Monday, January 07, 2008
Why Worth Is Better Than Worthy (Transcript)
Thousands of sermons are written and spoken every year with the basic theme that you, as a Christian, are unworthy.
You are unworthy of your salvation, you are unworthy of God's grace and mercy, you are even unworthy of the blessings that you have in everyday life. Your family, your house or apartment, your car, your dog or cat.
You are so unworthy as to be a worm and a slug on the face of the earth. Why if it wasn't for God and His love for you ol' worms, you would have nothing. Nothing. And if it wasn't for God and His love for you, you would be thrown into the Lake of Fire without hesitation.
You are so unworthy you make a bird heading South for the Winter more worthy than you. At least the bird faithfully obeys God at all times. Can you imagine a bird having an instinct from God in his little bird brain to go South, and he thinks, “No, I'm going to do what I want, God. I'm going North for the Winter.”? Ridiculous.
You, on the other hand talk and act such foolishness all your life. You were born that way. God says obey your parents, and what do you do? Right. And that's just the beginning of sorrows. Your life is spent in virtually total rebellion against God, until you're born again, and even then you succumb to the lies of the world and the flesh and the devil sometimes and God says, “Fly South”, and you fly North.
You are so unworthy that you don't deserve anything from God. But God is loving and merciful and He drags you out of the miry pit and puts your feet on the rock, and you go to heaven someday. But not because you're worthy, you worm.
Now that about sums up a common message preached, doesn't it?
Here's my question. Is it true? Is it true that we are unworthy? That we don't deserve anything from God?
Well, yes, it's true, as a matter of fact.
Oh, we're fearfully and wonderfully made. But that's not the issue. Every fearful and wonderful bone in our body was put there by God himself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
So even our gifts and abilities and wonderful attributes – the very fact that we were created in the image of God – that's nothing to boast about. We didn't earn it, we didn't deserve it, we weren't worthy to receive it, and we still aren't worthy.
So is there anything wrong with that message that's preached in Bible-believing churches all over the world every week? Is there anything wrong with preachers pounding into the heads of their congregations how unworthy they are?
I mean, they mean well, don't they? It's often put in the context of how great God is, isn't it? And God is great isn't He? And merciful and loving and righteous and omnipotent and sovereign? And you'll sometimes hear it put this way: We must have a high view of God, and a low view of man.
And there is a sense in which all of that is true. You won't find anything in the Scripture that says that we are worthy of the goodness of God. Only He is worthy, the Bible says. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He alone is worthy, we sing. And that's true.
Then is anything wrong with that message preached?
I believe the answer is “Yes”.
I believe there are two things wrong with that message. I'll call it the Unworthy Worm Message.
1. It's only part of the truth.
2. It is misleading because it neglects another even greater truth.
The greater truth that is neglected is simply this:
God Has Given Us Worth
God in His sovereignty has deemed that we are worth something to Him. In fact he has deemed that we are worth a LOT to Him. He has deemed us worth so much that God the Father has given us to God the Son as a gift, as a Bride, and as a reward for His death on the Cross.
Have you ever stopped to think about where the worth of something comes from?
When my parents were born, the United States was under what was called the Gold Standard. That meant that paper money, dollar bills, were not only paper, but actually were backed up by actual gold, held in reserve somewhere. The paper, which otherwise would have been worthless in it's own right, was actually worth some gold.
That system was abandoned in 1933, but when I was a kid, we still had what were called Silver Certificates. They were dollar bills that were actually backed up by silver. Theoretically, you could trade those bills for actual silver, though I never met anyone who bothered to do that.
But now the United States, like virtually every other nation, has what is called "fiat currency". In other words, we just deem or declare by "fiat" that a dollar bill is “worth” a dollar. And a twenty-dollar bill is worth twenty of those so-called dollar bills, and so on.
But why are they worth anything? Why did even the gold and silver have worth? Why do we say a diamond is worth such and such an amount of money? And why do we say dirt is worthless? Wait, potting soil is worth something. Why?
At it's foundation, things are “worth” whatever they are deemed or declared to be “worth” by those who deem or declare them to be “worth” something. Isn't that true? And that “worth” can vary drastically.
Today you might think a bar of gold bullion is worth a lot more than a bottle of water and a sandwich. But two days from now, stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert without food and water, you'd take the Corned Beef and the Dasani water, wouldn't you? All of a sudden it became “worth” a lot more than the gold.
O.K., back to God and us.
God has chosen to give “worth” to us, for reasons ultimately known only to Him, or for no reason at all.
And I'll take the bold stand that being “worth” something to God, is infinitely better than being “worthy”.
Because God is infinitely above us, and infinitely wiser than us, and infinitely greater than we are, and infinitely more righteous than we could have ever been, and infinitely more powerful than us, our “worthiness” could never have attained to much under the very best of circumstances. And Lord knows, we didn't grow up under the very best of circumstances. We grew up with the nature of Adam, which we inherited.
Our own worthiness, like our own righteousness, is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
But God did something amazing. Something that we can barely comprehend now, but which we will praise Him for long after this earth is burned up. Long after we debate worth vs. worthy. Long after we strain our eyes looking into a glass darkly, trying to figure out “Why?” We call it eternity, and we will praise Him and sing “Worthy is the Lamb” for eternity.
Long after we stop asking why the Lord saw fit to save us worms, we will praise Him because He gave us worth. He declared us worth something. Through no work or striving or earning or intrinsic value of our own, He nevertheless deemed us a suitable gift for His Son.
O.K., He has some serious work to do on us. Like uncut diamonds, we are rough and don't look so good. But inside, He has made us a New Creation, and He knows what He values, and He's perfectly willing to grind and sever and chip and polish until what's left is only what He values. And He is working all things together for good, and He is the one that declares what is good, isn't He?
Will we spend eternity congratulating ourselves for being worth so much? Of course not. It's all of grace, all of God.
The Eight-Cow Wife
Patricia McGerr sailed to the island of Kiniwata in the Pacific over 40 years ago. She tells the story of a man they called Johnny Lingo.
People kept mentioning this Johnny Lingo, and they seemed to admire him, but they always had a sort of mocking smile or laugh when they mentioned him. Patricia finally asked why the mocking smiles.
It seems that five months before, Johnny Lingo had come to Kiniwata and found a wife named Sarita. And the joke was that he had paid Sarita's father eight cows for her.
Listen as Patricia McGerr tells the rest of the story.
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.
"Good Lord!" I said. "Eight cows!" She must have beauty that takes your breath away.
"She's not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she'd be left on his hands."
"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn't that extraordinary?"
"Never been paid before."
"Yet you call his wife plain?"
"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."
"Well," I said, "I guess there's just no accounting for love."
"True enough," agreed the man. "And that's why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the islands' sharpest trader was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."
"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny'd pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, `Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.'"
"Eight cows," I murmured. "I'd like to meet this Johnny Lingo."
I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny's house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You come here from Kiniwata?"
"They speak of me there?"
"They say there's nothing that you can't help me get."
He smiled gently. "My wife is from Kiniwata."
"Yes, I know."
"They speak of her?"
"What do they say?"
"Why, just....." The question caught me off balance.
"They told me you were married at festival time."
"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.
"They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows."
I paused. "They wonder why."
"They ask that?" His eyes lighted with pleasure. "Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"
"And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too. His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."
So that's the answer, I thought: vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.
I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me.
"You admire her?" he murmured.
"She ... she's glorious. But she's not Sarita from Kiniwata," I said.
"There's only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata."
"She doesn't. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."
"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his lips.
"No. But how can she be so different?"
"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita."
"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"
"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any woman in the islands."
"Then you wanted--"
"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman."
"But--" I was close to understanding.
"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight-cow wife."
You know what Jesus paid for His Bride, for you. A price infinitely greater than eight cows. I thought you'd want to know the worth that He places on His Bride.
Sarita wasn't “worthy” of the eight cows. But Johnny Lingo deemed her “worth” the eight cows, and it transformed her. May your worth to Jesus Christ be a transforming influence on you as your mind is renewed by this truth.