The Example of Paul–Big Heads and Big Rocks

Thanks to my cousin Debbie for the idea of blogging on this passage of Scripture.  I think it’s very interesting and relevant to current Christian leaders and believers today.

So look with me in Acts 14:8-23.  Paul and Barnabas have gone to Lystra to share the gospel.  There was a man there who could not use his feet.  He had never walked.  As Paul spoke, this man listened.  Paul looked intently at him and saw that he had the faith to be made well, and he told him to stand on his feet.  The man began walking.

Now the crowd they were speaking to was made up of mostly Greeks, and in this particular city, there was a local myth that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes had visited the village.  When they saw what Paul did, they began saying that the men were gods, and they called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  Verse 11: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”  Obviously, Paul didn’t like this.  He refuted the claims and tore his garments.  He cries, in verse 15, “Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”  Paul goes on to say that God’s character revealed by nature is the Lord’s witness.  But the crowd still sought to offer the men sacrifice.

Here Paul sets the biblical model for our response to other people’s praise of our work.  There’s nothing wrong in thanking them, but ultimately, we should give the glory to God.  He says that he and Barnabas are men just like them, but what they bring is good news.  They themselves, like us today, are not good, but the message is good.

Hopefully no one is calling us gods.  And if they are, hopefully we aren’t buying into it.  But I know that sometimes it can be challenging for leaders in the Christian community to deflect the praise and protect against getting a big head.  God doesn’t call us to missions to get a big head.  He doesn’t call us to proclaim his great name to bring about a huge ego in us.  Our leaders, pastors, and every believer must know this.  When we set the example of Christ, we set him, not ourselves, and must not gain any pride.  It’s not easy, for I know that sometimes I feel better about myself when I do Godly works, but then I’m reminded of just how much I need him.

When I was in Virginia, it would’ve been easy, and in fact, a few times was, to walk around pridefully, because I was the missionary.  Walking out into the community, I could’ve thought “I’m the missionary.  Yeah.  I’m serving God…I’m awesome.”  What about that is awesome?  It’s not me.  It’s not my job.  It’s God.  The work God calls us to do isn’t great in and of itself, but is great because of who it is about, and it is about God.

So when I walked around thinking “Yeah, that’s right…I’m a missionary,” of course God humbled me. I would screw something up in about five minutes, and hear that little voice saying “Yep.  You’re a missionary alright.  But guess what?  You’re also Neal Embry.  Remember him?”  Then I’d mutter “oh…yeah.  That guy.  He’s not that cool.”

I’m not cool.  I realized that pretty quickly in high school.  Then I realized it again in college.  I’m not cool.  But God’s cool.  And if I’m serving him….I don’t care how many Facebook friends I have.  While I want a lot of people to read this blog, and hopefully it’s always because I want them to be changed by God, not just to make me feel better, it’s worth it if only one person reads it and is changed.

Yes I do get satisfaction in serving God, and in seeing him move, but it is because it is amazing to see.  I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something, but the pride goes to pride in God, not in myself.  And Paul’s reaction to being called a god is perfect.  He deflects the attention away from him and on to the message.  That’s what I want us to see.

We must protect ourselves from getting big heads in ministry, and we must never elevate ourselves above the message of God.

Moving on.

Jews come onstage and persuade the crowd to stone Paul.  They seem to be good at persuading people to do violence.  So they throw big rocks at Paul.  They think he’s dead, and the disciples drag him away.  Paul gets up, goes into the city, then goes to Derbe the next day.  He strengthened area churches and established elders among them, and told them they must suffer tribulations for Christ’s name.

Now, I don’t think anyone would think any less of Paul if he took a day off.  These aren’t pebbles.  They’re probably pretty boss stones.  Just a guess.  It hurts.  While Paul didn’t get a big head egotistically, he probably got a good looking bump up there on his noggin.  He gets up the next day and goes to another city to share Christ with them.  That’s amazing to me.  He kept going.

We must do the same.  I think Paul was thinking that if Christ was willing to suffer that brutal death on the cross, he would be willing to take a few rocks to the head for his Savior.  Are we willing to take the hits?  Or will we sit back and lay down as the world around us continues to live in sin, condemned to hell with no knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Paul spoke of tribulation.  Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of tribulation, getting stoned with big rocks is about #276 on my list, right behind being volunteered to participate in a magic show and get sawed in half.  Don’t ask me how that could serve the kingdom….just go with it.  Anyway…

The point is that we will suffer.  It won’t be easy.  But we must remember this: It wasn’t easy for Jesus, either.  And he is worth everything, for our hope and home is in and with him, eternally.

May we live in a way that makes him known above ourselves, no matter the cost.

God bless,

Neal E



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