Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Notoriety and no-names

NEVER HAS THE definition of a celebrity as someone who is “famous for being famous” been truer than it is today. Even in the church we have been seduced by the idea that notoriety equals impact. We have swallowed the lie that the bigger the bang, the more known the name, the better.

The usual defense for this rationale is that “healthy things grow,” which is true, but only to a point. Healthy things have an optimum level to which they grow, after which they actually become damaging. And not only healthy things grow: what about cancer cells?

Nonetheless, many of us hunger to make headlines, because we believe that legitimizes our lives and even our faith. Give many Christians a choice between being the apostle Peter (mentioned over 150 times in the New Testament, and not taking into account his letters) and his brother, Andrew (15 mentions) and they would doubtless choose Peter. After all, if you have more press clippings you must be more important. Notoriety or no-name: a no-brainer, right?

But here’s the thing: without Andrew, there may never have been a Peter. Remember that it was Andrew who first heard John the Baptist speak and followed Jesus as a result. Andrew then “found his own brother Simon [Peter] and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42).  

Writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul noted how their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Woo hoo, they were famous! Maybe he feared they might let that go to their heads; perhaps that’s why later he urged them “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

As someone once observed, it’s more important to be known in heaven and hell than to be recognized on earth. In one sense, that was true of Jesus. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul observed how Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7).

It’s also worth remembering that by 21st century measures, Jesus was a failure. Many of His disciples left Him when His message became too exacting. A member of his inner circle betrayed Him, one denied Him, and the others abandoned Him. Not exactly first-century Forbes material. But it was entirely consistent with the topsy-turvy nature of the message of the kingdom—that death precedes life, and that pruning is a necessary part of fruitfulness.

Ultimately, there’s only one name under heaven that really matters.

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