In life some statements are fairly easy to understand, such as “We reap what we sow,” or “What goes up must come down.” God’s Word contains some of these self-evident statements. However, it does not take long to realize that sometimes what is true or what works in life is actually the opposite of what we expect! For instance: “The easier a girl is to get, the less a young man wishes to get her,” or “The more stuff a man has, the less satisfied he becomes.” Simple logic does not work with apparent contradictions, which are called paradoxes. The Christian faith also has paradoxes. People think they are contradictions that don’t make sense. But properly understood, paradoxes reveal a deeper understanding of the way God’s universe functions. So also, coming to grips with some of the paradoxes in Christianity enables us to understand in a deeper way how to live a more meaningful life with Jesus. I Must Die To Truly Live Jesus said: “The man who loves his life will loose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25 NIV). Jesus Himself died on the cross so that we might live. He came to bring us full life: “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). But to experience it, we must die to ourselves and allow Him to live within us. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Have we died to self? Does Jesus live within us?
I Must Be A Fool To Become Wise
Jesus had a number of sharp encounters with educated men who were full of their own ideas. But Jesus claimed that to become His disciple, one had to become as a child – to stop trusting in clever arguments and philosophical points of view – and by faith accept God’s simple truth. Jesus rejoiced as He prayed to the Father: “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Lk. 10:21). And Paul said, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). Will we continue to cling to worldly wisdom, or will we accept being called foolish because we obey Him?
I Must Become Weak To Be Strong
I find it difficult to admit weakness. I like to think that I’m strong enough to live my own life. But the Christian’s true strength is based on accepting his own weakness. Paul said: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses … in difficulties … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). God often gets us into positions where we are forced to acknowledge our weakness and rely on His power. That’s when God can work, and things of consequence can happen! If we live in our strength, we won’t get far, but if we allow the Spirit to work, we’ll be amazed at what He can do!
God Lets Me Suffer So I May Rejoice
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus was ill, He told His disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4). Even though He loved Lazarus and his two sisters, He delayed going until Lazarus was dead and buried. It was not for lack of feeling, because when Jesus saw Mary and the Jews weeping, He also wept. He had a deeper plan. Jesus asked Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Soon after, Jesus called Lazarus back from death and the grave! And how Lazarus, Mary and Martha rejoiced! They now knew Jesus as Lord of life and death. Their days of pain, confusion and weeping were transformed into a lifetime of rejoicing in the certain knowledge that the One they followed had all power and glory. Jesus reserves a special joy for those who are persecuted and insulted for His sake: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Mt. 5:10-12). We too need to learn to see our suffering in the light of eternity. True joy is found not in avoiding pain, but in allowing God to use it to work His plan in our lives. Then we can rejoice!
I Must Be Humble To Be Lifted Up
As Jesus taught about two completely different situations, choosing where to sit at a party and how to pray to God, He concluded: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11; 18:14). This is a double paradox: If we proudly push ourselves to the front, God will pull us back. But if we humbly accept the low position, God will lift us up. The result is the opposite of our own efforts! Peter exhorts the young men, perhaps most prone to self-confident pride: “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5-6). And James repeats this command to all believers: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:6-10).
I Must Become A Slave To Be Free
Since the French Revolution, freedom has become the goal of many nations – freedom to do as we please, go where we want, and be whatever we wish. But for many this “freedom” has become another form of slavery – to sin, selfishness, and ultimately self-destruction. Paul said to believers, “You have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness … Offer your body in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (Rom. 6:16-22). Jesus told the people, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). The reality is that we are all slaves to something or someone. We are not autonomous; we all serve some master. Ultimately there are only two masters – the Lord Jesus and the powers of evil. We must decide who we will serve. One important aspect of the Christian life is to recognize that we have been bought at a price, and therefore willingly offer ourselves as slaves to God. Only then will we become truly free.
I Must Become A Servant To Lead
Jesus said: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them … But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves … I am among you as One who serves” (Lk. 22:25-27). Shortly before Jesus was crucified, as He shared the Last Supper with His disciples, He washed their dirty feet. Then He said, “I have set you an example” (Jn. 13:15). He was their leader, but He took the servant’s place. So also, if we are to exercise true Christian leadership, we must apply the concept of “servant leadership.” How easy to understand; how difficult to do!
I Must Give To Receive
A baby knows that when it cries it gets what it wants. We all start out self-centered. We want our desires to be satisfied. The problem is that as adults we still operate in this childish mode. Solomon pointed out: “One gives freely and gains even more, another withholds and comes to poverty … a generous man will prosper … he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:24-25). The Lord said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God is a giver, and He wishes us to be givers also. Paul told us how to give: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously … God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-8). God gives graciously so that we may give to others. But if we try to hang on to things, they slip though our fingers. We have received life from God. If we give it back to Him, we receive abundant life. Missionary martyr Jim Elliot said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, in order to obtain what he cannot loose.” Are we willing to trust God’s paradox: when we most give we most receive?
Will I Trust God?
Life has many paradoxes. And God’s Word does too. We have looked at eight of them. Will we accept the principles in Jesus’ teaching even when he asks us to do something that appears contradictory? Let’s learn to trust Him. He doesn’t contradict Himself. The paradoxes of the Christian life hide truths that the wise philosopher and simple child can experience, if we simply trust and obey.
By Andrew Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org