Proper motivation

They missed it.


Apologies for playing the pronoun game which exists only to artificially heighten the drama.


The religious professionals, the Jewish populace at large in Israel in the 1st Century missed the Messiah. The biggest event in their redemptive history and it seems like barely a London telephone box full of people stumbled onto the truth because Jesus said that the Father revealed it to them.


The majority were seemingly closed to the idea.


They had the advantage of the Scriptures, the promises, and still He was barely recognized. What a missed opportunity!


Would I have been one of those handful that recognized him? I’m fairly sure I know the answer to be no.

Like the raindrops in the image, I typically focus on the near instead of seeing His bigger picture.

There is so much that I don’t know about God. In fact, who can ever know enough? I’ve barely scratched the atomic surface but what I do know is that God is not merely written about in a book, but personal. Accessible by anyone who is looking in His direction. I also know that theology is like a rock-star waiting to be discovered, like the coolest music from your youth that you didn’t know existed and you discover a trove of audio cassettes and a rainy weekend with time on your hands.


I find myself realizing that it is possible to miss awesome things about Christ because I’m not paying attention, because I haven’t done my homework, because I haven’t asked the right questions. It’s all there in front of me, just like it was for the people who missed the significance of His coming two millennia ago.


I realize that small things can make a big difference. Having the right motive. A quote I read somewhere this week:


“Here lies the supreme missionary motivation. It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor compassion for the lost, nor excitement over the gospel, but zeal (even “jealousy”) for the honor of Christ’s name….No incentive is stronger than the longing that Christ should be given the honor that is due his name.” (John Stott)


In my raw opinion on the subject, Paul the apostle had all three of these motivations simultaneously. He was a very driven guy.


Paul spoke ceaselessly of the gospel and the importance of preaching it.


Paul also had a profound outreach to the Gentiles but at the same time had a relentlessly abiding love for his fellow Jews, that they too would finally embrace Christ.


Paul’s core motivation however seems to have been that Christ would be exalted.


I was thinking about the Lord’s prayer this week, in part because I realized I hadn’t prayed it in some time, but also because it is a perfect summary of what we ought to pray for. Of course it would be because the Lord taught us to pray it.


After addressing ‘Our Father in heaven’ the first thing we pray for is that His name would be praised, that his kingdom would come and his will be done.


His Name.


His Kingdom.


His will.


Its counter-intuitive for people to put Him first, it goes without saying. Listening to the lyrics of a Big Daddy Weave song this week, I was struck by the opening idea: the lyricist writes of ‘my story’ actually being about Him.


That’s a very Pauline thing, a motive that is primarily about His glory. That’s something I don’t want to miss.

More than snow covered dung

There’s no substitute for going slowly through Scripture and hanging out a while, stopping to smell the flowers and spend time in a place that our eyes fly over with speed, like cars on a highway.


I’ve pulled over to the side, I’m checking out the terrain, surveying the features that have to this point only been a blur.


Paul is writing to Christians in Rome and unpacks for the Jew and Gentile alike that they need Christ. The Jew had serious advantages, having received so much in the way of a God-centered heritage, and yet it hadn’t made a difference to how he lived.


From verses 21 through 24 in chapter 2, Paul explains:


They were good at teaching others how to live, but they couldn’t live up to it themselves.


They preached against stealing, but had a business culture of ripping people off.


They warned against adultery, but fell into it themselves…just consider the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus; how did they catch her in the act? Now that’s a question with potentially icky answers.


They boasted in the Law, but didn’t really honour God.


Paul doesn’t sugar-coat anything: it was because of them that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. Their witness was poor. Nobody was drawn to that way of living.


Of course, it’s helpful to ask ourselves a question in the light of that: How is my witness? Yours? Ours as a Body of Believers?


In an attribution that is unhelpfully murky, the theologian Martin Luther supposedly – in the light of justification (God’s act of removing the guilt and sin of the sinner-turned-Christian) – said that we are like piles of snow-covered dung. The point being that as far as God’s law is concerned, we are still pieces of poo, just covered in snow – an illustration of justification as a legal term.


If an unbeliever had to stop at the side of the road with me at the second Mile marker of the Romans road, and see what he thought was a snowman, only to discover on adding snow to it that underneath is poo, he may not be inclined to be impressed.


In my humble opinion (based on what I’ve read from smarter guys), there must also be a moral change in us and not just a legal one. A righteousness that is real, authentic, and derives entirely from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.


It must be possible to walk in righteousness, practically, and not just be covered in righteousness, legally. Paul writes elsewhere that we are new creations. This is what in theological circles is called ‘regeneration’.


If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation


The great preacher Spurgeon once remarked that as a work of God, making a Christian is greater and more awesome than making a world.


Why does he say that? Because the world had no option but to obey and be created and ordered by His command. A Christian consists of a new creation that is constantly fighting against his or her sinful flesh, but that can still walk in righteousness.


I’m sure I’ll see more of what Paul was saying about how the Christian should live by faith. I’m trucking on through Romans 3.


I quote the evangelist Charles Finney: “If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”


I reckon the world may mock and harass us Christians, and yet still find our proximity to God frustratingly attractive; when reality comes calling and flesh fails, they should know who to turn to. I want to be that Christian, and part of that community that draws the world in.