My community group has been listening to the Old Testament survey taught by Secret Church founder, David Platt. It has been an incredible encouragement to me to hear a respected Bible teacher expounding some of the very same things my Father has shown me in His word! An example of this would be that there are many "layers" to what is going on in a given Biblical account, the most important of which is how each person's story that is told fits in to the ultimate plan of redemption that God had laid out for His people the moment Adam and Eve made that fatal choice. The whole of the Book is about God, His Christ, His plans, His glory, and His goodness, and each individual merely a small part of that immense plan. It is a humbling view.
Another thing Mr. Platt mentioned that stood out to me in a new way is our tendency to look at Old Testament stories and identify ourselves with the main character. The specific example he used was that we often look at the story of the infant Moses and take away the message, "God will protect me," rather than identifying with the dozens of other infants that were slain. Why is it, then, that we think of ourselves so highly? What is this great worth of self that God will preserve when He did not see fit to preserve the life of His own Son in the Incarnation? Why do we identify with David as champion over Goliath but not David on the run from Absalom? Or better yet, why do we identify with David, the victorious and glorious king, and not Amnon who raped his half sister?
I think if we were to to become brutally honest with ourselves, it is indeed the blatant and damaging self-focus of Amnon that more correctly mirrors the state of our hearts rather than the character of David, who trusted in God enough to spare Saul's life not once but twice after he was anointed as king. Oh, we like to envision ourselves in the role of the "supermen" of the faith, but as a whole are we not better described as those who "Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive?" Here again, we like to identify with Isaiah when he said, "Send me!" surely, but not with the people about whom he wrote God's message; "...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me..." We do not, however, like to identify ourselves with Isaiah's persistence even in the face of repeated futility. We do not identify with his sawn-in-half corpse.
There are exceptions among believers today, of course, but the overarching theme I see in the American church is "me, mine, and how I want it." We are meager in humility and grand in opinion. There is a great love of Christian bookstores but a great leave-taking of the bare and unadorned Word of God. We are on a quest for what makes us feel good as opposed to submitting to our calling to endurance in faith and love, no matter the cost, until the very end. As the demon Screwtape put it to his nephew in C. S. Lewis's classic novel, The Screwtape Letters: "... the search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where the Enemy [that is, God] wants him to be a pupil." Our churches today are full of many proud critics with only a smattering of truly humble, teachable pupils.
This self-focus is in direct contrast to the theme of the Bible where God's promises are for His glory, to further His kingdom and where His gifts are given for the good of others and not for self. His promises to Abram were not all fulfilled in the man's life span. Many of the prophets who prophesied about the coming of the Messiah never saw Him walk the earth with their own eyes (see 1 Peter 1:10-13).
The ultimate example of this God-focused life--and the only Person in the Bible that we truly should emulate--is, of course Jesus. Christ did not come in power and glory when He came to set us an example "that you should do as I have done for you...." but in humility. He did not march to the cross in triumph, but badly beaten, with the saliva of mocking soldiers mingling with His own blood, and barely able to stand. More to the point, perhaps, He did not really want to do this thing, but did it in submission to God and for the good of people who hate and ridicule Him both then and to this very day. As "Little Christs" we who are His followers are supposed to be becoming more Christ-like all the time. Why then do we not identify ourselves with that picture--the picture of the battered and humiliated Christ, willing to suffer so that our enemies can be lifted up?
All of this has also been convicting to me, reminding me that I need to be not only learning more about the Word but living as though I believe what it says. Saying I believe it matters not if my life does not reflect it. It is how I actually conduct my thoughts, relationships, and lifestyle at this moment that will prove my faith, or at my worst moment, perhaps. If I feel indignant because I am, or more accurately, because I perceive I am mistreated or taken for granted, I have just failed to act humbly. I have failed to "treat others as more significant than" myself, and I have failed to love like Jesus loves. Praise God for His patience with me, indeed, but I do not dare to use that lenience as a loophole to repeat my folly of self-seeking, self-serving behavior. I am my Lord's, fully--may it be to me as He says.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.