Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? (Matthew 6:27)
I recently spent an amazing day in our Kruger National Park, during which I came across a small flock of Southern Ground Hornbill. They mooched along, quite unperturbed that they we being watched – except for one large male who might well have been tired of all the Sunday morning attention. This fellow did his best to increase his stature by fluffing himself up and stiffening his wings, and proceeded to strut around like this while glaring balefully at my car. I took the hint and left, still chuckling at his pluck, but it did get me thinking about our stature in Christ.
Our stature in Christ is what truly defines us, not our own worth or reputation.
While today’s verse is most associated with the birds of the air being fed and the lilies of the fields clothed by God’s hand, this little word caught my attention. Our stature is essentially our reputation – the way we ourselves and others perceive us. Before salvation, stature and the regard and respect of others is a primary drive in every person. After salvation, when self is brought under the control and direction of our spirit rather than our fleshly aspirations, it is our stature in Christ by which we are ‘measured.’ This often has the result of diminishing rather than increasing – Christians today are generally regarded as anything from odd to bigots. As the world turns further from God and His Son, our stature will diminish accordingly.
If we’re absolutely honest, we all are like that bird in some ways. It’s often an instinctive response when feeling threatened or when confronted by things that are outside our ability to control. Something in us reacts by trying to make ourselves bigger than what we really are. It’s a defense mechanism, of course, an instinctual response in the face of something potentially dangerous or difficult. Our stature in Christ, on the other hand, removes self from the equation and replaces it with His example. We no longer need to protect ourselves with elaborate defense rituals. That’s now in God’s hands. Our Christian response should rather be to do as Jesus did. And He stood silent in the face of persecution and even death.
Every Christian will have an ongoing, continual struggle against this deeply rooted and powerful drive. We all have an inner need to validate ourselves – to belong, to define ourselves in such a way that we are accepted and respected – ingrained in our very nature. The challenge of our stature in Christ, however, demands that we master this and subject it to the sovereign will of God. It’s a very simple principle, but one very difficult to live. In essence, as a Christian, we assume the name of Christ. We are not longer ‘me’ but are defined only by our stature – our identity – in Him. It’s no longer self that lives here. It’s the ambassador of Jesus. We are the physical manifestation of His life, His character, His nature, and His identity. The old ‘me’ is utterly replace, on a spiritual level, by the new ‘me in Christ and Christ in me.’ It’s a total spiritual transformation, but it takes a while for the rest of us to catch up.
The other reason why we so often fluff ourselves up is wrong emotional responses such as anger. It’s a form of retaliation that is closely tied to defensiveness. Anger demands that we impose our version of reality and take control. It’s a ‘warning off’ mechanism. When our feathers are ruffled, anger will quickly kick in as a means to restore our ability to control the situation. Of course, once again, our stature in Christ denies this right. If we look at the person of Jesus, those instances where He did display righteous anger had nothing to do with His personal needs. It was always only about the righteousness of God and the abuse of the things of God. This is a severe challenge to many of us, and will likely remain so because self needs to be continually crucified in every moment of weakness.
The nature of our stature in Christ is two-fold and may appear contradictory on the surface. On one hand, it drastically diminishes in terms of worldly expectations. We’re to turn away from praise and self-importance. We’re to lay down our desires for respect and acceptance. We are to accept, basically, that without God we are nothing – a teaching that will remain in direct confrontation with worldly views which teach the exact opposite. We are, in essence, to become ‘unrecognisable’ as Jesus did. We are to endure the scorn and disregard and even the outright persecution of the world.
Yet our stature in Christ, on the other hand, raises us spiritually to the place where, when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. We are elevated to the place where we become sons of God and the bride of Christ. It is an incredible privilege to have the stature of Christ – to be raised up to reflect the person of Jesus in the world. In comparison to the temporary stature of the world, which we must continually work hard to create and sustain, our spiritual stature is beyond measure. When we struggle to keep the right balance and self where it belongs – on the cross – this is our hope and encouragement. As we continually surrender self to Christ in us, we can be sure that the rewards in eternity are well worth anything the world may throw at us.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for the times when we have put our stature above our stature in You. Help us to recognise those moments where self seeks to impose its own desires. Draw us closer and empower us daily with Your Spirit so that we may fix our eyes on spiritual things and our place in You rather than on the temptations and expectations of the world.