Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Monogram of Christ, Museo Pio Cristiano, Vatican, undated.
Commenting on my post “Tell Me What Spiritual Issues are Important to You Right Now” David wrote: “I would love to get your perspective on Jesus Christ being the focus for all who claim to be Christian. It seems to me many churches have chose to make him a footnote in their overall message. As a pastor and church leader what is your viewpoint?” A worthy topic to consider if there ever was one! As believers in Christ we are especially called to “…fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).
Fix our Eyes On Jesus: Why It’s Important
I share David’s concern that churches can tend to lose focus on Christ. On the one hand, one wonders how it happens. How can a Christian church reach the point of making Jesus a mere footnote to the church’s overall message? Unfortunately that is an apt description of exactly what can happen. How can the One who is the very center of our identity so easily end up at the periphery of what we proclaim?
On the other hand, if we know anything of our own weakness it is understandable. As with Martha, service can distract us. Like her we can be anxious and troubled by many things (Luke 10:40-41). Priding ourselves on being “missional” can become an end in itself. It can get in the way as we seek to fix our eyes on Jesus. Worry about all that we need to do can mean we fail to sit at Jesus’ feet and enjoy Him. Or, like the church in Ephesus, we can abandon the love we first had for Jesus (Revelation 2:4). That statement, after all, addresses a church.
Learning to Fix Our Eyes on Jesus
What first comes to mind in response to David’s comment is that we as church leaders must first evaluate whether we fix our eyes on Jesus. While it is always tempting to point the finger at other churches, we need to begin with ourselves. Humbly recognizing that we are prone to lose focus on Christ, that we are not immune to that danger, is one of the best preventatives against losing our focus.
A useful place to begin our evaluation is with our own preaching and teaching in the church. One of the best metrics of evaluation we can use is 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (quoted in the ESV), which says:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Paul’s focus was not to gather crowds through demonstration of astounding rhetorical ability. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of his day, he made a point to avoid that. Nor did he seek to engage people according to worldly wisdom. In fact, he refused to know of anything in Corinth except Jesus Christ and him crucified. It was not that he was incapable of employing those other means; he deliberately refused to resort to them. He eschewed them knowing full well that Jesus Christ was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23).
The allure of latching on to whatever means might attract people to the church is powerful. That temptation arises from the desire to achieve personal glory. Paul faced the same temptation. But means matter. Rhetorical skill and demonstration of wisdom were the sorts of things in Paul’s time (and in Corinth) that someone could reasonably expect to draw a crowd. In the face of the temptation to use what was most practical, he instead resolved to fix his eyes on Jesus.
Why did Paul resolve to know of nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified? He knew that using means God had not prescribed would only tend to lead to people’s faith resting on the wisdom of men. The wisdom of men is not a stable basis for the truth of God. Nor is the wisdom of men a stable foundation for the church of Christ. Following Paul in this manner enables us to fix our eyes on Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which the church must grow. We must build the church by proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified. In this light, it is entirely possible that churches have lost focus on Christ because they never truly had focus on him in the first place. The consequences for pastors and elders failing to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus does not remain limited only to them. That failure reaches to the entire church.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).