William Arthur Ward wrote:
Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not to envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate.[i]
I had a friend who fit that description. John Wesley Coble went home to his heavenly reward last week. He was truly a gentleman and a disciple of Jesus Christ; I will miss him.
As a Sunday School leader, John taught Bible Study to adults for 50 years. He often remarked how much of a privilege it was to be able to do that, as the constant preparation/study to teach helped him more than his teaching helped the class. It’s true, nobody learns like the teacher who prepares.
Before he retired John was an auto mechanic; he worked for dealerships doing expert maintenance and repair. He was also no stranger to the pit crews of Richard Petty. When you serve in a pit crew there’s no time or energy left over for envy or jealousy. It’s like that in being a disciple too. And John knew it!
John told me his family had not been homeless when he was growing up, but …in the depression, just keeping life and limb together was sometimes all one could do. There were a lot of stories in John’s life about “making do” with a lot less than perfect circumstances and resources.
After a lifetime of fixing other people’s cars and tinkering with the racing monsters that go round in circles on Sundays, John retired and drove his old Chrysler. The old tank wasn’t in bad condition, but neither was it “showroom ready”. It was just a car.
Once, after a Wednesday evening Bible study about stewardship, John and I talked for a good while after everyone had departed. I asked him about the old Chrysler, only half-joking when I wondered if it was a cast-off from the depression. John answered me with three simple sentences that taught me about the simple grace of a life without envy:
Well, preacher, I’ve thought an awful lot about getting a newer car, and I always come back to the same thought. An’ that thought is, if I don’t buy a new car I’ll have more money to be able to give to the Lord’s work. I don’t need another car as long as I can fix this’un, but there’s always somebody else that needs Jesus.
When you live your life under that kind of Biblical wisdom nobody has to say “Rest in Peace”; John Wesley Coble was already there!