Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Preach, Die, and Be Forgotten

Nicolaus Zinzendorf, 1700-1760, theologian and Bishop of the Moravian Church has been quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten".

Pretty powerful words! Words that go against the main stream of popular thought.

33 years ago in an interview for a secular job, the Human Resources Manager asked my what my goal was if I should be selected for the position. I told him I wanted to "make a good living to support my family, to serve my community well, and to be remembered for having made a difference".

Sounds pretty noble, huh?

Three decades later, those are similar words that might be spoken by nearly anyone. We live in a time where we would like to feel that we have made a difference in the world. Some speak of leaving a legacy, and that is a very human desire. Presidents save all of their papers, photos, and memorabilia for their presidential libraries. As they serve, we often hear about how they want to be remembered by historians. That is fine and proper, but it's really nothing new. Many today are seeking celebrity status. Some of us are looking for what Andy Warhol called our "15 minutes of fame". Everyone seems to want to be remembered when they are gone. This desire manifests itself in great projects endeavored and monuments left behind.

But again, that is nothing new. Human nature really hasn't changed much in millennia.

The first four verses of Genesis 11 records the following:

"Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (ESV)

When I was a child, my understanding of this text was more along the lines of the idea that people wanted to build a tower so high that they could get up to Heaven. This is far from the message of this passage! Notice in that fourth verse they said, "... let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth". The idea was that they wanted to "make a name for themselves" and to leave a monument to their achievements.

Aren't we all like that to some extent?

Christians in general, and those of us in the ministry in particular, should be very careful not to allow ourselves to be forced into that mold! Great care should be taken, because we are NOT immune to that temptation. A cursory look around us will reveal that there are numerous "ministries" and monuments around us to mark the work of various pastors and evangelists.

God help those of us in the ministry to take heed to the advice given by Zinzendorf to Moravian Missionaries in the mid 1700's:

“The missionary must seek nothing for himself: no seat of honour, no report of fame. Like the cab-horses in London, the Count said, he must wear blinkers and be blind to every danger and to every snare and conceit. He must be content to suffer, to die and be forgotten.”

Such teachings of Zinzendorf had great influence on John and Charles Wesley, and William Carey. It should also have the same effect on us.

John the Baptist gives us one of the great Biblical examples of such a philosophy as recorded in John 3:30 " He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Oh! That we might remember that our task is to lift up Jesus and not ourselves!

May we be quick like the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2 to lay aside opinion, philosophy, politics, personalities, partisanship and earthly wisdom to take on this attitude:

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 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."

Our challenge is today as it has always been - "Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten". God has a record of our service. His reward will be much greater than any monument we may leave here.

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