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Greater Glory. John 12:37-43

There are verses in the bible that one often passes over; they do not seem directly relevant to us, or to our times; yet, sometimes, these verses jump out, and you realise how pertinent they actually are. Read John 12:37-43. That last verse refers to people who believed in Jesus, but would not come out and say so publicly: they loved the praise of people more than the praise of God. Not relevant to us, right? It was those in Jesus’ time who were scared of being put out of the synagogue; not to us, who go to church, visibly following our faith, right?

 

 Wrong. I think it can be directly relevant to us. I am not referring to those who may keep their faith private, for whatever reason. Without knowing why, it would be inappropriate of me to comment. There have been many times over the centuries when Christians have needed to keep their faith hidden. But I do think verse 43 is still relevant to us; for, whether we go to church or not, do we prefer the praise of human beings to the praise of God? That can easily be part of church life as well as of our own faith life. However truly we believe, however faithful we are, we can still put people before God.

 

Whose validation do you seek? It is easy to answer ‘God’s’; that is, after all, what we are expected to answer. Yet even that answer can mean we are actually seeking the praise of people rather than the praise of God. It is what we are supposed to say; both within Christian circles and outside it, if we are known to be a Christian. To say ‘well, I long to put God first, but I am aware that so often I seek affirmation primarily from those around me’ is much braver. But what is wrong with support from those around us, you might ask? Surely, we are called to love one another, and that involves supporting and affirming one another. Of course, that’s right – BUT … what is your primary focus? Is it your aim to get support and validation primarily from people – as opposed to that support and validation coming from God, partly via other people? coming to you, and from you, as part of your love relationship with God? Do you love praise from human beings more than praise from God? And if so, why?

 

Verse 42 says that people hid their faith in Jesus because they were afraid they would be put out of the synagogue; with all the loss of status, religion, company that this might imply. I wonder if fear plays a large part in whether we seek praise primarily from people, rather than from God? Fear of being excluded or shamed; fear that people might see our less nice side; fear that we might be laughed at, or scorned; fear of embarrassment; fear of breaking the unwritten rules; fear of being told off; fear of losing those relationships that are important to us; fear of losing our jobs; fear of bullying; fear of … well, whatever you are afraid of. Praise from human beings means that those fears are not coming true right now. But praise from human beings means that we need to continually seek more praise from human beings to ensure that those fears don’t come true tomorrow, or even in an hour’s time.

 

So, do you love the praise of people more than the praise of God? Has it even occurred to you that God might praise you? It hadn’t me; even praying with this verse, I was more focussed on how I might be seeking praise from people. But the idea that God might praise me took rather longer to sink in. All that I might seek in praise from people, I might also get by seeking first praise from God? and are we really supposed to seek praise from God? To be fair, the passage in John says nothing about seeking praise from God, but that those people loved the praise of human beings more than they loved the praise of God. But it still implies that God might praise us; and, indeed, why not? For if we are truly seeking God, any praise we get will be turned into praise for God, will resound to God’s greater glory.

 

But this brings to mind another passage; Matthew 6:24-34. We are called to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness; if we love praise from human beings more than praise from God, we have almost certainly got our priorities wrong. Which is a shame, because verse 33 tells us that if we seek God’s kingdom first then all those other things shall be ours. If we seek God first, beyond all else, then maybe we will have no need to fear being excluded, shamed, thrown out or whatever – for, whatever happens, God will be with us through it. If we can learn to love the praise of God more than the praise of people, then maybe, by getting our affirmation from God rather than humans, our relationship with other people will change as well. Instead of seeking our validation from them, we may learn to simply love them.


 Of course, all this is much easier said than done. Years and years of seeking praise from our fellow humans is unlikely to be undone in a single moment. Neither need we feel guilty about this; God knows our hearts, and draws us on as quickly or slowly as we can. This is a journey, and, as with all journeys, it begins with a single step. In this case, the first step may well be simply to realise that we love praise more from other people rather than God. At some point on that journey, we may come to know that God loves us and longs to affirm us without, in any way, pretending that we are better or worse than we are. That may be an important step: the knowledge, the deep, inner knowing, that God knows us through and through; loves us and longs for us to draw ever closer.

 

Loving God, for all the ways in which I make people more important than you, I am sorry. Forgive me and teach me to amend my life, to place you more and more at the centre; to come to know, deeper and deeper, the amazing love you have for me; that, in time, all I am and have and are may resound to your greater glory, Amen.



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