Wednesday, November 06, 2013

You're Not Expected to Be Like Other People

Nuthatch, in my backyard
Many years ago I was out praying and heard God say to me, "John, I don't want you to be like anyone else. I want you to be like Me." I know why God told me this. I have always had this thing about comparing myself, usually negatively, with others. 

A lot of people are plagued by this. It was, at the time, getting to me again. My heart was dialed in to the cultural honor-shame hierarchy. This is a punishing measuring rod that beats its adherents relentlessly. I was beating myself up because I wasn't the preacher or pastor or leader that some others appeared to be. One of the toxic by-products of this is people-pleasing, which breeds an inability to love others. On that day, as I was praying, God swooped in for yet another rescue, of me.

I wrote these words in my journal. "God, I really don't want to be like other people. 
I want to be like you."

The apostle Paul was in a similar situation in his relationship with the Corinthian Christians. In comparison to the Greek Sophists and rhetoricians, Paul was neither beautiful nor talented. How could Paul be an apostle, someone sent from God to them? He didn't look or sound like one! Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is, largely, a defense of his apostleship with an implicit rejection of the culture's honor-shame hierarchy. Within this letter there is much for the Corinthians to learn about what God is looking for. God is after a person's heart, and not their physical appearance or natural giftedness.

I love and am encouraged by this story from 1 Samuel. The people of Israel want a king. In 16:6-7 we read:

Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

God's position on this had not changed for Paul. Paul is becoming free from human standards people might impose on him. The only standard that matters is the one that Jesus himself sets. Paul’s life is an open book to God, and to the Corinthians as well. He is confident towards God, because he knows God judges the heart. In this he is free to love others.

The Corinthians, however, judged by appearance. They made their judgments by “what is seen.” The Greek speakers boasted of appearance and not of heart. Paul, rejecting this, avoids using “overly ornamental rhetoric, which caused the listener to focus on the form or on mere eloquence to the neglect of content.” (Ben Witherington, 2 Cor., 392) 

Paul attacks the whole cultural-hierarchical idea of self-advertisement. He rejects the Sophistic criteria by which he was being evaluated. He writes: What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. (2 Cor. 5:11) Paul emphasizes authenticity and transparency. His life is an open book, before God and before others. “It was critical to [Paul's] ministry that his life and his lips both speak the same language.” (Witherington, 2C, 392) You won't have to worry about advertising anything if the fire of God burns in your heart.

That "language" is not the language of our culture, but the language of Christ. God wants to form Christ deep within the human heart. (Gal. 4:19) That's all. That's enough.

I'm breaking free from trying to be like you or anyone else. I have been influenced by many people, including a lot of whom are in our Redeemer family. Linda and I have, many times, been inspired by friends who give, love, serve, build up, encourage, pray for, and minister to others. For us it is Christ in them that we see, and that is our "hope of glory." It's beautiful to see Christ shining through others. If this is you then you are, to us, "a letter from Christ." (2 Cor. 3:3)

Make it your aim to please Christ, in the first place. 

(2 Cor. 5:6)

As you experience the pleasure of Jesus towards you, that is the indicator that you have been rescued from the brutal, comparative, sub-human honor-shame hierarchy. God loves you. Accept this.

At that point you will be free to love others, as Christ loves you.