Climbing Down the Ladder of Success

By Dudley Hall Published on March 3, 2015

DUDLEY HALL — Nothing counteracts the effectiveness of the Christian message more than the failure on the part of its messengers to embody it. Though many onlookers use Christian hypocrisy as an excuse for their unwillingness to consider the truth claims of Jesus, there is no excuse for Christians living as if the cross of Christ makes no difference in their daily lives.

Competition for personal honor is a sure sign of an incomplete knowledge of Christian salvation. The general motif of Christian scripture is the dynamic cycle of honor lost/honor restored as demonstrated fully in Jesus:

. . . who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard being equal with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. . . . He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name. Philippians 2:6-9 (NASB)

Jesus gave up the glory of his pre-incarnate status to serve those who were enemies of God, and slaves to sin. His chosen honor was to glorify his Father. It was enough! He did not need to promote himself or defend himself. The honor of obedience satisfied.  In his humiliation he identified with the condition of Adam’s race — shamed and fighting for status — embodied their shame by being rejected, crucified (shameful death) outside the gates of the city (place of shame), and buried in a borrowed tomb (shameful legacy). But God raised him from the grave and seated him in the place of authority so that he can continue to serve those that need to be delivered and restored.

Saul, a Jew from Tarsus, was captured by the resurrected Jesus. He recognized that all his own symbols of honor were as dung, and embraced the life of the one who demonstrated God’s reality. He was humbled by being knocked down, made blind, led by the hand and instructed by another. But he was honored to be called to represent the kind of life that is free from the competition for personal honor. He considered knowing Christ the highest honor. It was enough! He refused to boast except in his own weaknesses, so that all honor would go to the one who deserved it. He chose the same path that Jesus chose, climbing down the ladder of success.

Too often, the most visible spokespeople for the Christian message are vying for personal honor, while Jesus is reduced to a tool to carve out personal success. They reveal that the single honor of knowing Jesus Christ is not enough. Some are even content to have their followers live vicariously through their success, giving sacrificially so they, the leader, can live in worldly honor. This form of Christianity fails to offer the good news that the cross eradicates our lowly status as enslaved sinners and that we are now sons of God through Jesus, living each day for the sole purpose of bringing him honor.

It is refreshing to find the obscure servant content with the honor of knowing Jesus personally, humbled by being called to represent him, and eager to serve the ones God loves. May that brand of Christianity grow and infect the whole earth. While the culture is encouraging everyone to climb the ladder of success, we are called to offer a better alternative. We are climbing down as He is lifted up.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .   Philippians 2:3-5 (ESV)

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