Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 328-c. 390) was a fourth century pastor, bishop, and author who, along with several others, stood strong against the tide of Arian heresy. So far I have written briefly about his life and ministry, as well as some of his shortcomings and sufferings. This week I want to address the question, What can we learn from Gregory’s life?
First, God is in total control of the circumstances of our lives, and he works them together for his glory, the good of others, and the joy of our souls. Gregory was born into a pastor’s family who would one day press him to enter into the ministry. He was educated at the best schools in the world which prepared him to stand against the intellectual forces that arrayed against the gospel. While traveling to Greece by sea, was caught in a storm of God’s making and pledged himself to the service of the Lord. In Athens he met a man who would become a life-long friend and partner in ministry, Basil of Caesarea. Though he was resistant to almost every advance he made in ministry, God used people in his life to press him into doing what he was called to do. Few people will ever possess the level of influence that belongs to Gregory, but all who believe in Christ are recipients of the same sovereign grace that gives shape to every detail of our lives.
Second, Gregory teaches us that submission to authority is the path to Christ-exalting fruitfulness. Although he often resisted and even ran from the authority figures in his life, he eventually submitted at every turn, and because of this the church was strengthened, and perhaps even saved. Had he not humbled himself, God would surely have used somebody else, but the fact is that God called Gregory to play the roles he did, and God also granted him the grace to overcome his flesh and embrace his calling.
Third, Gregory teaches us that in order to follow Jesus and advance his purposes in the world, we must take up our cross daily and deny ourselves. What Gregory wanted most in life was to draw away with God, fast and pray, study the Bible, and write for the glory of God and the good of others. This pull upon his heart was so strong that he preferred to be around as few people as possible, but God called him instead to come out of his shell and play a significant role in destroying the heresies of his day. The scope of our lives will be much different than Gregory’s but this principle remains the same: in order to do the will of God, we must deny our natural tendencies and follow Jesus wherever he leads. Toward the end of his life, God gave Gregory the desire of his heart and allowed him to enjoy several years of solitude, seeking, and writing. But by then he was ready to receive this grace as the gift it was.
Fourth, God uses broken people. On paper, Gregory was not a likely candidate to play the roles he played, but this fact is what qualified him to be used by the God who uses the weak things of this world to shame the strong.