“The Thin End of the Wedge”: John Stott’s Wisdom for Everyday Faithfulness

I just finished a little book by John Stott, *Problems of Christian Leadership*, published this year by InterVarsity. It is a collection of talks Stott gave on the subject at a conference some time ago. While a good distillation of Stott’s thoughts on leadership, it was an Appendix that most struck me. It contained two remembrances of John Stott, written by Mark Labberton and Cody Widmer, both of whom worked as Stott’s assistant for a time. It was a portion of Cody’s that struck me most:

I have countless memories of my three years serving as Uncle John’s study assistant, but two anecdotes are the most prominent in my mind. The first occurred after just a few months in the very mundane pattern of our daily life together. Every morning, at 11 a.m. sharp, I would bring him a cup of coffee. I would find him hunched over some letter or manuscript at his desk, consumed with the work before him, putting his un-paralleled powers of concentration to whatever task was at hand. Not wanting to disturb him, I would quietly set the cup and saucer adjacent to his right hand, and oftentimes he would mumble a barely audible word of thanks: “I’m not worthy”.

Initially I thought this comment was amusing, but after a few months I began to find it slightly bothersome. How could someone pronounce himself unworthy of an acidic cup of instant coffee? One morning I was feeling a little cheeky, and when Uncle John mumbled his usual expression, “I’m not worthy”. I quipped back, “Oh, sure you are.”

Uncle John stopped, and I saw the powerful magnetic look of his concentration ease from the papers before him. He slowly raised his gaze, and, with a look of immense seriousness, yet boyish playfulness, he responded, “You haven’t got your theology of grace right.” I laughed, grinned awkwardly, and then said, “It’s only a cup of coffee, Uncle John.” As I turned round and headed back into the kitchen, I heard him mutter, “It’s just the thin end of the wedge.”

It took me days to figure out what he meant by that final rejoinder in our exchange. Though I never discussed it with him, I am convinced that he meant this: if our commitment to Jesus Christ and our understanding of his grace do not impact the small places in our daily lives—the “thin end of the wedge”—then we are not living integrated lives. Our commitment to Christ may be most richly expressed in the most apparently inconsequential moments.

Corey Widmer in Problems of Christian Leadership, John Stott. IVP, 2014, emphasis added

This reflection was originally published in Portraits of a Radical Disciple: Recollections of John Stott’s Life and Ministry. Ed Christopher J.H. Wright. IVP 2011. 

I get into the habit of thinking I deserve all that I have. I do not. It is all grace.