Not to Us

We seek to be the center of attention. We want to be acknowledged as experts in our fields. We want our deeds to count, to make a difference, and to be recognized, no, acclaimed, by all. This is our life’s goal. It’s true even in the churches.

The Psalmist, however, expressed a different viewpoint. One that’s even more pertinent in our day:

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,

for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

“Why should the nations say,

“Where is their God?”

“Our God is in the heavens;

He does all that he pleases.”

Psalm 115:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

Both Calvin and Spurgeon spoke about these verses. Here’s an excerpt from Spurgeon’s sermon:

There are times when this is the only plea that God’s people can use. There are other occasions when we can plead with God to bless us for this reason or for that, but, sometimes, there come dark experiences when there seems to be no reason that can suggest itself to us why God should give us deliverance, or [bestow to] us a blessing except this one—that He would be pleased to do it in order to glorify His own name…

Self-seeking is the exact opposite of the spirit of a true Christian. He would rather strip himself and say, “Not unto me, but unto You, O Lord, be all honor and glory!” He seeks no crown to put upon his own head. Twice [Christ] refused to wear it. Even if the world would press it upon him, he says, “Not unto me; not unto me.” He does not wish for honor. He [is] done with self-seeking. His one great objective, now, is to glorify God— “Unto Your name give glory, for Your mercy, and for Your truth’s sake.”

…Brothers and Sisters, this is the spirit in which to live. Has God blessed us? Do we look back upon honorable and useful lives? Has our Sunday school class brought in souls for Christ? Have we been privileged to preach the Gospel and has the Lord given us converts? Then let us be sure to stick to the text — “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your name give glory.”

…There are very few men who can bear success—none can do so unless great Grace is given to them! And if, after a little success, you begin to say, “There now, I am somebody. Did I not do that well? These poor old fogies do not know how to do it—I will teach them” — you will have to go [to the back of the line], Brother, you are not yet able to endure success! It is clear that you cannot stand praise.

But if, when God gives you blessing, you give Him every atom of the glory and clear yourself of everything like boasting, then the Lord will continue to bless you because it will be safe for Him to do so…

Yes, and when the time comes for us to die, this is the spirit in which to die, for it is the beginning of Heaven. What are they doing in Heaven? If we could look in there, what would we see? There are crowns there, laid up for those that fight the good fight and finish their course—but do you see what the victors are doing with their crowns? They will not wear them! No, not they—they cast them down at Christ’s feet, crying, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your name give glory.”

Brother, Sister—living, dying—let this be your continual cry! If the Lord favors you, honors you, blesses you, always say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, be the glory.”

It’s hard not to be conformed to this world. Rather, seek to be a servant, a doulos, which is a lowly and humbling calling. The way up is down; yet, it is how our Lord lived among us. How much I long to be like Him where He is.

Sinclair Ferguson: Not unto Us, O Lord: Awakening & the Glory of God, Ligonier Ministries, Published on Mar 12, 2018

Stand Before the Judgment Seat

Last week we considered our propensity to judge others, assigning to some honors and infamy to others, when we have no way to see the quality of their hearts and souls. And, if we could see them, we’d be either too indulgent or too harsh. This week we look at God’s rightful place as Judge. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the fourteenth chapter, the Apostle Paul asks:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

The obvious answer to his questions is: our sinfulness. Calvin analyzes these verses further:

But you, why do you, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in anyone to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which he alone has received from the Father.

…As…it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; so it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

That certainly puts us in our place. But, to examine the matter at a deeper level, consider Paul’s initial question and response in this chapter:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

Calvin explains:

Who are you who judges, etc. …Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two.

For we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment.

Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.

These are the same principles Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian church. However, lest we think our lot is hopeless, consider the second half of the verse to which Calvin says:

To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant does: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.”

And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace…as he also teaches us in another place,

“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)

So, the trade is equitable with regard to persons. We relinquish tribunal powers over others of whom we disapprove because they do not meet our personal standards. Rather, we are to judge others’ actions only according to His word. And God promises to complete the work He set out to do, in those others for whom we should hope well and, most importantly, in ourselves with whom we should be disappointed until His work is through.

77’s-Live Warehouse 1989: “Can’t Get Over It,” “Frames Without Photographs,” YouTube, 77’s

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“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

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.