April 21, 2015

The Undercurrent of Temptation in Ministry

There are many around me who are suffering right now, and several are so close by that I am vicariously suffering too. How painful it is to see sin bear its fruit, how disheartening to encounter the stark reality of brokenness, how difficult to watch others suffer!

As a friend to the sufferers, I also recognize a tug of temptation, and this is where I must be careful.
I recognize this temptation, not just in times of difficulty and pain, but constantly and insidiously lurking throughout all of ministry. As a leader, I have influence, a voice, and an invitation in to the path-altering moments and the daily routines of people's lives. These opportunities, I find, ask me the basic questions of who I am and what I am to do.

John the Baptist exemplifies this undercurrent of ministry. He appeared on the scene after 400 years of God-silence. Naturally, those waiting for and seeking God's voice perked up at John's cry for a repentance to make straight the way of the Lord. "Who are you?" they said, seeming to marvel at this one speaking so authoritatively in the echo of the prophet Elijah.

In the hanging question, temptation lurks. John the Baptist had a following. He had a ministry and a reputation that elicited crowds. He had disciples, men who would eventually transfer their allegiance to Jesus. He could've answered the question in a way that gave him a greater platform, albeit a false platform. His response to the question, however, sent temptation fleeing. "He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.'"

The temptation for John the Baptist is the temptation we face: to think of ourselves as the Christ. We know we are not the actual Christ, but we're tempted to believe and act from the idea that we're able to be all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, self-sufficient, without limits, self-existent, and in control of all things. Especially in how we minister to others. The very real truth is that we are not able to ease the suffering of others, we are entirely unable to produce spiritual change in others, and we cannot be the Spirit of God to others. We are not the Christ.

This temptation is not solely internal. It is also external--others will want us to be their Christ. John the Baptist fled from the internal temptation to exalt himself, but he was then faced with the external temptation of others wanting to exalt him. John's disciples, the Bible says, were alarmed that so many who were following John chose instead to follow Jesus. In other words, John was losing his followers and his earthly stature and others who admired him wanted to help him maintain his ministry. John's response?

"A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:27-30).

He would not let others attribute qualities to him that solely belonged to Christ: I am not the Christ. I bear witness of the Christ. I rejoice in the Christ. I point to the Christ. I exalt the Christ, not myself.

Again, the temptation for John the Baptist is often the same temptation we face: to allow others to think of us as the Christ. People will seek wise counsel and godly leadership, which is well and good and not the issue. The issue is how we respond to their seeking. Like John the Baptist, we must point them to the real Christ and not exalt our own wisdom, abilities, and counsel. I am not the Christ. I bear witness to the Christ and His wisdom, abilities, and counsel.

In other words, we walk alongside them as fellow sojourners and willing vessels in desperate need of the Christ.