How Can You Believe?
Lynn and I go to the gym every day, Monday through Friday. Lynn has been going for 3-4 years; I started last October when a new gym opened near our house with memberships of $10 a month. Apparently, being healthy is important to me… unless it is too inconvenient or expensive. After 45 minutes on the treadmill and 20-30 minutes on weights, I’m pretty much whipped. I asked someone, “So when do you feel energized after working out rather than just spent?” They answered, “When you are 18.”
Our gym uses the slogan, “The Judgment-Free Zone.” You just go and do your thing and don’t worry about how you compare to others. No one is going to judge you if you are doing curls with no weight on the bar or are barely moving on the elliptical. Yeah, right! I’ve seen people sneaking a peak over at my treadmill to see what speed setting I’m running at, “How can he be huffing and puffing going that slow?” The other day I got on a machine after a young lady who could not have been much out of high school… and had to reduce the weight setting! No judgment zone? Right! I looked around to make sure no one was watching!
We do compare ourselves with others. It’s a lot easier to hang around fat people than to get in shape. That way, we look better by comparison! And it is much easier to point to the sin we see in the world and say, “Hey, I'm not perfect, but I am certainly better than most.” Rather than looking at God and seeking his presence and perfection, we just make sure that we are at least a step ahead of the world around us. Paul warns us, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor 10:12).
In our reading today, Jesus makes this statement, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God" (John 5:44). The Pharisees were pretty good comparing themselves with others and congratulating themselves on how well they were doing. Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:10, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” He was focused on how good he was in comparison to others. His Pharisees buddies did the same thing. And they congratulated themselves on making it into the “Holy One Club.” Jesus says that they really didn't even have faith when they compared themselves to themselves and accepted praise from one another other RATHER than seeking the praise that comes only from God. John will point to some Jewish leaders who believe in Christ but refused to confess faith because of their fear of the Pharisees (John 12:42). He says, “They loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:43).
The church is a faith community, a spiritual family, a circle of friends to walk with you and bear your burdens. And yet, there is also a sense in which faith can be a very lonesome and lonely quest. We cannot even believe if we seek the praise of others. We cannot believe if we are content with comparing ourselves with one another. Faith drives us to seek the praise of God even when that is not very popular with the people around us. Who are you trying to please?