The Call to be H.I.S. People - with Humility, Integrity and Simplicity ~
About 4,000 years ago, God launched his global mission, with the first Great Commission, the one he gave to Abraham, telling him to "Go ... be a blessing ...and through you all nations on the earth will be blessed". That is God's great mission. That, says Paul, is the gospel that the Scriptures announced in advance to Abraham - God will bless the nations!
But there were many obstacles - in Bible times and ever since; many things that keep frustrating and hindering that great loving, saving, mission of God. What do you think is the greatest of those obstacles to God's desire for the evangelization of the world?
Not other religions, persecution, or resistant cultures. Those are all serious challenges - of course, But....the overwhelming witness of the Bible is that the greatest problem for God in his redemptive mission for the world is ... his own people. What hurts God most, it seems, is not just the sin of the world, but the failure, disobedience and rebellion of those God has redeemed and called to be his people, his holy people, his distinctive people.
Idolatry: that's the biggest single obstacle to world mission. For if God's mission is to bring all nations into the blessing of knowing and worshipping him alone as Creator and Redeemer, then the greatest threat to that is the worship of other gods, false gods, no gods. But the problem was not just the idolatry of the foreign nations and their false gods, but the idolatry of God's own people. There are many false gods and idols, of course, that entice us away from the living God alone, but three in particular seem especially seductive, just as much for evangelical Christians today as for Israel of old:
· the idol of power and pride;
· the idol of popularity and success;
· the idol of wealth and greed.
1. The idol of Power and Pride. Listen to the word of the Lord, through Isaiah.
The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), ... 17 The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, 18 and the idols will totally disappear. (Isaiah 1:12-18)
Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ himself
Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; .... 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. ...I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)
Sisters and brothers, to be obsessed with power and status in Christian work is sheer disobedience to Christ and the Bible. It destroys the very thing we are trying to accomplish.
We are called back in repentance to Humility.
2. The idols of Popularity and Success
These idols lead us into manipulation, dishonesty, distortion - like the false prophets, false prophets who were claiming to speak the word of God but were really acting in their own self-interest; who were claiming to be men of God, but just giving the people whatever they most wanted to hear or see at the time. Popular, successful - certainly, - but false prophets in the grip of a false god. In the early church, Paul warned against those who 'peddled the word of God for profit', those who "used deception and distortion" (2 Cor. 2:17, 4:2). The church was dazzled by these 'super apostles' as he called them - who boasted of their credentials, their impressive speaking, their great popularity. They were the kind of successful leaders the church at Corinth wanted - to boost their own image. But Paul says,
such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15.)
Sisters and brothers, we cannot build the kingdom of the God of truth on foundations of dishonesty. Telling lies about our success, or accepting what we know to be very questionable statistics, in order to get or to grant funding for our projects, is nothing short of bowing down to the idols of manipulated success.
We are called back in repentance to Integrity.
3. The idols of Wealth and Greed
Jesus gave a stern warning: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15 ) and neither, he could have added, does a man's ministry.
We are called back in repentance to Simplicity.
there are parts of the so-called evangelical church today where the same three idols are rampant.
· There are self-appointed super 'apostles' and other mighty and elevated leaders, unaccountable to anybody, popular with thousands of followers, lording it over the flock of Christ, unconcerned for the weak and poor, showing none of the marks of an apostle that Paul talks about, and with no resemblance to the crucified Christ. That's the idolatry of pride and power.
· There is a craze for 'success', for 'results', the largest number in the shortest time. There is obsession with statistics and outcomes, which sometimes leads to wild claims, unsubstantiated numbers, untrue reports - blatant manipulation and collusion in falsehood, all for the sake of funding, etc. That's the idolatry of success.
· There is the so-called Prosperity Gospel. We certainly affirm what the Bible says about God's blessing, about the power of God's Spirit and the victory of God over all that crushes and curses human life - but, many promoters of this teaching distort the Bible (if they use it at all), appeal to human greed, have no place for the Bible's teaching on suffering and taking up the cross, and succeed only in enriching themselves to a lifestyle utterly contrary to the teaching and example of Christ. The idolatry of greed.
What then must we do?
We need a radical return to the Lord - We need to hear the prophetic word, from the prophets and apostles of God, and from the Lord Jesus Christ himself: 'Repent, and believe the gospel....' Remember, Jesus preached that message, made that command - not to pagan unbelievers, gentile outsiders, people of other faiths - but to those who already claimed to be God's covenant people. And so it comes to us.
· Before we go out to the world, we must come back to the Lord.
· If we want to change the world, we must first change our own hearts and our ways (Jer. 7:3-8).
· As we take the words of the gospel to the world, we must also take with us words of confession to God (Hos. 14:1-2).
· Before we get off our seats to seek the lost, we must get on our knees to seek the Lord.
We invite you to do these things - in prayer before God.
· Where we have been exalted our status, titles or authority, let us walk humbly with our God, for the Lord gives grace to the humble but puts down the proud.
· Where we have manipulated, distorted, or exaggerated, let us walk in the light and truth of God, for the Lord looks on the heart and is pleased with integrity.
· Where we have used our ministry for our own selfish gain, let us walk in the simplicity of Jesus, for we cannot serve God and mammon.
Humility, Integrity, Simplicity. - H.I.S.
His People. Let us be what we are, for God's sake, for our mission's sake, for the world's sake.
Edited and distributed by permission of the author. Calling the Church of Christ Back to Humility, Integrity and Simplicity a plenary message by Christopher Wright at the 3rd Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization, Cape Town, South Africa, October 2010. Dr. Wright is the International Director of Langham Partnership International, founded by John Stott