It’s Not About You

We live in a self-centered world. From identity politics to Twitter, FoMO to twenty-four-hour cable news, safe spaces to speech codes, we focus on what pleases us, amuses us, or fills us with self-importance. We think everything revolves around us and if it doesn’t, it should. We see it on campuses, on the campaign trail, and at international summits that ultimately do little to mitigate climate change in the end.

Our culture often frames this untenable condition in terms of unrequited love. The band, Scouting for Girls, sets this theme to a catchy tune. Please be aware that the lyrics contain mild innuendoes (yes, a trigger warning):

Scouting For Girls – It’s Not About You, Lyrics

To this situation we find ourselves in, we must say with the Apostle James:

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

James 3:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Worse still, agreeing with the Apostle Paul, we see that we go along recklessly with them:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

Romans 1:32-2:1 (ESV)

But, the Lord Jesus, through the Apostle John, puts the matter in perspective:

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 12:25 (ESV)

Much has been written on the interpretation of this verse. Calvin says in part:

He who, under the influence of immoderate desire of the present life, cannot leave the world but by constraint, is said to love life; but he who, despising life, advances courageously to death, is said to hate life.

Not that we ought absolutely to hate life, which is justly reckoned to be one of the highest of God’s blessings;

but because believers ought to cheerfully lay it down, when it retards them from approaching to Christ;

just as a man, when he wishes to make haste in any matter, would shake off from his shoulders a heavy and disagreeable burden.

Further, we are to live for the good of others:

So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Romans 12:5, 10, 16 (ESV)

Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves and others, we don’t give others honor or affection:

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 5:15, 26; 6:2 (ESV)

But, if we trust the Father to do for us that which we do not do (i.e., change our behavior), then:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

1 Thessalonians 5:11, 15 (ESV)

However, heed this admonition with a warning. Do not neglect it at your peril:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:7, 20, 21 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus Christ offers us an escape from our self-centeredness, if only we’d trust in His saving work on the cross.

Unless – a Conjunction

While doing research for a previous blog post, I noticed that John’s Gospel quotes the Lord Jesus several times using the word: unless.

Unless is interesting because it is a logic term.

Unless

/ənˈles/

conjunction

Except if (used to introduce a case in which a statement being made is not true or valid).

“Unless you have a photographic memory, repetition is vital”

Speaking English – How to Use “Unless,” July 10, 2013, Learn English with Rebecca [engVid RebeccaESL]

The Lord Jesus Christ used this conjunction to lead those who heard Him into God’s Kingdom.

Unless it is granted him by the Father, no one can come to me John 6:64-66 English Standard Version (ESV)

Unless the Father who sent me draws him, no one can come to me John 6:43-45 (ESV)

Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God John 3:2-3 (ESV)

Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God John 3:4-6 (ESV)

Unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins John 8:23-25 (ESV)

To sum up, unless God the Father grants it and draws us we cannot come to the Lord Jesus. Unless one is born again, of water and the Spirit, we can neither see nor enter God’s Kingdom. And unless we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the God who saves, we will die condemned to eternal punishment.

Your Fiery Trial

No doubt you’ve suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Perhaps you’ve been insulted, falsely accused, or unjustly condemned when you’ve tried to do good for others? All alive will at some time suffer one or more of these adversities. However, only those saved by God’s grace can grow as a result of them. The Apostle Peter says in his first letter:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Although Peter elsewhere counsels that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand, I find this passage of his difficult as well. Let’s see what John Calvin has to say:

Beloved, think it not strange, or, wonder not. There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ.

And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. [In order] that we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross.

Moreover, he proves that the cross is useful to us by two arguments, — that God thus tries our faith, — and that we become thus partakers with Christ. Then, in the first place, let us remember that the trial of our faith is most necessary, and that we ought thus willingly to obey God who provides for our salvation. However, the chief consolation is to be derived from a fellowship with Christ.

Hence Peter not only forbids us to think it strange, when he sets this before us, but also bids us to rejoice. It is, indeed, a cause of joy, when God tries our faith by persecution; but the other joy far surpasses it, that is, when the Son of God allots to us the same course of life with himself, that he might lead us with himself to a blessed participation of heavenly glory.

For we must bear in mind this truth, that we have the dying of Christ in our flesh, that his life may be manifested in us. The wicked also do indeed bear many afflictions; but as they are separated from Christ, they apprehend nothing but God’s wrath and curse: thus it comes that sorrow and dread overwhelm them.

Hence, then, is the whole consolation of the godly, that they are associates with Christ, that hereafter they may be partakers of his glory; for we are always to bear in mind this transition from the cross to the resurrection. But as this world is like a labyrinth, in which no end of evils appears, Peter refers to the future revelation of Christ’s glory, as though he had said, that the day of its revelation is not to be overlooked, but ought to be expected.

But he mentions a twofold joy, one which we now enjoy in hope, and the other the full fruition of which the coming of Christ shall bring to us; for the first is mingled with grief and sorrow, the second is connected with exultation. For it is not suitable in the midst of afflictions to think of joy, which can free us from all trouble; but the consolations of God moderate evils, so that we can rejoice at the same time.

One might object that suffering for righteousness sake in the hope of future joy is nothing more than “pie in the sky when we die.” But it is so much more. This kind of suffering shows we are His possession, and if we are His, this world has no hold on us. This momentary light affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Steel Mill Run-off

Run-off from a Steel Mill Open Hearth Furnace, Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown, Ohio, November 1941, A work of the U.S. federal government, in the public domain