Self Image

The Importance of Knowing Who You Are and Why You’re Here (The Gospel of John Series)

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Please open up to John 1:19-34.

But before we get into the reading, just a quick reminder about the context. The Apostle John is writing his gospel to introduce his readers to who Jesus really is. The rest of the gospels had already been written and circulated for about 30 years by the time John wrote this one and so what we read here is a sort of supplement to them – which is why some of the details that are in the other gospels are left out and other details are added in.

God inspired John to write something different than the other three synoptic gospels – something that would answer different questions and present a clearer picture of Jesus.

We talked last week about how important John the Baptist was during his time. A lot of people around the world had heard of him and had even participated in his baptism of repentance. We talked about the importance of that baptism last week and why it was important for the Apostle John to differentiate him from Jesus because there were still a lot of people confused about who John the Baptist really was and whether or not following Him was what God wanted in order for people to be saved.

The Apostle John wanted to be absolutely clear to everyone who read his gospel about who John the Baptist was and what his role was in the story of salvation. He was important, powerful, popular, divisive, courageous, certainly vital to God’s plan, and definitely prophesied about in the Old Testament – but he wasn’t Jesus. Jesus, as we talked about last week, is “the Word” of God that “became flesh”, the source of all “life” and “light”, the one who gave people the “right to become children of God”, the only one who “has ever seen God” because He “is God” (1:1-18).

But the next, natural question for anyone to ask would be, “What about John the Baptist?” He came out of nowhere, looked like an Old Testament prophet, said he was chosen by God to speak prophecies, was a powerful teacher who challenged the religious establishment, baptized followers and had many disciples, and even died as a martyr. A lot of people following John the Baptist would need to know what makes Jesus better than him?

That’s where we come today. Now, the assumption that the Apostle John seems to make here is that people already know a lot about John the Baptist, which is why he leaves out some details, like the miracles around John’s birth in Luke 1, that him and Jesus are cousins, John’s connection to the prophecies about Elijah in Malachi 4, how he dressed like Elijah was dressed in 2 Kings 1, or how so many of the Jewish people, from the highest to the lowest, had been anticipating and longing (Luke 2:38) for the coming of the Messiah for the past century since the Roman Empire took over the land of Israel (63BC) – and that when John the Baptist came on the scene that Messianic hope was at its absolute peak. He doesn’t even tell the story of John baptizing Jesus because it’s already in the other gospels.

The Apostle John leaves a lot of that out because it’s already in the other gospels, but He gets to the meat of the question: “Then who was John the Baptist anyway?” and the best way to answer that is through John the Baptists’ own testimony.

Who is John the Baptist?

Let’s read from verse 19:

“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, “’I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’ (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)”

The Pharisees had come up with four options as to who John the Baptist was. John was either the prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, essentially a second Moses who knew God “face to face” (Exo 34:11), who could perfectly interpret the Law, and who spoke with the authority of God. Or John was the second coming of the greatest prophet, Elijah, as foretold in Malachi 4:5, who would perform great signs and wonders and challenge the corrupt rulers of the people. Or, John was the Christ, the Messiah himself, a great King and military leader in the line of David who had come to rescue the people from their Roman oppressors. Or, John was a false prophet.

John the Baptist made the whole of the Jewish leadership look and was a source of great embarrassment for them, but they knew he was something special and wanted to pin Him down. Not necessarily to follow Him (as we learn from how they treated Jesus) but to clarify his claim and see if they could disqualify and then get rid of him.

But John, like Jesus, didn’t fall for their games. He refused to take the bait and wouldn’t claim to be something he knew He wasn’t. All he knew was what God had called Him to do: to speak one very specific message: repent and prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord.

Essentially, John was saying, “Don’t look at me. I don’t matter. Stop stereotyping and arguing and trying to wiggle out of what I’m saying by some kind of loophole. Just listen to the message. The significance is not in the speaker but in the message. I’m not talking about me; I’m just the herald to someone greater. I’m not pointing to myself, I’m pointing to Him. I don’t want attention on myself; I want it on what I’m saying. Listen: Repent from your sins, prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord. He’s coming very soon.”

But did they listen? No.

Look at their next question:

“They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’”

Ok, if you’re not going to let us ignore you by pinning you down to disqualify you by claiming to be something you’re not – then we’ll try a different tack. Maybe we can disqualify you by what you’re doing. Then we won’t need to listen to what you’re saying.

Do you see how hard they are working so they don’t have to hear the message of repentance? They can’t argue with the message, but they sure can argue with the man.

Their argument was that since John wasn’t claiming to be a prophet or messiah, and He wasn’t a Jewish leader, and he didn’t work in the temple, then by what right does he baptize people? New, gentile converts to Judaism were baptized as an initiation rite. Part of becoming a Jewish proselyte was to go through the waters of baptism.

But John the Baptist was calling Jews to be baptized! This was new. What religion was he calling them to join? Was he a cult leader? Was he a schismatic? Was he going against the temple and God’s Laws? The Pharisees, who were especially concerned with obeying the Law of Moses as perfectly as possible, would be especially interested. Look at John’s answer in verse 26, “John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”

John’s answer is, essentially the same as our own: “I’m just using water to symbolize something that has happened on the inside. I’m just giving people a practical, obvious, public, way to show what has happened in their hearts. I tell people to repent, to realize they are sinners who need cleaning up, and then I use the water to symbolize that they have obeyed the word of God. The cleansing of their bodies in the water shows that they desire the cleansing of their souls.”

But John then takes it one step further with a big “but”. He says, “But I have a surprise for you. The Messiah, the One I’ve been talking about is already here. He is already walking among us. He will be revealed very soon. Stop arguing. Repent. Prepare yourself. Now is the time.” When John the Baptist talks about his unworthiness to carry or even tie Jesus’ “sandals” it points us to something he has skipped. Those words are in Matthew, Mark and Luke and all point to the story of Jesus’ baptism. So at this point, as the Jewish Leaders stand before Him, John the Baptist has already baptized Jesus in the Jordan, has seen the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove, has heard the voice of the Father commissioning Jesus’ earthly ministry, and seen Jesus sent for the 40 days of temptation in the desert. And, it seems that the very next day after the Jewish Leaders questioned John, Jesus comes back from the wilderness.

Look at verse 29-34,

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

And so now we hear from John the Baptist himself who he thinks he is, and who he knows Jesus to be. His whole life was meant to point to the coming Messiah, and when Jesus came, John stepped back. But before he did, he “bore witness” that Jesus was the One he had come to prepare the world for. He said he didn’t know in advance, but when Jesus came for baptism it became absolutely clear. God showed up, God spoke, God showed Him exactly who Jesus was. And so John pointed people to Jesus. When John was preaching he deflected all attention away from himself to his message – and now that He knew who the Christ was he reflected every bit of attention onto Jesus.

That’s what the Apostle John wants everyone who is reading this to know. John the Baptist’s message, witness, and ministry all pointed to Jesus. So if you are following John, now is the time to follow Jesus.

Jars of Clay

There’s something I want to chew on for a bit though here. It must have been very tempting for John the Baptist to try to take some of the credit, to accept some praise, to want to share the spotlight with Jesus. According to chapter 3, even John’s own disciples were jealous on his behalf when Jesus started to gain popularity.

What prevented John from getting puffed up with pride? How did he stay humble?

If you’ve ever done something well, something that you know you couldn’t have done without God, you’ll know it’s not easy to deflect praise. Whether it’s a piece of art you have designed, a successful ministry, having good kids, doing well in a difficult class, learning a skill few people have and then using it to bless others, having the ability to make money, or a great sense of humour, or strong administrative skills, or the ability to be patient and kind during difficult times, you’ll know that when people see you, they automatically want to give you credit – and it can be extremely difficult to reflect that praise back to God. Even when you say, “It wasn’t me, it was God”, they want to give you extra credit for being humble!

So how did John do it? How did he keep his heart in the right place? If I had to guess from what we’ve read and know about John the Baptist it was that he knew who he was and who Jesus is.

Think about when you go out to a restaurant. You sit down at the table, the server comes over and gives you water, takes your order, and then delivers the food. As Canadians it’s our habit to thank everyone for everything all the time, right? A lot of us even thank inanimate objects like ATMs and traffic lights for doing their job. So when the food comes we automatically say thank you, right? What are we thanking the server for? For bringing the food, right?

But, then, inevitably – and usually when you have a mouthful of food – they come by again and ask how the food is. And we say, “Oh, it’s so good! It’s amazing!” Now, imagine if the server started to get a big head about it. The owner buys all the food and the chef prepares everything – but who gets to hear everyone “mmming” and “wowing” and “this is so good”? Who gets to hear the thank-yous and watch people smile? It’s the server.

But wouldn’t it be crazy if the server tried to share the credit with the chef? “You’re absolutely welcome for that dish. It was half me, half the chef. Because without me, the food would have just stayed in the kitchen and no one could eat it. So, actually, I should get more of the credit for being the one who allowed you to have such a fine meal. And really, since I’m the one who gave it to you, I’m the one in the fancy suit, I’m the one who listens to you and brings you what you want, and no one else, then I must be the most important person in the room right now. You would go hungry without me. You would starve without me. No one would even know the chef exists without me. The whole restaurant would close if I weren’t here to bring you your food. In fact, I was the one who recommended that meal to you in the first place, so you don’t even get any credit for ordering it! I get all the credit! This whole place revolves around me!”

That’s crazy, right? But that’s what Christians sound like we sound like when we try to share glory with God for something we’ve done. A server, a servant, is just a delivery system for someone else’s greatness. Their whole job is simply not to forget it, drop it, or change it. Regardless of what your gift is – music, art, speaking, generosity, crafts, administration, physical strength, even physical beauty – it is, and you are, merely a delivery system for God’s glory and greatness. He gave it to you as a gift, has used the experiences of your life to hone that gift, and has designed you in such a way that when you use it not only are other people blessed, and not only do you get to receive pleasure from using it, but in doing so He gets glory. We often realize the first two of those and forget the last. We’re happy to use what we have to help people, happy to feel good doing it, but when it comes to who gets the credit, who gets the glory… we often want to steal it, or at least share it, with God. That’s crazy when you really think about it.

Consider 1 Corinthians 4:7 where the amazing apostle Paul said,

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

The “treasure” is the gospel, and the “power” belongs to God – he’s just the clay jar it was carried in. Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a potter and His people the clay (Isa 64:8). In Romans 9:20–21 when Paul is talking to people who complain to God about their lot in life he says,

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?”

In other words, he’s the potter, you’re the clay. In this context, the Apostle is talking about saved versus unsaved, but the lesson is still sound. God knows what He’s doing, knows what you’re good for, knows what your strengths and weaknesses are, and knows where you are of best use – because He made you. And if you do things His way and you’ll be a lot better off.

If He wants to make you into a fancy vase that sits on a shelf meant to hold and feed and water some pretty flowers for all to see, but are changed out often, then be content in that. If He wants to make you into a coffee cup that gets filled up and emptied every single day, loved and useful but certainly not fancy or special, then be content in that. If God has designed you to be a cookie jar, full of good and helpful things that you never get to keep but are always meant to be for others, then be content in that. If he wants to make you into a cooking dish that has to face the heat of the flames over and over and over so others can be fed, then be content in that.

Why? Because when you are doing what God has called you to do, using the strength God gives you and returning the glory to Him, He will be there with you and you will know peace and an abundant life. Yes, it may come with difficulty, but you’ll know you’re where you’re supposed to be, and you’ll see God’s hand in your life.

But, if you try to be something you’re not, you’ll be very discontent. If the flower vase gets bored of feeding the flowers and sitting on the shelf and tries to become the coffee mug, it’s going to wonder why it can’t do the job and keeps getting hurt. If the cookie jar gets tired of being generous and decides to try being a cooking dish, it’s going to break and won’t be good to anyone. I hope you see what I mean.

John the Baptist knew the secret to contentedness, peace, fruitfulness, and staying humble before God. He knew who He was and who Jesus is and gave all the glory away. John was the herald, Jesus is the king. John was a mirror, Jesus was the light. John was a voice, Jesus is the message. John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. John called people to prepare themselves by repentance from sin, Jesus is the one who conquered sin and death.

John never forgot who he was.

Who is Jesus?

Turn briefly to John 21:1–14. The question, “Who are you?”, which we see twice in our passage today, is asked all over the Gospel of John. In John 5, the Jewish leaders see a man who had been an invalid for 38 years get up and walk, and they ask who would dare perform a miracle on the Sabbath. In chapter 8, after Jesus declares Himself to be “the light of the world” the Jewish authorities ask twice more. In John 9 a group of Pharisees argue about who Jesus is with a man who was healed from blindness. In John 11, after Jesus says He’s “the resurrection and the life”, right before He raises Lazarus from the dead, he asks Martha if she believes Him. In John 18, as Jesus is on trial everyone keeps asking who He is, then Peter denies who he is to Jesus, then Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Everyone, through the whole book, is asking, “Who are you?”

In John 21:1–14, at the very end of the Gospel during the epilogue we read this,

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

They had seen Jesus’ miracles, heard His message, saw Him die, met Him as the risen Lord, and saw one more miracle before Jesus serve them breakfast. Finally, at the end of the book they stop asking, “Who are you?” They’ve figured it out.

Conclusion: Who is Jesus? Who Are You? Why do you exist?

My questions to you are simply this: Do you know who Jesus is? Do you know who you are? (and consequently, who you are not?) Do you know why you are here?

Everything hinges on those questions. Who is Jesus? Who are you? Why do you exist? These are questions you must answer.

John the Baptist knows. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the “lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). Who is John? “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’…” (1:23) Who is John not? Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or a false prophet. Why did John exist? “…For this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” (1:31)

I know this. Who is Jesus? My Saviour and my God. Who am I? I am a child and servant of God. Why do I exist? To be a godly husband and father, and as a gift to the church to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:11-16) through preaching, teaching, counselling, and creativity. It’s taken many years, and certainly there have been times of difficulty and doubt, but I can say this: I know Jesus, I who I am, I know who I am not, and I know my purpose.

But I ask you today, do you know who Jesus is? Do you know who you are? And do you know why you exist? If not, you have some soul work to do. And we are here to help you in that journey.

Self-Image: Who Are You When No One Is Looking?

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“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)


The Apostles are a very misunderstood group of people these days. The word itself simply means “one who is sent”, so technically anyone who is sent by the Lord to do anything – whether it’s pray for a sick person, deliver a casserole, or give a gift card to Freshco –are technically apostles.

But when people talk about apostles today, they are usually referring to the 12 apostles, chosen by Jesus Christ to be the ones who would continue his ministry and even write more scripture to include in the Bible. Do those kids of apostles still exist today? I would say categorically no. But believe it or not, there are people today who claim to be new apostles, drawing followers by their claims to be messengers from God, with the same authority as the ones in the Bible.

This was happening in the ancient world too as teachers claimed to have the same power and authority as the apostles of Jesus. So the question is, how do we know the real ones from the fakes? So using our scripture today, let’s look at what an apostle is and what they do.

Verse 1 contains two important phrases that will be unpacked in the rest of the chapter. It says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” So let’s concentrate on those two descriptors: An apostle of Christ is a “servant of Christ” and a “steward of the mysteries of God.”

Servants of Christ

The first section of verses, from 2-5, explain what a “servant… and steward of Christ” is supposed to be, and the first descriptive word that is used is “faithful”. A real apostle – and perhaps for application we can extend this as far as to saying a real believer in Jesus – is faithful. Faithful to who? Their master, Jesus Christ. That’s how they see themselves. Not elevated above others, but brought into submission to Jesus. They only go where they’ve been told to go, say what they’ve been told to say, and do what they’ve been told to do.

They know, as Paul says in verse 4, that it is to Jesus that they must ultimately give account, not any human being. Part of the back-story here is that not only were some people pretending to be apostles, but there were some people in the churches that preferred the pretenders to the real thing! They even went so far as to criticize the real apostles because they liked what the new guys were saying better.

But a real apostle doesn’t have their own “take” on Jesus and never updates the story. They don’t make the news, the just report it. They don’t write the letters, they just deliver them. All true apostles are in agreement and the story is always kept straight. Anyone who says different is a false apostle.

That’s one of the most amazing things about scripture. It is a series of books written over 1500 years by 40 different authors from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, but it all holds together. Why? Because God is the author of scripture, not man. The real apostles stayed totally dependent on Jesus for all that they were to do and say. Why? Because it was to Jesus they would have to finally give account, not their churches or anyone else.


This is an important application for us too. We may not be apostles, but it remains true that what we think of ourselves (our self-esteem or self-image) and what others think of us (our reputation or popularity) isn’t nearly as important as what God thinks of us.

This is a big struggle for a lot of people. Most people liked to be liked, and they spend a lot of time trying to change themselves, their opinions, their clothes, their jobs, their image, and everything else, so they can be either liked or respected. They will change almost anything so people will say they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, interesting, or whatever.

Teenagers face this perhaps more than anybody, but the temptation doesn’t disappear when you’re older. As a child grows up and starts to realize that they are an individual – that they like certain things and dislike others, and have different skills, abilities, and problems than others – they are sort of forced to figure out who they are. As their minds, bodies, and emotions, change, they are in a constant state of flux, rarely being able to settle on a single identity.

Last year’s favourite outfit, the one that everyone said looked so nice, no longer fits and now you have to find another. Last year’s toys are no longer interesting. Everything is in flux. And on the journey to discover who they are, other people’s opinions weigh pretty heavily.

But this doesn’t go away. It’s intense when you are a teenager trying to figure out everything from how you want to look to what you want to be when you grow up, but when you get older it doesn’t go away. People’s opinions still seem to matter a lot. Does my boss like me? What do my friends think of me? How do people see me? I know plenty of older adults who spend a lot of time wondering if people think they are attractive, intelligent, powerful, cool, or interesting. That’s what drives the advertising industry! We wouldn’t want new clothes, phones, cars, homes, and vacations if we weren’t constantly comparing ourselves to others!

A few years ago country artist Blake Shelton wrote a song called “Who are You When I’m Not Looking” which sounds like the inner dialogue of a man on a first or second date. The first verse says, “My oh my, you’re so good-looking… but, who are you when I’m not looking?” The rest of the song is a series of questions which amount to things like “Do you drink? Are you silly? How do you handle anger? Do you have bad habits? How do you relate to your family?”. He’s essentially saying, “You’re beautiful on the outside, but before we go any further, are you just as beautiful on the inside?” Pretty good questions, actually.

The message here is that the only opinion that really matters is God’s. What does He think of us, our actions, our motives, our words, our clothes, our friends and our opinions?

I said last week that the true test of a person’s character is who they are when no one is looking. The message this week is that regardless of what you present to the world, God knows who you really are.

David and Saul

That’s the story of King Saul and King David. When Israel turned their back on God as their King and asked for a human King, God gave them exactly what they wanted. Saul was the tallest, most handsome, most regal looking man in the kingdom. He really looked the part, but had some deep character flaws.

David, on the other hand was the youngest son of a small-town shepherd. When God sent the Prophet Samuel to appoint the new king after Saul had thoroughly disqualified himself, Samuel didn’t know who he was going to get. The first son who came out of Jesse’s house was Eliab, the oldest boy. 1 Samuel 16:6-7 says this,

“When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”

That truth is echoed all throughout scripture! David says to his own son, Solomon,

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (1 Chron 29:9)

He was saying, “Son, no matter what you do, no matter how great you become, no matter what anyone says about you, know this: God knows who you really are, and that’s what really matters.”

The God Who Knows

God is called the One who “tests minds and hearts” (Psalm 7:9; Jer 17:10; Acts 1:24) because He knows what’s going on inside us. We can fool everyone else – sometimes even ourselves – but we can’t fool God. He knows what we really mean when we pray for selfish things. He knows our thought life and watches where our eyes go behind our sunglasses. He knows our browser history even when we use incognito mode. He knows what you really meant when you said what you said. He knows when we come to the Bible to learn or when we just want to be proven right. He knows the difference between acts of love and the desire to look good. There is absolutely no reason to try to fool Him, and He’s ultimately the only opinion that matters, so why bother trying to fool anyone else?

The Bible talks a lot about pleasing God and pleasing people. In the Bible, fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, but fear of man foolish and sinful (Prov 29:25). We are warned to take more account of what God says about us – and can do to us – than anyone else!

When it comes to worrying about what powerful men might do to us, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

And so, Paul says in vs 3 that in comparison to what God could do to him, the accusations of the Corinthians pale in comparison. So he says, “I’ve already examined myself and don’t see anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean much since my judgment of myself and your judgment of me mean very little in the end. All that matters is what the Lord thinks of me! He can see the deepest parts of me and everyone else, and in the end, he will either condemn me or commend me.”


The same message comes to us today, and it’s our concluding question today. Who are you? Who are you when no one is looking?

We’ll look at the second part of what it means to be an apostle next week: that they are “stewards of the mysteries of God”, but let’s leave it there for now. A true apostle of God lives for God and knows it is the Lord who will judge them. So they don’t bend the gospel for the sake of others.

So, if the apostles are following Jesus and demonstrating to us how we ought to live our life –Paul says in verse 16 that we are to imitate the apostles – then we must ask ourselves in what ways are we compromising our beliefs and our obedience to God because we are afraid of what people might think of us? In what ways are we hypocrites who say we believe one thing, but then do another when no one is around?

Jesus has saved us and He is our Lord. Who do you fear more, love more, respect more, want to impress or desire to please more than Him? That’s your true Lord. That’s your real god.

I invite you to ask yourself who you really are and why you do what you do.

The Soul Killer (Youth Camp Talk)

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2 How To Kill Your Soul

Last night we talked about living like an animal and living like a human being – and how the difference comes when we see ourselves as a special creation of God, worthy of dignity and respect, and someone loved so much that Jesus was willing to die for you. Accepting that gift of salvation is an invitation to God to work in your heart and make you into a new creation, to be born again.

Last night I divided the thinking using the idea of Animal and Human, but another way of dividing it is between things that fill our spirits and things that kill our spirits. When we think and live like animals we are denying the fact that we have something special that animals don’t have – a soul, a spirit, the special breath of God that no other creature of God has. So tonight what I want to do is spend a little time talking about some things that fill our soul, and things that kill our soul.

I want this to be immensely practical for you, so let me explain what I mean. There are things that we do, ways we think, activities common to all of us, that either fill us up, bring us closer to God, improve our relationships, increase our joy, and make us more like Jesus – and there are things that we do and think that empty our souls, draw us away from God, ruin our joy, harm our relationships, distract us from our God-given mission, and kill our souls. And I want to talk about one of them tonight:

Empty People

Why is this important? Because a lot of people feel very empty. There is a vacuum inside of them, a gaping hole, that they keep trying to fill up, but no matter what they throw into it, it never feels full. Do you know this feeling?

You’ve got a family, friends, school, work, a hobby, teammates, books, skills… and no matter what you do with them, you still feel empty. Certainly, all these things are good, and for a time, as long as you’re with them, they are distracting… but then, at night when you go to bed, when you’re alone, when the noise stops that empty void inside of you feels just as big as it ever did.

That’s why you spend so much time on the internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music, texting on the cell phone, sending pictures and videos, exercising your body, sleeping, or doing whatever you can do to fill your eyes and ears – because you don’t like the silence. And the worst part is that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter what chemical you put into your body, no matter how good you do on that test, no matter how hard you hit it, no matter how many people see your video, no matter how much you try, the emptiness never gets better.

God Shaped Hole

What I want to tell you tonight is that the reason that you feel that way is because you’re trying to fill the hole inside of you with something that can never fill it. The hole is too big for anything this world has to offer. No friend, work or distraction will ever fill it.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has “placed eternity in a man’s heart” which means that there is a God-shaped hole inside of us, an innate longing for something outside of ourselves, something transcendent, something other than what can be found in this world.

But the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “the hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…”. We talked about that last night when we talked about our animalistic natures.

Our heart tells us to keep doing the same old things over and over, hoping that they will fill the God-shaped hole. It’s madness to continue, but we keep doing it hoping it will work. We hope that we will finally find meaning, peace, happiness, joy, and freedom in our work, education, friends, sports, money, things, experiences – but the things we are pursuing with such energy are utterly unsatisfactory – not enough to fill the void.

That’s why so many people can’t stand silence, but keep filling their head with noise. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who always has headphones in their ears or their phone in their face? Someone who can’t even lie down at night without filling their minds with noise? They fear silence because it’s in the silence that they start to realize how empty things are – and it terrifies them to think that no matter what they do, they will never shake the empty feeling.

So what can we do? Well, the first thing is what we talked about last night. Turn our lives over to Jesus, accept His death on the cross on your behalf, and begin a relationship with Him. Become a Christian by connecting back to your creator through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But after that there are some other things that we can do to start filling our souls instead of killing them. And I want to talk about a big one tonight:

Killed by Comparison

The number one killer of our souls that I want to tell you about tonight is Comparison. Comparison kills joy. Theodore Rosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Rick Warren, one of my favourite authors and pastors once said, “You cannot be happy and envious at the same time.” The Bible says, “They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.” (1 Cor 10:12)

What I’m talking about is the trap that people fall into when they see their life as a competition with others. They’re not happy unless they can say they are better, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, than others. If they get something, I need to have a bigger one. If you eat one, then I’ll eat two. If you start talking about their vacation, then I need to tell them how much better mine was. Both men and women have this problem – it’s not just a girl or boy thing, though it does come out different ways.

Do you ever get this? It happens all the time, without even thinking.

One person says, “Oh man, I had to go to the hospital for two days because I had an infection.” and what does the other person say, “You think you were sick?! Well, one time I was in the hospital for a whole week!”

One person says, “I just got a new iPhone.” and instead of saying, “That’s great for you!” what do we say? “Well, iPhone sucks. I have an Android! Which one ? Oh, a 5? Well, I’m saving up for a 6.” Or you whip out your phones and start comparing features.

Someone says, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” And you think, “Why do they have someone? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should lower my standards? Everyone else has a boyfriend/girlfriend? There must be something wrong with me.”

It doesn’t matter if there isn’t anything wrong with you, that you have high standards, and that no one meets them yet! That’s actually a good thing! It doesn’t matter that other people are hooking up and breaking up every week and that you’re not. But comparing yourself to them makes you feel terrible. Comparison kills your soul, doesn’t it?

And then it inevitably happens that you can’t compete with someone. You come across someone that really is smarter, faster, prettier, wealthier, more talented and more popular than you. And no matter what you do, they keep winning. So how do we react? A person who lives by comparison doesn’t react well.

They get depressed because they don’t have what the other person has – and may never have it. They get angry because that person doesn’t deserve it as much as they do. They get bitter and lash out at the person, treating them badly, even if they’ve done nothing, simply because they perceive them as a threat. And even if that person is somehow eliminated – they move, you finally beat them, or something else – then you live in constant fear that someone else will come along that will challenge your superiority.

That’s the danger of living a life where you are constantly comparing yourself to others. No matter what you achieve, you will live depressed, angry, bitter and afraid. You may look amazing on the outside, part of the crowd, or rising above them. You may project confidence and strength. You may have everyone else fooled, but inside you are always afraid someone is more loved than you. You are always angry, and you don’t really know why. You don’t see people as people, but as competitors, rivals, stepping stones.

And that colours all your relationships. If you think like that, then everyone else must as well. They’re just waiting for you to screw up so they can take what you have. They’re laughing at you behind your back. And now you’re even suspicious of your friends. Does anyone know this feeling?

Chasing Love

Maybe this has seeped in because of the tonne of books and movies that keep feeding you this. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, X-Men, I Am Number Four, Twilight, Harry Potter, are all fun movies to watch, but they all have the same underlying message: You are very, very special. You are on top. You are the chosen one. Only the chosen one is really important. Everyone else is second class. Every wants to take what you have. Trust no one. If you’re not special, you’re nothing.

Maybe you have had this pressed on you by your parents. You have to be stronger, fasters, smarter than others. They’re telling you about their failings and how you need to rise above. Telling you that you need to do well in school or sports, to have a great job, and get lots of money – you don’t want to be like your loser uncle whatever do you?

That sets you up for a life of comparison where you see everyone as a threat, and it’s a terrible way to live, and will kill your soul. But it’s so tempting, so persuasive.

Why? Because all the comparison boils down to chasing love. They believe that popularity equals love, wealth equals the ability to find love, being beautiful means being loved, being smartest, most talented, or strongest means people will need you and therefore love you. Having great toys and tech means that there’s someone out there that will give you good things because they love you. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means that you’re loved.

But is that true? Not necessarily, right?

Can you be popular, but unloved? Sure. There are lots of people that are widely known, but hated.

Can you be rich, but unloved? Absolutely. Some wealthy people are very lonely.

Can you be beautiful and unloved? Certainly. Sometimes how we look on the surface, even being beautiful, becomes a barrier to a real, deep relationship.

Can you get presents every day, but still feel unloved? Certainly. Receiving gifts doesn’t always mean closeness. I get a birthday card from my insurance company – but they don’t love me!

Can you be in a relationship where you see each other often, have committed to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but have no love? Sadly, yes. Some of you know how that feels.

So what do we do? We go chasing after that love. We want so desperately to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us that we are willing to do almost anything to fill it – even if that means compromising who we are.

We want that popularity, we want people to like us, love us – but they won’t accept us the way we are. So what does our wicked, deceitful heart tell us to do? Change ourselves, lower our standards, pretend we’re stupid, pretend we’re someone else. People laugh when I do this stupid thing, and then they think I’m cool, so I’ll keep doing that. We hang around people we don’t really like, because they’re the crowd we’re expected to hang around.

We want that wealth, because we want people to love us, so what do we do? Stop doing something we love so we can take a job to make money. Pretend to be richer than we are. Steal things so we have more. Borrow money we can’t pay back. Buy things for people hoping that we will impress them enough that they will be our friends.

We want to be considered beautiful, because we think beautiful people are more loved, so what do we do? Look at blogs and glossy, airbrushed pictures of beautiful people and try to dress and act like them. Go on crazy diets, work out too much, take pills that destroy our bodies. Spend money on hair, nails, skin, eyes, clothes, shoes, sunglasses to look like someone else. Worry so much about what we look like on the surface that we forget to feed the soul inside. Which is why you panic every time you look at the closet. It’s because you’re afraid that if you don’t look perfect, people won’t love you. And then, after a time, you get used to it. You realize that people react positively whenever you show up looking this certain way, so you move heaven and earth to keep looking like that, even when you don’t really want to, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even if it compromises your values. Because you’re desperate for love.

Do you know this struggle? I know you do. So do I.

My Story

I understand that struggle because I lived it. When I was growing up I was pretty unpopular. Actually, that’s an understatement. My family moved around a bunch and I ended up attending four different schools from grade 1-7 – in the same town. But there was only one high school, so when I went there, everyone knew me as the weird, new kid that never quite fit in. The kids were pretty mean to me.

I remember some of them would wait for me to leave after school so they could throw rocks at me. Add to that the fact that I had really bad acne, was a computer nerd (way before Big Bang Theory decided nerds were cool), and was, as far as I could tell, the only Christian in the whole school. I was pretty smart and had skipped a grade, and was also one of the smallest and certainly the youngest person in my grade. I have no fashion sense so I wore weird clothes, and spent a lot of time by myself.

I hated being on the bus. I hated being at school. I was an outsider’s outsider.

I did have a few friends. My “best friend” would invite me over to his house sometimes a couple hours before he hosted his house parties. We would play some Nintendo, get the place ready for the party, and then I’d go home. I didn’t belong at parties. This was the same friend who actually pushed me away when “the popular” kids came around because he didn’t want to be publically associated with me.

By grade 12 I really started hating my life. I remember begging God to change me. I asked Him over and over why He gave me this family, this body, this face, this brain. I considered suicide to end it all, but God prevented that from happening. I wanted to change everything about me, but I didn’t know how. And I was absolutely miserable.

I went to college to study computer engineering at at 17 years old. That year was spent alone, in a basement, doing nothing but watching TV and drinking milk. I flunked out badly.

So I went home that summer a total failure. I had no friends, no future, no peace, and the only thing I was good at – computers – was a total bomb. Now what?

My dad suggested I go to Bible College, so I got a job so I could pay for it, and went for the first year. I stayed in the dorm and paid extra so I wouldn’t have a roommate. It was a split gender dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other, so I was surrounded by Christian guys all day, every day. And I treated them like garbage.

Everyone I’d known, all the way though school treated me badly and I learned to trust no one. And I came to that dorm full of hate, anger, resentment, fear and a commitment to not let anyone get through my shell.

But these guys wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I lashed out, the more they came into my room. They kept inviting me to things, asking to talk, asking to pray for me, including me in movie nights, game nights, band nights… and they never treated me badly. So one night I had it.

We were all sitting in one guys room and I told them how angry I was. How I hated myself and hated everyone else. I told them how I kept waiting for them to hurt me, and how afraid I was that I would never be loved. And they did something that I never expected. They told me to sit on the bed and prayed for me. They put their hands on me and started to pray. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember that at first I wanted to break their arms. I was shaking with anger, turning red and sweating as rage coursed through me. I hated them.

And then I suddenly stopped and something changed. It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized that I was loved. I was loved by these guys. They weren’t going to hurt me. And then, more importantly, I realized I was loved by God.

Over the next coming days God told me a lot of things about Him and myself. He said He’d been there all along, and that He never left. He said He let me go through those hard things because He wanted me to be able to see and know things that few people get to. He said that every single one of those experiences, as terrible as they were, were going to be things that He will use to help others. He told me that I wasn’t a mistake, and that all of my weirdness was exactly who He created me to be – on purpose.

And suddenly, I felt more free than I had in my whole life. I recommitted my life to serving God no matter where He wanted me to go. I signed up to stay at the college so I could train as a minister. Because I knew God’s love, and could love others, I met a girl and married her that same year.

The moment I stopped thinking that I was a mistake… the moment I stopped comparing my life to others, my happiness to others, my body and mind to others… I was free. The moment that I understood that I was loved by God for who I am, and that I don’t need to do anything in order to be loved more… I was free.

Romans 8

And God gave me a chapter of scripture that would be something I would read and share and teach over and over and over: Romans 8. And I want to read it to you because it means so much to me:

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 14-15, 22-39)

The Solution

So what’s the solution to the problem of comparison? Contentment in God by following Jesus. Contentment means being mentally and emotionally satisfied with the way things as they are now. That can’t happen if you believe that satisfaction comes from things outside of you, or things that can be taken away – like popularity, wealth, beauty, friends… Contentment is extremely rare and is only found in people that know they are loved no matter what. Show me someone that knows they are loved, and I will show you someone who isn’t caught up in the comparison game.

Tonight I want you to know that you are loved.

You are loved no matter how popular or weird you are.

No matter how wealthy or poor you are.

No matter how intelligent you are.

No matter how you look.

No matter how strong or weak you are.

No matter what your family is like, what you have done, or what you haven’t.

You are abundantly loved by a God who sees every moment of your life and no matter how hard it is, He promises that He will walk with you through it, and use every part of it for your good, His glory, and to help others. He won’t waste a drop of it because He loves you.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It will kill your soul. Instead, learn who God created you to be and live as that person — because that person is richly loved.