Thursday, January 05, 2017

Holy Nothingness as the Precondition for Divine Everythingness

Downtown Monroe

In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul defends his credentials as an apostle and a messenger sent from God. The new Corinthian Jesus-followers look at him and find it hard to believe he is who he says he is. They thought, writes N.T. Wright, that “an apostle needs to be a showy leader, a flowery and entertaining speaker, with personal charm and flattery, like the kind they were used to in their culture. What Paul ultimately wants to say to them is that all these things are nothing…  compared with the lifestyle which embodies the gospel of Jesus.” (N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: 2 Corinthians, 32-33) 

Paul, by his own estimation, is unimpressive. He writes:  I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Cor. 12:11) 

How can someone who is a "nothing" not be inferior to everyone? The answer is that Paul's "nothingness" is a holy nothingness, a sacred insufficiency. This nothingness and insufficiency is a necessary precondition for divine everythingness.

Paul views himself as unqualified to minister in Jesus' name. But Christ, in Paul, is sufficient. He writes: Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5) Christ, he writes, has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:6)

The reality of the new covenant is that God has placed his desires, not on tablets of stone (the old covenant), but within the hearts of all who embrace Christ. Now, amazingly, Christ-followers "partake of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:17: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come

All this is in fulfillment of God's promise of a new covenant, as expressed in Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. God's Holy Spirit, in us, is the reason we have confidence and are sufficient.

In Paul we see this pattern:

  1. I am nothing
  2. This drives me to rely on God
  3. I can do all thing in Christ, who dwells in me and strengthens me
Years ago Linda, Dan, and Josh went with me to Singapore, where I taught at a Chinese seminary for 20 days. Good friends of connected us with David and Sue Pickard of Overseas Missionary Fellowship. David was the director of OMF, which used to be China Inland Mission, founded by Hudson Taylor

David and Sue had us over for dinner. It was Josh's birthday, and they hosted a party for him. 

David showed us Hudson Taylor's Bible. That was an awesome moment. Taylor was taken out of his comfort zone and used of God, even though he was out of his depths. How was this possible? Taylor wrote: “God chose me because I was weak enough. God does not do his work by large committees. He trains somebody to be quiet enough, and little enough, and then uses him.”

I love how Oswald Chambers expresses this truth: “God can achieve his purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”

I must become a nobody so that Christ can become Somebody in me.