Monday, February 8, 2016

Confessions of a Cymbal-Clanger

"I am deeply persuaded that the foundation for people-transforming ministry is not sound theology; it is love."  At first I wanted to close the book. The club-wielding Pharisee inside of me was quick to decry Paul Tripp's words.

One of the benefits of reading well this year is time to think on what I'm reading, to wrestle it out. And I have wrestled hard with Tripp's premise. Uncomfortably so. After all,  I've read, taken notes, studied long, written much and talked much about theology. Shouldn't theology be the basis for all we do? Tripp points to 1 Corinthians 13:1-2:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,but have not love, I am nothing.
Notice that the Apostle Paul doesn't deny the importance of prophetic powers, understanding, knowledge, and faith, but he goes on to say that they will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). Wisdom, discernment, and faith are critical components of our lives as believers, but they are useless without love.

So I've continued to ponder Tripp's claim and how to offer hope to those around me who are hurting. And I've wrestled with another of his statements:  
The hope of every sinner does not rest in theological answers but in the love of Christ for his own...This love is not a band-aid attempting to cope with a cancerous world. It is effective and persevering...It faces the facts of who we are and how we need to change and simply goes to work.
I remember the ministry of Amy Carmichael, the lives changed because she loved Christ and He loved others through her. She preached the Gospel to them, but she loved them first. I consider the words of Martin Luther, "This should be the sign by which they should know whether they are true Christians or not...He makes him humble, gentle, and ready to help his neighbor in any need." (source) The great theologian knew that love, not theology, was the fruit of the Spirit.

I've realized that having a solid biblical theology is absolutely necessary. But I've also realized that offering a dose of good theology to someone in pain can be like offering a starving woman a lift to the grocery store. I may have shown her what will fix the problem, but I haven't helped her fix it.  I haven't loved. Oh! that I would learn the value of shutting my mouth and loving! Job's friends sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:13) Once they started speaking, they became clanging cymbals. I see myself in their words - fumbling for answers, giving terrible advice, pushing my ideas, drowning out the message of grace while I clanged on and on.

Several months ago I stood beside my closest friend as she mourned the loss of her father. Ten days later, I stood beside her again as we watched the medical examiner take both of her husband's parents. The depths of grief and despair were unimaginable to me. I wanted to offer comfort, make sense of the senseless, give her some deep theological truth to carry her through. It was God's grace that I was completely unable. He kept me silent, as Job's friends were. I held her, I prayed for her, I cared for her children. I watched her church family do the same. Words would have sounded as clanging cymbals, loud and discordant. They needed people to silently sit alongside them in the mud of suffering. They needed love.

Theology and a right understanding of God is essential to live the Christian life in a fallen world. Persis recently challenged us: "So please don't be afraid of theology. Please don't be afraid to open the Bible and stretch your understanding." I couldn't agree more. As I learn more, I trust more. I gain more peace in the chaos of this temporary home. I live more wisely and bring more glory to Him. My friend Becky said it well,
Studying big books about the Bible like commentaries, systematic theology, and other very important titles like The Institutes of Calvin, etc. is absolutely important; but we should never forget that the ultimate goal of knowing more is to love more. Love God more, love our neighbor more, love our family more, love the Word more, love to meditate on the Word more.
 It's time to lay my cymbal down.

1 comment: