Empty Fulfillment


fulfill (2)

Luke 3:7 He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

It was 1994. I was sitting in a theater-style classroom at Pittsburg State University. The class was ecology. The professor was Dr. Steve Ford. Two girls were chatting during his instruction. Dr. Ford closed his book and notes, put them in his case and began to walk out the door. He looked at the girls and said, “Either I’m leaving or you are.” They stared at him stunned. He started again toward the door when the girls hurriedly put their books in their bags and exited the room. Class resumed.

Some professors are just interested in filling their class and passing their students. Others, like Dr. Ford, are interested in fulfilling their calling as teachers.

I spoke with Dr. Ford recently. He’s retiring. When I asked why, he said, “The mental rigor my class demands is just too great for the students that are coming into college these days. And I’m not going to dumb it down, so I’m leaving.” It had been 20 years since that occurrence in the classroom with the disruptive girls but Dr. Ford remained unchanged. He was interested in fulfilling his call as a teacher, not filling a classroom with students.

So it was with John the Baptist. He had been prepared in the wilderness. He was called, anointed and in position. When everyone finally came, you would have thought he would have been interested in one thing; filling the river with people. But instead, what did he say as all the people came? “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath!?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I pictured the 21st century charismatic preacher who’s planted a church and just got a hold of some sizable capital to move into a beautiful new building with all the state of the art equipment and a dynamic worship team. It’s his first Sunday. He opens the doors and as the people enter, he senses that they’ve come because of their interest in the place rather than the Provider. In throngs, they make their way toward the front to listen to his opening dynamic and challenging message and as they begin to take their seats, he yells, “Stop! You brood of vipers! What nonsense enticed you to come fill these seats today!?”

I hope you’re laughing now, too. It would never happen, right? Probably not. And yet, in essence, it’s just what John the Baptist did. He rejected the false notion that filling a river with people to baptize was the ultimate objective. Simply put, filling a river was not fulfilling his calling.

We can fill our ministry, our mouths, our time, our eyes, our minds with a lot of things that may sound good, feel good or even seem good.

But often a filled life is not a fulfilled one.

In the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he writes, “Take heed to the ministry that you have received in the Lord that you may fulfill it.” The Greek word ‘fulfill’ here is pleres meaning “to fill or complete.” It is not gemizo meaning “to fill or stuff.” Gemizo was used when Jesus said of the Pharisees, “white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones.” They were filled or stuffed with death. But they certainly weren’t fulfilled or complete.

Are you feeling complete or are you feeling stuffed?

Join me in disconnecting the idea that a filled life is a fulfilled one.  Who knows – That first day in the Jordan may have been an empty river day for John, but who would doubt he was fulfilling his purpose? So consider that fulfilling your day today – God’s way – could mean an empty church building, an empty email box and an empty planner. It may not be full, but it could be beautifully complete.




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