Importance, real or perceived
If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 2 Corinthians 12:6
God had given the apostle Paul an amazing spiritual experience — apparently, some kind of guided tour of heaven. If Paul had wanted to “wow” the rest of us, he easily could have. But for fourteen years he told no one about it, quietly keeping it to himself, wonderful though it was. He didn’t exploit his remarkable experience to enhance his ministry.
Paul was deeply secure in Christ. He was content for people to perceive him and rate him on the basis of what they themselves could observe in him – not what he could claim, even rightly claim, but the ordinary human realities they could see and hear. It was the fraudulent “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) who trotted out their big-deal-ness. Moreover, Paul really wasn’t impressive in some ways that typically count in this world. He deliberately chose not to be. He did have the power of Christ resting upon him. But even that came out most clearly in his weaknesses. And as I said, Paul was okay with people reaching their own conclusions about all this. He didn’t groom an image. He wouldn’t stoop to it. The reality of Christ was too significant.
I wonder if the apostolic approach to clout satisfies us today. I hope so. But sometimes I wonder. So much of this is down in our motives. That makes it impossible for anyone to judge. Who can see another person’s heart? But whatever looks like self-promotion, even if the claims are true and accurate — it just doesn’t pass the whiff test.
Rather than justify the accepted patterns of gathering attention to oneself, maybe we should scrutinize more radically the conversation going on in our heads. Maybe we should be asking, “How do I need to become more honest and less impressive, so that the only reason people pay attention to me is the power of Christ resting upon me?”
My own thoughts keep returning to our need for revival — an outpouring of divine power to beautify the church and compel the attention of the world. I have to wonder what there is about me right now, the Ray Ortlund who currently exists, that inadvertently counteracts the power of God? I wonder what changes I need to make, to become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21)? Whatever those changes are, I expect they will decrease, rather than increase, my impulses toward all forms of self-importance.