The small group is studying the book of Galatians with the help of a Tim Keller publication, "Galatians for You." Right from the beginning the study overwhelms you with a fresh sense of the grace God has shown us and the prominence of this grace in the gospel. Today's study focused on Paul's testimony that his life was not spent in an effort to receive approval from men, but to please God. Tim Keller used an example of how a child lives when they are trying to earn their parent's love or approval versus a child's response when they already know they are fully loved. A child who knows their parent loves them still wants to do what pleases their parent for the parent's benefit, not out of their own desire for approval.
One of the study questions given for reflection said, "How are you most tempted to fear men and seek their approval? What would change if, in those moments, you lived to please the God who is pleased with you?" The question prompted me to pause and reflect on how I am tempted right now to revere the approval and attention of people. I have often wrestled with an imbalance of desire to please certain people rather than a desire to please God. I do not find life pleasant when I am striving to please other people rather than be pleasing to God.
I think this season of life, faith, and following God provides a lot of occasion to reflect on, "Who am I living to please?" One of the hardest things about becoming involved in full-time, faith-supported ministry is asking for support. People don't often approve of or enjoy talking about money, especially if you are asking for their money. What have my own responses been in situations where I have been approached for a financial contribution?
- I'm already giving to someone else
- I don't have any extra money to give
- What are you doing to try and earn the money yourself?
- How do I know what you are going to be doing with that money?
- Is this some kind of swindle?
- I wish I could give to every person I know in ministry! Somehow that doesn't seem fiscally responsible...
Do any of these responses fit you? Have you heard the same thoughts in your head? Will similar thoughts pop into your mind if I approach you next week with a request for a financial donation?
I seem to have a pretty good idea of how and when I am tempted to fear men. I don't want to offend anyone or turn them off from the ministry I serve or the purpose of Christ. I don't like leaving a distasteful memory in people's hearts about my self, my family, or my God. Yet, God has called us to provide a service free of charge. It's kind of hard to live off of that. I admire the Apostle Paul's dogged pursuit of preaching the gospel "free of charge." He often wrote of his efforts to not be a burden to the new believers when he first presented the gospel in a city. Sometimes, he worked to cover his own expenses, even paying for his companions' needs. Often, another church from a previous trip would send gifts to meet his needs. Regardless, Paul's primary goal was that the gospel would not have come with a price tag to those who need it.
I am reading through Acts 20 today in conjunction with my Galatians study. Paul states to the church elders from Ephesus, "But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus-the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." That statement brings me back to the question "What would change if, in those moments, you lived to please the God who is pleased with you?" What would change if I lived like Paul did? Is my life worth nothing unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus? Is Christ's mission to spread the message of the gospel and the hope of the resurrection more important to me than what other people think of me?
I think a lot of Americans, myself included, derive our identity or our worth from our jobs. Here's a question: What if the job to which God has called you is one that brings you criticism, disapproval, and rejection? Would you finish that job? Would you share the gospel with that coworker who is Buddhist or the neighbor who is Jehovah's Witness? Would you leave a financially secure position and nice home to move to a foreign country with only financial donations to support your family?
Would you confront your boss about a business practice that is unethical or illegal? Would you tell your parents the truth about your addictive habit and ask for help to overcome it? Would you warn a friend that their lifestyle has terrible consequences like AIDS?
What job has God given you? "What would change if, in those moments, you lived to please the God who is pleased with you?" Timothy Keller, "Galatians For You"
P.S. I may be sending you a request for financial support.... just remember the request is from God, with my signature at the bottom. :o)