Diamonds in the Rough by Tony Cooke

Diamonds in the Rough Rev. Tony Cooke

I recently visited with a pastor who went through some rough years as he grew up.  His mother was a determined woman who trusted God, and in spite of his misbehavior, she would say of her son, “My son is a wise son who makes his mother’s heart glad.”  Others were only seeing the problems in his life, but his mother could “see” the grace of God and sense the purpose that God had for her son.  She wasn’t oblivious to or in denial about the challenges, but she saw beyond the problems of that moment and trusted God to bring out the godly potential in this young man’s life.

That mother’s ability to see a diamond in the rough reminds me of one of my favorite Bible Characters—Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.  He was always seeing the good and potential in people that others seemed to overlook.  He saw diamonds in such characters as Saul (Paul) and even in Mark, when others could only see the rough. 

A great example of Barnabas’ gracious insightfulness is seen when the Gentiles started getting saved.  They didn’t fit the mold.  They didn’t have the right customs or the right social etiquette.  They probably weren’t singing the right songs.  And yet these Gentiles were accepting Jesus.  What were the established leaders going to do?  Fortunately, they had the wisdom to send someone of Barnabas’ temperament to these new, “different” converts.

Acts 11:22-24 says, “Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

More refined and established believers might have looked down upon these new converts as inferior, but Barnabas didn’t focus on the cultural and background differences.  He located common ground and built a relationship that edified and strengthened them.  Culturally, there would have been many differences Barnabas could have focused on, but he “saw the grace of God” and was glad.

You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right

Have you ever known someone who felt that his or her way of seeing things was the only correct way?  David Brinkley even once wrote a book entitled (humorously, I assume), “Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion.”  Another individual said, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”

Granted, there are some absolutes in the universe, and on some topics, we see the Apostle Paul being very dogmatic.  When the essence of the Gospel was at stake, he referred to, “…false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:4-5).  No flexibility there! 

When it came to the heart of the gospel, Paul showed no trace of compromise (see Galatians 1:6-8).  Also, when it came to issues of truth and error, Paul was no advocate of gullibility (2 Cor. 11:3-4; 1 Thess. 5:21).

As strong as Paul’s position was on essential truth, he also celebrated the wonderful truth of diversity when it came to varying methods, assignments, and styles (what we might call the less essential issues).  Paul’s approach to ministry (or we might say, his target audience) was different than that of the Jerusalem leaders, but a mutual respect was established in spite of their differences. 

Galatians 2:7-9 says, “…when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

It took security and maturity on both of their parts to celebrate and honor each other’s respective assignments.  There is a natural, human tendency to feel threatened by those that are different (“If they’re right, maybe that means I’m wrong”) or to feel a sense of superiority (“I know I’m right, so they must be wrong.”).

Peter had also grown in grace and recognized diversity of how the grace of God is expressed through different ones.  In 1 Peter 4:10, he admonished his readers, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  The Amplified refers to “God’s many-sided grace” and “the extremely diverse powers and gifts granted to Christians,” while the NIV refers to “God’s grace in its various forms.”

Regarding some of the non-essentials (issues not related to salvation), Paul exhibited flexibility and honored the liberty of peoples’ personal choices and convictions.  In Romans 14:5, he said, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” and went on to encourage people to not judge or hold other brothers in contempt over more peripheral issues.  It’s good to be secure in our own calling and identity, and to live out our assignment with confidence and assurance.  At the same time, it’s good to celebrate others whose lives and ministries are expressing truth. 

Certainly, I want to be discerning regarding truth and error, but like Barnabas, I also want to be sure I see the grace of God in others and rejoice in it.  I don’t want to be so caught up seeing the “rough” that I miss the diamond that is there.  Like the early apostles, I want to celebrate other ministries whose assignments, methods, and strategies vary.