"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." - VoltairE

He must become greater; I must become less

Posted by Anne Witton on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 Under: Reflections

Lockdown is hard and many of us are struggling to feel good about ourselves. As we are all cut off from community and being driven online we need to guard against getting our value from Facebook likes, emojis, and cheap uplifting sentiment shared online. Instead we need to look to God for our worth and value. We are made in the image of the divine creator and that fundamentally shapes our identity and tells us who we are and why we matter.

But that’s not the end of the matter. There is a danger that we focus so much on wanting to feel better (and wanting our friends to feel better) that we apply selected Bible verses like a pleasant ointment, without setting them in the whole context of the sweep of Scripture. We cherry-pick encouragements about being dearly loved by God, God having plans for us, and being provided for (which are all true) without balancing them with the challenges to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, to ensure hardship for the sake of Christ and to lay down our lives to take up his cross. There’s a real danger that we slide into sanctified narcissism. A shallow therapeutic non-gospel that is just about making us feel better about ourselves is no gospel at all. The true gospel is all about God being reunited to his creation, and the culmination of the good news is a renewed creation united in praising and glorifying the Lord forever.

The Christian faith isn’t about our glorification and worth, it is about the praise and glory of Jesus. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is from John’s Gospel when John the Baptist speaks of the joy he has now the Messiah Jesus has come. John says:

“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3: 30)

If what we are preaching is simply a message about how we can feel better about ourselves we are not telling the truth or preaching the full gospel. The good news of Jesus is much more profound in scope and depth; it is about the glory of the Lord. We need to be more obsessed with the reputation of God and less obsessed with our own reputation. Yes, we are divine image bearers but that points to the altogether more wonderful divine being himself.

I’ve been watching Call the Midwife during lockdown and one of the things that has struck me is the self-less service of the nuns. They scrub floors, provide meals, nurse the dying, live frugally, give generously and put themselves last. And the miracle is that this is life-giving and leads to true joy. We can learn a lot from these nuns. We should be tripping over ourselves to be generous, to give sacrificially, to live sacrificially and to serve the poor and the needy and those on the margins.

At the heart of the upside-down nature of the kingdom we learn that it’s better to give than receive. It is in humble service that joy is found. Saint Francis of Assisi knew this when he penned these wise words:

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

Unless our lives are upward and outward focussed, we will implode with self-centredness and continue to try harder to boost our self-esteem through social media, online groups and superficial encouragements. But we need to remember the first two commandments:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matt 22: 37 - 39)

There is an order to creation and it doesn’t start with me.

In : Reflections 

Tags: gospel jesus "self esteem" kingdom 


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