06 May 2008

Transparency: the good... (part 1 of 3)

by Dan Phillips

Paul said, forcefully and well, "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). Insofar as we — preachers or "lay" witnesses — are faithful ambassadors, we want to hold out Jesus Christ. Not ourselves. We want to point people to Jesus, want them to believe and love and cling to Him. Not us.

Having said that, do you identify with Paul in any way? Does he read like a writing mannequin to you? Or does what Paul says resonate with you, does it have credibility to you? Is his call to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14) compelling to you? If so, why is that?

Of course it is compelling because he is an apostle, a plenipotentiary of Christ, speaking in His name and with His authority (1 Corinthians 14:37). That is true objectively, and regardless of how we feel about Paul.

But God could have solely entrusted the Gospel to be proclaimed flawlessly by bloodless angels. He could have dropped heavenly newspapers out of the sky. He did neither. Rather, He gave the surpassing treasure to be borne in clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:7).

I take it that He had, and has, a reason.

UPDATE: after posting this I came across a passage in Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students where he makes this point, but with far greater eloquence:
Disembodied spirits might have been sent to proclaim the word, but they could not have entered into the feelings of those who, being in this body, do groan, being burdened; angels might have been ordained evangelists, but their celestial attributes would have disqualified them from having compassion on the ignorant; men of marble might have been fashioned, but their impassive natures would have been a sarcasm upon our feebleness, and a mockery of our wants. Men, and men subject to human passions, the all-wise God has chosen to be his vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.
Part of why Paul's writings resonate with me no doubt is because of his transparency. Nowhere does Paul hold himself out as a plaster saint, free from the weakness and failings we lesser mortals know.

He's bluntly candid about his past, mincing no words: "formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent" (1 Timothy 1:13), who "persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it" (Galatians 1:13), and was "once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another" (Titus 3:3).

But he was no less candid about his post-conversion life, in all its chiaroscuro. Though good men have labored long and hard to undo his consistent use of 1spai (first-person singular, present active indicative), Paul boldly paints himself as struggling with the weakness and waywardness of his flesh (Romans 7:14-25). In the same way he says "I myself am" — not "I was" — the first among sinners (εἰμι ἐγώ; 1 Timothy 1:15). The great apostle admits to "fighting without and fear within" (2 Corinthians 7:5), to being depressed (v. 6) and in need of encouragement (2 Corinthians 1:4), to being occasionally "pressured in every way... perplexed... persecuted ... [and] struck down" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 CSB).

I identify with this. I read Paul as a real person, a man not unfamiliar — at least, categorically, if not specifically — with the weaknesses and temptations and fears and misgivings with which I myself wrestle.

And so, when Paul calls me to think the way he does (Philippians 3:15) in stretching out with all his might in the pursuit of God's high call in Christ, I hear him: not as a mere theoretician (2 Corinthians 2:11), nor as a sheer authoritarian (2 Corinthians 1:24), but as a real human being who himself had been transformed, and was being transformed, by Christ. Someone who (like me) is most insistently not "arrived" (Philippians 3:13), but who nonetheless is dogged and undeterrable in pressing on towards that goal, for all he's worth (Philippians 3:7-16).

In this, Paul is like many inspired writers, who are equally transparent in how they write. We think immediately of David (Pss. 3, 5, 6, 13 etc.), Isaiah (6:5), and Jeremiah (20:7-18).

We know that these are actual, real men, and not superhuman Louis L'Amour heroes. We see that God truly can be known and served meaningfully even by the imperfect; and that bitter failure or times of darkness are no sure signs that we have no hope before and with God.

But there are dangers as well as uses to transparency, aren't there? It can be used, surely; but can it be abused?

Indeed it can be, and has been.

In the next post, I intend to continue to develop positively the uses of transparency, and the consequences of its lack. (That post will display how this is a "T4G 2008 reflection.") The third post is to note dangers and abuses.

Updates: Part Two; and Part Three.

Dan Phillips's signature

23 comments:

Daryl said...

As you so elequently point out. Paul was a guy like you and I.

That gives me great hope.

Ben said...

Amen... The way Paul and all christians have to live transparency their christian live is in great opposition to the way pharisees do, who make themself and others think higher than they really are... and judge and condamn others.
See Mat. 6:1-18 and Mat. 12: 1-8 (specialy v. 7).
That's about that I believe Paul says what he says in Phil. 3:8-14.
May God bless you !
Ben from Quebec city.

Lisa Nunley said...

Yes, transparency can be abused. I was told to never be transparent or do anything at the expense of the Gospel.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP,

What if in the process of being transparent you are judged and evaluated by others as not being like Jesus as this article by the Internet Monk observes?

The Jesus Shaped Question: Are Christians Like Jesus?

I imagine that there are some folks who are reluctant to be transparent when there are others who are all too willing to yell "Another hypocrite!" at a transparent Christian.

P.S. I'm guilty. For example, the Internet Monk is arguably transparent. And I wonder at times whether he is even Christian, let alone being like Jesus.

DJP said...

TUAD, fyi, I intend not to read that until I've finished this series. It's already pretty well set in my mind, and I want to stick with the mental template until done.

Lisa Nunley said...

The other side of the coin that I have experienced is that people will use your past or willingness to be transparent against you, trying to discredit your testimony.

For example, I recently was accused of being a false believer with part of their evidence being that I have multiple sclerosis.

Their words: The Lord promises that no good thing would He withhold from those who walk uprightly. Obviously with MS we can hardly say you walk uprightly.

More words coming from people I have never met: As for Job, his was a classical case for all believers, wherein the Lord stripped him of everything, then abundantly restored all to him. Job was not ill because of sin. Lisa is. How do we know the difference? I know Job's fruits and I know Lisa's. Furthermore, if you need proof, we will compare the end of Job with that of Lisa, though I already know her end. Lisa has been stripped of her full health but unless she repents, she will not recover as did Job....

What I would like to do is hide. To stop being real. To not share my struggles and weaknesses so that I will not get hurt. But then, as a believer in Christ I have to realize that it is NOT about me. It is about Him and His transforming power. If I hide and stop being real, people will not trust me and I will have no opportunity to truly proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Following Christ is not fun and games. It is hard, but it is the only road to lasting change and true peace... and I cannot help but to share this no matter what.

DJP said...

Oh, sticklebats. Wouldn't it be nice if professing faith in Christ stopped people from being idiots, Lisa, instead of seemingly simply empowering some of them?

I guess your critics' Bibles lack verses like 1 Peter 4:19 — "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."

Pity. They should get new ones. Or read the ones they have.

Mike Riccardi said...

Lisa has been stripped of her full health but unless she repents, she will not recover as did Job....

Jesus and the apostles must have never repented...

Good word, Dan, on being transparent. It's when we're open about our "only-clay-pot-ness" that the treasure we bear looks magnificent for its own sake, and not for the sake of its messengers.

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."

...

so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

Staci at Writing and Living said...

Great post. But did it hurt when you swallowed the thesaurus?

DJP said...

You can swallow it? dang, that'd be so much more facilitationous than strapping it to your head!

JOYce@pfg said...

sticklebats? Needs be look that one up to learn a new word, Dan O'Reilly. hehehee

Certainly there has been more than one saint in Christ enabled and highly likely to yield to righteousness or unrighteousness that has been improperly judged for their discretion or glass-house sharing of any or all the family tree intimate dirty laundry as the Lord led them that hasn't quite seated so well with others knowing better than Him.

Looking forward to reading further thoughts, Dan ~ appreciate your caring so much.

Sophia Sparx said...

Have you seen this site where people confess their sins anonymously, online at http://iconfessmyself.blogspot.com

Revivalfire said...

Hey Dan, do any of you guys fancy commenting on what is happening in Florida with the new 'outpouring of the Spirit'?.

I can probably guess your response, but if any of you guys concerns about the move or the ministry your thoughts would certainly help many charismatic believers who are unsure about this one.

If you need some info on whats happening in Florida I have a just done a few blogs on it and my page has several links. Otherwise google will give you loads! ;)

kind regards.

luvvom said...

Thank you for this series...I need it!

Strong Tower said...

Thanks djp, nice follow to Phil's post yesterday. You guys got this planned, right?

When the people asked Mose to up go to God and speak to him for them, we see reflected what then will happen in Samuel's time. We want heros, we think that they can stand before God unlike we can because they have more credit. Tragedy of tragedies because we are all one in Christ sinners declared righteous for Christ's sake.

Wanting a king is in part why we do not see Paul as a mere man. That is why there is veneration of Saints. But, as it is written, Elijah prayed and was heard, and he was a man of like "passions".

How can a man ascend the mountain of the Lord? Paul struggled with all his effort to comfort us with the fact that we are in Christ and have ascended, seated now with him in the heavenlies despite what we see in the flesh. Therefore let us exalt Christ, looking to the author and finisher of our faith, for we in ourselves are nothing, but he is everything for salvation both our sanctification and our justification. Therefore, because it is finished, we press on to that which he has called us heavenward.

Sophia Sparx, is that like flashes of wisdom?

Daryl said...

"Sophia Sparx, is that like flashes of wisdom?"

File that one under "Things I wish I'd come up with..."

Solameanie said...

Dan,

I enjoyed this. I am also glad that, instead of a "new perspective" on Paul, you stuck with the solidly biblical perspective.

BTW, is it true that reading I-Monk on a regular basis can lead one into an unhealthy craving for Frangelico?

The Doulos said...

Dan, this post brings a new and refreshing meaning to the overused term "transparency." What you are referring to here, as I read you, is being transparent as in not coloring or filtering the Gospel. Or not drawing attention to myself as the Gospel flows through me, but only to the One from whom it flows. I wholeheartedly affirm this definition and ideal of being transparent with the Gospel. It ain't about me!

However, it seems that most of the uses of this term I hear in Christian circles these days refers to being "authentic", being able to "share my feelings", being willing to "go deep" in confessing issues and the like with a brother or sister. While some of this certainly Scriptural, it seems to me to be at it's root psycologically therapeutic, with a little Bible mixed in. While we certainly shouldn't be hypocrites, we also obscure the truth of Christ when we insist on trotting our past and our failures and our feeling and our...our...our whatevers out before the world. This kind of "transparency" leads inevitably to man-centered, me-centered thinking. When we really need to be cenetering ourselves on Him and the Gospel. And get ourselves out of the way, so that others can see Him.

donsands said...

"The great apostle admits to "fighting without and fear within""

I'm so glad he shared this. And he many times asked for prayer as well, so that he would be delivered from unbelievers, and be bold in his proclaiming the Gospel.

I definitely identify with him here, but need to be more transparent myself.
And Paul was quite bold, and courageous like no other for the Lord as well.

(I identify more with Peter I think.)

Great post Dan. Excellent teaching. Look forward to the series.

DJP said...

Note: I've made an update to the post, easy to pick out (Spurgeon quotation).

JOYce@pfg said...

Transparency these days oft but not always speaks a bit too much Oprahization to me ~ or is that Jerry Springer share all to be center stage for viewership & ratings.

Appreciate the Biblical stance being so timely, Dan ~ especially after hubby tv channel surfed yesterday and came across clips of the audition by Barbara Walters yesterday. TMI for me ~ some skeletons should stay in the closet. Unless one is going for shock value and $$, a plethora of intricate details aren't a headliner of God's glory.

Lisa Nunley said...

That Spurgeon quote is, of course, excellent. Spoken from a man so immensely intelligent. A man that also truly knew what it was to be afflicted and cast-down... and thus able to be used by God to not only proclaim the Word, but do so with a passion and transparency that speaks so deeply into our hearts.

Truly excellent quote.

DJP said...

Expect more Spurgeony goodness in the next post.