One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century was a man by the name of Barney Fife. It may be surprising to discover that one with such a brilliant mind worked as a deputy sheriff on The Andy Griffith Show. But his wisdom is seen in the advice he gave some temporary workers in the sheriff’s office. He told them that if they saw or heard something that was wrong, they only had one course of action. They were to, “Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”
I’m not sure about the background of those words of wisdom. I think it has something to do with plants, and I know nothing about growing plants. In my mind, Fife was saying that when you see a problem with a plant, you need to cut that problem off. Cut it off at the bud, which I assume is the place where the problem first appears. Don’t let the problem spread from the bud to the branches or the leaves. For those of you with knowledge of plants, I apologize for my ignorance. Still, I think I get the point Fife was making.
The Lord taught the same thing in Mark 9:42-48. He tells His disciples that if they are doing something wrong, they need to cut it out of their lives. He uses graphic language. If their hands, feet, or eyes are a problem and prevent them from faithfully serving the Lord, they need to remove them. The point is that these problems can spread and impact their whole lives. The consequences can be catastrophic. Whereas the Lord says, “Cut it off,” Barney would say, “Nip it!”
We see an example of somebody doing what the Lord (and Barney) say we should do. John the Baptist went to the Nation of Israel and preached to large crowds of people. The people had never seen or heard anybody like him. They recognized that he was a prophet. Not surprisingly, some of them wondered if he was something more. They began to wonder if he was the Christ.
John faces this mistaken view head-on. He tells them in no uncertain terms: He is not the Christ (John 1:20). Later, he will remind them of what he said (John 3:28). In the original Greek, it says that when he realized certain people thought he might be the Christ, he said that he needed to, “Nip it. Nip it in the bud.” (OK, the Greek doesn’t really say that. I’m paraphrasing.)
In John’s case, the problem he encountered included the temptation of pride. It would have been easy for him to let what some of the people were saying about him slide. After all, he was doing the work of the Lord. The Lord had called him to be a prophet to the nation. He was speaking the truth. What harm would there be if a few people thought he was even more powerful and important than he was? Plus, let’s be honest, the adoration of others can sure make a person feel good.
Pride is a potential problem for anybody involved in Christian work. Any believer who preaches, teaches, writes blogs, or assumes any leadership position in a church can be impacted by it. It can cause all kinds of chaos in our own spiritual walk and in whatever ministry we are involved with.
But I think it is a problem for anybody who has been exposed to Free Grace teaching. Even in everyday conversations, we will find people who are grateful for how we help them understand the Scriptures. They will tell us how wonderful we are because we have helped them understand the grace of the Lord. Some of these folks will have been enslaved to theologies that kept them in spiritual fear. Free Grace will be a liberating light in their lives. How wonderful to know you have eternal life that can never be lost! It is natural to have a high opinion of anybody who plays a part in your understanding that.
When that happens to you, remember to be like John. Don’t let the words of others make you think you are greater than you are. We have the privilege of being slaves of the King. That is who we are, and that is more than enough. When we see pride lift its head and attempt to derail us, remember the words of the Lord: “Cut it off!” When we think too highly of ourselves, it is like a fungus that can spread throughout a plant. That is how we should see it. I think Barney might have had the words of the Lord in mind when he said: “Nip it in the bud!”