Friday, 17 May 2019

Feet of clay...?

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

I wrote last time about the mixed nature of the church - it is a community of saved sinners and sinful saints. Each of us is both of those things.

Which means, among other things, that we shouldn’t put Christians we admire on a pedestal. We may be perfectly right to admire them - but we need to keep in mind that they aren’t perfect, any more than we are.

No sooner had I posted this blog than I read - with quite some shock - about a clear example of this truth. An obituary in the paper outlined the life of a man who was well-known in Christian circles as an academic theologian, a writer of both popular and heavyweight books, and a sparkling speaker and enthusiastic evangelist.

I heard him speak on a number of occasions, and had a chat with him once or twice. He was a man you instinctively looked up to and admired.

So what was it that shocked me? Well, it seems that at one stage of his life he and his wife experienced serious marriage problems. To quote the paper: “... his lack of attention and understanding and her anger led to ‘stormy years’... including physical scuffles between the pair.”

“Physical scuffles”! Goodness me! I found that really quite difficult to believe of this man that I had looked up to. (On the good side, the article went on to say that they attended counselling sessions and learned to love one another again.)
Reflecting on this, I felt that there were various lessons we as Christians can draw.

First, and most important, let Christ alone be the focus of our worship and adoration.

As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with admiring fine Christians who have influenced us. The writer to the Hebrews, indeed, tells his readers to respect those “who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (13:7). That’s fine. But he then immediately adds: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” - as if to say, But never let them take the place of Jesus!

Do you have a favourite preacher or pastor? A favourite Christian musician, perhaps? A favourite writer? Even, if you’re the egg-head sort, a pet theologian? Or just somebody in your church who can do no wrong in your eyes? That’s fine - but don’t be naive; they are sinners too! Expect, at some point, to be disappointed...

Second, I felt encouraged by the thought: So God uses sinful people, then!

This wasn’t exactly a new revelation. Of course, I knew perfectly well that God uses sinners! - when you stop and think about it, he hasn’t got a lot of choice, has he?

This doesn’t mean he condones or turns a blind eye to our sins. Of course not. But given that we are all imperfect, the plain fact is that he has to work with (how shall I put this?) some pretty ropy raw material. Think, for just a couple of examples, of King David in the Old Testament and the apostle Peter in the New.

What it does mean, though, is that he wants to use you and me as well.

Never say “I am not good enough to be used by God!” No: if your heart is sincere, and if you truly hate your sins and weaknesses (David and Peter again), then God can make you an instrument of his usefulness. Just work out what he wants you to do, then roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

Third, after the shock had worn off a bit, I felt a sense of real admiration.

For one thing, this couple had had the wisdom and humility to seek counselling. None of this stiff-upper-lip-we-can-manage-perfectly-well-by-ourselves-thank-you-very-much stuff. They recognised that they needed help, and they went looking for it.

Is that a word to some of us?

And I couldn’t help admiring also that they had obviously been willing to make their difficulties known even beyond the counselling room. That, I am sure, can’t have been easy. But it’s as if they were wanting to make the very point I started with: “We aren’t Mr and Mrs Perfect! We are sinners too! So don’t put us on a pedestal.”

Let’s go back to those great words of John that I quoted at the beginning: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Plenty to ponder there, I think, as we look at others - and as we look at ourselves...

Our Father in heaven, thank you that you are a God who loves and uses sinners. Give me, please, the wisdom to value godly Christians without idolising them, and the humility to hate the sins within my own soul. Amen.

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