of these verses, Paul, devoted his life to ministry.  When he said he wasn’t going to boast about anything but the cross, he meant exactly what I’ve described.  “I won’t boast in your conversions or the size of your churches.  I won’t boast about whether or not you’ve followed some rule like circumcision.  All that worldly success stuff?  I’ve crucified it.”

Paul had one thing to brag about, and it was about something he had nothing to do with.  He boasted about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  He willfully killed all that was in him that would have liked to take credit for himself.

May I die to myself in the same way.  May I keep Jesus alone on the pedestal.  Only then it is godly.