Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Someone recently asked, “Are you sure your ministry and your writing isn’t becoming more about you, and less about God?”

I could barely understand the question; no one plunged headlong into this work ever thinks this way. To think this way requires 1) an unhealthy examination of self, and 2) an unhealthy spiritual dichotomy that must doubt, moment-by-moment, the indwelling spirit.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:

Thus let a man be reckoning with us as deputies of Christ, and administrators of God's secrets. Furthermore, it is being sought in administrators that any such be found faithful. Now to me it is the least trifle that I may be being examined by you or by man's day. But neither am I examining myself. For of nothing am I conscious as to myself, but not by this am I justified. Now He Who is examining me is the Lord.

I, too, am an administrator of God’s secrets. As such, I am expected to be found faithful in all aspects of life, personal and spiritual. Rightly so. Of nothing am I conscious as to myself. In other words, I believe myself to be a good representative of Christ. Does this justify me, in the personal sense? No. How can anyone know the depths of his or her own soul? If these inner caverns are hidden from each of our eyes, what is to be done?

Self examining self

The temptation, for an administrator of God’s secrets, is to examine himself; to continually question his motives: Am I doing this for God, or am I doing it for myself? This is a useless, hazardous enterprise, as it takes energy from the work at hand and directs it self-ward. Self-examination—as far as proclaiming the evangel goes—is a trap of the Adversary.

Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Some, indeed, are even heralding Christ because of envy and strife, yet some because of delight, also; these, indeed, of love, having perceived that I am located for the defense of the evangel, yet those are announcing Christ out of faction, not purely, surmising to rouse affliction in my bonds. What, then? Moreover, seeing that, by every method, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being announced, I am rejoicing in this also, and will be rejoicing nevertheless.

Some of the brethren, grieving for the jailed apostle, heralded Christ out of delight for the message, probably hoping to delight Paul at the same time. Others, jealous of Paul’s position in the ecclesia, worked hard to gain converts, hoping to “gain ground” on Paul during his Roman layover. Some say the factious announcers brought a tainted message. This is impossible; Paul would never have countenanced that, let alone rejoiced in it. No, the message was pure, it was the motive that was tainted. As to that, Paul didn’t care. As long as the message was pure, a potted plant could announce Christ.

Paul was much more than a potted plant. Was he perfect? Of course not. He refused to let his imperfection, however, derail the task for which he was born and called. Here is a devious trap of Satan: Are you sure you are doing this for all the right reasons? Maybe you ought to stop and examine yourself. Paul said, “Forget it.” To him, it was the “least trifle” to be examined by his fellow saints. For surely, there were those who would make a career of examining Paul, and others like him. If Paul paid constant attention to, or responded continually to, these critics, he would never have written or spoken another word.   

Theodore Roosevelt describes the “armchair quarterback” syndrome:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

It is easy for spectators eating popcorn in the bleachers to tell soldiers how to fight. Funny that none of the critics ever wants to take the place of the soldier. 

Paul refused to let others examine him, for neither did he examine himself. In the first place, human examination along this line is impurely sourced; it comes from “man’s day.” The only one capable of discerning true motive is the Lord, and Paul contented himself to wait upon Him. In the meantime, he brushed aside the “man’s day” brigade. (I’m still working on that part.)

Barnum and Bailey

A petty criticism leveled against this work (by only a few over the years) is that the worker is a showman, a performer. I am what I am, and what I always have been. I missed the cookie-cutter-man-of-God assembly line, sorry; I was out picking daisies, rolling down hills, and constantly entertaining my classmates at school. One of my uncles is a Hollywood playwright, another joined the circus when he was fourteen and eventually married the Sheep-Haired Woman from the sideshow.

Any further questions?

What is the problem?

As I’ve always said, there are those who are pious and humble on the outside, but who inside are full of pride. Then there are others, like me, who may be a bit blustery and showy on the outside, but who inside know that they know that they know their sufficiency and ability come from Christ.   

The new "I"

Galatians 2:20—

With Christ have I been crucified, yet I am
living; not longer I, but living in me is Christ.

This speaks to the second point mentioned at the start of this blog: It takes an unhealthy spiritual dichotomy to continually examine one’s motives in proclaiming the evangel.

I was crucified with Christ 2,000 years ago. But wait: I am still living. But wait again: the “I” that was living before being crucified with Christ, is different than the “I” living after, because now, “living in me is Christ.” In other words, “the spirit of God is making its home in [me]” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The pronoun is still, “I,” but the change could not be more profound. I have graduated from a self-centered “I,” to a Christ-centered, “I.”

Regressing toward the old "I"
A lot of people don’t get this; they stumble at the word “I,” whether pre or post-Calvary. This is the dichotomy I spoke of. The mature person assumes Christ within and has no problem saying, “I”; the immature person lives much of his or her life on the wrong side of the cross and is constantly suspect of “I.” These immature are the ones continually trying to sound humble; they have yet to appreciate, “I live; living in me is Christ.”

Then there are those like me who have given up the game of trying to sound humble, who appreciate the death of the old “I” at Calvary, and who therefore use the new “I” with relish. Those able to do this are, in their liberated, guilt-free use of the infamous pronoun, actually on the right side of Calvary—the post "death-to-self" side.

(An obsession with "I" is the resurrection of self; a denial of the truth of Romans, chapter 6.) 

Because I rarely consider myself on the pre-death side of Calvary where “self” is constantly alive, kicking, and troublesome, I generally assume other people to be where I am. I give others the benefit of the doubt, later to find—when they attack me for self-obsession—that the benefit is undeserved. It is those on the wrong side of Calvary—who assume my abandonment of false humility to be self-obsession—who are, in fact, self-obsessed.

To the one who has died with Christ, there is only one “I.” To constantly jump that chasm back and forth between pre and post Calvary, is not only exhausting, but unnecessary. It is also unspiritual.

Who wrote my books?

I asked one of my detractors recently: “Since you think there is too much of me in my work and not enough of God, maybe I should just put “God” as the author of all my books.” (You can see the “lose-lose” proposition here.) If my books are by “Martin Zender,” I’m promoting myself. But if I take the absolute tack and make “God” the author of my books (this is supposed to be the humble approach?), then how dare I claim to be the Deity?


I laid a little trap for one brother recently, telling him, “I have brought many people to Christ, through my books.” He took the bait, and said, “You have brought many people to Christ?” (He sounded incredulous and shocked to hear me “taking the credit.” ) “Yes,” I repeated, “I have brought many people to Christ.” He could not believe I could be so arrogant as to emphasize the pronoun, “I.” Surely, this proved that my ministry was “all about me.”

After letting this go on a while, I quoted Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22

“To all have I become all, that I should undoubtedly be saving some.”

“ ... that I should undoubtedly be saving some,” said Paul.

(But Paul, I thought Christ saved people—or does God do it? In any case, how can you say that you save people? Do you think that maybe your ministry is becoming more about you, and less about God?

This is a clear case of the absolute vs. the relative perspective—and of misunderstanding it. “Be carrying your own salvation into effect, for it is God operating in you, both to will and to work for the sake of His delight” (Philippians 2:12-13). Here is the absolute and relative perspective within two verses. God does things through us. The “I” (or the “us,” in this case) is relative, not absolute.

There is not a religious qualm in the world—voiced by another—that could make me abandon my healthy use of the pronoun “I.” There is not a religious qualm in the world—voiced by another—that could keep me from putting my name on the books I write. (“How dare you say you wrote these books!”) Rather, I have put aside these religious over-sensibilities and have embraced the post-Calvary “I”: God does this mighty work through me; through me.

God employs cracked pots

Jesus had a Messiah complex. 
This does not mean any of us are perfect. (I have been told that I think I am “nearly infallible” and that I have a “Messiah complex.” Really? I should be having a much better time of things in this life, then. I thought I was a mistake-riddled human being struggling through an evil eon; I could actually use a Messiah complex about now.) It does not mean we do not make mistakes. What it does mean is that we refrain from analyzing our motives for heralding the Word. It means we refrain from answering every critic along that line. When it comes to heralding this evangel, self-analysis is a useless, unspiritual enterprise.

In my last blog, I explained how the term “sex-obsessed” described, not those for whom the marvels of sex are a regular part of their conversations, but rather those chronically offended by sexually-oriented things. It’s the same thing with self-obsession. “Self-obsessed” describes, not the Scripture-worker doing his job, unconscious of any blatant wrong-doing, but rather the person who is constantly worried whether or not an act (his, hers, or someone else’s) is “of the self.” This is the self-obsessed person.

It’s all I’ve got

“Herald the Word, opportunely and inopportunely” (2 Timothy 4:2).  

For me—still in the midst of trial, enduring fightings within and without—this seems like one of the most inopportune times ever to herald the Word. So what do I do? The only thing I know how to do:

Herald the Word.

© 2012 by Martin Zender