We are fools for Christ….we have become like the rubbish of the world, the dreg of all things, to this very day” (1 Corinthians 4:10, 13)
Everyone in this world is a fool for something. There is in the life of every man and every woman, every young person and every older adult, one thing they are most interested in, some cause to which they have been committed, something to which they devote much of their time, something which motivates them, something which gives their life meaning, something without which they would feel empty and incomplete, with no real sense of purpose. For many people, it is a job which they depend upon for their sense of personal worth (self-esteem, title, honors, rewards, power, and authority) or their possessions and portfolio (what they have laid upon earth – see Matthew 6:19). Perhaps for some people, it is their family (their ancestry, spouse, children, and grandchildren), unless they came from an abusive or dysfunctional family, which means it has to be other relationships, for more than anything else, life is relational.
In a previous blog, I asked: “What are your living for?” So, I ask once again, what are the things that drive you, that dominate your life? What are the things that get you excited, that move you, that motivate you? In other words, what are you passionate about? Passion is that inner hunger that compels us to action, to strive, to work hard to achieve certain goals, to risk, to step out in faith to attempt something that may not only seem difficult but even look like it is impossible. As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, “Do my passions reflect the mind of Christ?” He said, “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve…He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who is willing to lose his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39; Mark 10:45). I do not believe Jesus was only thinking of “martyrdom” when he spoke of being willing to lose our lives. I believe Jesus was also thinking of leaving behind anything that prevented prospective disciples from making him their first love…even their families. There are always things we must be willing to lose, to surrender, if we are going to follow Jesus. I believe he used hyperbole, or exaggerated speech, to startle his listeners, to shake them out of their complacency (i.e. their comfort zones), to make them think more seriously about the cost of discipleship. What can’t you give up?
Some cannot give up their careers, for that represents their security, their income, and livelihood. It can be scary to change careers, especially if a “second career” does not include a guaranteed salary and benefits. However, many do that very thing today when they believe they have been called to leave their job in order to attend seminary and gain a theological education to undergird the ministry to whatever form of full-time ministry God calls them. We are told that those first disciples of Jesus, Andrew and his brother Simon (who would become “Peter”), as well as the two other brothers, James and John (who were also fishermen) “immediately” left their boats, their nets, their homes, their families when they responded to the call of Jesus, who had told them “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4;18-22). Did they have other plans they had to give up? Did they have dreams? Of course! All of us have something we have dreamed of for so long or something we have loved so much that we cannot bear the thought of giving “that something” up, whatever it is – especially if it’s something we cherish or treasure. In the gospels, we are told of a “rich young ruler” who loved what he had accumulated so much that he could not surrender it in order to become a disciple of Jesus, “For he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:16-22).
I have to acknowledge that it would be difficult for any wealthy person to give up everything, to surrender all of his or her possessions, in order to be a follower of Jesus. That is why Jesus said it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, for no one can love both God and money (Matthew 5:19-24, 19:23-30). Of course, Jesus did not ask every prospective disciple to give away everything they owned, but if they were rich and had made their possessions an object of worship, something they depended upon for their security, something they loved more than they loved God, then they could not be his disciple. No amount of “stuff” can be more precious to us than Jesus! He demands our first love! He will either be “Lord of all” or “not at all.” Personally, I do not have to worry about that danger, since I do not have “great possessions.” However, I admit that all too often my passions revolve around me and my family – what I desire for myself, my hopes and dreams, as well as my concerns and desires for those nearest and dearest to me, such as my family’s needs, futures, safety, security, and what I want to be able to provide for them. I must confess that I do become anxious and troubled about many things; I do worry too much, although I am supposed to be a follower of Jesus who said, “Do not be anxious about your tomorrows,” “Do not worry about your life,” “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you” (in other words, trust God more).
If you know me, you might ask, “Well, Bob, how can that be? I know what you have always preached. I also know how you have always prayed for others. Furthermore, you are a pastor, and you’re paid to be good, while we lay people are good for nothing” (excuse the pun, but I trust you get the point). You know this is how other people see us as pastors and what they expect of us. We are not supposed to worry. We are supposed to trust God at all times, for all things and in all circumstances. We are most certainly expected to always practice what we preach. We definitely are expected to seek God’s kingdom first, to love God most, to submit to Jesus as Lord of all and to be passionate at all times about Jesus and willing to surrender all for him. That also means most people in our churches expect more of their pastors than they expect of anyone else when it comes to being a true follower of Jesus. Certainly more than they expect of themselves! This “double standard” exists in every church among almost all believers. However, the truth is God expects the same of all of us as His called and chosen people! He expects us to love him most of all, with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, with all our strength, for this is the “greatest commandment” for all of us as a “royal priesthood” (i.e. a priesthood of believers,” as “God’s own people” – Matthew 22: 34-38; 1 Peter 2:9-10). God expects as much of you as he does of me as a pastor.
The simple truth is that all of us as believers can become obsessed and preoccupied with self and all those we love most, that we are distracted and not as passionate and single-minded as we are supposed to be as followers of Jesus. In his Corinthian correspondence, the Apostle Paul reminded his brothers and sisters in Corinth that he and his fellow apostles had set an example for them by being “fools of Christ.” He wanted them to not be embarrassed or ashamed to appear foolish in the eyes of those who had conformed to this world and to be wholehearted in their discipleship. In his first letter, Paul said, “I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, for we have become a spectacle to the world…We are fools for the sake of Christ…We are held in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless…but when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly…I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Corinthians 4:9-14). We usually forget that Paul had the heart of a pastor, a true shepherd of the sheep, with a burden for his beloved children in Christ in the young churches he had established. He was writing to encourage them to not lose heart, to not allow the enemies of Christ to intimidate them, to silence them, to rob them of their joy or dampen their enthusiasm and passion as witnesses for Jesus. He challenged them, “I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me” (vs. 15-16).
I am not only thinking of Paul and the other apostles, or of those first followers of Jesus in the Early Church, as I write this post-Easter blog. I am thinking of saints through the ages (the Greek word that is translated “saints” in the New Testament simply means “believers,” followers of Jesus, or even more literally “followers of the Way,” for that is what they called themselves since Jesus had called himself “the way”). The title “Christian” was bestowed on them by the pagan world (see Acts 11:26) as a title of derision and scorn, for they were followers of the one who had claimed to be equal with God, a crucified carpenter. So I am not asking if you are a “Christian,” for so many people who use that title are not “followers of the Way.” I am asking are you a follower of Jesus? Are you willing to be considered a “fool for Christ” in the eyes of this world? If not, then whose fool do you intend to be, or whose fool are you right now?
Countless believers through the centuries have been willing to be considered foolish for their refusal to be conformed to this world because they had been transformed by the resurrected and reigning Christ Jesus. Literally millions have made great personal sacrifices for Jesus in the face of threats, even the threat of death. I could name such heroes and heroines of the faith if I had time in this blog, but for lack of space and time let me simply quote John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress: “Why should anyone fling himself away like that?” asked Mr. Worldly Wise, speaking of the pilgrim named “Christian,” who had so willingly faced so many dangers on his perilous pilgrimage toward the Celestial City. Why indeed? Well, Paul gives us the answer: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “We are fools for the sake of Christ…We have become like the rubbish of this world” (1 Corinthians 4:10 and 13). “Whatever gain I had these I have come to regard as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing of his sufferings, by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead…the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:7-11). Paul then encourages and admonishes all those who bear the name of Christ to “…be of the same mind” (vs. 15). That is my challenge to each of you as you continue your own pilgrimage with Christ from Easter to Pentecost, and beyond – moment by moment, day by day, now and forever!