Again, hats off to Alan Davey for the link to Sam Waldron's series.
III. Calvin’s ministry shows the importance of simply trying to be useful to your brethren, rather than trying to be great.
Our tendency to pride, self-importance, and inflated views of ourselves cannot be overstated. We all, I think, have this deep, subtle, and ineradicable desire to do or be someone great. We do not really mean it when we sing “content to fill a little place if God be glorified.” One of the ways this manifests itself is in the desire to write a “great book.”
Calvin did write a great book. In fact he wrote one of the greatest books ever written, because he wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This was Calvin’s life work. For over 23 years after he authored its first edition he expanded it and edited it many times. In its earliest edition in 1536 it was six chapters. By its last in 1559 it was 80 chapters in 4 books. Calvin’s book literally changed the world. It was the book that set the course for Reformed Christianity until today. It was perhaps the greatest book written in 16th century.
But precisely here is my point. Calvin never set out to write a great book. Here are his own words from his preface to the first edition.
“…all I had in mind was to hand on some rudiments by which anyone who was touched with an interest in religion might be formed to true godliness. I laboured at the task for our own Frenchmen in particular, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a very few had even the slightest knowledge of him. The book itself betrays that this was my purpose by its simple and primitive form of teaching.” (Parker, John Calvin, 42)
The lesson which fairly screams from these words is this. Do not set out to be great! Set out to be useful and helpful to your brethren. Do not try to preach great sermons! Try to preach useful sermons. Do not try to write great books. Try to write helpful books. Do not try to do great things. Try to do useful things. Find out how you can best help the church and do that. Think about how you can most effectively minister to your brethren. Then give yourself to that in humble service. In this sense too, the one who loses his life will find it.
John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.