Some speakers who bear the name of Christ are so excellent at presentation that they hold us spellbound as they speak. We are mesmerized by their eloquence, their ability to articulate complex ideas in captivating ways, moving seamlessly from one point to the next with skill and ease. So enchanting is this grandiloquence, that the orators often develop devoted followings, throngs of enthusiastic believers who hold unquestioningly to their every word.
More than once, I have seen such devotion cross the boundary that separates admiration from worship. The devotee becomes enthralled by the speaker (often a pastor) to the point that adoration transitions into veneration. Jesus, then, falls by the wayside.
Such devotion from the flock poses a very real danger for that man or woman who would serve in a position of leadership for the body of Christ. While it feels nice to be acknowledged and appreciated, the constant stroking of our ego can carry us to a state of acknowledgment and appreciation intoxication. Over time, and with repeated doses of ego-nutrition, we become dependent on our “adoration fix” from the flock.
As ambassadors of Christ, the one who was “among [us] as one who serves,” we too are to be servants of those under our care rather than objects of their praise and worship. Randy Alcorn, founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries, addressed this when he said, “The greatest danger of notoriety is you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you, exactly the opposite of what Christ modeled.”
Consider the attitude of the apostle Paul when he spoke to the church at Corinth.
“…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NASB
We know from previous verses that the believers at Corinth had a propensity for being impressed by eloquence, and high-brow conversations. Paul invested a great deal of time in pointing out to them that man’s greatest wisdom and insight is laughable when compared to God’s folly (if there even is such a thing). Therefore, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV)
As a Pharisee, and a scholar from the school of Tarsus of Cilicia, Paul could have bowled them over with his depth of learning and skillful dialectics. But he chose to come with a singular message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” freely admitting his weakness, fear, and much trembling (vs. 3). This same apostle Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” thus, the key is to look at and emulate Christ inasmuch as that is possible.
An incident in Acts illustrates both the problem, and the solution. Peter and John were going up to the temple for the ninth hour of prayer. As they entered the temple, a man lame from birth asked them for alms. Peter explained to the man that he had no silver or gold to offer, but what he could offer was freely given – “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6b, ESV)
When the people saw this man who had never previously walked now leaping, walking and praising God, they were astonished and rushed Peter and John, apparently giving them the same levels of adoration and borderline worship we have been discussing above. Seeing this, Peter put a quick stop to it and redirected the attention of the people to Jesus.
And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? … And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” – Acts 3:12, 16, ESV
Similarly, when Paul and Barnabus were in Lystra, Paul instructed a lame man,”Stand upright on your feet,” (Acts 14:10) and the man did so. The people responded saying, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men,” calling Barnabus Zeus and Paul Hermes. The people became so enthusiastic that they brought oxen and garlands and tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabus. But these men of integrity, apostles of God Almighty, were having none of it.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you.” – Acts 14:14-15a, ESV
By contrast, when Herod wowed the people with his eloquence, he did not reorient the people’s praise away from himself and toward God. Wearing his royal apparel, Herod seated himself on the rostrum and began speaking to the crowd. Much to his enjoyment, the people cried out repeatedly, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22) Herod soaked up the praise and let it feed his ego. Thus he was struck by an angel of the Lord, because he did not give God glory, “and he was eaten of worms and died.” (Acts 12:23).
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who commissioned a ninety-foot statue of himself and commanded people to worship it, later came to a reckoning with God. When his self-aggrandizement reached it’s peak and he said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30b, NASB)
Before the words even left his lips, a voice from heaven basically told him, “Neb, you’re toast.” “He was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33b, NASB) That’s quite a fall for a king.
God alone is worthy of our worship and praise. Those who would exalt themselves, or allow others to do so, should pay heed that God will not tolerate it. Whether in this life or the life after, every man and woman will bow the knee. I will bow the knee. You will bow the knee. Donald Trump will bow the knee. Beyonce will bow the knee. The key difference is that some will do so willingly – others under compulsion. But we will all bow the knee.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11, ESV