This blog is just as much for the pastor and missionary as it is for the layperson. I ask you honestly, was not the prophet Jeremiah an utter failure, a disgrace to the ministry? Is he not certainly one we can look down on, shaking our heads? Is he not one whom God clearly did not really use? After all, he did not have many, if any, converts. He did not spark any revivals or great awakenings. His message only upset people. Although two books in the Old Testament are written by him, are either of them anyone’s favorite? He certainly would not be “hired” by most churches today.
As a person, he does not seem to have the wisdom of Daniel, the strength of David, the zeal of Paul, or the leadership qualities of Moses or Nehemiah. Was Jeremiah not a sissy-boy, always crying? Would he not have been an embarrassment to the likes of Joshua?
Now, I hope you realize I am totally being facetious. What foolishness to think Jeremiah was not a man of God whom He used mightily. Although miracles and revivals did not accompany Jeremiah’s ministry, what made him great was his obedience to God. Yet, do we not play such non-sensical comparison games in churches? Admittedly, laypersons and pastors alike are guilty of this. This pastor has a big church, God must really be using him, while the preacher down the road ministers to a congregation of twenty-five persons. Obviously, God is not using him, right? Or that person has an M. Div. degree and is a great teacher, but this person is only a greeter. Honestly, is not the common (mis)perception that the latter person is not as used by God, and the former is more spiritual? The chances are great that you and I are quite guilty of such nonsense.
Many of us are also guilty of this at a personal level. “I am not a great speaker.” “I have never been on a mission trip.” “I do not have a formal theological education.” Or such comments can also come from a condescending standpoint. When I was enrolled at a certain Bible college, there was an underlying attitude of some that the less of a theological education one has, the less God can really use such a person. What hogwash!
Many of us would agree the church in Corinth was a messed up bunch. Yet, ironically, is this not the very church Paul rebuked for such stinking-thinking so common today?
“What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ~ 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, ESV
Later, Paul writes:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty…. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12, 21-23, 29-31
Would Paul not rebuke us today? Many of us have our favorite preachers (“I follow John Piper,” “I follow John MacArthur,” “I follow Charles Swindoll,” or “I follow Max Lucado”), as if they are some sort of rock stars. We go to conferences and we treat the preachers we have not heard of like unsigned opening acts (hey, Paul would rebuke me, too).
At a personal level, how often have many of us been guilty of comparing ourselves with others? If we are not careful, we might begin criticizing ourselves (or others) as though we (or they) have less significance or purpose. “I’m not an eye, I’m worthless!” “I’m just a foot, the body doesn’t need me.” Be honest, have not many of us questioned our worth and significance because we are not this or that, as compared to this or that person? Or else looked down on another because of something we do not like about them (as though we are somehow better)?
What does Paul tell us? He notes that God does not give everyone the same gifts; rather, He gives each a specific place and function. None is the better, none is the worse. Furthermore, each is necessary. While we have not yet discussed it, Paul writes that there is something even greater than our gifts and functions. In chapter 13 he explains that this something greater is love.
Permit me to shift gears for a moment. There are some preachers and authors who give us pep talks about being “earth shakers” and “world changers.” Although they mean well, these are not only unrealistic, but also misleading. Unrealistic, because most of us are simply “ordinary” individuals. This is not an insult, but only to say that we are not superheroes or greatly influential. Misleading, because Jesus has not called us to be “earth shakers” or “world changers.” (What?!?!?!) But what does He say?
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:4-5
What does Jesus tell us to do? He does not tell us to do anything but to abide in Him. Why? Because apart from Him we can do nothing. So notice, appearances can be deceiving. There are times when things appear a lot is happening, when nothing is truly happening for God’s kingdom. Strangely, there are times when it seems nothing is happening, when there is a lot going on. All is dependent on whether or not persons are abiding in Christ.
This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 13. We tend to put a lot of stock in the external—the glitter, noise, bustling, and excitement. We enjoy the extraordinary. But Paul says if he has the gift of tongues—to the point of speaking the language of angels—but has not love, he is just making noise. If he gives everything to the point of including his life but has not love, he has not really given anything at all.
So, what is my point? Do not let mere externals or spiritual gifts determine your sense of worth. Our worth is solely based and secured in Christ. Furthermore, do not be active for the sake of being active. Busy-ness does not equal being “spiritual.” Rather, abide in Christ and He will bring true life to you, and then you will bear fruit. Also, genuinely love God and others. Great speakers and entertainers abound, but how many people in our lives genuinely love without any expectations in return? Abide in Christ and genuinely love, and you can be certain your life is bearing real fruit—even when it might not seem like it. This is what made Jeremiah a great man of God. By and large, truly, he would be rejected by many churches and persons today. Yet, here was a man who remained obedient when the going got tough, and a man who poured his heart out for the sake of others. God, indeed, was with Jeremiah—and his legacy continues onward today. Gifts and activities do not create significance. The real issue is whether or not we are abiding in Christ, obeying God’s Word (which goes hand in hand with abiding), and truly loving others. These are what determine true success. If you are doing these, then you can be certain God is using you in mighty ways, regardless what your eyes—or other’s eyes—see (or do not see)!