"The people who change the world are those who have declared independence of other people's opinion."*
Those are the words spoken by our latest chapel speaker here at Appalachian Bible College. He said them amidst a stream of bullet points about what it means to have a vision.
As humans, we all have a tendency to have visions of changing the world. We love a good hero, who rises from the humdrum of everyday existence to make a lasting impact on the world around them. It's why we are obsessed with superheroes and their origin stories - because somewhere deep down, we know that somehow we have that overcoming, world changing ability.
Most of us just can't seem to find it, though. Maybe we aren't digging enough, or maybe it isn't there. Or maybe, just maybe, it isn't found in us at all. Maybe that world-changing ability comes from somewhere else. Maybe even from someone else.
Let me elaborate.
I'll be frank here for a second. While there are some people throughout history (such as Alexander the Great, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, etc.) who have single-handedly changed the course of world history and there are myriad others in various fields of science, athletics, literature, etc. whose contributions have made significant changes to the world around us, most of us are pretty average.
We grow up in small towns, we graduate from community colleges, we work 9 to 5 jobs, we have a wife or a husband and a few kids, and we die with very little lasting impact on the world around us. That's just the way it is. And there's nothing wrong with that!
But, most of us aren't going to turn into heroes. At least of our own accord. But I want to show you an average somebody who did change the world - but not through his own efforts. I want to show you somebody who allowed somebody else - somebody infinitely more powerful, wiser, and greater than himself - to change the world through him. I want to tell you about the Apostle Paul.
Paul was an average guy. He grew up in a Jewish home, received the traditional Jewish boy's education, and was on track to become a teacher of the Law. While Paul showed much more vigor and passion for the Jewish faith than many of his peers, he was still just an average guy.
When a little movement whose followers were referred to as Christians rose up against his faith, Paul persecuted them with venom. But then, an encounter with the namesake of the Christians on the road to Damascus changed his life forever. Suddenly, Paul was one of the Christians and Jesus Himself used Paul to pen most of the New Testament.
Paul went on to write letter after letter, plant church after church, and convert sinner after sinner to the Christian faith. There are few men in history that have been as used by God as Paul. But he refused to take any of the credit. Listen to his words in the book of I Corinthians:
I Corinthians 15:10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." [CSB]
Paul says that all of his writing, all of his preaching, all of his missionary endeavors, all of his work was not from himself, but from the grace of God that was with him. Paul was not the hero of the story - God was.
Tim Keller said that Paul was a "self-forgetful" individual. Listen to what Keller had to say about Paul in his book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulnes:
"So Paul is saying to the Corinthians that he does not care what they think about him. He does not care what anybody thinks about him. In fact, his identity owes nothing to what people say. It is as if he is saying, 'I don't care what you think. I don't care what anybody thinks.' Paul's self-wroth, his self-regard, his identity is not tied in any way to their verdict and their evaluation of him."
Keller is referencing I Corinthians 4:3, where Paul says, "It is of little importance to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don't even judge myself." [CSB]
Paul spoke boldly when writing to the Corinthians. He wasn't worried about what they - or any human for that matter - would think of him. And it was precisely that attitude - the one Keller calls "self-forgetfulness" - that allowed Paul to be so used by God.
How many of our daily decisions are influenced by how people perceive us? How much of what we do is driven by what we believe other people are thinking about us? Would we spend so much time on trivial things like obsessively posting on Facebook or constantly updating our Snapchat stories with our latest adventures if we weren't so concerned about what others thought of us?
How many times have we been discouraged from our dreams, our ambitions, our desires, from the people around us? And sadly, how many times have we allowed the people around us turn us from holiness?
Or, to come at it from another angle, how many times have we allowed ourselves to do these same things? Free from any other influence but ourselves, how many times have we let something get in the way of truly making a difference?
If we truly want to change the world - if we truly want to be like the heroes we are so obsessed with - we will surrender our lives to the true hero, Jesus Christ. The God-man who tabernacled (John 1) among us, lived the perfect, heroic life we could not live, died the death that would save His people, conquered Satan and the grave, and who now sits at the right hand of God interceding for His bride.
It is only through Christ and His Gospel, that is "the power of God for salvation" [Rom 1:16 CSB], that we will make any lasting impact on the world around us. So let us forget ourselves and turn the attention to Jesus Christ, who is the only hero the world will ever need.
Be a forgetful world-changer through the grace of God that is with you!
*That speaker is Dr. Harold Vaughn
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