It’s a typical day at work or at home. You decide to take a break from whatever you were doing and log into your Facebook Account. You begin scrolling down the News Feed, skimming through your friends’ status updates. Then this status update posted by your friend, *Mike, catches your attention: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” You immediately recall reading those same words in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. It doesn’t really bother you that the person has not accredited those words to their original author. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even occur to you that he hasn’t. Not at first… not until you scroll down to the comments section.
One of his friends posts a comment below the update: “Wow! That’s deep *Mike. How did you think of that? Your updates are always very inspiring. I wish I had your gift!” At that moment, you would expect a response like this one from *Mike: “Actually, that wasn’t my quote, it’s by C. S. Lewis.” Instead, this is the comment that follows that compliment (mind you, it appears to be a very humble response): *Mike: “It’s God, my friend. I give Him all the glory. Without Him, even I would not be able to come up with these words. It’s all Him. Praise God!” Do you see what just happened? He has managed to deflect all the praise to God. He has not taken any credit for those words, but has given all of it to God. He presents himself as a mere instrument; a paintbrush in the hands of a masterful painter, a pen in the hands of a skillful poet.
That response sounds humble, God-honoring and even noble. Unfortunately, it could not be further from the truth.
This is the problem with plagiarized spirituality. It takes a discerning spirit to realize that this person is being proud in the guise of humility. The applause is too sweet to deflect it to another human being, so let me deflect it to God instead. He is taking credit in the guise of giving all the glory to God. It is often difficult to discern that this is what is happening because the plagiarism is quite subliminal. Here is the under-girding logic of our humble Christian plagiarist:
C. S. Lewis’ name is not mentioned because it doesn’t need to be mentioned. What matters is the truth in the update. Even C. S. Lewis got the inspiration from God, so there’s no need to mention him. This is not about Lewis but about God. What matters is that all the glory goes to God. What matters is that the words impact lives as they were meant to. The important things is that Christ is preached and proclaimed… and yes, there’s even a verse for that. Philippians 1:18.
You’ve probably read that classic line from Rick Warren’s famous book The Purpose Driven Church, this line: “never criticize what God is blessing.” This statement is often used to block any attempts to question the ethical and moral implications of some approaches to ministry. It is a line that guilt-trips us to pragmatically focus on the fruit, focus on the outcome and not the means. Are lives being changed? Are people getting saved? Is the Gospel advancing? Then focus on that. That’s what matters.
But is that all that matters? It’s true that Paul said that the important thing is that Christ is preached. His exact words were: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” [Philippians 1:18] So, does that mean that motives don’t matter as long as Christ is preached? A careful look at the context of that verse reveals the folly in such a rationalization. Paul is responding to a specific situation, where some people were preaching the Gospel just so that the resultant changes will add more pain and punishment to Paul who was in prison at the time. They figured that the more they preached Christ, the more people would convert to this new faith, causing a resurgence of converts and an added punishment to Paul.
Paul said that the important thing is that Christ is preached. He did not say that the only important thing is that Christ is preached.
So, yes, the end is important [Christ being preached] but that does not mean that the means [motives] are unimportant. The difference in the priority of importance between preaching Christ and preacher’s motives must not be misconstrued for an antithesis between preaching Christ and preacher’s motives. Motives matter, even though secondarily in this case. Plagiarism does matter, even though many may regard it as a secondary point to belabor and waste a whole blog post on. In my next post I will go into the core of the spiritual implications of plagiarism among Christians. My post will focus on whether we ought to be getting our answers and inspiration from God or from Google (and what the difference is or why that difference matters). To many, there may appear to be no difference as long as it is the same transforming message being acquired. But to God, the difference has eternal implications, and it is these implications that I will be looking at in my next post.
Meanwhile, as you wait for that follow-up post, chew on this:
Our difficulty in giving credit reveals our unwillingness to obey God’s command to “consider others better than ourselves” (Phil 2:3). We reason that we might as well have come up with that idea. It’s just the other person thought about it first. But we are just as gifted. Given enough time, we would have come up with the same message or idea. But this is simply not true. The Bible says that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith.” [Romans 12:6]
For the fame of His name,
Update: Here’s the link to Part 2: Plagiarized Spirituality [Part 2]