“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people…” 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6a ESV
I desire to be great. I desire to be recognized. I desire to be published, quoted, requested to visit, speak, confer, and be consulted. I desire glory. Although these words may not find themselves expressed in their purest forms, the thoughts and attitudes that cause their utterances are almost always present. An unseen and unspoken war of the words transcribes that I dare not speak of lest I succumb to its forces. This imaginary force will not destroy me per se, but it might just destroy my reputation, my image, and my external appearance of humble piety. And thus the “me” of the internal never greets the “me” of the external for the outward perception is of utmost importance if my desire for greatness is to be achieved. Consequently, what is real is not what is seen and my existence is reduced to a moving picture of sorts – a life not mine, but an escape from authenticity that leaves me, well, reeling.
Honesty is the greatness of titanic extremes. As I plunge the depths of my soul and the inner caverns of my own heart, I must readily acknowledge with brutal honesty the reality of the seen and the unseen. A physician would be of no benefit to me if he were to diagnose my common cold and fail to reveal to me that the cause of my cold is a weakened immune system caused by a certain class of cancer. Cough drops or chemotherapy? There is hardly a justification for limiting the physician’s honesty of the examination. Therefore, in diagnosing a spiritual condition, I need not trivialize the assessment, but to invite and welcome its findings as a means of greater maturity; for to be great, I must first be honest.
All this held, one need not consult an expert in exegesis to understand the Biblical ramifications of pride in the heart of man. “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). “Pride goes before destruction” (Pro 16:18). And was it not pride that caused the tempter to be cast from the glories of Heaven (Is 14:14-15) to a place where his simple statement “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) invoked such a prideful desire that sin then entered the entirety of the human race for all generations to come before Christ comes again? And so, can I agree with Holy writ that my prideful desire for greatness based on my own merit is indeed sinful and wretched? Indeed. Can I observe from sacred Scripture that even those closest to the Lord Himself struggled with the improper desire for greatness to which the Lord responded, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45)? I must also concur with a resounding yes. And therefore, I trust that there is hope for me nonetheless.
The struggle with greatness is not altogether new, but each time it presents itself in cleaner clothes and with greater subtleties. This most recent occurrence came at a time with an opportunity to participate in the spreading of the Gospel of Christ and to truly affect His kingdom for His glory. Yet my heart was not in tune with the symphony of Scripture and my desire for greatness eclipsed my desire to see Him increase and me decrease. Under this conviction, I approached this passage in Paul’s letter to which I was required to respond with the honest sinfulness of my heart. Had I engaged in the opportunity I would not have done so to “please God who tests [my] heart” (1 Thess 2:4), but I would have done so in an effort to please man and to seek glory from people. It was not until I encountered this passage of Scripture that I was willing to openly admit my fault, yet my response was not proper. Rather than be honest with the organizer concerning the condition of my heart, I simply did not show up. Sin #1: Pride that led to the desire to be recognized as great. Sin #2: Pride that led to not honoring my commitment. Sin #3: Pride that led to my inability to be honest for fear that the true me might become exposed.
God in His grace that leads to conviction granted me the repentance to confess my fault before Him and He also graciously provided the opportunity to confess my wrongs to the two organizers. I ignored the command to “let my yes be yes” and honor my commitments despite the pain I may have to endure to reveal the darkness of my heart.
I can have greatness by the world’s standards, but it will come at the cost of honesty. If true honesty leads to greatness, may the Lord continue to guide me along that path. And, prayerfully, may my next appeal spring not from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but from a desire to please God, not man, for He is the One who tests my heart. May I seek His glory and His approval only, that I may be entrusted with the Gospel – the greatest gift of honest good news.