We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 2 Cor. 10:12
A mother of one of Chad’s friends, when inquiring about our move and the new neighborhood, asked, “What do you hope to accomplish?” I responded jokingly, with the immediate in view, “To get our clothes put away and the tools removed from all of rooms.” Of course that was not what her question was actually asking.
Another beloved friend, sorting out what direction her career path should take, lamented the seeming disconnect between what she really loves doing and the possession of her college degree.
My dad’s three brothers were in town last weekend for my sister’s wedding and then stayed an extra couple of days to attend an annual gathering of old classmates who had chosen my dad as this year’s honoree. My dad’s oldest brother, who truly played the role of parent for the other three, was the driving force behind this honor. Looking out for his younger siblings, he wants to make sure their contributions to the world are sufficiently recognized, as he himself has been honored with awards for his contribution in the field of pediatric research over the past few years. Because he lives in Colorado, he encouraged me to be on the lookout for other ways my dad could be honored in Atlanta.
I remember an inspiring talk at a Christian ministry in college which highlighted the servant girl in the story of Naaman. She was never named, an indication of her relative insignificance to the people around her, yet she was the one who persuaded Naaman to follow Elisha’s directions for being healed. While unnamed, she was heroic in the role she played, and therefore significant!
Whether it is a product of living not only in the majority culture, but in an affluent, powerfully connected, achievement driven community or simply the condition of the human heart, just like the illustrations above, I equate significance/purpose/value with newsworthiness or a measurable accounting of contribution. Besides reducing human existence to utilitarian usefulness, this equation for the justification of a life has no space for the shut in, the physically dependent, the mentally incompetent, the weak, the limited, the underachiever, the defeated, the average, the disconnected, the isolated, the ineffectual and so on.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:17-18
I am fearful that if others are not impressed by my use of time and talent, my time and talent is wasted or worthless. This is because I am still determined to measure my value by my work and not the person and work of Jesus on my behalf. “To much has been given, much is expected” becomes like a whip on my back, as if it is the one verse excluded from the Gospel’s application. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 1:26-31 The number of friends I have on Facebook, the number of Christmas cards I receive in the mail, the number of parties I am invited to attend this season, the number of diplomas on my wall, the number of zeros in my paycheck, the number of buildings or organizations or communities I have built or the number of readers of this blog cannot measure the worth of the riches of completion and perfection that are mine in and through the person and work of Jesus. What honor can a group of people bestow on me that equates with the full acceptance, approval and adoration of the King of Kings, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord of Lords and God of all that exists? But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Phil. 3:7-12
The danger of my validating my existence by any measure other than the person and work of Jesus for me, is that I can’t help but to then measure the dignity of others by the same standard. The guy wandering down the street without a job, either because he can’t get one or hasn’t tried, is viewed through the lense of his performance or that of Jesus, but not both. If I think my accomplishments and associations merit the significance of my existence, that Jesus is merely frosting, I greatly overestimate my righteousness and underestimate my need for His mercy, strength and provision. Oh might I just begin to grasp the satisfaction of my completion in Him rather than chasing it down every dead end path of human accomplishment and accolade, that I might by faith see His promised completion in others and love as I have been loved.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:35