I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when we concluded our phone conversation. Even though I’d had the opportunity to tell my friend about the Gospel, I was crushed to think of the way I’d done it. Why did I not ask more questions instead of “preaching”? Why didn’t I inquire about what she thought about who God is? Did I communicate condemnation or hope? I tried to remember what had been said. I couldn’t remember much but it felt like there were more wrong things I’d done than good.
As I continued to rehearse the conversation, I prayed, “Oh, Lord, somehow use for good all my inadequacies. I know you love her but since I’m representing you, I want to represent you well.”
My thoughts turned to Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 4. Let’s look at some verses.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (vs 3-4).
Paul doesn’t jump into self-contempt like I do. He seeks God’s opinions and judgments. I think so many of us depend upon our self-evaluations rather than looking to God for His perceptions of what happened.
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (vs 5).
We jump into our own evaluations and we conclude that what occurred wasn’t the best. But we don’t know what our friend needs to hear. So don’t judge your wording based upon their response. They may not even know what they want and need.
So many times, I’ve followed up on a conversation (I did that just yesterday) and apologized for what I said. Most of the time (like yesterday!) the other person looks quizzically at me and says, “Oh, I don’t remember that.” Or, “No, I didn’t think anything bad of it when you said that.” I had been all upset rehearsing what I said, but my friend wasn’t!
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute (vs. 10)
Evidently Paul’s opponents in Corinth are saying those things about him, so he is responding sarcastically here. He is making light of their opinion of him because he doesn’t mind being seen that way. That’s the best part for us! We don’t have to mind it either!
I think Paul’s perspective can help us. If we are afraid of appearing as fools when we speak of the Lord, we might want to examine our hearts. We could evaluate whether our self-contempt is because we fear looking foolish or silly or unintelligent or… What do you fear being seen as?
One of the ways I’m bothered is if I appear to be stupid. I don’t know that my friend thinks that way about me, but I fear it regardless. And then I start giving myself contempt.
Yet, what is the truth? Paul states the truth earlier in this letter, “But we have the mind of Christ” (2:16). That’s the truth, not the contemptuous lies that we’re heaping upon ourselves like,
- “I’m stupid.”
- “I can’t believe I said that; now what does she think?”
- “If she doesn’t come to know Christ, it’s all my fault.”
To discard the lies, we need to seek the truth in the Bible.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Corinthians 2:2-5).
Maybe the most important point are those verses. Paul says, “I won’t depend upon my own abilities. I’m going to depend upon Jesus and the Spirit.”
And that’s how I finally found peace. As I belittled myself and feared bad consequences because of my ineptness, I thought, “Well, if she becomes a Christian, it certainly won’t be because of my communication skills.”
And then it hit me! Who would get the glory? Jesus!!!! The Holy Spirit! If I had been brilliant and my friend suddenly exclaimed “Oh, you’ve made it so clear. I do want to become a Christian,” it would have been easy to give myself credit rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. And since He is the one who calls her to salvation, it’s not about me at all. I’m just a weak and inadequate vessel.
I’ve shared the following story before but it applies here: Many years ago after I received Christ in my first year of college, I had the opportunity to share the Gospel with my best friend. I felt like I did a lousy job of it. As I explained what had happened to me, she slid to the floor and seemed so beat down, bothered and discouraged by what should have been good news! I felt like I wasn’t sharing it well at all.
We lost touch shortly after that and for decades I hit myself spiritually over the head when I rehearsed that conversation. It felt like it was my fault that she didn’t become a Christian. I just didn’t explain it well!
Then a few years ago, we re-connected! We found each other on social media and began to catch up. I feared asking her about that disastrous conversation so many years earlier. But then she told me she had become a Christian.
With great relief, I said, “Oh, I’m so glad. I always feared that our conversation about Jesus steered you away from the Gospel. You were so discouraged.”
“Oh, no, not at all,” she replied. “I didn’t think that at all. I slid to the floor because I was confused. But I always remembered that conversation and when I read a book that God used to help me understand the Gospel in that period of my life, I eagerly became a Christian. I know our conversation was a foundation for later.”
What a relief! It wasn’t about me at all! It was the Spirit working in His way and in His timing. What freedom that gave me to depend upon God and stop the self-contempt.
How about you? Are you pouring contempt on yourself? Yes, you might have been “weak” as Paul describes himself, but God knows what He’s doing. Your weakness may be necessary so that God will be glorified. Or maybe it was needed in some way for the benefit of that person.
If you’ve had a similar experience or reaction, would you share with us? It’ll be an encouragement to me and my readers.