Charles G. Finney saw a powerful move of God in his day and his name is revered as a man unusually used of God. So it might surprise some that he gave a stern warning, “The Spirit may be grieved by a spirit of boasting.” He said sometimes as soon as God starts to do a unique work, “… you will see it blazed out in the newspapers. Most commonly this publicity will kill” authentic God-wrought work.
In the Welch Revival Evan Roberts refused to do interviews or have even his photo taken fearing it was a sign of self-advancement and immaturity. He felt the Holy Spirit could be grieved. Certainly this can be said, the less we court publicity when God is at work, especially when it is done for prideful reasons, the better. Finney recommended when the reports are given, “give only the plain and naked facts, just as they are, and let them pass for what they are worth.” We must all be deeply sensitive to the lure of building ourselves up in the eyes of men. Tozer said, “All proud people are offended by a corrective word;” they live in “self-congratulations.”
When God used Jonathan Edwards in the late 1700’s and reports went out of God’s Spirit moving whole communities and as conversions began to take place throughout all the colonies, he went to great effort to assure that the praise went to God. He even wrote a book to safeguard the awakening from promoting his name as the source of it. He tried to avoid self-promotion completely. How would we have handled it?
Long ago, in the Puritan period William Law said, “The devil is content that people should excel in good works, provided he can but make them the accomplishment of them.” Simply, pride is the idolatrous worship of ourselves, and there is very little God can do with anyone who plans to build their reputation using the name of He who died on a bloody crossbeam, for their own egotistical purposes.
When we are blessed of God, there is always a simple question to ask, “Why do I want others to know about this?” And suddenly, you have the parting of the ways. In this pragmatic age it is easy for individuals and even the church to slip into the outlook of the world and suppose that there is a need to utilize our promotional skills. So we oversee our own public relation campaigns for no other reason than self-promotion. Let us all agree that we must never degrade God’s blessing into something skillfully used to honor our work or name. G. K. Chesterton, the English man of letters, commented, “All men are ordinary men; the extraordinary men are those that know it.” Churchill said of Graham, “There goes a sincere and humble man.”
Ours is an age when those in entertainment and politics have indirectly taught us their techniques; so that, God’s blessings become used for our own purposes. It can become, too quickly, the ultimate expression of human boastfulness and ego. Today, too much is man-centered and even self-promotional. For God to bless in ministry, I insist, is what we are sent into the world to do. Salvation is what we long for others to receive; it is His work, not ours. We are involved in it, but it becomes seriously flawed in the end if it praises human achievement. We bow as we remember with great esteem those greatly used of God whose names no one ever knew; we realize, to them it did not matter. A very long time ago, a Syrian saint said, “He who follows Christ, alone and contrite, is greater than the one who enjoys the favor of crowds in churches.”
If, on the other hand, we allow news of our success to cause people to be encouraged and to praise God, it is totally right. Great respect is certainly due to those blessed servants of God, but we must take care to never magnify anyone or anything in an idolatrous way. We see the world worship its stars, heroes, and athletes. Let’s all admit when this kind of thing enters into Christian ministry, it replaces exclusive honor to God; the Holy Spirit is quenched and grieved and soon totally withdraws. All of us must judge ourselves. We shudder to admit that occasionally there are some who are in the service of God who are flamboyant and arrogant and seem very pleased with their own self-advertisement. We ask, “Who me?”
We must respect the Greek Orthodox people. There were among them skilled artists that painted Biblical scenes and frescos for church walls. Today the secular art world praises these as rare and valuable works of art sometimes sold for millions. But, none of these pieces are autographed by the painters—all are anonymous works. These masters, without apology said, “How could we ever put our names beside the figure of the glorious Redeemer?” In more recent times Ruth Paxson exclaimed, “Oh Lord, never let me ever touch Thy glory!” Whitefield cried out, “Let my name be forgotten and His name remembered forever.”
Jeremiah’s counsel to Baruch is significant, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Seek them not.” (Jeremiah 45:5) It was self-motivation, self-centered ambition that was stigmatized as unworthy, not great things themselves. When Isaiah described the cherubim, it is interesting that each had six wings, only two were used to fly. Two were used to hide their faces and two, to hide their feet. We conclude that they were self-effacing and modest. How they appeared and where they went was hidden before the Lord, high and lifted up—it was a mark of modesty.
Jesus taught that anything we do that centers on us and then ends with us is wrong. But those things we may be involved in that shine light on the Lord and are to advance His kingdom are praise-worthy and to be honored; it is motivation that determines if it is to be respected or renounced.
From the New Testament we see expression of “not I, but Christ” and “I must decrease, He must increase.” As the disciples walked with Jesus toward Jerusalem and passed through the city of Jericho with the loud throng following, Bartimaeus asked about the commotion. Those with Jesus did not reply, “We are passing by,” rather, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:36-37). Jesus was the focus, not they! It was total attention placed on Him, and it should always be that way.
Again, at the transfiguration the suggestion was made to build three structures: one to honor Moses, one to honor Elijah, and one to honor Jesus, and the voice of God thundered with stern tones, “This is my beloved Son,” and they suddenly saw none but Jesus! (Matthew 17:5-8) It should be pointed out, I believe, that they “fell on their faces in terror” (verse 6, NEB). Could I suggest that we all need the same experience! It reminds us of John on Patmos, who “fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17).
John Stott suggested that “Nothing is more hostile to spiritual growth than arrogance, and nothing is more conducive to spiritual growth than humility. We need to humble ourselves before the infinite God, acknowledging the limitations of our human mind and acknowledging our own sinfulness.” Do we find this too strong a word? Never should we forget the three areas of temptation mentioned by John: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life—all three appeal to the misuse of natural desires. We must forever “… behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12) Jesus came here and started His physical life in a borrowed stable, and when it physically ended, it was in a borrowed tomb—what does that tell us about the spirit of humility indicated by God’s only Son?
When the renowned Vance Havner was laid to rest, he had written his own epitaph, “Just a preacher,” as an expression of real humility of his spirit. We are made to quickly agree with Madeline L’Engle’s comment “If we are sure of our God, we are free to laugh at ourselves.” Those that cannot show honor to God and humility of heart hide a deep sense of insecurity.
There is a great misunderstanding of why God gives and distributes spiritual gifts. Some think of them as gifts to enrich the recipient, and they are used for their own benefit. But Scripture clearly asserts that they have the purpose of honoring the Lord and blessing His people. We need to fully recover that understanding and disappear into the background with the empty cross left standing before us. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (I Corinthians 4:2, NIV)
And that, you can go tell on the mountain!