The life of a believer gives us an example of noble Christian character.
I love the little verse 1 Corinthians 1:26: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Paul was bringing the Corinthians down a notch because they were becoming conceited in their newfound faith in Christ.
But I like the verse for a different reason. It makes me think of the “not many” Christians I have met who actually are noble and wise in God’s eyes, even though they weren’t in the eyes of the world.
Elaine Poldrack is one of those “not many noble” Christians. Elaine grew up in a modest Texas town called Taylor, just a short distance northeast of Austin. Her family had enough means to hire household help—think of the movie “The Help.” Elaine married early, and God blessed her with a wonderful marriage to a church leader, Nelson, for 60 plus years. She taught high school biology for many years. She and Nelson reared two wonderful children. Elaine had a rich, beautiful Southern accent. She was the first person to answer the phone when I was assigned as her pastor 25 years ago. What a breath of fresh air for my Southern ears!
But frankly, it wasn’t really any of those blessings, great as they are, that makes me classify Elaine as one of the “not many noble” Christians about whom Paul was talking about. Three things make me see Elaine as a noble Christian.
First, she treated every person she met as an aristocrat worthy of her utmost respect, even those people cut from roughhewn lumber. Anyone who interacted with Elaine felt their own worth increase just by the gentle and respectful way she treated them.
Second, Elaine made Christ the center of her heart and life. She prayerfully attended worship and Bible class and made thoughtful comments about the Word of God she was hearing. She had a personal devotional life.
When I had my first call to another congregation, Elaine called me up and carefully told me how Jesus had used me to bless her life. Then she prayed with me over the phone, asking God to give me wisdom and freedom to make the right choice. Later when we moved out of our old sanctuary, Elaine humbly asked if she could have one of the old hymn boards. She proudly hung it in her kitchen. She would put signs in the slots to match the seasons of the church year. This way she preached Christ to family and guests. At Easter, the words “He is risen!” graced the hymn board. Every Valentine’s Day she would hand write about 25 to 30 greeting cards with Jesus’ love or words laced into her messages and send them to friends.
Elaine deeply respected our church leadership; she wanted to help the men of our church as they led the flock. In the last five years of her life she sent all the elders a weekly e-mail that told them which church members were ailing or needing visits. She reminded them of member’s birthdays and anniversaries. She even bought the elders cards so they could send them to members.
In my 25 years as her pastor, Elaine took on two other big projects at church. She wrote a history of the congregation for both the 25th and 40th anniversaries, and she also wrote a manual for people to use when making arrangements for their own funeral. She constantly was busy making encouraging phone calls and sending e-mails and handwritten notes. I can’t remember how many times I would find an interesting religious article lying on my desk that Elaine had cut from the paper. What a noble Christian!
However, the final and most telling reason Elaine is among the “not many noble” Christians, in my mind, has to do with the way she handled a major cross in her life. For more than 44 years, she suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. All of that ministry I described above sprang from a heart healed by Jesus and a body left to suffer terrible pain. All those handwritten letters and notes were etched in beautiful script by hands that ached and burned. The hours sitting and listening to the Word of God were accompanied by terrible back pain. Pain was her constant chaperone, but Jesus was her constant help.
As the years passed, her hands, feet, legs, and back gave in to the pain. She could have flooded our lives with litanies about her trials. But instead, she chose to focus on us and not herself. In her mind, God was always good because he had given his Son for her, and she wanted others to know him. Near the end, I timidly asked her if she doubted God’s love because of her suffering. In a respectful but low, serious, voice, she said, “Never.”
Elaine was able to stay in her home with her family until the very last few months of her life. But even while she was in the retirement home, she found a way to proclaim Christ. She helped arrange for a small Bible study group from our church. They were invited to come to the retirement center and meet with her and a few of her new friends. She wanted them to hear about Jesus too. Her location had changed but not her mission.
At the end, her skin was paper thin. Just being moved from bed to chair inflicted terrible flesh wounds that had to be dressed daily. On one of my last visits, I sat with her as her wound specialist gently dressed her arms and legs. As he was working, she kept pulling us together in conversation because she was worried about his soul. Previously, he had confessed to her that he had fallen out of faith in Christ. Each day that he came she dressed his heart while he dressed her body. “Not many noble!”
Elaine is now one of the great cloud of witnesses talked about in Hebrews: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). When I think of her, I picture Elaine sitting in the grandstands watching the rest of us run the race. I think of her endurance, her respect for others, and her faith in our Savior who has given her a place in those stands.
Just thinking of her, I want to respect others more completely, encourage friends and family more purely, and ignore my troubles more bravely. I want to throw off the sin that so easily entangles me and run my race in honor of our Creator and Redeemer just as she did.
I will never see myself as one of the “not many noble” Christians. But thanks to Elaine, I know what one looks like, and I will aspire to be like her to the glory of God and the good of his church. I think others she touched will too!
Donald Patterson, pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas, is president of the South Central District. Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © January 2017 reprinted with permission.