The Blessing of a Thick Skin

A turtle in the Singapore Botanical Garden – photo by John McKeel

Some people just rub me the wrong way. It doesn’t matter what they say; it always comes across to me as an insult. One brother came up to me after services with a scowl on his face (He lived with a perpetual frown) and said, “I wish your sermons were longer.” Was that a compliment or a complaint?

I believe a sermon doesn’t have to be eternal to be immortal, and I tend to keep them under twenty-five minutes. Once, an elder came up to me after services and advised me, “An ideal sermon should be twenty-three minutes long.” Not twenty-two or twenty-four? Why twenty-three? I never found out. Last weekend, a dear young couple called Jan complaining their minister had just droned on for two hours!

On the other hand, that particular Sunday, I only preached for fifteen minutes! That was short even by my standards, so Brother Curmudgeon’s comment, “I wish your sermons were longer,” had a sting to it. Of course, perhaps he was complimenting me. Maybe he was trying to say, “I love what you have to say, and I could have sat through a two-hour lesson.”

Let’s take it that way as we examine a virtue from the Apostle Paul’s “Definition of Love” (1 Corinthians 13:4 – 7). He begins by saying, “Love is patient,” and he concludes with “Love … perseveres.” Both words describe different aspects of the same virtue. The first could be translated as “long-suffering” and the last as “endurance.” Both are great qualities and serve as bookends – the beginning and the end of love. However, there is another beautiful little word for patience in the middle: stego (στέγω). The Greek dictionaries define stego as “keeping a thing confidential, cover, pass over in silence” or “to bear up against difficulties, bear, stand, endure.” In other words, stego could be pictured as a patch on a roof or a boat that keeps out the water, or it could describe the beam in a wall that supports the whole structure.

How does that help us? We’re not going to change Brother Curmudgeon into our own image. Instead, we need to learn to smile, say a little prayer, and use the virtue of stego to shelter us from his comments. Sometimes it helps to develop a thick skin! (See Ezekiel 3:9.)

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