December 20, 2013

God’s upside-down value system

A book offered lists of character traits and abilities. Readers are told to circle at least ten that are true for themselves, then go through those ten with considerable thought. Since great strengths can be sources for great temptation, how were these positive traits causing problems in their lives?
One of my ‘strengths’ is a creative imagination. While this can be used for good, it can also take me down garden paths that I should not visit. Another strength is determination, but that one easily turns to simply being stubborn. One would easily assume that being a Christian involves learning how to avoid the weaknesses and live by our strengths, but that is a human concept, not a biblical one.

When God gets hold of a life, He isn’t interested in our strengths because His people must learn to function in His strength. Consider Paul. He was first Saul, a strong Pharisee with much religious training and zeal. To him, Jesus was not the Messiah and Christians were in sharp denial of the God that he understood, so he persecuted them.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1–2)

On that trip to Damascus, Saul met the Lord Jesus Christ and was converted, reborn, redeemed, made a new man. His understanding of Jesus changed, as did his attitude toward His followers.

But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 9:22)

Paul also explained the change in his attitude about weaknesses and strength. He talked about a problem that he had, but didn’t name it. He wanted that problem to go away and said,

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8–10)

 These thoughts have me thinking about my weaknesses and the reality that I have two options. Unless God takes them away, they can be sources of temptation to sin in some way or another, or they can be reasons for choosing the power of Christ, of letting His strength be perfected in me, of even boasting about them.

Paul went from persecutor to prayer warrior, from darkness to light, from murderous to missions. Jesus does that to people. He takes the sin that seems to control us and washes it away, replacing it not with more power, but with Himself and His godliness.

That is not all. God also takes the strengths that we seem to rely on, and changes our attitudes toward those strengths, making us glory in our weaknesses. After listing all his “qualifications” for good, Paul said. . .

For we …worship the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also… circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… (Philippians 3:3–8)

This morning I’m thinking about what it would be like to glory in my weaknesses. Yikes, this is not normal for me. I can easily glory in my strengths and discard those weak areas as if they were my worst enemies. Paul did the opposite. He tossed his strengths on the trash heap and boasted of His weaknesses.

I’ve been in this classroom before, which means I’ve still not learned this lesson. Even though I know that God’s thoughts are higher than mine, and that He wants this change in my values, this is still a huge challenge.

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