Bragging Rights – Steve’s Letter July 2015
JULY 1, 2015
I was working on a sermon this morning (it’s a cow that never stays milked) and the text was 1 Corinthians 9:13-23. I guess I’ve taught that text a hundred times but a verse jumped out at me that I hadn’t noticed before or, at least, a verse to which I hadn’t paid much attention. It’s where Paul says in verse 15, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.”
In this text, Paul is defending his ministry and pointing out that he has certain rights but doesn’t avail himself of those rights. Then the Freudian slip where he says how he really feels. After that, of course, Paul puts a spiritual spin on it (“If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting”) but by then it’s too late.
Paul the sinner? The writer of much of the New Testament likes to brag?
Does that bother you? It really shouldn’t. Paul does some more bragging in 2 Corinthians 11 where he is writing about his apostleship and then, because he knows he shouldn’t, says that he’s “speaking as a fool.” Then he brags some more. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says that he is the “chief of sinners.” And of course there is Paul’s amazing confession in Romans 7 where he says that he can’t quite pull off the good he wants to do and keeps doing the evil he doesn’t want to do. So believe it or not, Jesus had to die for the Apostle Paul too.
One of the great dangers for those of us who believe the Bible is to confuse the words that are written with the person God used to write the words. All the writers of Scripture are fallible even if what they wrote isn’t. Moses, David and Jeremiah couldn’t have been published (given their public sin) by any Christian publisher today. Peter’s letter would have remained unwritten and unpublished too, and for the same reason. (Among Paul’s accurate/infallible words is an accusation that Peter was a hypocrite.)
And then there’s Paul.
As I read the verse about his bragging, the Holy Spirit whacked me “upside the head” and said, “That’s you!”
“No, it’s not,” I said with confidence, “I’m a very humble guy.” Then I realized I would rather die too than be deprived of my grounds for boasting.
As some of you know, I don’t get the royalties for any of my books and I might also add I don’t get the honorariums for the places where I speak. All of that goes to Key Life and the work of God through Key Life.
And I love to tell people that!
It makes me feel self-righteous and self-righteousness gives me a better feeling than the money. Not only that, I’m feeling quite self-righteous now even confessing that to you.
Steve, that’s neurotic!
I know that, but I’m making a point here. It is dangerous to worship at anybody’s altar but God’s and it’s just as dangerous to want affirmation from anybody but God. But I do it…
…and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Now let’s talk about you. You’re just like me.
I remember the time John DeBrine, who had been led to Christ by Donald Grey Barnhouse, told me that Barnhouse was jealous of Billy Graham. John noticed my shocked expression and laughed. “Steve,” he said, “did you think that Jesus didn’t have to die for Barnhouse too?”
Did you think that Jesus didn’t have to die for Paul?
Here’s the point. It’s all covered by the blood of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It was covered for Paul and Peter, and for me and you too. God uses sinners to do his work. It’s all he’s got and, when it happens, God gets the glory which, after all, is what this is about. Paul the sinner said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
But of course!
I think I’ve told you but in one of my Bibles I wrote something profound. (If I could remember who said it, I would give that person the credit; but since I can’t, let me say…) “As I always say, you wouldn’t be so shocked at your own sin if you didn’t have such a high opinion of yourself.” And I might add, you wouldn’t be so shocked at the sin of others if you didn’t have such a high opinion of them.
Am I saying that we should sin more that God would get more glory and that grace would abound all the more? Again referring to Paul the sinner, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). But still, Paul wouldn’t have had to say that and I wouldn’t have had to refer to it if both of us weren’t saying something sort of like that.
I got an email from a pastor this morning confessing that he was ashamed of himself and was thinking of leaving the ministry. “Last Sunday,” he wrote, “I felt like a hypocrite.”
I sent him Martin Luther’s words. On August 21, 1544, Luther wrote a letter to George Spalatin, a Christian brother who had worked with Luther in the Reformation. Spalatin was going through a difficult time in dealing with a significant degree of guilt. Spalatin was devastated and when Luther learned of his condition, he wrote the following:
“My faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hardboiled sinners.
“You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us.
“He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.”
Do you sometimes think that you can’t say something about Christ, do something to witness to him with your friends, give a “reason” for the hope you have, or even tell people that you’re a Christian and attend church? Do you sometimes say to yourself, “Who am I? I can’t be a hypocrite!”?
As comedian Bob Newhart said in his spoof of a counseling moment when the client was expecting something profound and professional:
“Just stop it!”
He (not Newhart…Jesus) told me to tell you why.