When walking by the bakery in a grocery store (which I may have done more often than is healthy for me!), there will often be cakes that are decorated with flowers and icing, but with a blank space in the middle. Those who want to order a cake for a special occasion (or perhaps a forgotten anniversary?) can choose an appropriate style from the examples and place a future order, or – if the event is particularly urgent – ask the baker to decorate an existing cake from the display on the spot.
While the decorations on a given cake might limit what messages are a good fit, there are usually a lot of options for what a cake might say. A pre-decorated cake with balloons could say “Happy Birthday”, “Congratulations on Your Retirement”, or “Get Well Soon!”. (Well, maybe you wouldn’t want a cake if you’re sick, but I might!)
Until the words are added, though, the cake really doesn’t say anything. Sure, some might read their own interpretation into the other decorations or the cake itself (e.g., “Are you trying to get me to break my diet?”), but the message – or dialogue that accompanies the delivery – is really what explains why the sender purchased the cake for the recipient.
In the same way, our lives may be well-decorated with good deeds and kind words, but if we don’t explain where those come from, we’re like a “show cake” in the display case.
Here’s a negative example:
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Acts 12:21-23 NIV
I’m not saying that every time we take credit for something, rather than pointing back to God, we’ll be struck dead. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this to you.) However, as followers of Jesus, especially as we begin to appreciate the magnitude of what God does for us, and how He enables us to live up to His righteous ideal, why wouldn’t we want to point people back to God, so that they can enjoy the same sense of awe?
Here’s a positive example, where followers of Jesus actually had to hold back praise that they were getting, because the crowd attributed their work to the wrong source:
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Acts 14:11-17 NIV
If someone sees your good deeds or God’s work through you (even to the point of being miraculous), and they believe that you are a deity, it’s probably a good idea to correct them. There is no eternal benefit to be gained by doing otherwise, I think!
This isn’t just about deflecting credit, or in being artificially modest so that other people think we’re even better (“Oooh…look at how humble they are!”). Instead, it is about showing people a greater truth, so that they too can connect with the same source of strength and power that enables us to live out the life for which we have been created.
Other people (those who haven’t yet met Jesus) can see Christians accomplishing good things, including:
- Performing good deeds and serving others (especially those who can’t help themselves).
- Living a life that is successful (not necessarily in money or power, but in the things that really matter in life).
- Accomplishing more than human beings can normally achieve (with God’s help).
However, I fear that many of these people think that Christians are just trying harder than everyone else (whether out of fear, or just out of discipline), or that they are just lucky (attributing divine achievements to coincidence). These observers miss out on the joy, fulfillment, and purpose that is readily available to all, because they don’t understand the message behind what they see.
For those of us who follow Jesus, may we tell others about Him (and the change that He has made in our lives), and not be just a fancy cake with no message. Our lives – lived according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus – are only the decorations, not the message itself.