Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
While in the exceptional care of the physicians of the University of North Carolina Healthcare System, I met Dr. Alan Siqueiros as he was completing his Fellowship. He could tell I was depressed. My lung function was at 25% from my history of three pulmonary emboli. I had no prospects for a “normal” future. Yet, Dr. Siqueiros left me with some words of exhortation, since he was about to depart for Yale’s Danbury Hospital to do his Residency. “You’re a bright young man. You may not have the health you wanted, but you have a sharp mind. You’re still young. If I were you, I would focus on developing my mind and see where that leads.”
There’s something to be said about doing what you can with what you have at your disposal, isn’t there? The woman with the costly oil of spikenard did what she could when she took her costly oil and anointed Jesus’ head. When people complained she wasted something precious, Jesus told them to leave her alone since she had done what she could for Him (Mark 14.1-9). A woman in the first century had limited options for service and this was a risky step. Even so, she was motivated to do what she could with what was available to her. Jesus understood and appreciate her effort.
We all expect our trials to be swift, don’t we? We don’t anticipate the possibility that we may find ourselves in a situation where adversity persists and may not go away. If you have an illness, others may see your adversity and help. Even so, there are also those forms of adversities people face on their own since no one else notices it (e.g. unequally yoked to an unbelieving spouse). So, if you are living with ongoing adversity, what can you do?
First, accept God’s sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12.1-10). You don’t have to enjoy adversity, but trust God’s grace to give you a reason to rejoice, even if only in His strength. His strength shines through your weakness, when you’re living faithfully.
Second, go ahead and do what you can, even if it’s just with a box of “costly oil of spikenard.” As we’ve seen, even a simple act has its place when used to God’s glory. Christ has entrusted us with the gifts we may use (Ephesians 4.7-8).
Third, don’t compare yourself to others. We each have our own cross to carry (Luke 14.27). And the execution of our duties produce the results God intends (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).
Lastly, keep going (Hebrews 12.1-4). We know that we will only receive the crown of life if death finds us faithful (Revelation 2:10).
The nature of your adversity may be ongoing. It may be something you feel you face alone. However, the sufficient grace of God, coupled with the tools with which He has entrusted all of us, permits even those living amidst adversity to live a fulfilling life leading to our eternal home.
It was the late ’70s and I was spending the night with my best friends, Patrick and Jody Smith. We had just finished watching The Bionic Man on TV, and there was a special on Muhammad Ali. I can still remember his banter with Howard Cosell and the gifted boxer looking at the camera and saying, “I-am-the-greatest!”
“Who is the greatest?” is a burning question in men’s minds. We want to know who’s the greatest. Whatever the profession, endeavor, or skill, there are folks vying for the top spot. People once immortalized for feats and accomplishments, like Tom Courtney, Neil Armstrong, George Washington, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, or Muhammad Ali, fuel future competitors to meet and exceed their successes.
The disciples wanted Jesus to tell them, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1). On a journey to Capernaum, they argued among themselves about who was the greatest (Mk. 9:34). Here were twelve men who were selected by Christ to have a part in the greatest work on earth. That was honor and purpose enough, but they wanted more. If that was good, being the best of the best was better. Such thinking was way off base, which Jesus repeatedly demonstrated through His humility, sacrifice, and service for the good of others.
Today, we wrestle with the same affliction. Whether in our daily lives or even within our function in the church, we can get caught up in being recognized as the best. This is a destructive exercise and misses the point. If we are Christians, we are among God’s chosen on this earth. What a privilege! We have the highest, most important business to do. Let us do our best and work our hardest, but let us never get caught in the trap of showing others that we are the best. The very attempts disqualify us.
There are people who die some very gruesome deaths in Scripture–Eglon, Jezebel, the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, Judas, and others, too. But maybe none is more disturbing than the death of Herod the Great. A wicked, godless ruler, Herod Agrippa I had just overseen the execution of the apostle James and intended to do the same to Peter. About this time, Tyre and Sidon sought to appease and flatter him, subjugated people in need of food from Galilee but who had somehow offended this Judean king.
What happens next is recorded in Acts 12:21-23, but is also found in The Works of Josephus.
Josephus writes that at a festival in honor of Caesar, Herod appeared before the people in “a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful” (344). The sunlight hit the garment making it shine “after a surprising manner” and caused the crowd to spontaneously shout that he was a god. The people cried, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature” (345).
Josephus says that after he had not rejected their praise, “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner” (346). His pain then became violent and severe, and he lingered five days before he died at the age of 45 in A.D. 44 (347). The inspired Luke tells us the cause of death–“He was eaten with worms” (Acts 12:23). Why? Because he did not give God the glory!
When I understand God’s reaction to those who take for themselves glory that only belongs to God, it should humble me to the core! If it is a sermon, a program, an idea, an act of kindness or benevolence, a rendered service, an article, a Bible class, a Bible study, an evangelistic success, or any spiritual triumph, I should go the second-mile to deflect and divert that praise! We who preach, teach, and otherwise serve the Lord in any way on any occasion must have a healthy sense of who we are. Paul says that we have the glorious gospel treasure “in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7).
May we be deeply impressed with that, especially when faced with the flattery and praise of men. The sports analogy, “Don’t believe your own press clippings,” holds true. Paul was quick to deflect such praise, saying, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-6).
The next time we are tempted to be a “Glory Hog,” may these biblical truths rush to the forefront of our minds. After all, thanks to Herod’s demise, we know how God feels about it. To God truly be the glory!