I have a bad habit of wanting to be profound. Whether I’m writing or speaking, I have a desire to say something memorable, something life changing, something people will quote after reading. I know I shouldn’t pursue such things. I know that the movement of God won’t be hindered by my inability to alliterate every point in a lesson. I know all that really matters is whether or not I’m obedient to the Lord. So why does this matter to me so much?
To some degree, I don’t think the desire is necessarily wrong. Speaking truth in a memorable way can help the message stick with the listener, which is a good thing, especially when the Gospel is the message being shared. Furthermore, if God has gifted someone with the ability to write or speak or to convey his message in another way, I think it is right to use his gifts for the advance of his kingdom. But a danger lies in the desire to be profound for the sake of one’s own name rather than for the sake of the name above all names. The glory must be sought for the one who deserves it, not for the messenger.
For me personally, I think the root of the problem is a misunderstanding of my purpose here on earth. Scripture calls us to do all things for the glory of God, giving thanks to the Father in Jesus’ name in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17). We are called to love God above all else, renouncing everything (including our very lives) to follow him (Matthew 14:33). We are called to love our neighbors, humbly considering others more significant than ourselves (Mark 12:31 and Philippians 2:3). As Christians, our lives are not our own. We are saved to serve.
The world can make keeping this truth in mind difficult. I can remember being obsessed with how many “likes” or “comments” or “shares” a tweet or post of mine could get on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I remember how my mood could change based on how few or how many people interacted with my posts. Because so many people invest so much of themselves into these sites, one can easily begin to believe that his or her online profile defines or, at least, affects his or her actual worth. And the problem isn’t just confined to the online realm. I’ve measured my worth by my clothing, by my conversation topics, by my interests, by my health, by my hometown, by my school, by which books I’ve read, by which movies I’ve seen – the list could go on. In each case, I compared myself to the people around me, determining my self-worth based on how well I fit in with the cool kids or stood apart from the lame kids. And I’ve found that this is a nasty way to live. Life becomes a constant struggle to maintain the status quo, to redefine the status quo, or to completely abolish the status quo. Everything begins to center around self, and self is never satisfied.
Paul demolishes this mindset in 1 Corinthians as he addresses some divisions within the church. The body at Corinth was splitting into factions, each subgroup claiming superiority over the others because of their allegiance to a specific teacher of the day (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Their eyes were on themselves, and they were missing the point of the Gospel because of their misplaced focus. Paul sets them straight by pointing out that God chooses to employ the weak in his service so that he alone can receive glory for the advance of the kingdom. He then uses himself as an example, writing,
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Paul hammers home the point that all glory is due to God, not to the apparent wisdom of a specific teacher. He states that his method of teaching and discipleship was not to speak in the most eloquent of speech or in the most technical of explanations. Rather, he simply lifted up Jesus, allowing God to work “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” His desire was for their faith to rest in God alone, not in the wisdom of men, and he was careful not to let himself become a distraction to the people he was pointing to Jesus.
He goes on to explain that there is a certain kind of wisdom imparted to the mature that stands against the wisdom of the present age (1 Corinthians 2:6). However, he brings the argument back around to show that even though there exists a certain kind of wisdom from God, that still leaves no room to boast in the human messenger, be it Paul or Apollos or anyone else. As he makes plain in chapter three,
I planted, Apollos watered ,but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7
This tells me that I needn’t worry about how eloquently I may express an idea. Nor should I worry about how many readers I may have. Instead, I need to faithfully do the work assigned to me, namely, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). This life isn’t about how memorable my work is, but about how immeasurably great God’s work is. My words pass away; his Word will never pass away. My name will fade; his will stand forever. Let me no longer worry about making a name for myself, nor become consumed with the names I may follow, but concern myself always only with the name above all names. May he get the glory forever and ever. Amen.