This last Sunday morning during our Sunday School series through 2 Corinthians Nathanael Gentilhomme directed us to chapter 5 verses 11-16. In that text there is this verse:
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you (5:13).
That phrase “beside ourselves” has the idea of being out of one’s mind. As Nathanael helpfully pointed out, it was not that Paul was in actuality out of his mind; it was that it at times he appeared that way to those around him. At other times it appeared that he was of sound mind. In essence Paul was saying, “If I appear to be out of mind, just chalk it up to the fact that what I am doing is for God, and if I seem to be with it, then in that and the other instances, I am serving you as well.
Here is the question that struck me as I considered Paul’s statement. Is there anything in my life that someone who does not follow Jesus would say “wow, that John, he is out of his mind!” Another thought I had was this: Is there anything in my life about my devotion to Christ that would cause a fellow brother or sister in Christ who is in a season of earthly mindedness to say: “It sure seems like that John is a bit over the top right now about things.
It seems to me that the key here is to understand that Paul was not talking about being crazy. He was simply talking about the dynamic of living for the infinite worth of God around those who do not currently get that infinite worth. Far from being insane Paul had a sanity that will be vindicated throughout eternity. But true sanity looks strange in a world that is sadly inverted to God’s purposes. Paul did not get some kind of kick out of doing “extreme” things as if they commended him to God. No, He was simply living the Christian life in a maturely devoted way to Christ. And we all know that ignorance and immaturity has always had a hard time appreciating true wisdom and maturity.
Later on in 2 Corinthians Paul gives a catalog of some of his ventures as a radically (in the eyes of many around him) normal (according to the New Testament) life of service to Christ.
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Though the normal Christian life may not lead us down the same paths of Paul, the normal Christian life is to follow Jesus anywhere He so chooses to take us. After reading Paul’s testimony I think all of us would say that Paul probably has the upper hand at being perceived by the world as “out of his mind!” But how might we be living for God that is good and normal and pleasing to God and yet interpreted by the unregenerate world or worldly wise Christians around us as insanity? Here are just a few that came to my mind.
- You actually daily read from a book that was written thousands of years ago? Are you out of your mind?
- You actually obey that book as if it is the ultimate authority of all that you do? It is 2013. Things are changing. You are getting left behind. Are you out of your mind?
- You pray to a God you cannot see and believe He hears and answers? Sure, we all pray when tragedy strikes, but when the sun is shining why are you praying? Are you out of your mind?
- You actually acknowledge you have a wicked heart and do not defend yourself? Look, we all make mistakes. I get the fact that you think Jesus died for your sins, but you are not the worst sinner out there. Trust me. I have seen some of them. Cut yourself a little slack. Are you out of your mind?
- Did you just say you go to church on Sunday weekly even though it is one of only two or even your only day off? Wait, how long are you at church? I thought you said it was in the morning. It is in the evening as well? How can you do that? I have to relax and have time for myself. Are you out of your mind? I thought you said church was on Sunday? What in the world are you doing there on Wednesday evening?
- You give to the church regularly? Look, charity is good, but it is rather obvious that your budget is tighter than mine even though we are making the same salary. How much money do you give? You have to take care of yourself. Haven’t you heard how much it takes to raise a child these days and be prepared for retirement? You have to start taking care of yourself. God isn’t going to do that for you. Are you out of your mind?
- Don’t you know we live in a place that has multiple religions? I think it is great that you are devoted to your spirituality, but pushing that on others by talking to them about what is private is out of bounds. This kind of thing could really hurt your chances of advancement at work. Are you out of your mind?
Many other things could be said, but I have merely listed what are basic realities of the Christian life. Increasingly these basics are considered to be radical in our society. Many other things could be listed in our individual lives that God would have us do for His glory that look insane to the worldly minded.
Living in the context that we do, it is easy to get pulled away from living the “radically normal” Christian life. We like Martha can become so entrapped with what we like to call “practical matters” that we push out this single-hearted devotion to our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God was in Mary and Martha’s home. Martha was “distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40) and became incensed that Mary was so focused on listening to Jesus rather than helping her get the “practical matters done.” No doubt, in Martha’s mind she was considering the insanity of Mary’s focus on Jesus. All the while, it was Martha that was truly out of her mind. The one who is the resurrection and the life and who would raise her brother from the dead (John 11:25) was in their presence and Mary was simply doing the most sane thing, she was focusing on Jesus. And Jesus vindicated this focus with these words:
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Focusing on the one thing necessary is radically insane to the world around us. Sadly, it can be interpreted as insane to some Christians because of their double-mindedness with the world. Sadly, we too have looked at those devoted to Christ and questioned their sanity at times. But we can be confident that if we do what we do for God in harmony with His Word, our sanity will be vindicated for all eternity. And I have no doubt that when in eternity we will realize that the sanest thing to do in this life was to live a life of insanity for God in the sight of this world.