When each of my children reached a certain age they all learned to play checkers. Although my seven-year-old daughter can beat me fair and square now, back then none of them were much of a challenge. I mean, seriously. I could crush them with my eyes tied behind my back. … So to keep it interesting for myself, I changed my objective. I made it my goal to set them up for multiple-jumps rather than the normal goal of jumping all their checkers. They had fun and I had a real challenge. If I was able to let them get a quadruple jump, in my mind, I met my objective and “won”. An unknowing observer might easily have concluded that I really stunk bad at checkers. But they could only make that evaluation if they were assuming my objective to be the obvious one of jumping all the other player’s checkers. And in this case they’d be wrong. Without knowing the objective, it’s impossible to accurately evaluate performance.
This concept is just as true when it comes to our own lives as Christians. We must understand the objective God has for us. If we misunderstand this, how can we hope to ever accurately evaluate or judge our own performance? And make no mistake, despite how politically incorrect it may be, judging ourselves and among ourselves is very much our responsibility. “… do not ye judge them that are within?” (1 Cor 5:12), “But let a man examine himself …” (1 Cor 11:28), “for if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Cor 11:31). [Naturally, in this context judging simply means evaluating between right and wrong and is not referring to God's eternal penalty for sin which is also called judgment.]
The story of Noah:
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. …
… And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
And God said unto Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood …’ ” (Gen 6:5-8; 12-14).
The story continues and explains that it took forty years to complete but Noah did build that Ark. As a result eight people were saved from that devastating flood of God’s judgment on this wicked earth. But take special note that in the New Testament Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). With every swing of his hammer he was preaching to those around him, warning them of God’s coming judgment. But nobody listened. For forty years he preached and apart from his own family, he reached no one, not a single soul.
I once heard someone on a radio station teach that Noah was the worst preacher in all the Bible because in forty years of preaching, he saw almost no results. By that method of evaluation I suppose Jonah would be among the best preachers in the Old Testament of the Bible. For those unfamiliar:
“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.’ But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).
God tells Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh but he goes the opposite way. Eventually (after the whole big fish incident) we read how Jonah does go to the city and preaches for many days and then sits around waiting for (apparently hoping for) Nineveh’s destruction. In the end, the people of Nineveh heed God’s warning through Jonah and repent. And God spares the city, saving the people. And Jonah is disappointed over it.
“Then said the Lord, ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10-11).
Jonah’s preaching over the course of many days resulted in the salvation of 120,000 people. Noah’s preaching over the course of forty years resulted in the salvation of 8 people. But which preacher pleased the Lord? Noah remained obedient to the Lord all that time despite seeing no results. Jonah, well, I won’t comment any further. Can you see how results are not our objective? In fact, our objective is NOT to see millions of souls saved. It is not even to see one soul saved. Our objective is NOT to build up our church attendance (much less a physical structure). It is not to travel to a far-away land to serve the indigenous peoples. Our one true objective is very simple. It is to please our Lord Jesus Christ through simple faith and obedience to what He has revealed in His written Word. Plain and simple. We may desire some of these other things and noble desires they may be. And if He provides the opportunity and the means, then great. The error is when we make these things our objectives. (I’m reminded of the story found in 1 Chronicles 17, where King David wants to do something very special for the Lord, but the Lord tells him no. David accepts God’s Word and is blessed anyway.)
In whatever we do there is a simple measuring stick by which we MUST evaluate our performance. Are we obeying our Lord’s written Word? For anything we intend to do for the Lord, we best understand from His written Word first if and then how He wants it done. As far as preaching the Gospel goes there are many Scriptures we can look to. Here’s one I like to keep in mind:
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor 2:14-17).
You see, whatever the results happen to be – whether the person believes or not - as long as we are speaking Christ to them, we are pleasing the Lord. How often has it happened that we get discouraged by a lack of numbers in the church or the Bible study, etc., so we go off inventing all sorts of things to “get them in the door” and then, in time, the message has to be watered down to “keep them in the door.” What is the objective here? Or another of my favorites, “We have to ask them for money. How else can we rent the stadium and pay the band?” (see 3 John 1:7). Is the objective to please the Lord or preach to the biggest crowd possible? Does God instruct in His written Word that He is more pleased with bigger crowds? I don’t think so. But how about appearing to sell His Gospel? Does He have anything to say about that sort of thing? (Mat 10:8, 2 Peter 2:3, 3 John 1:7, 1 Cor 9:1-17). How easily we disobey the principles of His Word in order to achieve our objectives.
We must forsake the mindset of evaluating ourselves based on the results of our efforts. As long as we’re focused on the perception of results, we’ll never understand or find the true objective. The ends never justify the means. Just because we see “good” results doesn’t mean God is pleased. Maybe He blessed despite our disobedience. And just because we see “bad” results doesn’t mean God is displeased. Just think about Noah and Jonah. Concerning the churches we read, “… let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (1 Cor 3:10). The importance is not just that we “build.” It’s just as important how we build. (I’m reminded of 2 Sam 6 where God’s people did a good thing in the wrong way and God was not pleased, though up until the “incident,” the people were dancing and singing in belief that they were pleasing God. Our feelings also don’t count.)
We need to remember this. Results are His. Faithful obedience to His written Word in whatever situation we find ourselves; that’s ours. And this of course means we must know His written Word. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). May we seek always only to simply please Him.
I’ve added a new category to the blog called “the Church” where I hope to explore some more specific examples of where I believe we Christians have sorely misunderstood our objective.