I Am a Worm

The Crucifixion is a mysterious intermingling of the eternal and temporal, of the spiritual and physical, of unbearable horror and indescribable wonder. In the midst of it, center stage, dies the most wonderful, holy, perfect Man who ever lived, betrayed by friend and foe alike, born for this moment (Jn 12:27) … to be forsaken by God. (Mt 27:46)

As Christ hangs upon the nails, writhing between Heaven and Earth, being tortured by His enemies, He’s praying, thinking back upon all the times God has intervened and mercifully rescued His people. (Ps 22:4) They weren’t confounded; they were delivered (5), but He’s suffering alone.

Christ then admits something profound: “I am a worm, and no man.” (6) It is as if He’s saying He’s less than a man, unworthy of deliverance, irredeemable. Perhaps in becoming our sin for us (2Co 5:21), He occupied, for one brief hour, some unthinkable place beneath humanity, reserved for the unutterably wicked.

This worm that Christ identifies with is peculiar and unique; the word refers to actual worms (Ex 16:20, (De 28:39), and also to the colors scarlet (Ex 39:8, Le 14:49) and crimson (Is 1:18). So the specific worm with which Christ is identifying is the crimson worm, from which crimson and scarlet dyes were made for use in the temple and priestly garments.

The Crimson worm [coccus ilicis] female reproduces only once, by attaching her body firmly to a piece of wood and forming a hard crimson shell, which is anchored so well it can’t be moved without killing her. She then lays eggs under her body inside the shell. When the eggs hatch, the young feed on the living mother’s body for a few days until she dies. As she dies, she dispenses a crimson / scarlet red dye onto the young and the wood, staining the young worms for life. Three days later, the dead mother’s body transforms into white wax and falls away.

There are so many parallels here with Christ’s work that it’s uncanny; it is no coincidence that He identifies with this unique, lowly creature during His most intense suffering. For those whom He is bringing eternal life, He gives Himself in His death as our food (Jn 6:55), and cleanses us with His blood. (1Pe 1:2)

God is so creative in His work, so unexpected in how He reveals Himself. The riches of Christ are unsearchable (Ep 3:8), and the depth of His wisdom and ways are so beyond us. (Ro 11:33) The heavens reveal His glory (Ps 19:1), and worms evidently do as well.

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Feigned Words

False teachers have an agenda: to benefit themselves through religion. (Ro 16:18) They may be covetous (1Pe 2:3), looking for an easy living, or seeking prestige, respect and admiration (3Jn 1:9); generally, it’s both. Whereever Christianity abounds we’re sure to find impostors. (Ac 20:29) How do we identify them?

One easy litmus test is to listen as if we’re one-on-one and they’re speaking to us as an individual, by name. Do their words make us feel uneasy, pressured or manipulated? Are they speaking down to us? Or are they preaching to someone they love and honor? (1Pe 2:7a)

If it’s the former, the teaching springs from corruption, not the love of Christ, friend to friend. (Jn 15:15) These are feigned words: crafted, fabricated and engineered to impress and/or manipulate. (1Pe 2:3) They wound our souls in ways that are difficult to perceive, whereas the tongue of the wise heals and edifies. (Pr 12:18)

Pastors may not realize they’re doing this, trained to speak to no one in particular and everyone in general, in superficial, elevated, arrogant or even condescending tones. So what if they’re speaking truth, and very helpful truth: this is expected from false teachers (2Co 11:15); if they were always lying and deceiving, we’d dismiss them much more readily. Yet it’s as they model ungodly behavior that they do the most harm (1Co 15:33), enticing others to emulate them. (1Pe 5:3) An insincere, unhealthy spirit inevitably corrupts the divine message. (2Co 2:17)

We may indeed train ourselves to listen to disconnected, inauthentic speech in a disconnected, inauthentic manner, as if these sermons are directed at others; we may enjoy the beat down even if it would be harmful and offensive if delivered in person, solely at ourselves. Agreeing with such corruption pollutes our own spirit, feeding our religious pride and deepening our bondage. (2Ti 3:13)

It should not surprise us then to find that in public speech the Apostle Paul deliberately presented himself in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1Co 2:3) He was earnestly trying to avoid impressing or controlling anyone (4); he wasn’t promoting Paul, trying to please men (Ga 1:10) – he was uplifting Christ that all might know and love Him more. (1Co 2:2)

If a pastor or a teacher desires to be respected and admired (Ga 5:26), above a common brother (Mt 23:8), this will inevitably bleed through in his teaching, exalting himself, putting down others and poisoning the flock. (2Co 11:20) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4-5), so it’s worthless. (1Co 13:2) Only men of godly character qualify as church leaders (1Ti 3:2-3), and they must have the kind of extensive life experience that keeps men humble in praise. (1Ti 3:6)

When someone’s genuinely trying to help from a place of humility, to edify by proclaiming truth, they may address difficult topics (1Ti 4:2), but they won’t strive (2Ti 2:24), they’ll be meek and gentle (1Th 2:7) like Christ (2Co 10:1); their message won’t be condescending, patronizing or offensive, even if we’re the only one present and the speaker’s addressing us personally by name: love works no ill to anyone. (Ro 13:10)

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The Scornful

Scorn is a word indicating lack of respect, or contempt for another, to find someone unworthy of proper consideration. It’s often expressed through laughter or ridicule at another’s behavior (Mt 9:24), as if what someone says or does makes them less valuable to God.

God Himself scorns the scornful  (Pr 3:34), those who fail to esteem others better than themselves (Php 2:3), walking in pride. (Ps 123:4)

We may find others in error without feeling scorn by recognizing that if it weren’t for God’s grace in our lives (1Co 15:10) we’d likely be doing worse. (1Co 4:7) Grief is the appropriate reaction in the face of evil (Php 3:18), not disdain.

We’re to honor all people (1Pe 2:7), praying for and thanking God for everyone. (1Ti 2:1) Of course, some deserve more honor than others (Ps 15:4a), but we shouldn’t disrespect anyone, even in our hearts. It’s the way of the blessed. (Ps 1:1)

Each and every person is deeply precious to God; He’s handcrafted each soul uniquely (Ps 119:73) in His image, for His own pleasure and purpose. (Pr 16:4) It matters not what they’ve done: He’s willing to become sin for them. (2Pe 3:9) If we don’t love those we can see, who are the special handiwork of God, how then can we say we love their Creator? (1Jn 4:20)

So, when we find ourselves laughing at someone in contempt, the joke’s on us: the enemy has leveraged another’s fault to take us down again. This is war; when we’re laughing at sin and brokenness, there’s no victory. God chooses who to restrain from evil and when. (Ro 1:24) If He’s mercifully kept us from certain types of sin and let others go their way (Ro 9:16), we’ve nothing to glory in. (1Co 1:29-31)

Think of every single soul as family, brothers and sisters, relatives; we’re members one of another (Ep 4:25), all of the same blood (Ac 17:26), all part of the human race.

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Puffed Up

How do I feel when I find myself in the right and others in the wrong, or in the know when others are ignorant? Do I feel superior, more important, more significant, more valued? Do I tend to get puffed up in my knowledge? (1Co 8:1b) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4); it’s rooted in pride, and tends toward alienation and division.

How does knowing more than others make me better? Why should this move God to love or value me more? It doesn’t; God loves each of us infinitely, because He’s made us each in His image: His love is truly unconditional. (Jn 3:16) I can’t do or be anything to get God to love or value me any more or less.

Yet false religion tries to use spirituality to make itself look better than others (Mt 23:5), to exalt itself (Lk 18:11) because it isn’t grounded in the love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) At it’s core, this is ugly and uninviting, and I think we all know it.

Love is concerned for others who are misinformed, deceived, carnal (Php 3:18) and disobedient (Ps 119:136); Love esteems other better than itself and humbly seeks to help. (2Ti 2:25) This is pure religion (Ja 1:28): without love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2)

The love of God equalizes everyone, levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same invitation to come (Re 22:17), to be as close to God as we like, to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4) and joy in Him. (1Pe 1:8) What we do with this amazing invitation, how we employ our skills, abilities and resources in going after God, is what defines success. (Mt 25:21)

As we pursue God we’ll come to know Him better (Php 3:8) and understand more of His Way. (He 11:6) We should be deeply thankful for such a precious privilege to know and walk with the living God (1Jn 1:3-4); it shouldn’t make us feel better about ourselves (Ep 3:8), or move us to devalue those who don’t get it.

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Be Strong

Weakness is something we all experience; it’s unavoidable. We’re born in weakness, and we’ll probably die in weakness. We get sick, injured, tired, eventually old. Weakness makes us feel vulnerable, unable to care for ourselves and others. Why would anyone deliberately choose weakness, choosing to be more vulnerable than necessary?

A couple possibilities are obvious. We might not love ourselves properly, abusing or neglecting ours minds, souls and bodies, thereby causing ourselves to deteriorate into weakness. Similarly, we might not love others, being resentful or envious, and might want to burden others with our physical, emotional or spiritual care. In any case, deliberately choosing weakness like this violates the 2nd Great Command, to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt 22:39) Love does not choose weakness, either for itself or others.

Yet, even if we love as we ought, we might confuse weakness with humility and find a little virtue in it, seeking to be inordinately dependent. Yet how could this be a virtue when God commands us to be strong? (1Co 16:13) Strength must be aligned with humility; we must strive to be strong and humble at the same time.

The Apostle Paul recognized that when he was weak in ways that were beyond his control, he found the strength he needed in God’s grace. (2Co 12:9-10) But though Paul gloried in scenarios that made him weak, he never deliberately weakened himself, or neglected to be as strong as he could possibly be. This is key.

Strength is the ability or power to act according to one’s potential; the closer we are to being able to live in our ultimate design, the stronger we are. This comprises the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of our being. To willfully neglect strength in any area of our lives is to despise our intrinsic design, our value, our Creator’s benevolent purposes for us. (Col 1:11)

God has designed us such that if we obey Him in exercising ourselves (1Ti 4:7), prayerfully and wisely pushing our current limits to try to improve  (2Pe 1:5-7), we will grow (1Ti 4:8) and He will gird us with strength. (Ps 18:32) Every part of our design is like this; we just have to be willing to discipline ourselves and honor Him, balancing our lives to care for ourselves so we can live according to His calling and election in us.

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The Pride of Life

Pride esteems oneself too highly, above others, hence more important and significant than others. It often appears in a moral context, where we believe we’re better than someone else, judging the moral condition of another’s heart; something God forbids. (Mt 7:1)

Attributing significance or value to a human being is something only God can do, and He’s already attributed infinite value and significance to every one of us: God so loves us that He’s willing to die, to lay down His own life, for every human soul. Every time we rank each other in importance we dismiss God’s heart, trampling Him underfoot.

And we’re doing this nearly constantly, exalting our little thrones, imposing our broken little value systems, or cowing to others in theirs, while God looks down in grief, sorrow, and anger. If we’re not seeking His face, we’re entirely unaware, heedless of the wrath we’re treasuring up for ourselves. (Ro 2:5)

The love of God is what makes pride so incredibly awful, and moves God to such fury as we disvalue those He loves. He hates the very traces of pride in our faces (Pr 6:16); it’s right up there with murder.

Yet when most of us focus on God’s love, I’m afraid that we’re only thinking of His love for us, and not for everyone else. Rather than comforting us, the fact that we’re so deeply and thoughtlessly contrary to His passion for us all should terrify us. (2Co 5:11)

The pride of life isn’t of the Father; it’s of the world (1Jn 2:16), and it’s wickedness. (1Jn 5:19) He tells us to humble ourselves, to esteem others better than ourselves, so He will not have to resist and oppose us, and He can give us grace. (1Pe 5:5)

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Man of Sorrows

Our Lord is a man of sorrows (Is 53:3); grief is His companion. He weeps over our sin and stubbornness (Lk 19:41-42) and He’s looking for us to be afflictedManOfSorrow with Him. (Ez 9:4)

Does human brokenness move us to grief, sorrow and weeping? (Ps 119:158136) Or does a certain smugness, contempt or disdain pollute us? When we sense someone’s in error, is our first instinct to triple-check ourselves, hoping we’re missing something? Or do we jump too quickly to find fault? When we must discuss another’s brokenness, is it reluctantly … with tears? (Php 3:18-19)

ManOfSorrowsLoving our neighbors as ourselves means being as grieved in others’ failings as we are in our own. In seeking holiness and truth we often find ourselves confronting and exposing brokenness, but enjoying and feeding off of this is ugliness, enmity and pride. (Php 2:3) As C.S Lewis so elegantly observes, we must not wish black was a little blacker, for soon we’ll be wishing grey was black … and in the end inherit darkness.

The high calling of God is perfection (Mt 5:48), so through Christ we strive after it by faith. (Col 1:29) Christ’s love shines through holy sorrow (Ec 7:3); without it we’re nothing. (1Co 13:1-3) Let’s fellowship with Him in His suffering (Php 3:10), giving all diligence to add this virtue to our faith. (2Pe 1:5-7) It may not seem possible to get there from here, but God is willing and able to help us. (Ep 3:20)

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Buy the Truth

Why do we feel threatened when someone challenges our beliefs? Are we afraid they’ll deceive us? Maybe we’re afraid to discover we’re already deceived.

If we’re on a long trip passing through unfamiliar territory, and a stranger tells us we’re headed the wrong way, do we get defensive? Don’t we thank him for the concern … and get out our map?

LonelyRoad
By Roberto Nengini

The way of truth can be daunting. It takes a little humility to admit we don’t know it all yet, that someone else might be able to help. Taking offense or feeling threatened when someone challenges us is really saying we’re more about looking good as we travel than getting to our destination.

God says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.(Pr 23:23) Truth, wisdom, instruction, understanding … it’s priceless. Get all you can, from any source you can, any time you can.

Consider the whole counsel of God, compare scripture with scripture; toss everything which contradicts any portion of God’s Word. Hide it in your heart and meditate on it day and night, so you can discern truth from error.

Let’s not be gullible, but let’s be truly open to thoughtful souls who see things differently than we do, and honestly consider opposing views in their strongest possible form. Let’s not be afraid of being wrong, but staying that way.

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