Fear of the Lord

That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians… And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Exodus 14:30-31

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him…

No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,

Psalm 33:8, 16-18

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

I believe the Lord is inviting the church back to the fear of the Lord. We must know how loved and cherished we are by our Father in heaven. We must know that we are a son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We must understand our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. And knowing all of this will inevitably lead to the fear of the Lord, an encounter with His holiness.

What is the fear of the Lord?

1. It is absolute surrender. It’s saying “Yes” to God before we even fully understand His command.

2. It is freedom from the fear of man. It’s no longer being bound by people pleasing. It’s seeking God’s approval above all others.

3. It is humility. It’s owning the fact that He is God and we are not. It’s living out the reality that we are not equal with God. (Philippians 2:5-8) He gets to call the shots. We are following Jesus not the other way around.

4. It is waiting on the Lord. It’s knowing that going forward without Him is pointless.

5. It is going boldly when we are sent by the Lord. It’s taking risks and stepping out in faith.

6. It is making hosting God’s Presence the primary concern, making sure He feels welcome before anyone else feels welcome.

There are a few reasons I feel like the Lord wants to return the fear of the Lord to the church. I’ve heard more than one major church leader talk about feeling this pull toward the fear of the Lord. I’ve also had talks with prophetic friends who feel the same way.

But the main reason I think Jesus wants to reintroduce the fear of the Lord to the church is because of an encounter I had at the end of 2019. I experienced just a taste of God’s raw holiness and was undone by the fear of the Lord. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and I’ll never forget it. I believe the Lord was giving me a taste of what is to come. I wrote about that experience here.

In the future, I believe entire worship services will be taken over by the fear of the Lord. People will bow in repentance and kneel weeping before the Lord as they encounter His awesome holiness. Lukewarm Christianity will be broken in half. Syncretistic agreement with our current culture will be washed away in the hearts of believers. Being obedient will take precedence over being liked. The fear of the Lord will shake us and cause a full surrender.

Tip of the Shovel

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

I have found that in the Kingdom of God being the tip of the spear often means being the tip of the shovel.

In the Kingdom of God, the reward for faithfulness often comes in the form of more responsibility. If you see someone who is incredibly gifted in the Kingdom, it is often the case they they have sacrificed a tremendous amount for the Lord. They have humbled themselves in obedient surrender in ways that would seem like “too much” for us. For them, it simply flowed out of their intimacy with the Lord.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-8, 10

Traps and Questions

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-17

People who opposed Jesus intentionally tried to trap Him in His words. This is also a common strategy of the enemy for those who follow Jesus. The first attempt was by people with a combination of a religious spirit (Pharisees) and a political spirit (Herodians). The question was about politics. If Jesus rejected imperial taxes, He would gain favor with the general populace but could be condemned by Rome. If Jesus embraced imperial taxes, He would protect Himself from Roman imprisonment but would lose favor with the people.

Notice that they come with flattery. They are trying to get Jesus to overstep with His words and make an enemy of Rome. But Jesus sees through it all. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Everyone was amazed by His answer. Not only did He not fall for the trap, but He challenged their own arrogance.

Christian, beware of political questions that are not coming from a place of interest but from a place of trying to trap you in your words and discredit you. In our post-Christian culture, we need to be wise. Jesus warned us saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves“(Matthew 10:16).

Not only did the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus with politics, but that same day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in His theology.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Matthew 22:23-28

Notice here that the Sadducees have concocted an elaborate question about the obscure details of the resurrection, something they don’t even believe in. This is a strong indicator that the question is not coming from a place of curiosity but from a place of cynicism.

Imagine you visit an island in the Pacific that has unique volcanic sand that is black. Now imagine a friend, who doesn’t even believe that island exists, asks an elaborate scientific question trying to prove that black sand is a myth. It’s not worth having a long conversation about the scientific reality of black sand. Your friend doesn’t even believe the island is real in the first place. Notice how Jesus answers the Sadducees.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

Jesus skips over the elaborate details of their question and gets right to the root of the problem. The question itself is in error. They are asking the wrong question because 1) they don’t know the scriptures, and 2) they haven’t experienced the power of God. Their interpretation and understanding of scripture is limited and skewed and their experience of God is lacking. These two things cause a person not just to have the wrong answers but to start with the wrong questions. They are not coming to Jesus teachable and curious. They are skeptical and arrogant and want to get Jesus in a theological bind.

Christian, beware of theological questions that are not coming from a place of learning and curiosity but from a place of trying to trap you theologically. In our post-Christian culture, we need to know the scriptures and the power of God. Experiencing the power of God is just as important as our study of scripture. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

We can argue all day about black sand, but I’ve actually been to the island. I’ve put my toes in the sand in question. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and breathed in the fresh air of the island. We’re not talking about an idea. We’re talking about something I’ve experienced firsthand.

There’s no going back after we’ve experienced the power of God. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. And knowing the scriptures helps us put our experiences of God into the larger context of the Kingdom of God and the story of God.

Spend time answering the questions of people who are genuinely curious, genuinely hungry to know God. This is the example that Jesus set. When people were trying to trap Him, He gave short answers and moved on, knowing their hearts were either hard or rocky and not ready for the seed of the word of God (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

Self-Protection

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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.

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul called the Philippians to value others above themselves. He called them to a humility that looked to the interests of others rather than just their own interests. But he starts by reminding them of what they already have in Christ. They already have encouragement from being united with Christ. They already have comfort from His love. They already have a share in the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul’s argument is essentially, “Because you already have all of this, you don’t have to act from a place of selfishness.”

I think that so often what looks like selfishness is actually rooted in self-protection. We do selfish things and say things in an effort to protect ourselves. We are afraid of being destroyed. We are afraid that people will use us or take advantage of us, and we are convinced that we are our only protection. We live as orphans thinking that we have to be the one to do it all ourselves. We think, “If we don’t look out for our own interests, no one will. If we don’t protect ourselves, no one will.” But this self-protection is so damaging.

In the Christian life, self-protection is self-sabotage. The very acts that we think will protect us end up burning down the bridges that we need for support. When we “look out for number one” we end up doing damage to ourselves. Self-protection is self-sabotage because we are called by God not to look just to our own interests but to the interests of others.

When, in humility, we value others above ourselves, we are operating as children of a God who will care for us. He will be our protector and provider. We can give our life away because He is the unending source of our life. Jesus said it like this, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven“(Matthew 5:45).

Laying down our rights to self-protection is like laying down a gun pointed at ourselves. At first it may feel like we are sacrificing something but the thing we are laying down is actually something that would do us harm. If we can lay down our tendencies toward self-protection, we get to pick up God’s protection and provision. We get to pick up a life of trusting our Good Father to look out for us. We get to pick up His love and compassion for us. We get to live a life that is dependent on Him rather than one that is dependent our own ability to scrap and scrape for ourselves. As Jesus said:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:25

The toxicity of “mansplaining”

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

Romans 12:14-17

I am a strong advocate for women in leadership. My mom was raised to be independent, and my wife and sister are both strong leaders. I hope that my daughter follows in their footsteps. At my church, from the very beginning, we’ve had women in leadership. And our Sunday morning speaking team has women on it who we regularly hear from. Additionally, we as a church helped to launch an anti-trafficking organization that helps young women who are survivors of human trafficking.

Because of my strong advocacy for women, and because I am a follower of Christ, I will teach my daughter to never use the term “mansplaining.” This is one of those toxic terms that has been created by our culture recently. This made-up word came about because of the regularity of men speaking down to women. So when a man over-explains something to a woman simply because she is a woman, he is “mansplaining.”

But there are serious problems with this judgmental term. It is essentially an attempt by a woman who feels like she is experiencing condescension from a man to be condescending back toward him. It is fighting condescension with a kind of mocking condescension in return. It is a sort of weaponizing of perceived victimhood. As a follower of Christ, can you see the problem here?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And the Bible is clear, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 21). Being condescending to someone who is being condescending to you doesn’t solve the issue. It only makes it worse.

Another major problem with this term is that if a man is over-explaining something to my daughter, there is no way for her to know the reason he is doing it. There is no way for her to know his true motivations. Unless there is hard evidence, she can’t know if he is over-explaining things simply because she is a woman, or because of a number of other reasons.

But what other reasons could there be? Let me offer a few:

1. coaching/teaching: when a person over-explains something to someone who is learning something new

2. correcting: when a person over-explains something to someone who is in error and needs coarse-correcting 

3. personality: when a person over-explains things to everyone around them simply because that is their personality

4. condescension: when a person over-explains something because they believe the person they are talking to is an idiot 

5. mansplaining: when a man over-explains something specifically because he is speaking to a woman 

I want to talk to my daughter about the fact that both men and women over-explain things for a variety of reasons. There could be reasons for over-explaining that actually come from a good place in a person’s heart. They could be attempting to coach, teach, correct, or it could just be part of their personality.

Even if their motivation for over-explaining is poor, they could be doing it out of a sense of intellectual superiority and not because my daughter is a woman. I have seen plenty of women speak condescendingly out of a sense of superiority. This kind of arrogance is not gender specific.

If a man over-explains something to my daughter and she immediately thinks it is because she is a women, that would be her reacting out of an insecurity and not from a place of emotional health. And from that insecurity can come judgmentalism in all its ugly forms.

My daughter is really smart. People will over-explain many things to her–things she knows better than they do–for the rest of her life. I want her to expect it and not be offended by it. I want her to respond to it with grace and humility, not assuming the worst about the person doing it (whether it is a woman or a man).

This is why the term itself (mansplaining) is toxic and really shouldn’t be used by followers of Christ. It is a judgmental term that is full of mockery and spite and too often comes from a place of woundedness and not from a place of spiritual and emotional health.

No One Righteous

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24

Self-righteousness in any part of our life is a lack of perspective. It’s a lack of vision for what is reality. It’s the inability to see from God’s perspective. Regardless of where we think we are in regard to personal sin, all of us are stained by corporate sin. Each of us are participants in sin we can’t even see. We are daily in need of God’s grace and mercy. We’ve all fallen short.

Think of it this way. We all throw away trash every day and yet the plastics in that trash are hurting our planet. We don’t see the piles of trash that gather on the earth. We don’t see the mountains of trash floating in the sea. We don’t think of it as sin because we try to recycle. But we can’t get away from it.

Or the clothes that we wear. Many items of clothes that we own came out of sweatshops in other countries where human rights were ignored and working conditions are terrible. Our purchase of that item helped to perpetuate that situation. We don’t think of it as corporate sin. We aren’t meaning to hurt anyone. But there is a system in place that we can’t avoid.

I ran into this reality when I helped to start a nonprofit that fights human trafficking. We started with the mindset that “those guys” were the bad guys. Then, the more you learn, you realize that it is a tangled web that many of us are involved in. If you’ve ever looked at pornography on the internet, you’ve put money in the pockets of human traffickers. And many trafficking victims come out of the foster care system. Suddenly the problem goes beyond a few bad guys out there and to the reality of a broken system that has stained nearly all of our hands.

Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the weeds growing up together (Matthew 13:24-30). This is the truth of corporate sin in our world. The bad grows up along with the good. Nuclear science has brought us cancer treatments and X-rays that have helped hundreds of thousands of people. It has also brought us the atomic bomb and nuclear power plant leaks. Running a car on a battery hopes to reduce fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. However, mining for the lithium and other minerals it takes to build such a battery rapes the land. And charging the battery often means connecting it to a electrical grid supplied by a coal burning power plant. The wheat and weeds grow up together.

So when it comes to corporate sin, we do the best we can to make change in the world. But self-righteousness has to go. For instance, we can’t get self-righteous about not using a straw in our coffee. Although it may help the environment, the bean that made the coffee often comes from a farm that uses harsh chemicals and has poor working conditions. We can fight abortion, as we should. But we can’t get self-righteous about it because our kids may have gotten protected with a vaccine that used aborted fetal cells for its production. All of our hands are stained with corporate sin. This is what Paul was saying to the Romans when he wrote this:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12

This is why any form of self-righeousness is foolishness. We are all contaminated by sin even before we mention any personal sin. So far I’ve only address corporate sin. Imagine what God sees. He sees a world stained by sin in every direction. What is he looking for? He’s looking for people who have humbled themselves. He’s looking for lifestyles of repentance. He’s looking for people who have come to an awareness that they are involved in sin that they don’t even know about. God is looking past our actions and looking at our heart. This is the point that Jesus was trying to drive home in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 

Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-39

So while we do attempt to live righteously, we do pursue holiness, we do so not from a place of self-righteousness but from a place of complete dependence on the grace and mercy of God. We do so completely aware that we have stained hands and contaminated lives that daily engage in systems of this world that are broken.

Self-righteousness can be found both on the Right and the Left of the political spectrum. Both political parties are rife with it. Humility must be the hallmark of the people of God even while the world around us rages on with arrogance, self-importance, and self-righteous indignation. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. And the systems of the world that we participate in are unapologetically and unavoidably involved in corporate sin. We are all stained by sin, yet, as followers of Jesus, we are also saved by grace. With this reality in mind, let’s keep a humble heart and a continual posture of repentance.

Simple Faith

 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

2 Kings 5:9-14

When we read about the life of Elisha, almost everything he did was a foreshadowing of Jesus. This event was no different. Naaman, the commander of the armies of Aram, had leprosy and traveled south to Israel to seek healing from Elisha. When he arrived at Elisha’s house, we was told to simply go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’d be healed. But the simplicity of this act was offensive to Naaman.

The Jordan River was not impressive back then nor is it today. Dipping in the Nile or the Euphrates may have seemed significant. Even the rivers of Aram (Abana and Pharpar) made more sense than the Jordan. Naaman was expecting a magical display of Elisha’s power. The healers and witch doctors of that day all had ceremonies and herbs and incantations for practicing their healing arts (as they still do today). They all had strict and complicated rituals for a person to follow in order to be healed. But God through Elisha didn’t need all of that. The power of the Spirit was enough to heal.

Notice that when a person has been taught their whole life that to get right with God, to get well, to get clean, one must work for it, simple grace is offensive. Earning one’s righteousness through works, though a heavy burden, comes with it the feeling of control. It comes with it the ability to retain one’s pride and self-sufficiency.

But receiving simple grace requires humility. It requires giving up on earning our righteousness, our healing, our cleansing. It demands simple obedience in receiving the grace of God. It means laying down my self-sufficiency and my control. This is why the simplicity of dipping in the Jordan was so offensive to Naaman. It was too easy. It displayed too much of God’s grace and not enough of his own works. Many people react the same way to the message of the gospel.

But if we want to be cleansed from the inside out, it requires something very simple. We only need to receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s what this weekend is all about. Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the once and for all declaration that God paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. He sacrificed Himself so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. We could simply receive His righteousness, a righteousness that we don’t deserve in any way.

By believing Jesus, entrusting our life to Him, we lay down our attempts at saving ourselves through good works. We lay down our self-sufficiency and pride. Humbly, we come before the Lord and repent for our sin. And in doing so, we are given the free gift of grace. We are forgiven for all past, present and future sin, and we are given a new heart. The very Spirit of the Living God comes to dwell in us and begins to transform us from the inside out.

Naaman dipping seven times in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of the simplicity of baptism. We are washed clean from our sin, not by complicated religious rituals and incantations, but by simple faith in Jesus Christ. What He did for us was enough. We need only to believe it. We need only to take Jesus at His word.

Have you been spending your life trying to be a good person on your own merit? Apart from the transforming work of Christ, that kind of life only leads to failure and disappointment. If you haven’t already, receive the free grace of God, purchased for you by the death of Jesus. And receive a new heart, a new life, a life won for you by the resurrection of Jesus.

Don’t be offended by the simplicity of it all like Naaman was. Let go of the pride and self-sufficiency that would keep you from surrendering your life to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within you. Pray something like this:

Father God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to take my place on the cross. Please forgive me for my sin and my selfishness. I receive your grace today. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t earn it. I know Jesus did for me what I could never do for myself. I surrender my life to you, Jesus. I am yours. I ask You to come and transform my heart. Wash me clean. Make me new. Holy Spirit, I invite you to come and dwell in me and give me new life. I ask you to transform me from the inside out. I lay down my pride and my self-sufficiency. And in its place I receive your love and your peace. I ask all of this in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Listening to Wisdom

…the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 

1 Kings 12:3-8

King Solomon had just died and his son, Rehoboam, was appointed to take the throne. Before he did, the people called on Rehoboam to lighten the heavy work load that had existed since the time of Solomon. Rehoboam decides to seek wise counsel from his elders.

The elders advise Rehoboam to become a servant leader. They advise him to listen and be in submission to the elders. They encourage him to lean into humility and compassion rather than pride and hard-heartedness. But Rehoboam arrogantly rejects their advice and seeks out the advice of his best friends and buddies that he grew up with.

He goes to his entourage, his friends from high school and college, and asks them what they think. They, of course, tell Rehoboam he was right to reject the wisdom of the elders. Instead of encouraging servant leadership, humility, and compassion, his buddies tell him that he needs to become even harder on the people. They tell him that to get these people in line he needs to become a tyrant. This advice aligns with Rehoboam’s arrogant view of himself and further puffs up the pride that was already swelling inside the soon-to-be king.

When Rehoboam announces that not only will he not lighten the load of the people but will make it heavier, he loses all but one tribe of Israel. Eleven tribes break away from Rehoboam’s rule and make Jeroboam their king. Only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam’s rule. The kingdom of Israel was divided in half from this point on.

Rehoboam’s friends told him what he wanted to hear. They told him what soothed his own self-image and pride. Only the elders, the one’s with more experience and wisdom, were willing to tell him the truth. Only they were able to see clearly a way forward. Rehoboam’s inability to humble himself and submit to those with more wisdom was his ultimate downfall.

This is an important story for anyone leading an organization, business or church. Listening to the elders, the decision-making body, or the one’s with more experience is absolutely essential to leading well. Taking the posture of a servant leader–in humility and compassion–is essential to being an effective leader.

As leaders we must be grateful for our friends and their support, but we must also have the wisdom to see that they are often biased in their desire to advocate for us. It’s okay to go to our buddies from high school and college when we need encouragement but not necessarily when we need wisdom. In moments when we are in need of wisdom, we must seek out those with more experience, those who are older and have seen more than we have. Youthfulness has its advantages but wisdom isn’t often one of them.

Rehoboam could have ruled the whole kingdom of Israel. He was one act of humility away from keeping the kingdom united and ruling for generations. His own pride got in the way. His unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of the elders was his downfall. As leaders in our various spheres of influence, let’s not let this become our story. King David and King Jesus are two great examples of leading with humility and compassion. Let’s imitate their life of leadership.

Strength in Weakness

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians describing himself in the third person as a man who was caught up to heaven and saw inexpressible visions and revelations from the Lord. Paul’s ministry was marked by great signs, wonders, miracles, incredible revelations, and encounters with the Lord. Then Paul follows this up with a really important lesson about weakness. He writes:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Paul received and experienced “surpassingly great revelations” from the Lord. Yet, as a way of keeping Paul from getting conceited and puffed up, the Lord allowed “a messenger of Satan” to come against him. I’ve explained before in a previous post that this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was not a physical illness or a sin issue. It was the so-called “super-apostles”(2 Cor 11:5 & 12:11) who had been opposing Paul’s ministry and sending his churches into confusion about the nature of the gospel.

What we learn from this is that God chose to perfect (bring to fullness) the incredible power that Paul was operating in (signs, wonders, miracles, and surpassingly great revelations – 2 Cor 12:7 & 12) by allowing men to oppose his ministry. And when Paul asked that God deal with these men and get rid of them, God didn’t. Instead He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I used to apply this verse to sin in my life. I used to think this passage was God saying that He could use me even in the midst of my sin, my weakness. And while there is some truth in that statement, that is not what God was saying to Paul here. What God was telling Paul was that, in order to bring the operational power of God in Paul into its fullness, Paul needed to be perfected/refined by humility.

While Paul could boast in all the amazing things God was doing through him, God didn’t want Paul to give his spiritual resume as a way to prove the credibility of his apostleship. Instead, God wanted Paul to take a posture of humility, talking about the hardships he faced.

So when Pauls says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” he’s not saying, “even when I sin, God can use me.” What he’s saying is essentially, “The operational power of God that flows through me is brought to its fullness when I resist the urge to defend myself with my resume, and instead I lean into humility and take the low place.” This is exactly what we see in the life of Jesus. The humility of Jesus is what perfected the power of the Spirit that flowed through Him. And Jesus’s most powerful act was also His most humble act–His death on the cross.

This discussion Paul is having about strength in weakness carries the same themes as the teaching of Jesus when Jesus told His disciples:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 

Matthew 5:38-41

Strength in weakness–power perfected in humility–is a completely counterintuitive message. When people come against our work, our ministry, or us personally, we want to defend ourselves. We want to stand against the injustice of it all and give our resume of all that God is doing in and through us. We want people to know the truth about us and not believe the lies that are coming against us.

But Jesus says to turn the other cheek. Paul says to boast in weakness. I believe when we do this we will see a side of God we’ve never seen before. When we stop trying to defend ourselves and allow Him to defend us, we will discover God as our Defender. But if we are always coming to our own defense, we’ll never get to see that side of our Heavenly Father.

If we want the power in us to be perfected, we must make room for humility. We must take a position of weakness as we learn, in Christ, to delight in hardships, insults, and resistance.

Deep Recesses of the Heart

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 2:5-8

We are called, in our relationships with one another, to have the mindset of Jesus. The main mindsets that get stressed in this scripture passage are humility, lowliness, and servanthood. And if you’ve lived any length of time as an adult, you’ve likely discovered that there are layers to this.

What I mean is that there seem to be layers to our hearts. When my wife and I do premarital counseling with young couples, we tell them that marriage isn’t about what you’re like when you are at 100% or even 90% but what you are really like when you’re at 30%. When we are single and without kids, it is easier to get a full night of rest, carve out time for rejuvenation, and do things that bring our emotional tank back up to 100%.

So in early marriage, when everyone is rested and rejuvenated, there can be a honeymoon phase where people have a lot of grace and understanding for each other. But as life comes at us with work stress, illness, and bills, our tank can get sapped. Then add kids into the mix, the lack of sleep, the constant caring for others, and usually married couples are at about 30% when they interact with each other.

The question is, “Who are you at 30%?” That is often when the real person comes out. That is often when there is less grace, less patience, more anger, and more hurt. The question is not, “Can you humble yourself?” but instead, “When you are at 30% capacity, hungry, and running on little sleep, can you humble yourself?” This is why marriage and parenting has the unique ability to shape us into the image of Christ.

These are the top two layers of our heart. There is the layer when we are at our best, and then the next layer under is who we are at 30%. But I am discovering a layer under that. This is the layer that Jesus reached down into. This is the deep recesses of the heart, and this can only be explored in the midst of betrayal and failure.

When Jesus became fully human in the incarnation and decided not to use His divinity to His advantage, He began to experience that second layer of the heart (what He was like tired and hungry). But it wasn’t until He was betrayed by His own people and by His best friends that the deepest layer was revealed. The question of this third layer of the heart is not, “Who are you at 30%?” but rather, “When people closest to you hurt you, fail you, and, ultimately, betray you, what comes spewing out of the deep recesses of your heart?”

This is what is meant by the phrase above that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” When Jesus was betrayed at the deepest level by people closest to Him, what came pouring out of His heart was not bitterness or rage, defensiveness or victim mentality. What came pouring out of the deepest recesses of His heart was humility, obedience, compassion, grace, and love. That is who Jesus really was when pressed to His human limits.

Many of us who have been married and have been parents for a while have had that second layer of our heart transformed over time. We’ve learned to be loving, humble, and gracious–more than we ever thought we could be–even while operating at 30%. But where few Christians have been transformed is in the third layer. Where few of us have allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work is in the deep recesses of our heart in moments of betrayal, rejection, or failure.

What comes out of your heart (and mouth) when you are hurt? What comes up from the deep recesses of your heart when those closest to you have betrayed you?

If you’re anything like me, that is an area of the heart that doesn’t see much sunlight and so what comes bubbling up is ugly. It’s the sinful sediment that I’ve allowed to find a home in the deepest trench of my soul. I believe God sometimes uses betrayal and hurt as a strategic surgical tool to show us the ugliness down there so that He can begin His cleansing work.

What if hurt, betrayal, and rejection are unique tools–gifts really–with the awesome capability of shaping us into the image of Christ if we let them?