Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
Listen to “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by Fred Smith
Bishop Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon went viral last weekend partly due to one quote: “Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying…He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what redemptive love is.” While I agree, there is a redemptive love that causes me great embarrassment. In fact, I can only cringe when I read about it.
Many years ago, the Temptations sang about it:
Paul had written a passionate warning to the church at Corinth about their fascination with new teachers encouraging them to think of themselves as intellectuals. It seems they were convinced by these super-apostles that Paul had been good for getting them started but they had outgrown him. The people were dismissing him as too shallow for what they now desired. He had become an embarrassment and they were beyond him. While they appreciated the focus of his message about the cross, they knew they were now better served by more polished speakers and deeper thinkers. Remember the reaction of the philosophers on Mars Hill? It was the same. Paul was interesting but not really “our kind of people.” He not only failed to get into the faculty club in Athens but now the people he loved so desperately were telling him it was time for him to concentrate on those who were unsophisticated and would appreciate simple things.
Earlier, Paul had reminded them how God chose the lowly and despised things of this world to shame the wise. Who likes to be told they are not noble but lowly? Who likes to hear they have been chosen because they are despised by the world? We would all rather be encouraged to think of ourselves as powerful, full of potential, cultural influencers destined for great things and, above all, leaders. No one ever made a living as a motivational speaker telling people they are weak and ordinary creatures needing things put to them as simply as possible.
Paul’s rivals were telling people what they wanted to hear. They pressed them to think of themselves as deep and to graduate from the simplicity of the cross. They were to be people who would have an impact, be invited to the table, and make a difference. People who would matter in the eyes of the world – not despised. People who would be consulted about great things – not lowly.
What does Paul do? This is the hardest part of the passage for me. In spite of their rudeness, ingratitude, disloyalty, and lack of love for him as their friend, teacher, and father in the faith, he not only stays instead of moving on himself but does what is the most puzzling of all. He makes a fool of himself to win them back. When I read this I want to say, “Stop lowering yourself trying to prove your right to their respect. They are not worth it. Have some pride. Say goodbye, leave them to their own devices, and let them be suckered by these charlatans. They deserve each other.” He is intentionally humiliating himself to keep them from abandoning the Gospel and falling for the obvious allure of false wisdom. Nothing else matters to him. He will abase himself for their sakes.
What would the Saul we know from the book of Acts, the Saul going from house to house dragging off men and women and putting them in prison, the fanatic breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples think of this? Perhaps the same I am thinking. What has happened to make a proud man a beggar?
This is not the love we choose, is it? This is not the picture of love we like to see. It makes us squirm. We want our heroes to be strong and what we see here is pleading. No one wants a leader who grovels, do we? We want strength and forcefulness. Confidence. The big stick. Do what it takes to get the job done.
But this is Paul’s glory. He does say good-bye but not as I would: “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong, and our prayer is for your perfection…Finally, brothers, good-bye. Aim for perfection; listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
That is redemptive love.