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Self-Preservation Before the Cross

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Col. 2:2-4

What strikes me here in Paul’s writing is that fine-sounding arguments are so easily able to persuade me that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are separate from the person and work of Jesus. “They” never say that, so blatantly, of course (and by “they” I mean the chorus which is often enlarged by my own heart’s inner monologue!) . But I’ve been thinking more about the way people use the word wisdom – almost as a threat when they don’t like the choice you are making. When I tell someone “I don’t think what you are doing is wise”, I almost never mean, “I don’t think what you are doing looks like the person and work of Jesus.” No, what I usually mean is that it isn’t good budgeting, or it might not keep you safe from getting hurt or protected from losing something valuable. It is just startling to me how easily I begin to believe that the American dream is perfectly compatible with Christian faithfulness – comfort, security and prosperity. Any alternative automatically means a wasteful, irresponsible suicide mission.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Col. 2:6-10

I am easily thrust into doubt and self-consciousness because the arguments against God’s calling may be hollow, but they are powerfully deceptive. The basic principles of this world and human tradition have merit. Traditions exist because they worked successfully more than once. Principles of this world, such as self-preservation, self-protection and self-interest are hard to argue against on a moral level when brought into real life contexts. But they become much harder to defend at the foot of the cross.

but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor. 1:23-24Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Phil. 2:4

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal. 6:14

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35

I am pretty sure that Jesus was not on an irresponsible, wasteful, suicide mission. Being in very nature God, He took on the nature of a servant. He surrendered His rights to be served by the world, to be served by His accomplishments and merits, to be served by His reputation and chose to love those who did not even love Him first. Actually, He came to those who were at enmity with Him, starting with Adam and Eve. God’s people for whom Jesus entered creation didn’t just “not love Him”, they despised His reminder that they were not gods unto themselves. He did not fear what others would say about or do to or take from Him because there was nothing of His character, value, power, love, purpose or presence that was, is or could ever be in the least bit threatened or diminished.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

My inclination to cling to the familiarity and safety of the stalk feels quite reasonable. I am scared about what others might say or do or take from me. But nobody is fed by wheat that remains in the field until it withers and dies. When I put self-preservation before the suffering of the cross, it feels immediately prudent until I see Jesus. Then I realize that it is only in His death that I have life and it is because of His life, death and resurrection that I am guaranteed of abundant life – not the American dream but something fuller and more satisfying: the depths and riches of being one with Father through Jesus…an inheritance that thieves cannot steal nor can moths or rust destroy.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Cor. 1:18

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