THE STORY IS TOLD of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century. When he was dying of cancer, one of his friends and former associates asked him, in effect, “How are you managing to bear up? You have been accustomed to preaching several times a week. You have begun important Christian enterprises; your influence has extended through tapes and books to Christians on five continents. And now you have been put on the shelf. You are reduced to sitting quietly, sometimes managing a little editing. I am not so much asking therefore how you are coping with the disease itself. Rather, how are you coping with the stress of being out of the swim of things?”
Lloyd-Jones responded in the words of Luke 10: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20 – though of course Lloyd-Jones would have cited the King James Version).
The quotation was remarkably apposite. The disciples have just returned from a trainee mission, and marvel that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (10:17). At one level, Jesus encourages them. He assures them that (in some visionary experience?) he has seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (10:18). Apparently Jesus understands this trainee mission by his disciples as a sign, a way-stage, of Satan’s overthrow, accomplished in principle at the cross (cf. Rev. 12:9-12). He tells his disciples that they will witness yet more astonishing things than these (Luke 10:18-19). “However,” he adds (and then come the words quoted by Lloyd-Jones), “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20).
It is so easy to rejoice in success. Our self-identity may become entangled with the fruitfulness of our ministry. Of course, that is dangerous when the success turns sour – but that is not the problem here. Things could not be going better for Jesus’ disciples. And then the danger, of course, is that it is not God who is being worshiped. Our own wonderful acceptance by God himself no longer moves us, but only our apparent success.
This has been the sin of more than a few “successful” pastors, and of no fewer “successful” lay people. While proud of their orthodoxy and while entrusted with a valid mission, they have surreptitiously turned to idolizing something different: success. Few false gods are so deceitful. When faced with such temptations, it is desperately important to rejoice for the best reasons – and there is none better than that our sins are forgiven, and that by God’s own gracious initiative our names have been written in heaven.