How to be a Great Bad Leader

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and I just came across Stephen’s speech to the official assembly of Israel’s elders in chapter 7. Turns out the assembly was full of less-than-stellar leaders, and you, too, can be a great bad leader if you follow their example. (Or you can use their example as what NOT to do in leadership…your call.)

Stephen’s story starts in chapter 6. All we know about Stephen is he lived in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven and that he was “…a man full of God’s grace and power [and he] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6:8). And the Jewish leaders/elders didn’t take kindly to this.

As Stephen, and, more importantly, Jesus, grew in popularity among the Jews in Jerusalem, that necessarily meant the Jewish leaders’ power and popularity decreased.

And guess what?

Bad leaders cannot STAND to lose power. They will go to GREAT lengths to maintain power because without it they feel worthless. It’s sad, really.

In Stephen’s case these jealous elders decided to “secretly persuade” some dudes to accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

Again, bad leaders create conflict using deception and underhanded tactics in order to create the illusion that their poor leadership choices are justified.

And because most of the Jews inherently trusted their leaders, they automatically believed whatever they said. The general population just couldn’t conceive their beloved elders would deceive them or have back door meetings or strong arm people into doing immoral things.

The elders wanted Stephen to shut up about Jesus so they could maintain their dictatorial control over the masses. The best way to ensure Stephen would shut up was to kill him. And the fastest ticket to death in those days was to be convicted of blasphemy. After all, no upstanding Jew would tolerate such a thing, and neither did their law. And guess who got to decide if someone accused of blasphemy was guilty or innocent? That’s right: the assembly of elders.

Hmm. Sounds a little self-serving.

Bad leaders design processes and procedures that always result in them alone having absolute authority. They carefully craft heirarchies to ensure they cannot be held accountable by anyone else.

Israel’s elders went to great lengths to make sure Stephen would be found guilty of the drummed up charge of blasphemy. “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us,” (Acts 6:13-14).

Bad leaders have people in their pockets. They know who is weak enough morally and/or emotionally to exploit them when they need to. Sometimes bad leaders bribe others to do their dirty work so they themselves can still appear clean to the general population. Other times they threaten people to cooperate. Other times they manipulate people to do their bidding by convincing them the task at hand is really a noble thing to do. Worst of all, sometimes bad leaders misuse scripture to convince the spiritually naive that God WANTS them to do whatever devious thing the leaders have in mind. That last one gets all over me and makes me want to hit things.

So the Jewish elders put Stephen on “trial”. They went through the motions of justice to deceive the masses into thinking they really were after the “truth” and really were being “fair” to Stephen. These elders brought in these hand-picked false witnesses and pretended to be hearing the false accusations for the first time, as if they hadn’t coached these witnesses to say exactly what they said.

The heart of Jewish religion was the temple sacrifices doled out by the law God established through Moses. So these sly elders got people to accuse Stephen of defaming and wanting to get rid of both.

Bad leaders play on people’s emotions. They know what hot-button topics will really get their people stirred up–so stirred up that they become unable to calmly and rationally listen to anyone else’s side of the story. Literally, the science says once we humans become flooded with anger or fear, our brains cannot process new information until we physiologically calm down again. Bad leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The high priest (think “head elder”) puts on his best shocked/fake-let’s-be-fair voice and asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

And you know what Stephen says?

He brilliantly launches into the history of Israel and, specifically, how the Israelites royally failed at recognizing Moses as a prophet. They disobeyed Moses all the time, willfully choosing idolatry over worshipping God again and again.

Stephen uses the example of Moses to illustrate to the elders that, just like their ancestors before them, the elders are stubborn, have hard hearts unyielded to the Lord, refuse to listen to God, and, worst of all, “…always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).

Wow. That’s an indictment there if I’ve ever heard one. Stephen also accused the elders of “betraying and murdering” the “Righteous One” prophets of old spoke about–i.e., Jesus (Acts 7:52).

You’ll never guess how the elders responded to Stephen’s rebuke.

That’s right, they humbly accepted the correction, admitted their wrongs, and thanked Stephen for having the you-know-whats to point out the sin in their lives so they could stop and grow more mature in their faith in God.

Just kidding.

The elders of Israel threw a fit. A FIT, I tell you.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…[at the mention of Jesus being with God in heaven] they covered their ears, and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,” (Acts 7:54-58). Stephen died from that stoning, and then the elders went on to persecute other Christians in Jerusalem so badly that they all literally ran for their lives, scattering throughout the region (Acts 8:1).

Bad leaders lose their minds when they are confronted with the truth. If their cover as “good guys” is threatened publically, bad leaders attack those blowing the whistle. And then they attack everyone associated with those who blew the whistle. The gloves come off. The leaders stop delegating their dirty work and take matters into their own hands as a last ditch effort to squelch any revolt on account of the masses slowly beginning to realize these leaders are not what they seem.

Like Israel’s elders back in the day, some people today are really great bad leaders. Phenomenal, actually. And, unfortunately, there are still some really great bad leaders in churches today.

Ask the Spirit to help you perceive if any of your leaders–inside the church or out–fit the bill of great bad leaders. If you find you are under one (or more–they tend to travel in packs), blow the whistle. But know you will likely be clobbered when you do. That’s ok. Jesus told us that will happen when we stand for what is right.

If your whistle-blowing results in change for the better, rejoice! If it doesn’t, relocate. That is, find new leaders. There are great great leaders out there; stop wasting your time under great bad leaders.

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Who We Are

In the evangelical Christian world, we often treat “witnessing” as something on our to-do list. It’s what we are supposed to do (but very few of us do it…). Never mind that non-Christians aren’t tasks to be checked off but human beings to be loved. That’s an entirely different post. Or maybe it isn’t. We’ll just have to find out together where this thing is going…

It struck me today that this approaching evangelism as a verb might be incomplete, if not totally wrong.

The other day I sat with a woman who expressed frustration with evangelical Christians who have approached her to see if they could witness to her and then immediately moved on when it became clear to them they couldn’t. As an evangelical Christian myself, I more than shared her frustration.

More specifically, I welled up with anger and wanted to take this woman by the hands, look her in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry people have treated you that way.” I wanted to assure her that Christians who treat witnessing as a task to be completed are not pleasing Jesus nor representing Him accurately.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And I stand by it. Because Jesus never treated people like projects. On the contrary, He treated them with dignity and love and respect and concern.

[The only people He got a little brash with were the self-proclaimed religious big-wigs who were too big for their britches and also completely wrong about who He was and what God wanted from people (ans: hearts that loved Him more than themselves instead of vice versa). In other words, people who needed to be knocked down a few pegs.]

In the first chapter of Acts, the resurrected Jesus spends over FORTY DAYS with His disciples. (Let that sink in…the 11 disciples didn’t all mass hallucinate the exact same thing for nearly 6 weeks, I don’t care how high quality the LSD was back then. I digress.)

[Was that too far? I feel like maybe the drug reference was a little too far…don’t send me emails.]

Throughout the 40+ days, Jesus tells His disciples about the kingdom of God. In verses 6-8 He gives them some final instructions. Verse 8 reads, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Aside from the improper use of a semicolon and/or conjunction, something significant stands out to me in this verse. Jesus says they will be His witnesses.

“Witness” is an identity. It is who they are, not what they do.  

Jesus did not tell them they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and then they will go witness in Jerusalem, etc. Rather, for better or for worse, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses.

When non-believers around them learned the disciples were close, personal friends of that Jesus character who caused a lot of brouhaha and wound up dead and somehow managed to amass a small following, those non-believers would associate everything else the disciples did and said with Jesus.

If the disciples loved well and verbally shared the gospel and teachings of Jesus, they would be positive witnesses of Jesus. Those they encountered would wonder if being a follower of Christ had something to do with the disciples’ abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (to promote Jesus as the Messiah was to literally risk being killed by the Jewish elite).

If the disciples ran for their lives, however, and never spoke of Christ again, they would be negative witnesses of Jesus. People would think, “Jesus must not have been anything special if even His best friends don’t think He is worth talking about or obeying anymore.”

One way or another, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses all right.

And, of course, the same is true of us believers today. We are Jesus’ witnesses, whether we know it or not.

If we identify ourselves as Christ followers, every thing we say and do is associated with Him in the eyes of the non-believers around us. 

Now, don’t worry, that does not mean we have to be perfect or we will mar Jesus’ rep so badly no one will ever become a Christian again. We aren’t that powerful, thank goodness.

What it does mean is we need to be more mindful of how we are representing Jesus. Just like the original disciples, Christians today can be positive or negative witnesses of Jesus.

If people know we claim to be Christians but we never talk about Jesus or His working in our lives, and if we prop ourselves up on our achievements, hiding our need for Him, and if we harbor self-righteous pride in our relationships, and if we fail to rely on the power of the Spirit to help us live consistently with scripture (which is the only way we can live consistently with scripture, by the way), those we encounter will be inclined to think there is nothing special or different about “Christians”.

On the other hand, if people know we claim to be Christians and we love well and verbally share the gospel and teachings of Jesus, and if we admit when we screw up and ask for forgiveness from people we hurt, and if we make it plain that we are totally indebted to God’s grace, and if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live how scripture tells us to when we know full well we can’t in our own strength, those we encounter might wonder if being a follower of Christ has something to do with our abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (like all the fun things life has to offer–sickness, death, adultery, job loss, broken relationships, etc.).

Witnessing is not something we do; witnesses are what we are. We get to decide what kind of witnesses of Jesus we want to be.

Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

On Account of You

I’ve read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead a time or two. But when I read John’s account again last week, something new grabbed my attention.

On Account of Us
image via digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

Which is something I adore about scripture. But that’s a different post.

After Jesus, exhibiting God-like qualities, raised Lazarus from the dead, John reports that a lot of Jews started believing in Jesus. This ticked off the Jewish leaders, in part because they didn’t believe Jesus was God, and in part because they didn’t want to catch flack from the Roman government over the Jesus brouhaha.

So guess who the Jewish leaders wanted to kill?

Did you guess Jesus?

I did.

And I was wrong.

Or partly wrong.

They did want to kill Jesus, but they also wanted to kill somebody else. John 12:9-10 reads, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well…”

What?

Why in the world would Lazarus be on their hit list? He hadn’t asked to be raised from the dead… And, honestly, what good will killing him do? It wouldn’t erase his resurrection  from history… There would still be people who had witnessed his resurrection telling others about it…

Verse 11 tells us the logic the Jewish leaders were using to justify their desire to murder Lazarus, “…for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him,” (John 12:11).

Jews weren’t believing Jesus was the Messiah because of Jesus’ teachings or the disciples’ following Him or the rumors they’d heard about Jesus’ miracles in distant lands. They were putting their faith in Jesus because Lazarus – a man they knew from their town – was living proof of Jesus’ power.

Not only was he most likely verbalizing his belief in Jesus’ deity, Lazarus’ very life – his breathing and walking – was a testimony to Jesus’ godness.

Lazarus’ existence was so compelling, the Jewish leaders felt they needed to eliminate him.

As I read verse 11, you can guess what questions came to mind. On account of me, are many people believing in Jesus? Are any?

I talk a lot about Jesus. I say the Gospel often. But does my existence – my life – what I do – encourage others to believe?

Your initial objection might be, “Yeah, but we haven’t been raised from the dead like Lazarus, so our physical existence isn’t quite as compelling as his was…”

Have we not?

Believers in Christ have been born again in a spiritual sense – resurrected from spiritual deadness and given new life through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a much more significant way than Lazarus, we’ve been raised spiritually. We have a story to tell. A story that will compel others to come to Jesus and believe in Him.

Are we telling it?

We have the ability to live new lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11-12). Our existences – our breathing and our walking – should look supernatural to those who don’t know Christ.

Does it?

Who is believing in Jesus on account of you?

At the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

An Undivided Heart

A healthy human heart, biologically speaking, is divided into 4 chambers. Each chamber has a specific purpose – either pumping or receiving blood – essential to the function of the heart. These physical divisions are necessary and good.

image via ddpavumba/freedigitalphotos.net
image via ddpavumba/freedigitalphotos.net

This is what came to mind yesterday when I read Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

An undivided heart… that’s just not natural. Physically or spiritually.

Just as healthy babies are born with hearts literally divided, so they are born with hearts figuratively divided. The spiritual divisions go something like this: three chambers devoted to self – self-preservation, self-gratification, and self-actualization – and one chamber that knows it was meant for something more than self – divine longings one can’t quite put his finger on (Romans 1:20).

The heart is divided. What will that baby – who turns into a child, who turns into a teen, who turns into a young adult, who turns into an old adult (is that PC – old adult?) – pursue? Protection? Pleasure? Purpose? God?

All choices in life revolve around this question. And from the day we are born, our spirits wrestle to put our energy into the “right” thing at the “right” time. (I use quotations because most of the time we determine what is “right” through our fickle emotional filters rather than some concrete source of truth. “Right” is transient to most people, so the term really loses all meaning… I digress.)

Unfortunately, once we become believers, the parts of our divided hearts don’t supernaturally morph into one truly right chamber. We’re still sinners. Accepting Jesus doesn’t change that. So we continue to contend with our “divided heart syndrome” (Romans 7:19), which is what the Psalmist speaks to.

It’s clear David is struggling with the age-old battle between allegiance to self and allegiance to God (Romans 7:22-23). David – the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) – still had times when he was drawn toward self, and, necessarily, away from the Lord. David recognized that his temptation to follow after his own passions, as opposed to God’s passions, needed correcting.

So he prayed.

Good thinking there.

David recognized his inability to will himself into having an undivided heart 100% committed to the Lord. No matter how great his intentions may have been, David couldn’t conjure up complete devotion to God on a consistent basis, much less a constant basis, which is what the Lord both requires (Exodus 20:3) and deserves (Revelation 4:11). David knew that degree of commitment couldn’t come from within.

So he asked the Lord to provide it, “…give me an undivided heart…”

And we’re right there with David, too. We don’t have it in us to unfalteringly follow the Lord. Good thing we don’t have to have it in us; He has it in Him. And He’d love to give it to us. Let’s ask Him for it and see what happens.

(For a musical expression of this concept, check out “Two Hands” by Jars of Clay.)

How to Love People Better

You know how sometimes God puts together cute little lessons for us that all revolve around a central theme? (He could be a party planner that way. He could be on Pinterest.) Well, the lessons of the month for me are all about learning to love better.

God is showing me I’ve previously approached relationships with a pretty self-centered perspective.

Sometimes I blatantly, yet subconsciously, use relationships to meet my needs. In other words, I maintain relationships because they benefit me in someway.

Other times I am more covert. I focus on meeting other people’s needs in relationships because it makes me feel good to know other people benefit from being friends with me. It’s a little more pleasing to the eye, but it’s still rooted in selfishness.

If a relationship doesn’t meet my needs or make me feel good by allowing me to meet others’ needs, I usually don’t put any effort into that relationship. If there’s nothing in it for me, what’s the point?

What's in it for me?
image via empowernetwork.com

Sounds pretty godly, right?

Negative, which is why God has been creating all kinds of “opportunities” for me to grow up. And, dare I say, I’m finally starting to make some headway.

I’ll just go ahead and tell you my recent growth hasn’t happened because some well-meaning Christian quoted 1 Corinthians 13 to me and told me I ought to love like that. It’s true, I should love like that, but sometimes when I read verses 4 through 8, all I hear is a list of standards I can’t keep. I get discouraged. To love as perfectly as Paul describes feels like spinning plates, trying to make sure they all stay atop their poles before the whole show comes crashing to a halt.

No, that intimidating passage was not the catalyst for my recent improvement. Actually, the difference-maker for me was a friend taking time to share his view of what it means to love others well. And because he has a great track record of loving me well, I listened to him. He said when he interacts with someone, he asks himself, “What is in the other person’s best interest?”

Huh.

I’d never thought of that.

Probably because, at first glance, it has nothing to do with my best interest.

As I pondered my friend’s perspective, it reminded me of servant love. It reminded me of Jesus washing gross feet because the disciples needed to be clean before they ate (John 13:3-12). It reminded me of Paul enduring beatings because it was in the Gentiles best interest to hear the Gospel (Acts 16:23-33). And, of course, it reminded me of Jesus dying on the cross because we needed rescuing in the worst kind of way (Luke 9:22).

All that to say, I decided my friend might be onto something. So the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking the Lord to help me intentionally ask myself, “What is in my friend’s best interest right now, and how can I help promote that interest?”

I’m asking this question before I give well-meaning advice, while I’m having conversations with people, when I’m leading women in Bible study, when my husband gets home from work, when my kids are being challenging. And I’m finding it to be quite clarifying.

Too often I discover what I was considering doing or saying would have made me feel good, but it would not have been what the other person really needed most at the moment. Then I have a choice.

Do I say/do what I want anyway, or do I stop in my tracks, exercise self-discipline, and choose to love the person how they need to be loved?

It’s hard. Dying to self is always hard. But it’s also gratifying. Knowing I am loving people better than I used to motivates me to keep going in this direction.

And, just so you know, I fail a lot. Sometimes I revert to self-centered “loving”. Conviction sets in, and I have to repent to the Lord. But I’m always met with grace. He sees my heart. He knows I am trying. He knows growing is a process. And He delights over me because I am His.

He feels the same way about you.

Anyway, give this technique a whirl, and let me know if it helps you.

What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For?

One of the go-to verses for Christians in pain is 2 Corinthians 12:9. In it God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course, the context is important. So bare with me while I rehash that for us.

Corinth was a city of wealth, commerce, and depravity. Sexual immorality was rampant, with prostitution being part of idol worship. Apparently, the Corinthians had a hard time separating themselves from these cultural practices. Paul tried, somewhat in vain it seems, to encourage Corinthian believers to higher standards – godly standards. Second Corinthians was actually his third letter (at least) to the group, after several lengthy personal visits to try to steer the church in the ways of the Lord. To put it mildly, Paul was frustrated and desperately wanted these believers to desire to be the Church – those called out of the world and into the Kingdom.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paul felt the need to answer a question the Corinthians seemed to be asking themselves – why should we listen to Paul?  Paul acknowledged their grumbling, reporting his awareness that “…some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing,'” (2 Corinthians 10:10). The Corinthians were feeling a bit rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to say it… when Paul wasn’t around.

Paul did his best to respond calmly the rest of chapter 10 and the first half of chapter 11, but he eventually decided sarcasm and mockery were the way to go. (Have I mentioned I love him?) He was infuriated the Corinthians were choosing to elevate false apostles’ teaching above the true Gospel he had introduced to them (2 Corinthians 11:5-6).

While defending himself, though, he didn’t want to give the impression the Corinthians should listen to him because there was something special about him. It was important they realized it was not Paul he wanted them to submit to but Christ in Paul. Paul told the story about his infamous thorn to illustrate his humanity and frailty and to emphasize only the existence of an all-powerful God could explain how a man with such a restrictive condition could be so successful.

Within this context, Paul recounted how he asked God to take away his thorn three times (2 Corinthians 12:8). And God had responded this way, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The first part of the sentence intrigues me. “My grace is sufficient for you.” What does that even mean? We Christians are quick to quote it to someone in need, but have we really nailed down what’s going on here? I haven’t.

What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?

I took the verse apart in the Greek last night to try to answer that question, and you’re never going to believe what I found out. What God really means is, “My grace is enough for you.”

If you’re paying attention, you’re realizing I discovered absolutely nothing new. So I took it apart in the English and came up with this.

Grace can mean favor, approval, or blessing, typically unmerited. Enough means occurring in such a quantity as to fully meet a need. So God’s favor and blessing will fully meet our need. The question is begged, our need for what? Some needs? All needs? Specific needs?

Before we can transfer the idea to ourselves, we need to get back in Paul’s shoes to understand the original intent of the Lord.

Paul had some needs.

In the most immediate context, he had a thorn of some sort causing him some agony. God likely would have been intending to communicate His favor was enough to get Paul through that agony. God’s blessing was enough for Paul to live  for a lengthy amount of time in spite of whatever physical, spiritual, or emotional pain he was experiencing.

Zoom out a smidge, and the wider context is that Paul was defending his credibility as an apostle to the Corinthians. In the midst of their doubting his authority to speak on God’s behalf, God tells Paul, “My approval is enough.” The power behind Paul’s ministry resided in God’s approval and favor, not the Corinthians. Nothing else was needed. Even without the Corinthians’ okay, God’s approval was enough for Him to accomplish whatever He willed through Paul.

I’d also like to think the Father-heart of God wanted to remind Paul that He loved Paul. He wanted Paul to feel confident of that love and to find his identity in that love, no matter what others were saying about him. God approved of Paul, even if others didn’t, and knowing that should have fully met Paul’s need to feel secure and valued. 

Step back even farther, and we realize Paul had a nearly impossible task – to take the Gospel to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles also (Acts 13:46). The Jews thought of Paul as a traitor preaching sacrilege and would’ve rather killed him than listen to him try to convince them Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting on (Acts 9, 13). The Gentiles didn’t know what to do with Paul. Some were scared of him (Acts 9), some tried to worship him (Acts 14:11), some stoned him (Acts 14:19), some believed his message (Acts 14:20), and some, like the Corinthians, believed Paul initially but got angry when he held them accountable. So when God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” the widest application implies God’s favor was all Paul needed to successfully fulfill his life’s calling to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, Eph 3:8).

Back to the original question. For today’s believer, what is God’s grace sufficient for?

God’s grace is sufficient…

1) To survive pain. God’s blessing is enough for us to make it through any kind of physical, spiritual, or emotional pain, no matter how long that pain exists. God’s grace – His favor – is enough, all by itself, to sustain us until He determines that pain should end.

2) To empower us for ministry. God’s Kingdom purposes are accomplished by His endorsement alone, not human approval, ability, or ambition. We all have a ministry, and His grace – His blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to make our ministries flourish.

3) To establish our security. We all wonder, to varying degrees, if we are loved, valued, appreciated, accepted, approved of, desired, etc. Too often we look to others to affirm our worth. God’s grace – His approval – is enough, all by itself, to solidify our true worth.

4) To fulfill our life callings. We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). How we make Him known, and to whom, may vary, but, ultimately, we’re all called to the same thing. And the calling is not for the feint of heart. But, God’s grace – His favor and blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to empower us to do what we’re supposed to be doing.

So I guess to put it succinctly (1100+ words later), God’s grace is sufficient for everything.