I was recently walking through a Half-Price Books when I saw a title in the religious section that grabbed my eye: “The Power of I Am.”
Hmm. That sounds interesting, I thought, imagining the different theological approaches someone could take by focusing on the name of God. Ignoring the author, I flipped the book over to read the description on the back cover. I quickly discovered that I had not only picked up a Joel Osteen bestseller but I had also stumbled upon a blatant theft of God’s precious name in the service of the prosperity gospel. Since I didn’t buy the book, here is the description according to Amazon.com:
Whatever follows the words “I am” will always come looking for you.
So, when you go through the day saying:
“I am blessed”…blessings pursue you.
“I am talented”…talent follows you.
“I am healthy”…health heads your way.
“I am strong”…strength tracks you down.
Joel Osteen reveals how THE POWER OF I AM can help you discover your unique abilities and advantages to lead a more productive and happier life. His insights and encouragement are illustrated with many amazing stories of people who turned their lives around by focusing on the positive power of this principle. You can choose to rise to a new level and invite God’s goodness by focusing on these two words: I AM!
It shocked me that a pastor would blatantly encourage me to adopt God’s name as my own personal mantra to self-improvement, but then I wondered how many stars reviewers gave this book. Wanna guess? Out of 1,491 reviews, the average rating (on a 1-5 scale) was…
I would assume these ratings are by people who consider themselves Christian and/or spiritual. But one has to wonder how representative are these readers of the Christian community? And do they understand this principle is not even biblical?
To understand why, let’s take a quick look at 2 Cor. 4:5:
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)
WHAT WE PROCLAIM IS NOT OURSELVES
Paul centers his sights directly on the pride of man. He knows that it is an easy criticism for others to say that he is only doing what he is doing for himself. When a person receives attention, fame, wealth, power, or any other of the myriad of earthly pleasures, no one cares what vehicle they used to acquire these things. They only care about replicating the same success for themselves. They assume that these rewards are the result of Paul creating a successful brand centered around himself. So, Paul counters this argument and insists “what we proclaim is not ourselves.”
Notice, he does not deny that he is proclaiming something. Nor does he deny that it is for someone’s glory and fame. His point is that their proclamation is not for his own benefit but for Christ’s. It is to make Jesus known as Lord.
The tragedy is that so many people, including Christians, get this confused today. They place all their focus on the gifts God has given them and forget all about proclaiming the Giver as Lord. In other words, they make the gifts the object of their worship, and an unbelieving, cynical world looks on, scratching its head and saying, “There’s no difference between you and me. You want the same things I want. You value the same things I value. You just tack ‘God’ on the end of it and I don’t.” Such a proclamation is not winning anyone to Christ and is failing to make Jesus known as Lord.
BUT JESUS CHRIST AS LORD
So, how do you keep from falling into this trap? How do you demonstrate to a lost and unregenerate generation that there is more than just a difference in belief (i.e., theistic vs. atheistic) that separates you from them? You must live in such a way that the undeniable conclusion others come to is that your life proclaims one truth: Jesus is Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You will either love one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other. But you cannot be a “both-and” believer. This is an “either-or” choice. Either you pursue money, recognition, approval, ease, and comfort to make much of yourself, or you deny yourself, pursue the approval of God, and exert all your energies into making it known that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Be honest. Who do you seek to exalt? Whom does your heart desire to receive all the glory? You or Christ? You cannot have it both ways, for God is very clear on this point: “My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa. 42:8) Therefore, if your attempts at self-exaltation are doomed to fail, if God will not relinquish one ounce of His glory to share with you, if your pride always precedes a fall, then give up this inexorable effort and proclaim not yourself, but Jesus Christ as Lord.
WITH OURSELVES AS YOUR SERVANTS
Paul continues to extrapolate the point that he did not proclaim himself by reminding them that he became their servant. Servants do not lead. They follow. They minister to the needs of those they serve. They make themselves humble. They put themselves in the place of others and are committed to their growth. They do not seek exaltation. They do not desire power. They are meek, longsuffering, good stewards, and practice restraint.
But perhaps the most definitive, yet challenging, quality of a servant is their selflessness.
To refuse to put one’s needs and desires above the person he serves is one of the most difficult things to do. But when a person is the servant of another this characteristic must exist in order to be called a servant. We cannot look to ourselves. We cannot proclaim ourselves. We cannot place ourselves above others. Instead, we must follow the instruction of Philippians 2:3-4, which says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
So, when Paul says that he was the servant of others, he is reinforcing the idea that he did nothing out of selfish ambition.
FOR JESUS’ SAKE
But then Paul goes one step farther when he says that he was their servant for Jesus’ sake. This is how we all ought to serve. We are servants to others only for the sake of Christ. We are not servants to others for THEIR sake. That would mistake the missional work of the Church for a man-centric work, whereby we focus on the short-term physical needs of people. Nor are we servants for OUR sake. That would mistake the work of the Church for a man-exalting work, whereby we are more about self-promotion than the eternal glory of Christ. We serve, yes. But we serve others FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. We serve to set forth Christ as supremely valuable, so that all other pursuits may be exposed as transient and insignificant in comparison to Him. It is for this reason that Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
We do not serve to alleviate a human ill, but to elevate a glorious God. Alleviating the need may be a byproduct of our God-glorifying action, but it is not the reason for the action. When the focus of missions is on making the beauty and the perfections of God public and not on the temporary needs of man, the Gospel can be preached effectively, and many can come to a saving faith in Him. Suddenly they will no longer see the Church as another helping institution but will see God working through His people in His power by His instruction and for His glory.
Such behavior will transform “receiving Christ” from holding one’s self as supremely valuable and using God and His grace as the means of honoring or protecting that value. Rather, it will hold Christ as supremely valuable, over and above ourselves and anything else in this world. For, any prize that I cling to above Christ does not reflect a new nature but only the same old carnal, man-exalting nature I have always had. But when I proclaim not myself, but Jesus as Lord, when I become your servant for the sake of Christ, I demonstrate more than a difference in belief. I demonstrate a change has occurred. I have not taken an old thing, clothed it in new garments, and sprinkled it with glitter. My nature and everything I live for has been changed from the inside out.