39 You [religious leaders] search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. - John 5:39-40
A few years ago I was an elder and teacher in my local church. As a teacher, I spent a lot of time searching the scriptures, usually looking for answers that would help me to understand the prescribed lesson for that week. I spent a lot of time reading commentaries and searching for the Hebrew and Greek meaning of words, all for the purpose of being correct.
In class I'd offer a plethora of reasons why my interpretation of the topic at hand was the correct way to view it, all while propping up the doctrines of my church. In class there were differing opinions, hearty debate, and lively (mostly friendly) discussions. As Isaiah 58:4 says, we "fasted for strife and debate...", we enjoyed it. In fact, I learned rather quickly that the better I was at presenting my arguments, the more "honor" I received from my brothers and sisters. Honor feels good.
I had been given a cause and an enemy (other denominations), and that cause was to hold fast the tenets of my faith (denomination, organization, group) and a cause naturally seeks out "warriors" who are good at fighting (debate).
People like their heroes, those who do the fighting for them. They vote for them in committees. They put them on pedestals and give them titles, like Elder, Pastor, Bishop, King. Then, they watch them go to battle and when they win, they cheer and say things like...
"Oh, he is one of my favorite Pastors! (Elders/Bishops/Kings) I love the way he teaches!"
And when one of our heroes fail (i.e. teaches what we deem false doctrine, commits a sin we feel free to judge, or maybe just doesn't look like us anymore) their mistakes are magnified in the eyes of other members, as a warning to be sure, and as an attempt to ensure others don't follow in their footsteps. Shunning can happen but most often, they are just forgotten as the cause moves forward to wage war. After all, the kingdom must not fall...right? (SIDE THOUGHT TO PONDER: Everyone thought that Jesus' kingdom had fallen when He died on the cross, even His disciples.)
As one of those "warriors" I took pride in being good at it. I enjoyed feeling as though I was doing the right thing and I enjoyed the honor bestowed by others for what I did. I know now, I was fighting for myself...fighting for the honor of men, and not God. How did I learn this about myself? I met Jesus. He changed everything.
While there was a lot that led up to it, I'll start with how I met Him.
It started with a longing, a thirst. It was a feeling that "doing church" was unfulfilling. Everything felt like wrote performance of duties and hashing out the same old arguments that only served to make me right and others wrong. I started to wonder where the power was that I read about in the scriptures. Where's the healing? Where's the overcoming? Where's the people being converted by the thousands? . I know now this was the Holy Spirit working on me, in me. The thirst became stronger and I went to the only place I knew to quench this thirst, the Bible. I started with reading through Matthew and trying to understand the meaning God had for me in everything I read. I wrote a blog about what I was discovering and, hard as I tried, it was extremely difficult to not enter into argumentative rhetoric. it was ingrained in me. I had to make the conscious effort to keep this time focused on only God and what He had to say to me through Jesus. Slowly I was able to learn to set aside trying to find good arguments and instead listen for His voice. (FYI, I still find myself falling into this old pattern. I fall at His feet often over this sin.) My prayer became, "Lord, help me to see You in what I read today. I want to know You more. Speak to me from Your word and show me what you have for me." He did answer. It was during this time that I realized that I was exactly like the Pharisees. The weight of my own hypocrisy was overwhelming and I resisted it by turning the accusing finger against my brothers. Their Pharisaical Laodiceanism was so clear to me, pointing it out became the easy way to shirk my own burden of hypocrisy. I'm here to tell you, self-righteousness can get you from anywhere if you're not watchful.
The only thing that helped was to look to Jesus. In Him, I saw what He wants to (and can) make me. In Him there is no self-righteousness. His every word and action was for the good of others, including the Laodicean Pharisees. While they did not accept His offered hand, He plowed forward on His mission still holding it out.
In contrast, my actions and words were so often for my protection, my reputation, my comfort. The closer I came to Him the more faulty I appeared in my own eyes, but my view of self was becoming clearer. I saw my hypocrisy for what it was. I saw my self-righteousness for what it was, a defense mechanism. However, at the same time I started to see what I now realize is the most important thing eternity has to offer..I saw myself as fully in need of His help and healing, for...everything...absolutely everything. At that moment (and there have been a lot of these moments)... I reached out and said.
"Lord, please save me from myself. I offer you nothing but my great need."
So, you might be asking how all of this connects to the verse we started with. Here's how...in those words I hear Jesus warning us all away from the Pharisaical self-centered approach to God. He knows our only hope is to come to Him, the great Physician, and so He said it straight and direct to the men who were just like me in His day. "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." In a certain sense, there is good news in this statement. It doesn't say, "you are not allowed to come to me, or I won't let you come to me" it says you are not willing. Our wills can be changed! This means we can come to Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. Then we can clearly see Him and our need of Him. Here's another cool thing to know about coming to Him. Once you've done it, you realize that it's really the only thing that we're supposed to be doing and offering to others. Not arguing to prop ourselves up, but sharing Jesus to help others to know Him, for "this is eternal life." (John 17:3) You might be asking "What does this Jesus centered view do with doctrine and truth"? I'd like to discuss that in the next blog.
I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.