There is a problem that has been brewing in the church, literally for centuries. In this modern day of social media, I don’t know if the problem is bigger than it has been, but it can spread faster than it ever has before. To highlight this dilemma, I want to take you to two simple verses in the book of Acts.
I have labeled this problem The Cornelius Response and The Peter Reaction.
The Cornelius Response
When you read the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, which I encourage you to do, you will discover Cornelius was a God-fearing man. An angel of the Lord visited him and instructed him to send for Peter. Cornelius was a devout man and because of the way God instructed him to send for Peter, his perception of Peter most likely went way up in his eyes. The Bible is not clear whether he knew who Peter was before this, but by reading the language in Acts, you could make the case he didn’t.
But consider if an angel of the Lord comes and visits you and tells you to send for a specific person. The likely conclusion is this must be a very important person. I can only imagine the amount of expectation that Cornelius had as he awaited Peter’s arrival.
Because of all these things, his response when he initially met Peter was almost expected. He fell down at his feet in reverence. Being he was a devout man, Cornelius was showing respect for Peter as the man of God.
The Peter Reaction
While it may have seemed like an appropriate response for Cornelius to bow at Peter’s feet, Peter’s reaction was even better. He told him to get up because I am only a man myself. This was Peter who had walked with Jesus three years, walked on water, saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and preached the first sermon that led three thousand people to Christ. Peter was well respected by all and was a foundational leader in the church. For Cornelius to bow down to him made sense, because this was Peter. Yet Peter said I am only a man, get up.
How Is the Cornelius Response Infiltrating the Modern Church?
As we fast forward two thousand years, we are still responding the same way Cornelius did. We may have even taken it to a higher level. On the surface, as we address this issue, let me say I get it.
I want to ask you a question.
How do you view someone who gets on a stage or a platform and preaches, teaches, sings, plays an instrument, or leads worship in a manner that really blesses you? Chances are your opinion of that person goes up.
Whenever a person uses their gifts in a manner that is a blessing to you, it changes the way you view them. Think of how you view your favorite preachers, teachers, singers, and worship leaders. There are some people who, every time they open their mouth, they bless and encourage you. It is natural the perception and opinion of those people will rise in your eyes. That is the way human nature works.
We may not seek to do this intentionally, but we elevate those who have exceptional gifts. Even more so if they are using them to bless the body of Christ and minister to his people. Clearly, there must be something special about them. Throughout the church world, this type of Cornelius Response is happening everywhere. However, this is only part of the problem.
The Lack of Peter’s Reaction in the Modern Church
While the Cornelius Response may be natural, what is missing is the Peter Reaction. Many in the modern church who are in positions of influence have bought into their position. People are telling them how great they are, and they are believing it. The longer this happens, the more they are prone to become like the Pharisees.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (Matthew 23:5-7).
Sad to say, but many have embraced this place of honor and have believed their press clippings. While people are pouring out reverence on these people, strangely, what is missing is Peter’s type of reaction. Where are the people in places of influence saying, “Get up I am only a man.” Oddly enough, when praise is being heaped on them, this language is absent. However, if they slip and fall, they are quick to remind everyone they are only human.
There is a truth that I have said before, but bears repeating. God uses people in spite of who they are, not because of who they are. God does not look for special people. God takes ordinary people and anoints what they do, which makes them seem special. If you remove his anointing from the process, you will discover talent or gifting alone cannot bless you in the same fashion.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
How Do We Solve This Problem?
The answer to this problem is a lot simpler than you realize.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).
A few years ago, my wife and I were attending a small church where we were heavily involved. Even though we stayed and continued to serve, we knew God had instructed us to leave. We stayed two years longer than we were supposed to because we had the mindset if we leave who is going to do what we do? That might seem noble, but we later realized the stench of pride was seeping all through that type of thinking. That church was God’s church, not ours, and if he is leading us out, he will lead someone else in. We simply had to stop thinking of ourselves more highly that we ought.
What we need from all believers, but especially those who are in the spotlight, is an acknowledgement of their humanity. A recognition they are not the special ones, but Jesus is. However, this is a two-sided solution because we must stop looking at them more highly than we ought to. If God uses them, wonderful and we should encourage them in their gifts. However, encouragement is a long way from worship.
My prayer is we would get to the place where there are no “superstars” in Christianity except the one who is the true superstar, Jesus Christ. Let his name be honored, lifted up, worshiped, and praised forever because he is the only one who is worthy.
For everyone else, let’s take the attitude of Peter. Regardless of how much God uses you or how big your platform is, you are only a man or woman. This keeps you humble and keeps Jesus in the forefront as the object of our worship. This is how it was then, and this is how it should always be.