(For the significance of the title, see the story at the conclusion.)
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….(who) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, God has highly exalted Him…. (Philippians 2:5-9)
Browsing through Books-A-Million yesterday, I saw it. A preacher had written a book. The cover photo was a full picture of himself. In the right hand lower corner were these words: “Not your typical preacher.” (Sorry, I did not stop to make a note of who the preacher was, nor did I write down the name of the book. And I’d prefer to leave it that way, lest someone think I am attacking the man himself.)
I was offended.
This morning at breakfast, I asked my wife, “Why did that offend me?” She didn’t hesitate. “Because it was so arrogant of him.”
My thought exactly.
Either that preacher wrote that about himself and ordered that his photo be plastered across the front of the book, or he approved it. Either way, his ego is all over the place. The man is exalting himself.
I can just imagine his office filled with stacks of these books. A hundred photos of his face stare back at him. He loves it.
I am offended that the man does not want to be identified with “typical” preachers. He is clearly “a cut above,” in his thinking at least.
However, on second thought, most of us preachers will take comfort that he is not typical. Most pastors are humble, hard-working, and dedicated to doing the work of Christ. They are not prideful or self-exalting.
“Not your typical preacher?”
The last two preachers I met who said such about themselves turned out to be hypocrites. One was revealed as a serial adulterer and the other a gambler and alcoholic. Clearly, they sought to divert attention away from their failings by criticizing other preachers.
It is true that many people are attracted to the pulpit because of the attention they will receive. They love the idea of hundreds–thousands, even!–sitting before them, eagerly taking in their every word. They preen and prance and practice their movements in order to impress and enchant.
Egotists love the idea of their sermons being telecast, their thoughts being published in magazines and books, their facial image being recognized across America.
It’s not a new thing. You find these peacocks in Scripture.
When Jesus walked the earth, they were the Pharisees. He said of them, “They love the best seats at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ ” (Matthew 23:6-7). He added, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (23:12).
Those Corinthians preachers strutting their stuff were calling themselves “super-apostles.” Evidently, they were not content to lump themselves with the original twelve. They were (ahem) “not your typical apostles.”
Paul refers to them in 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12. They were superior in knowledge to him and better in the pulpit, they were bragging. No doubt many of the most gullible in the pews were swallowing those lies. This reminds us of the Lord’s admonition about causing “one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble,” and the fate that awaits them (Matthew 18:1-6). Instead of being true apostles, Paul pointed out, these men were “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).
Interestingly–and a true servant of God will love this–Paul decides to play the game being perpetrated by the super apostles. “Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18). And he does this in the most remarkable way, completely different from what was expected, but totally consistent with the true child of God.
Paul showed them his scars.
“In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep….” (2 Corinthians 11:23ff)
So, Paul implied, you might ask these self-promoting peacocks what scars they bear as a result of their faithful service.
Humility is not just a suggestion of Scripture. It is an unfailing evidence of Christlikeness, a requirement for usefulness to the Lord, a rebuke to the carnal nature which insists on pre-eminence.
Scripture says we are to humble ourselves. And daily, we might add. (The ego will not go away, but will recover from today’s humiliation and show up tomorrow insisting to be given a place at the head table.)
“I die daily,” said the great apostle (I Corinthians 15:31).
That’s the only way to keep the ego in check.
My friend Dan Crawford, retired professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, tells of the time when he was a new campus minister at the University of Texas. He was advised that in the upcoming graduation, it was “the Baptist’s turn” to handle the invocation and benediction. So, that day, Dan donned his plain black robe–unadorned since at that time he had not earned a doctorate–and took his place toward the head of the processional in between the president of the institution and the speaker of the day, who was the head of an esteemed university in the state. The long processional of professors was a colorful thing, each one robed in reds and blacks and blues, with their colorful hoods to indicate his/her field of accomplishment.
Later, noting how out of place he looked, a friend said to Dan, “You looked like a mud hen in a peacocks’ parade.”
That wonderful line became the title of a book of humorous reminiscences from Dan Crawford’s career.
To stay with the metaphor, it occurs to us that pastors are to be mudhens. “He must increase, I must decrease,” said John the Baptist, thus providing a mantra for God’s servants ever since (John 3:30).
I’m remembering the words of Frank Pollard, now in Heaven but for a quarter century the highly esteemed pastor of our First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS (and preacher for the world-wide broadcast of “The Baptist Hour”). Asked how he wanted to be remembered after he was gone, Frank answered, “I don’t want to be remembered; I’m just the messenger.”
But many are not content to be the humble, non-entities. They want to be known, to be acclaimed, to be recognized, followed, and adored.
These are the peacocks in the parade of mudhens.
God help us.