Promises for Servants
“...no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 54:17
This verse ends a chapter on God’s protection; the next verse begins a chapter on God’s compassion and provision. The bases are covered for God’s servants.
The Lord wants His children to know that we are under His protection. This does not eliminate the fact that we will from time to time endure suffering of one form or another, but it is a reminder that a loving Father watches over our every move, and is never caught off-guard by the enemy.
Notice the nuances in this verse. It doesn’t promise us a conflict-free existence where weapons are never formed against us; He says “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed.” We aren’t promised freedom from attack, but servants of the Lord are propped up by the promises of a God who says our enemy won’t win over us as long as we’re serving and trusting in Him. Hey, that’s pretty good!
We even get the promise that we will be victorious against the verbal attacks waged by judgmental tongues lashing out at us: “and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.” I don’t think that means we win all arguments, especially ones we started; I think it means God makes sure we are vindicated when we are reproached for His name’s sake while we are trying to honor Him with our lives.
Why does the Lord make His servants bullet-proof? “This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.” With service to God comes God’s promised protection. It’s part of the heritage He offers. He promises vindication as well, so we don’t have to worry about retaliating against those who try out their weapons on us, or use their tongue as one. He is a really big God, and He has promised all the protection His servants need. He hasn’t told us we’ll never encounter hostility aimed in our direction, but He has given us the assurance that if we will stand with God, He will make sure that when the onslaught is over, we’re still standing. No weapon, no word. Nothing prevails against God’s servant.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 2 Timothy 1:7-12
When our lives are plagued by fear, we can rest assured it didn’t come from God! The spirit God gives is one of power and love and self-control, not one of fear. There is a peace which is our birthright, even in the midst of our worst trials and scariest circumstances.
Another part of our birthright is suffering, despite what some modern-day health-and-wealth-gospel proponents fervently promise. On more than one occasion, we are given the heads-up that when suffering arrives, it should not come as a big surprise to us.
Paul knew suffering was just part of the bargain of being a disciple of Jesus. He also was very aware that what he had been given was a trust from the Lord.
A faithful servant is willing to suffer. He also learns to see everything as a trust from God, including trials and suffering. Because he understands this process and the nature of the Spirit within him, the servant does not give way to fear, but instead allows the Spirit to build in his life a power, love and self-control which points like a compass back to God. It’s like a trademark. The Spirit of God is not one of fear. The powerful, loving life of self-discipline is the life which bears the mark of the Spirit’s control. That’s the life every believer gets to have, if we simply live surrendered to His Spirit.
The Key to God’s Faithfulness
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Mis-handling God’s truth is a serious thing. Evidently, so is “quarreling about words.” It seems to ruin both participants and spectators. I’ve been in some theology classes where that seemed to be the theme—and outcome.
On the other hand, there are “trustworthy sayings” we are to hold on to, and pass along to other believers, for their benefit. This four-line proverb packed with promises is apparently one of them. There’s a lot of theology crowded into four simple couplets which would fit on a coffee cup.
The first two couplets are beautiful, solid promises: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him”; the third couplet is a warning: “If we deny him, he also will deny us”; and then there’s the fourth one, the one I love the most: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful”---
Wait. Shouldn’t that be like the others? Shouldn’t it say, “If we are faithless, he will break faith with us, too”?
No! Because this is our glorious Heavenly Father, who is faithful, always, regardless of what we do! We’re not the key to His faithfulness. No one is. Our God is always faithful, and there’s no “key” to it. Pass it on!
And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:17-38
It’s been twenty centuries, but the pathos of that moment still lingers. The dedication, the determination shown by those early believers! Those were our spiritual parents—people who were willing to lay down everything, in order to follow Christ.
The Ephesian elders were informed they would never see Paul’s face again—now it was up to them. Would they watch over the flock, follow the example, work hard, finish the course? The torch had been passed.
And what of us? Are we willing to accept what has been passed down to us? Our spiritual ancestors are gone. Now, it’s up to us. Will we mirror their determination, and go forward with Christ? As we look at the blood-stained handprints on that torch, we know there’s really no choice. We must go on.
Signs and Sins
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8-9
This is not just a minor point in serving God. If we are not willing to be fully identified with Christ, we cannot be true disciples of His. If we are not willing to suffer or to pick up our cross in order to follow Him, we cannot be His servants. He’s not looking for “sympathizers;” He’s looking for disciples. In these days of rampant, belligerent and public sin, it’s very important that we not be ashamed to align ourselves with Jesus Christ, or His Word, and it is very important that we are willing to take the heat that comes with that alignment. The days for being an incognito disciple in America are about over.
A servant is not ashamed of his Master. He’s not ashamed of his Master’s words; he’s not ashamed to suffer for the sake of the Master, or even to die for Him; he’s not ashamed to be identified with the Master; he’s not embarrassed or ashamed to worship the Master with utter abandon.
Does this mean we’re to be obnoxious in our faith? I’m thinking of people who have gained media attention by tormenting those with unpopular sins, carrying their signs about hell’s judgment and seeming to exult in the prospect, as long as it’s somebody else and not them. The way I read it, Jesus said that without Him, we’re all lost, not just the ones whose sins look the worst on a cardboard sign. I could fill a sign or two with my own sins, but they’re under the blood. And that’s the point, for me. My Savior is Jesus—no one else! My self-righteousness isn’t going to get me very far! My only hope of avoiding the penalty of my sins is the forgiveness offered me by the Son of God, who paid the price in full, for me. But if I think I’m going to just live my life however I please, refuse to be identified with the Christ who died for me, then be welcomed into heaven by a Savior whom I treated as an embarrassment to my dying breath, I’m as mistaken as I can be!
Salvation is serious business. We can’t have it both ways: We belong to Jesus, or we do not. I want the world to know I belong to Jesus, and they can, too. Everyone who wants to can avoid hell, no matter what our sign used to say.
A Plague for Jesus
"For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him." Acts 24:5-6
Serving God doesn't mean that everyone likes you!
When you have done everything Paul did, and endured the kind of hardships and persecutions he endured, what must it feel like to have your service presented before the governor like this?!
Paul’s enemies told numerous lies against him, but to little effect. The governor, Felix, had enough sense to realize who was telling the truth and who was not, even though the Jewish leaders did their best to butter him up. In fact, Paul’s message so penetrated Felix’s heart that he summoned Paul often to converse with him, though he never made the step of becoming a believer, himself.
Back to the name-calling. “For we have found this man a plague,...” What does it feel like to have repeatedly risked your life for no other reason than to try to save strangers from eternal ruin, only to be publicly labeled a “plague”? “Plague”—a disease, something to get rid of, something inhuman, worse than no value.
Am I willing to so associate myself with Christ that I would let people lie about me before governors and kings, for His sake, then calmly make my defense, all the while honoring the name of Jesus? Am I willing to be a “plague” for Jesus?
And which one is it, anyway—“plague” or “missionary”? It all depends on whose side we’re on. To one, it’s the sweet smell of eternal life; to others, it’s an obnoxious plague which won’t go away to leave them in their sin.
May my life be so marked by His Spirit that wherever I am, the Gospel spreads like a plague!
Dumped By the World
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the words that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27
The mark of Jesus upon our lives separates us from a world which chose to hate and persecute Him. When we join up with Jesus, we are no longer part of the “world,” and the popularity we may formerly have enjoyed as one of its residents will often be jerked away.
What’s the difference? It’s the scandal of the cross. An unresponsive world rejected the Savior who came to earth to save them. Ignorance turned to rebellion, as the sacrifice was delivered up before their very eyes. Ever since, it only takes the slightest reminder—the symbol of the cross, a fish sign, a head bowed in prayer—and the rebellion is reactivated.
We remind people of Jesus! If that reminder exposes sin rather than salvation, we catch the consequences of a wrath directed toward God, but which lands on whomever bears His name. It’s all part of being a witness. And it’s all part of having to choose a side. When we pick Jesus, we may as well get used to the idea that the world won’t love us like it used to. So what?
Free From Fear
"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." Revelation 12:11
The weapons which are effective against Satan are clear: The blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony, a willingness to die serving the One who died for us.
The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, is most important of all—without His shed blood there is no salvation, and the accuser of the brethren prevails against us. When our sins are covered by the blood of our Savior, the accusations of the enemy must fall silent; the devil has no choice. It is the blood of Jesus which saves us, and we are His.
The word of our testimony completes the circle of power represented by His blood. Salvation is available to all who will receive it, but those who ignore or reject it are yet liable to the accusations of the enemy. When we receive the gift of salvation, and we testify to what Christ has done for us and in us, the circle is completed, and Satan is shut out. Any claim he may have had to us is canceled. We move from death to life.
Then there’s the last piece: “for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Satan’s tactics have always centered on lies and intimidation. When we proclaim the truth of Jesus’ lordship and we trust in His promises, the power of the lies is broken. But there is still intimidation. Satan can threaten to harm us or kill us, if we don’t succumb to his plans.
This is where the last hold is severed. If we have determined in our soul that we are willing to give anything in order to follow Jesus, including our very life, we are set free from the intimidation Satan attempts to use on us linked to our instincts of self-preservation. He’s out of bullets! If he can no longer lie us into submission, because we believe only God’s truth, and it no longer works to scare us with threats of death or injury, because we’re no longer afraid of death, what does he have left?! There’s no more foothold on our life. We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, by our testimony about that Savior, by the fact that we’re no longer afraid to die, since it only puts us even closer into His presence. When we love Jesus more than we love life, the enemy loses his grip, and we get to live free from fear.
The Anointing Is Worth It
Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. 1 Samuel 18:12-16
Just because you’re God’s servant doesn’t mean that everyone will like you! On the contrary, sometimes that’s precisely the reason they don’t! In this situation, the praise of the people only made the king increase in his jealousy of David, the champion who had saved the day for the Israelites. It didn’t help that everyone seemed to recognize God’s Spirit on David’s life, and though they probably didn’t mention it, publicly, His absence in Saul’s.
At one time, the anointing had obviously been upon Saul’s life. He had repeatedly been given opportunities to trust God and gain favor through obedience. He had repeatedly failed those tests. Now the anointing was gone, and he knew it. The presence of this youth who defeated giants and handily succeeded in every task, with God’s help, was such a threat to the errant king that he chose to devote the rest of his life to eliminating him. The focus in Saul’s life, from here on, is going to be getting rid of David, rather than challenging Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. Yet another waste, in a life characterized by waste.
Why did Saul hate David? Saul saw that God’s Spirit was upon David, and had left Saul, and Saul was threatened by what he saw in David. Hence, he was David’s enemy for the rest of his life. Had David not been under the anointing of God, Saul wouldn’t have even known who he was, much less hated him. But the anointing is worth it! Having God’s favor is worth everything—even if it seems that the whole rest of the world is mad at you!
The Gift of a Rebuke
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. 2 Samuel 12:1
On the tails of David’s scandalous actions regarding Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, including Uriah’s planned demise at David’s orders, God sends a prophet to the king of Israel. This was not a mission without peril! In fact, had Nathan gone on his own, without God’s direction, he would have never returned, and he knew it.
Bringing bad news or correction to the sovereign of a nation is never going to be a welcome task, under any circumstances; it didn’t help that in David’s case, in times past, he had been known to kill the messenger, if he deemed it appropriate! David had already killed several men in this cover-up; what was one more?
Not all jobs that a servant gets are easy ones. This had to rank as one of the hardest ever! God’s servant, Nathan, seems unafraid.
I’m pretty sure that the “lamb” story Nathan tells David was divinely inspired. The result of the story is that David is unknowingly trapped into condemning himself, so Nathan isn’t the one doing it. Nathan tells the story, David reacts by angrily stating, “The man who has done this deserves to die,” (2 Sa 12:5) and all Nathan has to do is close the trap with four words: “You are the man!” (2 Sa 12:7) David had already pronounced judgment on himself, by that time; all Nathan was doing was pointing that out.
One of the best things Nathan ever did was to bravely and graciously deliver a difficult message from God, not knowing if he would survive the day. When finished with his mission, he wisely made a quick retreat! He’ll live to be used of God another day.
Interesting to me is David’s reaction, when rebuked. Instead of defending himself, or killing the messenger, he immediately owns up to it: “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Sa 12:13) Rather than another murder, or yet another attempted cover-up, David responds by writing Psalm 51. The man is overcome with repentance. Forgiveness and grace restore to him a clean heart. His relationship with God is renewed.
As difficult as it was for all concerned, one of the best things God ever did for David was to send His messenger to David’s door with the gift of a rebuke.
Cowards to Volunteers
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:1-8
When Isaiah sees the Lord, and the seraphim touches his lips, he suddenly wants to be a volunteer. Does he understand for what he’s volunteering? The cost? The consequences? Probably not, but Isaiah had already stopped caring about anything else. Close encounters with the Almighty do that to people.
When God manifests Himself, there’s always a reason. He never does it just to show off; if we want to see God’s power and handiwork, all we need to do is look around at the constant witness of nature. But those rare and intimate times, when God chooses to display a glimpse of His glory to an individual always seem to precipitate something: A miracle, a promise, a commission. The initial human response is always pretty much the same: Fear, humility, feelings of inadequacy. Then comes the promise, the rebuke or the mission.
The second response of the human who encounters God is also nearly always the same: “I can’t do this, but I also can’t ever forget this moment, and I have to obey you. O.K., I’ll go!” God turns cowards to volunteers.
Fearful King, Fearless Prophet
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah... Isaiah 7:1-4
It doesn’t take long before the servant who volunteered, “Here am I! Send me!” is indeed sent. And to whom? To one of the most immoral, idolatrous kings ever to rule over Judah, a man who had led his nation into apostasy and now was bearing the consequences, in facing an allied army of invaders.
The fear must have been palpable in Jerusalem, in those days, particularly in the heart of Ahaz, Judah’s godless king. His father and grandfather had been good and righteous leaders, but Ahaz had purposefully strayed from his religious moorings, and plunged his country into new depths of depravity.
What will God’s message be to the quivering king? In contrast to the judgment Ahaz deserves and probably expects to hear, the message Isaiah relates from God is one of grace and comfort—“calm down, do not fear, what they threaten is not going to happen.” Tucked into the conclusion of this word of hope is a timeless truth God wants Ahaz to hear and heed: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” (Isa 7:9)
Unfortunately, the king ignores the gentle reminder that the faith of his fathers is his only hope for stability in life, and Ahaz continues to flail about in unrighteousness for the rest of his days, but at least he was told. In the time of his greatest fear, God sent him a fearless prophet. It’s too bad Ahaz didn’t make the connection between faith and courage.
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread....” Isaiah 8:11-13
At a time when few are hearing from God, Isaiah is. And one of the things Isaiah is hearing from the Lord is the warning not to follow the crowd, not to adopt the assumptions or habits of those around him, and not to fear what they fear, but instead to fear Him.
God’s servant is listening to God, not the crowd. God’s servant is going God’s way, not the crowd’s way. God’s servant isn’t even afraid of the same things; he’s only afraid of God, or of displeasing Him. If we’re going to be God’s servant, it means that much of the time, we’ll not be on the same page as everyone else! We may as well get used to it.
“But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”
I’m thinking of the level of holy fear I’ve observed among American Christians, lately. It’s pitifully low. Fear of offending the Lord of the Universe seems to scarcely cross most people’s minds. More apparent is the fear I’ve seen (and experienced) when it comes to the possibility of ticking off a cranky church member than the fear of sinning against the Creator Himself. I think of the times when I have feared man’s anger more than God’s, and I wince. The attitude I’ve seen —and occasionally practiced—which says, “God will forgive me, but so-and-so never will,” has been used as an excuse for a lot of spiritual compromise and some outright sin. The casualness with which God is approached—when He is approached—is an indicator of the disturbing lack of respect many have for His power or wrath. God’s forgiveness is taken for granted far too much of the time, as if the free gift of salvation was also free to God. It wasn’t.
The message Isaiah was getting is one I still need, today: “Don’t be afraid of anything, except offending God.” That’s the healthy fear which frees and revolutionizes my life. What could it do for our country?
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12
I’m noticing that He said, “when they bring you..., not “if.” Hmm. Although it’s obvious that, at least in America, not everyone claiming the name of Christ has been dragged before the rulers to account for our faith, things could change in a hurry. If (or should it be “when”?) they change, will we be ready? Jesus gives the calm assurance that we don’t even need to be anxious about the whole episode—all we have to do is read off the teleprompter the Holy Spirit will provide for our turn in the hot seat. Something like that.
No need to be anxious? Really? Most people can’t even get through an episode of friendly fire, such as high school speech class—no, that was a bad example—or let’s say, a preacher speaking to his own congregation (Hmm, another bad example; forget the examples) without sick-bag-level nerves. And we’re supposed to be able to face off with nasty bureaucrats and not lose any sleep over it?! I guess so!
How’s it going to happen?
This is how it happened to those who heard Jesus say it, in person. When the time came for them to face public persecution, as so many of them did, what the public witnessed was not a trembling, cringing religious coward. What observers saw, again and again, was Jesus. The witness was crystal clear. They were not hearing the words of an uneducated fisherman or tax collector; it was as though Jesus had hopped inside that body and was now speaking once again, with unheard of authority. It wasn’t them, it was Jesus. It’s why the disciples didn’t stay up late, huddled with their attorneys, crafting their defense in preparation for the trial of their life. In fact, when God answered the prayers of the Early Church and delivered Peter from prison, the angel had to smack him just to get him awake! Had it been me, I would have been making notes on a 3x5 card for what I was going to say. There’s a time to prepare. And there’s a time to just turn your tongue over to God, and see what He has to say through you.
Not Intimidated or Distracted
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. Nehemiah 6:1-4
I’m a fan of Nehemiah. He has those leadership qualities I have often envied, one of them being “focus.” Faced on all sides with intense and crafty opposition, Nehemiah refuses to be distracted from his God-given task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. His enemies pull out all the stops, but no amount of threatening or trickery can induce God’s man to give up his mission. He won’t be intimidated, he won’t be swayed, he refuses to compromise. And he succeeds! The wall is completed in 52 days, despite incredible odds.
The entire book of Nehemiah is like a workshop on leadership. It abounds in lessons on that subject. One of them is that a good servant (or leader) will not be distracted or intimidated into abandoning his duties. He knows his mission, and won’t be dissuaded. Like a bulldog, once he grabs on, he won’t let go, except at the orders of his master. He won’t bite on the temptations that are designed to get him to release his hold on the goal. His enemies can’t get him to quit by threatening him, or by damaging his reputation through rumors, or by negotiating him to death (he won’t even stop to negotiate!). A good servant will not let go of his assigned mission.
We all need a focus from God that gives us the courage to endure distractions, threats and temptations. When we know our goal is God-given and so is our role, like Nehemiah, we can become successfully stubborn in refusing to let go until we complete the task before us. And when, like Nehemiah, we refuse to be intimidated or distracted, we bring inspiration to our friends, fear to our enemies and glory to our God.
Who Asked You To Judge Your Brother?
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God, for it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:10-13
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother?”
Good question. I’m trying to think of who it was that asked me to do that. I know it wasn’t God. It seems that maybe it was this snake-looking kind of thing that suggested it, I don’t remember. Anyway, passing judgment on my brother has been an interesting hobby, and one that helps me to feel better about my own relationship with the Father. Noticing the faults of others, which does have a way of helping me to despise them (the brothers, not the faults), keeps me from having to focus too much on my own faults. Plus, I have brothers who help to remind me of my faults, so I’m just returning the favor. And it’s not that I usually tell my brother his fault, anyway. I just make note of it, and let him sink a little further into the “despised” column.
I’m forgetting something, when I engage in the sport of brother-judging. I’m forgetting that some day I will be standing before the judgment seat of God, and the account I’ll be giving won’t be of what my brother did, but of what I did. If I’ve spent my life judging people it was not my business to judge, and despising them for not following the rules according to me, I’m going to be in a lot of trouble if God starts judging me, using my standard. I’d better knock it off, and confess my own sins, and let God worry about my brother.
Not My Job
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Romans 14:1-9
It’s not my job to critique God’s other servants, or to straighten out their theology, or to decide whether or not they’re true servants of God. It’s just not. The irritation it causes God when I choose to do those things must be similar to what parents feel when their kids are continually squabbling and lobbing things at one another, then coming to tattle on the evil behavior of their siblings and to suggest possible punishments, which they would gladly help administer. It’s not my job to pass judgment on a fellow servant! That’s God’s servant, not mine. He’ll deal with it. My job is to be the best servant of God I can be, which includes not picking on the other servants.
When Faith Can Hurt Somebody
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:20-23
Here’s one of the few times in scripture when we’re asked to “keep our faith to ourselves.” The “faith” to which it refers is the one that says, “I’m a strong enough Christian that I can watch this movie and it doesn’t affect me; if you were a strong Christian, it wouldn’t bother you, either.” Their deal was eating food which had sat under a false god’s nose for a few hours in a pagan temple, and which was now sold at discount in the marketplace. Explaining how there had been no chemical or spiritual change in perfectly good meat in its short tenure as idol food was not a particular blessing to the new Christian who used to serve in that temple. There was just way too much baggage. If his “mature” Christian friend convinces him to go ahead, because “it’s just food,” that nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach is going to turn into something more spiritually damaging. Every bite is going to feel like another step backward, into the painful past. There are connotations and temptations here of which the “free” Christian is completely unaware. It’s Satan’s trap. Why on earth should a Christian push his “faith” on someone, when it results in thrusting a brother back into the danger zone?
Our problem is not food offered to idols. Our problem is practically everything else. Entertainments, habits, ethical decisions... Don’t let your baby follow you out into the street. What’s relatively safe for you may be disastrous for him.
Serve God by helping your brother on his journey. Don’t allow your “strength” to dare him into danger.
Not On the Same System
Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come. After saying this, he remained in Galilee. John 7:2-9
I suppose Jesus’ brothers were just trying to be helpful. It didn’t make sense to them that He would do what He was doing, in a place off the beaten path. “If you’re trying to become a public figure, why waste yourself on Galilee? If you’re going to become well-known, it’ll have to be in Judea. Go there, so you can accomplish what you want.”
They didn’t understand. The world never does understand. It’s because those who serve God and those who operate under the world’s standard are getting their direction from two completely different sources. For the one who operates by the methods of the world, pragmatism is the only thing that makes sense. “If it works, it must be right.”
For the one who takes his cues from God, the leading that supercedes everything else is what comes from the Father. That even includes the timing. If the Father isn’t leading us this way, we don’t do it, no matter how logical it might seem to those around us. Let the rest of the world keep charging ahead, operating according to their own wisdom; we wait for God’s signals and God’s timing, because that’s who it is we’re serving.
For the servant of God, life is not about reaching our worldly goals through worldly ways; life is about serving God. If unbelieving friends and family don’t understand, so be it. We’re not on the same system.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. Daniel 1:8-16
As a young captive in Babylon, confronted with compromise in the situation regarding the food offered him, instead of pushing his way through, Daniel asks permission of those in authority over him, and gains their favor, and as a result, is able to serve God faithfully without getting himself martyred. His approach garners respect for his God, and also elevates Daniel in the kingdom of Babylon.
Daniel is one of the least obnoxious people in the Bible. At a tender age, he already has found that it’s possible to serve God and show respect and concern for others at the same time. This winsomeness of service would characterize Daniel’s lengthy career. He simply proved himself so invaluable, time and again, that he could maintain favor with nearly any king. Some magnificent inroads were gained by a persistent, faithful use of God-given gifts, combined with a respectful attitude. Daniel’s life is a reminder that just because we’re serving God doesn’t mean we have to be a pain in the neck to everyone else!
Suffering as a Christian
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-19
There’s no glory in suffering because we were meddling. Ditto for stealing, murder and other acts of evil frowned upon by societies everywhere. Suffering is part of the bargain for a Christian, but it should be suffering for being a Christian, not suffering for being a criminal or a jerk!
Insults will come to us because we bear the name of Jesus. They will actually bring us blessing! The insults which don’t bear blessing are those which are pretty much deserved due to our wretched behavior.
We’re reminded to not be surprised at trials, suffering or persecution—it’s part of being identified with Christ. We are also reminded to not bring upon ourselves needless suffering, caused only by our bad conduct. The bottom line is: Check to be sure we’re not earning insults and persecution through obnoxious actions which only dishonor God, anyway. If we know we’re suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ, and not our own foolishness, we are encouraged to just entrust our souls to God and keep on doing good.
Grace Instead Of a Lawsuit
As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. 1 Samuel 1:12-18
The next time Hannah met up with Eli the priest, it was to present him with the son God had granted her in response to her prayer, and his blessing. Had a woman been falsely accused and reprimanded by her spiritual leader for drunkenness in America, these days, we might have expected their next encounter to have been in a courtroom, accompanied by their lawyers!
Hannah’s firm but very polite correction and her subservient attitude toward Eli gives her well-meaning priest a chance to reverse course, gracefully, and turns a curse into a blessing: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” There’s a time for humility: I think it’s most of the time!
Hannah could have let this episode be the straw that broke the camel’s back: “Not only am I barren, and ridiculed by my rival, but when I come to you, God, your priest chews me out for being drunken! I’m through with this!” It could have become a very deep-seated bitterness, and it also could have been used of Satan to damage or end Eli’s ministry. Instead, partly due to her gentle spirit, she gets a blessing; Eli gets to keep his job even though he made a pretty bad mistake; and Hannah goes away happy, not bitter! Not bad, for what could have been a disastrous encounter! Not only that, but God’s just getting started blessing Hannah. The barren woman becomes the mother of one of Israel’s greatest leaders—Samuel, plus five more children!
She could have sued! She went away happy, instead. God is good.
The Place of God’s Mercy
But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” 2 Samuel 24:10
The account of the census taken by David strikes me as strange. In 2 Samuel 24 it says God incited him to do it because He was angry with Israel; in 1 Chronicles 21 it says Satan was the one who incited David to number the people. When even Joab, David’s opportunistic, pragmatic and unholy general, begs him not to do this, it must have been a much greater sin than appears to modern eyes. The horrible punishment it brought upon Israel was proof that, for once, Joab was right about righteousness.
So what could possibly be wrong with taking a national census? The main thing I come up with is “pride.” God wanted His people to take pride in Him, not in themselves. “National pride” is not always a good thing, particularly if it minimizes reverence for God.
Had “No Census” been a rule God made up on the spot, David’s conscience would have left him alone, but David knew it was wrong, and didn’t express the least bit of surprise when his seer, Gad, came to deliver an ominous message from the Lord. Three punishment alternatives are given to David, who wisely refers the choice back to God. One of David’s strengths is that he is always more willing to depend on God than he is to depend on man. “Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” (2 Sa 24:14)
David did well to lean on God’s mercy. God’s choice is the shortest of the three punishments, and that one is even further shortened when the angel working destruction reaches Jerusalem, and God gives the command, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunuh the Jebusite. (2 Sa 24:16) An altar is built at God’s command on the threshing floor of Araunuh the Jebusite.
When it comes time to erect a temple in Jerusalem, where will it be built? The place of God’s mercy. We worship a God of mercy! Even when we have offended Him, we’re better off to throw ourselves upon His mercy rather than man’s wisdom. “Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” His mercy is great, and regardless of what we’ve done, there is a place for us, there.
Not a Quitter
Stubbornness in the Right Direction
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3
The servant of God is not a quitter.
The roll call of saints listed in Hebrews 11 doesn’t include any quitters. It includes people like Noah, who heard from God and believed God, but who then had the unbelievable task of constructing an ark 450 feet long just to prove he believed God! I’m just finishing up a yard project for which I bought materials ten years ago; I’m trying to think how long it would take me to do an ark—with power tools! How did he do it? Simple. He never quit.
After he heard from God and believed God, there was a very long period of time in which he had to keep on working, in order to prepare for what God had promised. I guess that’s all of us, in some ways.
Our Savior, Jesus, on the way to the cross, set His face toward Jerusalem and refused to turn back. He was marching to His death, and knew it, but nothing could stop Him. He was doing it for us.
We disciples of Jesus need a pretty good amount of stubbornness, when it comes to following Christ. There are going to be times when the mountaintop experience that got us started on this journey seems like a distant illusion. There will be times when we’re not hearing anything from God, when we’re weary and all of our friends are telling us to quit. We need to stubbornly refuse to give up. We need to keep following Jesus. Stubbornness is a good thing, if it’s what keeps us from quitting on God.
Not a Quitter
A Bad Time to Quit
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” John 16:1-4
If we’re going to get smacked, it helps to know it’s coming, and why. Jesus told His followers about the coming persecutions so they wouldn’t be caught off guard. As His present-day followers, some of us may have experienced very little persecution, but if and when it comes, we really shouldn’t be surprised. More importantly, we shouldn’t quit! It’s only the fulfillment of scripture taking place within our very lives.
Why do people do things like this? “Because they have not known the Father, nor me.” It’s really pretty simple. If they don’t know the Father, and don’t accept the Son, they’re going to be able to convince themselves they’re doing the right thing in tormenting Christians for living out their faith. Atrocities will be rationalized by people serving a god created in their own image. We’d better get ready to stand firm. We’ve been warned. We also need to remind ourselves that we’re not alone. Jesus has not deserted His Church; on the contrary, He has sent the Holy Spirit to empower us, comfort us, and convict a world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Our job? To love. God will take care of the matters of judgment. Vengeance is up to Him, too. Our task is to stand firm in His power, in the knowledge that we saw the enemy’s onslaught coming. Our Lord told us, in advance. It may be their hour, now, but ours is coming! Now would be a really bad time to quit.
Not a Quitter
Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Revelation 13:7-10
For those trying to follow Christ in the midst of the scenario when the beast is in power, it looks like the emphasis is going to need to be on endurance and faith, rather than self-preservation. It appears that when captivity or death has already been decreed for individuals, efforts to alter that fate will prove fruitless.
So what is the answer? Endurance and faith, on the part of the saints!
How do we develop endurance and faith? By practice.
Rather than spending a lot of energy plotting how to spare ourselves and our loved ones from persecution, or whimpering in a corner as we worry over the bad things which might beset us, we are called to increase in our endurance and faith, by utilizing it on a daily basis, even when times are relatively easy. Endurance and faith grow through practice, through use. It shouldn’t take a beast on the throne to get me to exercise my faith; the more I exercise it and depend on my God, the more stamina I develop and the more determined I become to not give in or give up.
When the time comes, the saints will need all the endurance and faith which can be summoned! Actually, we need it now. We might as well be working on it.
Not a Quitter
Saints with a Long Shelf-Life
For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the LORD, for he has
the horse and his rider he has
thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:19-21
I’m glad they stopped to praise God on the other side of the Red Sea. (Too bad they didn’t continue praising Him, instead of getting into the nasty habit of whining)! But at least for a short period of time, the Israelites were filled with wonder and gratitude. They were singing songs of praise to the LORD, exalting the One who had safely led them through the middle of the sea and vanquished their enemies before their eyes.
Leading the contingent of praising women is Miriam, who grabbed a tambourine and began to sing the refrain of God’s glorious victory. Somehow, the idea of a lithe teen-ager, dancing and singing to God, comes to mind. Then I do the math. This is Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, right? No other sisters are mentioned in the Bible as far as I know, so assuming Miriam is their only sister, this would be the one who watched over baby Moses as he floated in a basket on the Nile River, awaiting his fate. This was the one with the wherewithal to arrange with Pharaoh’s daughter to pay the mother to raise the son she was supposed to have killed! Smart girl.
The baby had grown up. Life in the palace had taken a sudden turn when good intentions backfired, and Moses became a fugitive. God’s burning bush call brought his return to Egypt, in order to help free his people. How old was Moses, when they crossed the Red Sea? Eighty. That’s no teen-ager out there praising God with a tambourine in her hand, singing God’s praises at the head of the dancers. She has to be close to ninety. Maybe praise is a kind of fountain of youth. It’s certainly a fountain of blessing.
Not a Quitter
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31-34
It’s one thing to fail miserably; it’s another thing to have someone warn us of the precise temptation, and still we fail miserably! Simon Peter’s situation gives us a slight glimpse into the spiritual battles raging around us. On the same night Jesus will be arrested, Peter glibly promises to share a prison cell with his Master if need be, or even to die with Him. Meanwhile, Peter is oblivious to the campaign of total destruction Satan has plotted against him, or the fact that only Jesus’ intercessory prayers prevent the devil from grinding the apostle into dust, permanently.
Peter will rise again as a disciple, but it won’t be on his own strength; it will be on the grace, mercy and forgiveness of his Lord, gently granted him on the beach in Galilee, post-resurrection.
Peter was a strong man, and like most strong men, tended to rely on his own strength. His own strength was sufficient for commercial fishing and making bold promises, but when it came to battling Satan, Peter didn’t have a prayer. The only thing that got him through this ordeal at all was Jesus. The Lord had enough strength and faith for both of them. The lessons Simon learned about whose strength was reliable were lessons he would never forget. When the restored disciple turned to help his fellow fallen, he had switched over to a greater power than he’d ever before known. With it came more humility, more grace, more empathy than anyone had dreamed could come out of the rough fisherman.
God really does work everything for the good, in the lives of those who continue to follow Him and love Him. God can even take predictable failure and turn it into powerful ministry! And look what He does with obedience!
Not a Quitter
It’s worth the Heat
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:17-20
It will get much worse before it gets better. From the first day, Nehemiah encounters opposition from some fierce, dastardly enemies. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem begin an immediate campaign of slander and derision, directed at the new Jewish leader who has come to rebuild Jerusalem’s shattered walls. They try everything they can think of: Threats, tricks, ambushes, starting rumors, negotiation, intimidation. None of it pulls Nehemiah off task. He is determined to accomplish his purpose in Jerusalem. With God’s help and the cooperation of some everyday heroes who simply have a mind to work, the wall is up in fifty-two days. It’s to the glory of God!
Had Nehemiah chosen to remain in his comfortable position as cupbearer to the king of Babylon, he would never have known the kind of attacks and challenges he would face in Jerusalem. He also would never have experienced the joys of seeing the miraculous take place, in answer to prayer and determined work. God’s way is very often a way of conflict, of opposition. We draw heat unlike anything we’ve ever known, simply because we’re engaged in Spirit-led activities which tear up Satan’s kingdom. It’s worth it! It’s worth the heat. There’s nothing on this earth quite like the experience of knowing we’ve been used of God to accomplish something to His glory. Sure, it draws fire. It’s worth it.
Not a Quitter
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25
Satan’s tactics are many. Some of his most effective lies are the ones which convince us that we are unwanted by God, unqualified to even talk to Him, unworthy to be in His presence. In other words, we are on our own. That’s not an encouraging thought. It’s also not an accurate one.
The very blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, punched a way through to the places where only the holy may enter, and with Jesus as our priest, we are invited to come boldly into the presence of the Almighty. We have been cleansed. We who were not worthy have been made worthy, by the blood of the Lamb. There is not one thing Satan can do about it!
So, he bluffs. If he can con us into dropping our confidence, foregoing our faith, he can minimize the sense of freedom which is our birthright in Christ, and thus limit our effectiveness as redeemed followers of Jesus. This trick works by far the best in isolation, where there is no other believer nearby to knock some sense into us in a kind sort of way. That’s why Part Two of Satan’s plan is almost always to drive some kind of wedge between believers and give them plenty of excuses to stay apart. That way they’re sure not to exchange notes and figure out the scam he’s pulling on them. If they develop the habit of encouraging one another and praying for one another, it’s basically all over for him, so he does his best to keep us apart, forgetful of the privileges awarded us at Calvary, ignorant of the blessings which would be ours if we just stayed with the body of believers. And the closer we get to the final bell, the more important it is that we aren’t falling for a pack of lies, or avoiding the God who loves us.
Not a Quitter
The Incredible Non-Shrinking Faith
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:32-39
Non-shrinking faith is a good thing to have. Apparently, it doesn’t come easily. I’m trying to imagine “joyfully accepting the plundering of (my) property,” maybe going around as thugs ransack my house, handing them things they might have missed, because “I’ve got more stuff than this in heaven—here, take it.”
I can’t quite get there in my mind. Maybe I never will. Property has always meant more to me than it probably should, and putting “losing things of importance to me” and “joyfully” in the same sentence is something I don’t think I could do, yet. Maybe never.
Endurance, though, I think I understand a little more. “Joyfully” needs some work, for me, but the idea of persevering for the sake of Christ and not quitting, not shrinking back from the challenge—I guess that one feels more natural, because that one has been tested repeatedly, while the other one has not. It’s nice to know we can still get the prize, just because we didn’t quit, even if we never quite made it to “joyfully.” We still made it. And our God is pleased.
Promises to Servants
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and
greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:23b-24
Jesus wants His disciples to ask! Six times in the same night He promises answers for those who ask in His name. The only qualifier I notice in these passages? “Abiding” in Him, like a branch connected to a vine. (Jn 15) Asking and abiding are tied together, a point which seems to have escaped many of us, resulting in a lot of disappointment:
“I thought we were supposed to get whatever we asked for in Jesus’ name. I used it and came up empty-handed. What’s the deal?”
The “deal” is, “Can I ask for this in His name? Does it fit with His purposes? Does it contribute to the harvest? Or is it basically a selfish grab for power or pleasure?” Bottom line: Since I’m using His name, this ought to be something Jesus would be asking for, or I probably shouldn’t be asking, or using His name.
But He wants us to ask! On the night before the crucifixion, He is almost pleading with His disciples to, “Ask!” If we are abiding in Him, connected, working for the same purpose, and asking for what He Himself would request, He is eager to answer, and pleased when we ask.
The Third Job of a Servant—Obey, Regardless
We Don’t Have To Come Back
“So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.” Jeremiah 7:27
In America, pragmatism has become a religion, and in much of the Church, it’s become a religion within a religion. “If it doesn’t work, why do it?” “God wants His Church to be successful, doesn’t He? If it’s not working, it can’t be God’s will.” “God loves us. He would never want us to suffer, and for me, failure is suffering, so this can’t be God’s will!”
It’s not hard to accept success as God’s plan for our lives; failure is a different story. How could God ask us to do something He knows will fail?!
First of all, because He’s God, and it’s not up to us to decide whether He continues in that position (Thank God)!
Second, because in some cases, the important thing is not the response of the people, but the fact that they were told. Jeremiah’s entire ministry was like that: “They won’t listen to you, but they must be told, anyway.”
Third, it is the job of the servant to obey, regardless. Obedience does not bring with it a guarantee of “success,” either in this world or the world to come. But obedience to God always brings blessing, the blessing of knowing we have faithfully obeyed our orders, regardless of the outcome.
One of my favorite stories is of a young Coast Guard recruit, discussing with his commanding officer the bleak outlook as they prepared to launch a helicopter into a ferocious storm, in order to attempt a rescue at sea. The recruit yelled above the wind, “Sir, if we go out in this, we may never come back!” The officer gravely answered, “Son, we don’t have to come back. But we have to go out.”
The attitude of the Coast Guard needs to be the attitude of the Christian. Success is not mandatory, but faithful obedience is. The servant of Christ may look ahead and see failure or disaster, we may even be assured of it by God Himself, but our business is to obey, regardless. This is what it means to be a servant of God. This is some of what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27) Crucifixion was always a one-way trip. No one ever came back down the hill, dragging their cross. We are called to go out in His name, even when we know we’re not coming back.
The Third Job of a Servant—Obey, Regardless
The Ministry of Whining
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!...”
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the LORD,...
“Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:4,10-11,13-15
The ministry of whining is a ministry that is not. It’s contagious, it bugs God, it discourages leaders to the point of begging God to kill them rather than continue being responsible for this crowd!...
Moses’ complaint is met with God’s mercy. First, there is a plan to lighten the load: Appoint 70 elders. Difficult as it is for leaders to relinquish control, Moses was sufficiently burned out that it must have come as a relief. He did it.
Part two of God’s response is to promise the whining Israelites that on the following day, they will be provided all the meat they can eat for a month! Moses, faced with getting to deliver this promise without benefit of a single detail, helps God do the math on this one. God’s response: “Is the LORD’S hand shortened?” (Nu 11:23)
The decision Moses faces is one of obedience. Will he or will he not follow through on God’s instructions? His job is to tell the people, not to figure out how it might happen. I’m trying to imagine telling all of these people that they will have meat, tomorrow, when I don’t know where I would get any meat. Faith. “Can You at least give me a hint of how you’re going to do this? Do I have to just tell them, when I don’t even know? Can I see the meat, first? How about if I just tell them there will be a “surprise,” tomorrow—or “soon,” and leave it vague so we’re not locked in?
The promise is made, without one shred of evidence to back it up. Once again, it’s pure obedience. When the first of the quail started to blow in from the sea, everyone understood again that God keeps His promises.
The Third Job of a Servant—Obey, Regardless
Is Obedience That Important?
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you, today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God....
But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.... Deuteronomy 28:1-2,15
Obedience has never ceased to be God’s expectation of His people. In the Garden of Eden, the first humans received clear instructions as to the necessity of obedience, and the inevitable consequences of disobedience. In Deuteronomy 28, an entire chapter outlines the promises of God toward the Israelites regarding the subject. Fourteen verses of promised blessing are followed by 54 verses of horrible curses, all hinging on obedience. The Israelites will choose the consequences for their entire nation, based upon their actions. Obedience will see the fulfillment of promised blessing; disobedience to God’s commands will ultimately bring God’s promised curses.
Does this have anything to do with 21st century Christians, bought by the blood of the Lamb? Obedience and disobedience both still bring consequences, for individuals and for nations. The grace that saves us does not come with a license to sin. While it is not our obedience that grants us access to eternal life—rather, it is the free gift of God’s grace—obedience is still part of the picture. It’s not how we get in to God’s Kingdom, but it is expected of all God’s children, in much the same way as we do not enter a human family by way of obedience, yet it is expected of each maturing child.
The principles still apply, both for nations and for individuals. Obedience to God triggers blessing; disobedience triggers heartache. The fact that these effects are not often instantaneous does not negate the promises, bad or good. We choose our consequences by our choice of action, and grace never releases us from the responsibility to obey God. Grace covers our failures, but God still expects His children to obey Him.
The Third Job Of A Servant—Obey, Regardless
We Must Obey God Rather Than Men
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
This was not the apostles’ first trip before the Sanhedrin, nor the last time they would face persecution for their faith, but their response capsulizes the attitude of discipleship: “We must obey God rather than men.”
This critical decision is one that must be made by every disciple of Jesus Christ, on a regular basis. “Are we going to obey God, or men?” The consequences can include persecution, misunderstanding, alienation, even death. Obeying God sometimes gains us favor with people; at other times, it can be the death knell for a career. It is not ours to decide on the prudence of obeying God, based on the projected consequences; it is ours to obey, regardless.
As the concepts of obedience and submission seem to become increasingly foreign to our society, God continues to look for servants who can be counted on to follow His instructions without wavering. These are the people He will use to transform nations.
The great saints of the past have always been people willing to obey God. Some, like Jonah, were reluctant and moody in their eventual obedience, and lost out on the majority of their blessings. Some, like King Saul, persisted in compromising God’s plans with their own ambitions and disqualified themselves for service. The heroes and heroines of the faith have always been those willing to follow God’s leading, believe His promise and, when everything was on the line, obey, regardless.
“Should we obey God, or men?” For disciples God uses in mighty ways, the answer has always been obvious.
Tellers On The Take
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Matthew 21:33-41
Whose vineyard was it? Whose tower? Whose winepress? Whose fruit? The tenants knew the answer to all of those questions was, “The master’s,” yet they had somehow transformed themselves in their minds from tenant to owner. It had become their vineyard. The rightful owner was rejected at every turn, as the tenants desperately clung to possessions not theirs.
One of the key points for me in this parable is that it all belongs to the Master. It’s not just a tithe of my income which belongs to Him, and the rest of it is mine; the whole planet belongs to Him! It’s His vineyard. I’m just taking care of what belongs to Someone else. I am a tenant.
When God directs what is to be done with the resources or the fruit under my control, He’s not being unreasonable or domineering. He’s not taking my stuff; it’s already His! Somehow, I have to keep that in mind! In a society where many people are owned by their possessions, it’s hard to keep in mind my “tenant” status. On a daily basis, I need to be going before the Father and reminding myself of His complete ownership. The only way I will be a good and faithful tenant is if I don’t imagine myself to be the owner. As a faithful bank teller must keep in mind that the millions of dollars going through her fingers are other people’s money, not hers, so I must keep in mind that none of this belongs to me; it’s all His. My job is to be a faithful tenant of the Father’s possessions, ready to do whatever He asks.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The rich young man wants to be a disciple, but on “reasonable terms.” Jesus requires that he cash out. It’s unreasonable—unless it all belongs to the Master. Then, it’s like a shareholder telling his stockbroker, “Please sell all of my stock and do such and such with it.” The stockbroker can’t say “No” to the request, because it’s not his money. It belongs to the investor, not the manager.
It’s one thing to agree to the theory that God owns absolutely all of our possessions; it’s quite another to act like it.
In the film “Ghost,” Whoopi Goldberg’s character, suddenly in possession of a check for four million dollars, is told to give it to the nuns running a homeless shelter. Though the money is not really hers, anyway, and having the check is jeopardizing her life, when it comes time to actually hand it over, she can’t seem to do it. It’s comical to watch her try to let go of something that doesn’t even belong to her.
The reason it’s funny is because it’s fiction, not reality, and it’s someone else, not me. Truth be told, it’s hard to part with things in our possession, even if we have known all along that they didn’t really belong to us, and the more we have, the harder it is to let go. The Master is not being unreasonable, though, even if He requires us to turn every penny over to whomever He might designate. It’s His money, all of it. Living in that mindset just may save us from being strangled by our own possessions. Instead, we could be trustworthy, relaxed, joyful stewards of God. Impossible? In our own strength, yes. But Jesus’ response to His astonished disciples is His response to me, too: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
The Hungry 90%
And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:19-20
I heard about a new simplified tax code the Internal Revenue Service is working on, composed of only two lines. The first line asks, “How much money did you make?” The second line says, “Send it in.”
That joke is much like Jesus’ actual requirement of His disciples. On more than one occasion, He warns that discipleship costs everything.
What was Jesus’ address, during His ministry years? He didn’t have one. No house to maintain. No lawn to mow. No cattle to feed. He was here on a mission, and didn’t own so much as a donkey.
Is Christ against home ownership? No. But He is against our possessions owning us.
I know my tendency to hang onto things, to try to expand what I have, to want more. If I convince myself that a 10% tithe takes care of God and the other 90% is totally mine, I am easily consumed with the care and maintenance of what the 90% buys. Even a little pile of material possessions gobbles up the lion’s share of my emotional, physical and financial energy.
Jesus knew that if the rich young ruler had retained even a little bit of his property, it would have occupied enough of his energy to keep him from ever being effective as a disciple.
The lesson for me is not to spend my life in the accumulation of things, unless I want my life to be basically wasted. I’m supposed to be God’s servant. If I keep anything back as “my own,” it will prevent me from being as effective a disciple as I could be. Either the possessions I hold in my hands are God’s, and I am a steward, or they are mine, keeping me from the life that could be.
Lord, please help me to take my hands off, relinquish my grip on stuff, and live as a useful steward of yours, managing things not my own, wisely and cheerfully, and ready at an instant’s notice to do whatever you would tell me to do with them. Help me not to spend the rest of my life trying to hang on to things I can’t keep, anyway. Help me not to waste the precious time allotted to me, in the pursuit of possessions, when I could be living as a servant of yours!
Can I Afford To Let Go?
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:28-31
Immediately following the episode of the rich young man, and Jesus’ subsequent comments about the difficulty of a rich man entering the kingdom of God, Peter becomes concerned that his own sacrifices may have been for nought. Jesus reassures Peter that the Father is indeed keeping track, and everything given up for the sake of the gospel will be replaced many times over.
Once again, God’s kindness shines through. He is appreciative of the sacrifices made by each of His servants, even though the Master has the right to everything in our possession, anyway. Jesus understands how difficult it is to let go, even of things which never really belonged to us. He gives us His word that each sacrifice we make for His sake is noted and will be rewarded.
Is that enough? On occasion, I have had to give up something important to me, in order to obey Christ. I’ve found God’s promise to be true, in every instance I can recall! The rewards have far outweighed the sacrifices, already, and I have yet to even glimpse what is to come in the next life!
The question in mind is, “Can I afford to let go of the things and ties of this world, in order to pursue Jesus Christ?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” In fact, I can’t afford not to let go, when I consider what’s in store for me as a committed follower of the Lord Jesus.
When Winning Is Losing
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this; I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21
We're not here to accumulate stuff. We're just not.
That’s a hard philosophy to embrace when we feel we’ve just been shortchanged, cheated, or neglected. It’s difficult not to seek our “rights,” particularly when it comes to finances, and especially when dealing with people who believe that taking advantage is just part of the game. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” What’s greedy about that? The poor guy has a jerk for a brother, and all he wants is what’s coming to him. Doesn’t the Lord care about everyone getting their fair share?
Apparently, “Yes and no.” The Lord definitely cares for us (tracking our hair count is a pretty good indicator that His concern extends to the smallest detail of our lives! [Lk 12:7]), but His primary interest will always be in our soul, our spiritual character. Our soul is easily damaged by a love of possessions, and that includes whether we have them or just want them.
If our heart becomes set on material things, it doesn’t even matter whether we attain them or not, we still lose out on the joy which comes when our hearts are set on God. Getting into a slugfest with someone over money is a battle from which our soul will not emerge unscathed, not to mention the inevitable resulting break in human relationships. There are times when winning is actually losing, when to even participate in the fight is to cripple our own character, when “getting ahead” only means there is more to leave behind.
Faith or Famine
And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” Numbers 18:20
While the other eleven tribes were assured of their inheritance in the Promised Land, God’s promise to the tribe of Levi was that He would be their inheritance. The tribe of the priests would be a tribe supported by the worshipers of the one true God, not supported by their own skill in farming or other forms of business. For those of us who have been bombarded for years with “Why can’t the church be more like a business?” the short answer is, “Because it’s not a business.” The Church is designed to run on faith, not a spreadsheet. In the forerunner of the Church, the nation of Israel, the people are commanded to support their priests and the tribe of priests by their tithes, as an act of obedience and worship, and the tribe God has set aside (the Levites) is commanded to live off the faithfulness and generosity of the worshipers rather than their own independent industry.
This is a tenuous system! If the Israelites give up worshiping God, there is no income for an entire tribe of people, who have no land inheritance of their own. If the people are faithless or stingy, the Levites will go hungry. Their whole identity is that they are to be at the mercy of the spiritual climate of their nation! This is not their plan, it is God’s.
The Levites were to be a living example that faith works, that it is a legitimate lifestyle as long as it is directed by God and not simply used as a cover-up for laziness. I think God wants us to live with the same attitude as the Levites were supposed to—our inheritance is the Lord, not the things we have, here. The faith mindset seems to be more important than the actual dependency on God, but when push comes to shove, we just can’t beat the real thing—either God comes through, or we don’t eat! When there is no back-up plan and we are still able to survive and even prosper, faith is not only a great way to live; it’s an excellent advertisement for the God who has promised to be our inheritance and called us to be His own, entirely dependent upon Him.
It’s Not about Me
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth... John 16:13
Prayer Journal: Lord, tell me about me.
It’s not about you. You’re too introspective. All of life gets translated into how it affects you—even ministry—whether or not you are “successful” or “fulfilled.” If your focus was more on Me and less on you, you would be both more successful and more fulfilled, and considerably less frustrated! The same thing for others: If you focused more on others, and less on yourself, you would find more fulfillment and success, and less frustration.
Even your life’s goals need to be adjusted a little: Instead of “to be a good husband, .... a good Dad,.... good pastor,.... servant of God,” try being more of a servant to all, in the sense of removing the issue of pride from it. For example, “good husband” carries some ego with it that makes it harder to change or admit your faults because that would be admitting that right now, you’re not the best husband. “Serving your wife” gets it off of your performance and puts the emphasis on meeting her needs, which results in you being a better husband without you knowing it or gloating in it! Same thing for fathering or pastoring. If it’s not about how “good” you are, it frees you to serve them, and it minimizes the pride which makes it hard to serve others, because pride is always self-serving.
One last thing: If you will focus more on Me and less on you, it will greatly help you in serving Me. There’s nothing like a “servant” who insists on being the center of attention and “serving” in his own way, and with his own agenda!
Have you really learned, yet, that my agenda is better than yours? (You’ll even like it better)! I’m also more successful.
Ah, Lord, what a treat the past few minutes have been! You have this way of just opening my heart and shoving the truth in! And, with you, it doesn’t even hurt! It’s more like this “Aha!” experience of suddenly seeing something you want me to understand, and being very glad to see it. In just a few minutes, you illuminated something major, which is, I’ll bet, the root cause of many frustrations in my life, these days. Thank you!! Now, please help me out. I am from the “Me” generation, you know. It’s about all we know! Show me how to serve you, and others, without it being about me, and without it being my own agenda. Please?
Servant of All
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” You’d think that a couple thousand years would take the bite out of that statement, and that somewhere along the line it would have begun to sound reasonable and normal. You’d think that it would have become more the credo of the Christian faith, something you’d see printed on coffee cups for sale in Christian bookstores. Jesus’ statement is still waiting for its popularity to kick in—any day, now! “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” It isn’t something He only mentioned a time or two in passing, either; He made it a point to make this point, again and again! Plus, He not only taught it; He lived it.
Why is it so hard for us to live it? Why do I go to Christian conferences and get the distinct impression that on the way there, half the attendees had been arguing about who was the greatest? Why do I see “Christian” books that focus so much on the greatness of the author, and so little on the greatness of God? Why the media ministries where evangelists and “Christian performers” preen and parade like rock star wannabee’s?
Wouldn’t Jesus want us to be aggressive? “You snooze, you lose.” “If you want something, you have to go after it.” The philosophy of our age is not hard to find within church walls—it just gets spiritualized, that’s all. “God wants me to be happy.” Is that in the Bible somewhere?* (*Answer: No) If all else fails, go to that famous, well-loved verse: “God helps those who help themselves.” What a proverb to live by! It’s the foundation stone of the Protestant work ethic. People struggle with the reference on that one, they just know it’s in the Bible somewhere. Would you believe Poor Richard’s Almanac ? Ben Franklin.
The line to greatness forms at the rear. Servant of all. Don’t expect to see it on many coffee cups. But at least it is in the Bible.
Servant of All
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45
James and John were thinking ahead. They got to counting seats, realized that the “inner circle” of disciples was composed of one too many for a two seat arrangement in glory, and decided they would get there first. They probably even convinced themselves they were being humble—after all, they weren’t asking for the throne itself, just the spots on the right and left!
“Thinking ahead” is so often just trying to plot out things to our own advantage. “Thinking ahead” seems mostly to consist in thinking of ourselves—how to get the best seats, how to be first in line. What a beautiful thing it is when “thinking ahead” becomes thinking of others, and how to best serve them. How am I ever going to get there? How do I disengage from the world’s system of status and status-seeking, and plug into Jesus’ simple plan: Doulos (servant/slave) of all? I guess all I need to do is follow the Leader, who didn’t come to grab the glory, but who left all the glory to be a servant of all.
Servant of All
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”...
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-21, 25-28
There are lots of ways to be selfish. It is clear that the rush for best seats in the kingdom was not exclusive to James and John, but appears to have been spearheaded by their mother turned lobbyist. As a relative of Jesus, and mother of two of the three disciples who formed Jesus’ inner circle (Simon Peter being the third), the favor asked must not have seemed to her nearly as audacious as it came across to others.
It is possible to be self-seeking even under the guise of serving others. The petition wasn’t for honor for herself; it was for honor for her sons. Or was it? Isn’t the search for glory for our family often just a search for vicarious glory for ourselves? The scholar-who-never-was finally is realized as brilliant through his son, the frustrated athlete at last can enjoy glory through his offspring.
The Son of Man did not come to be recognized and honored and served, but to serve. As followers of Christ, our mission is likewise to seek service, not glory. That includes when we are tempted to seek glory for our own family, that we might share in a little of it. Serving is not about grabbing places of privilege, even if it’s for people we love. Once again, the line to greatness forms at the rear.
Servant of All
An Argument to Lose
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22:24-30
Here, once again, is the enduring argument among the disciples: “Which of us is the greatest?” The fact that this has been a running dispute for a long time, and that it resumes on the heels of Jesus’ solemn prediction that one of them will betray Him, only makes it the more odious. This is taking place during the Last Supper! By tomorrow night, their Lord will have been taken from them and crucified, just as He said. Given the context, the discussion seems particularly revolting.
This is an argument that should be laid to rest! Time and again, Jesus has told them, He has shown them, that Kingdom greatness is all about service to others, not about vaunted authority. In one more demonstration of that selfless kind of love, Jesus refrains from chewing out His disciples and instead blesses them with the promise of authority beyond their wildest imagination, then proceeds to literally lay down His life for them—and us.
The well-worn discussion as to which of us is the greatest is still a smelly one, reeking of the old life and all the old attitudes which preceded our encounter with Christ. I’ve spent far too many hours jockeying for position in the Kingdom, in an endless game of comparison, where mere participation in the discussion guarantees defeat for all involved.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. It’s time to lose the argument. For good.
Servant of All
God’s Insistent Blessing
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom....
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.... Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” Genesis 13:8-12,14-15,17
Abram shows generosity when he lets Lot choose which way to go. Whose trip is this?! And who is older? And who is following God’s promises? On all accounts, the answer is “Abram.”
Lot, rather than deferring to his uncle, immediately chooses the good stuff. As soon as he’s out of sight, God tells Abram, “Guess what? It’s all yours, in every direction. Go check it out and walk through it. It belongs to you.”
What happens to a servant who isn’t possessive? He gets more possessions! What happens to a servant who honors others above himself, and is taken advantage of for his efforts? God Himself makes sure His servant receives honor and blessing! This is not a bad deal, to serve the Most High God! As a matter of fact, we can’t lose!
Servant of All
The Prayers of a Friend
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?...
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. Genesis 18:20-24; 19:29
If God had really wanted to destroy Lot, He wouldn’t have told Abraham about His plans; He just would have gone ahead and done it. What He wanted was for Abraham to intercede for his nephew. The reason He told the person of faith what He was going to do was so the person of faith would pray. Abraham did exactly that. He respectfully bargains with God on behalf of his nephew—and God likes it!
Judgment is coming upon this world, as a consequence of sin, but God’s response to sin is to provide a Savior, and to tell the people of faith about what’s coming, so they can pray. When faced with Sodom-like issues, our role as believers is not to condemn nor to compromise, but to pray. The reason we know about impending judgment and disaster is not to discourage us, but to cause us to pray for our relatives and friends so they can be saved. God is not willing that any of His children should perish.
Everyone knows someone living in Sodom. The question is, “What are we going to do about it?” God wants to save people, not condemn them. Some refuse to be saved, and are lost, but others find that they’ve been saved through nothing but God’s grace—and the prayers of a friend. Our prayers may make the eternal difference for someone—if we care. That’s what we can do, and that’s why we know. God has told us so we can pray.
Servant of All
The Basin and Towel Habit
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him....
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them....
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:5,12-17,34-35
The footwashing was the example which Jesus wanted to have linger in the minds of His disciples. This serving business is not about pecking order, nor is it about reciprocity. Both times in this passage, Jesus misses the chance to say, “Since I’ve done this for you, do this for me.” The sign of discipleship is not going to be in how much we love Jesus, but in how much we love one another! In the light of some of the classic church conflicts of all time, this information is not particularly comforting!
The message is clear—again. We are here to serve one another, to wash one another’s feet, to love one another. That is our mission. We can talk all we want about how much we love Jesus, but it’s the person with the basin and towel, serving in the jobs nobody else wanted, who is a convincing witness to the watching world.
Albert Gray has said, “The successful person has formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” He notes that successful people don’t like to do these things, either, but they do them, anyway. It seems to me that this observation especially applies to Christians, who are called to love one another as the very starting point of our identity, and to serve one another as a lifestyle, specializing in the least desirable tasks. The basin and towel habit points straight to Jesus.
Servant of All
A Close-Up Mission Field
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33
Sometimes our mission field is as close as the other side of the bed. Scripture reminds us that marriage very much resembles our relationship with the Lord. Just as He has loved us and cared for us, and it is our duty to submit to Him, one of the best ways a wife can serve Christ is by respecting her husband. One of the best ways a husband can serve Christ is by loving his wife, with the same kind of tenderness Christ shows for the Church.
Jesus has commissioned us to be missionaries of mercy wherever we go, but it starts at home. If we are not willing to submit to those Christ has placed in authority over us, we are not truly willing to submit to Christ, either. We are ignoring His chain of command, as surely as if we were in the army, and would only take orders from a general, but never a sergeant. If we claim to love Christ, but treat our wives harshly, we are not only dishonoring Jesus, but according to scripture, we are hurting ourselves, as surely as if we were beating on our own body!
..Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Talk about a close-up mission field! But this is where it starts.
Servant of All
Won Without a Word
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:1-7
In an age when this entire passage sounds so antiquated, and feminists would be quick to pounce on it as an example of the “offensive,” “patriarchal” nature of the Bible, if we would really listen to what God is saying to us, we just might find the answer we so desperately seek, particularly regarding ongoing tensions between husbands and wives.
The all-too-common situation endured by church-going wives is having an apathetic husband. Well-intended nagging about spiritual things (“Why won’t you be the spiritual leader of our home?” “Please come to church with me!”) seems to have little effect. This problem is not new, and the Bible gives the answer: The wife’s respectful and pure conduct. Respect will win him over without a word; nagging only drives him away. A “gentle and quiet spirit” is not only very precious in God’s sight, but in the sight of a husband who longs to receive respect, even if it might be undeserved. Once again, “serving the Lord” starts with serving our spouse.
As for the Christian husband, serving God begins with living with our wife in an understanding way, showing honor to her as an equal. Unresolved issues in that area will definitely hinder our prayers! It’s because our first God-given mission is to love our wife as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. This “service” thing definitely begins at home.
Servant of All
A Tender Heart, And a Humble Mind
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-12
This wonderful little passage of practical advice could, all by itself, dramatically change a person’s life. Want to “love life and see good days”? It’s simple: Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Seek peace and pursue it. When evil comes against you, return blessing, because this is your calling.
I particularly like the admonition to have a tender heart, and a humble mind. Neither is easy to come by. It’s hard to keep a tender heart when going through painful circumstances, or when being overlooked, criticized or abused in some way. Likewise, it’s a challenge to have a “humble mind,” particularly in the wake of an advanced education, plus the wisdom gained by experience and study. Humility of mind seems to decrease as the degrees and accolades begin to pile up, at least in the natural realm.
But we’re talking a supernatural realm here, one where a person can still have a tender heart, and a humble mind, even after years of adversity and years of schooling. It is that tenderness of heart and humility of mind which will enable a person to be led into areas of wisdom and even greatness that would be denied those who became bitter or hardened along the way, or whose accumulated learning caused them to stop learning, because they stopped seeking to learn.
Lord, I don’t know all the answers, and never will, here on earth. Please help me to have a tender heart, and a humble mind, no matter what.
Servant of All
Captain of the Mis-Fits
David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
1 Samuel 22:1-2
As Chuck Swindoll has said, “The cave of Adullam was no Holiday Inn.” David must have wondered, “Can’t I even hide by myself?!” Four hundred mis-fits who are in debt or bitter come and find him, and this is what he has to work with. I can only imagine the kind of folks he has with him! He gets to be captain of them. So this is what an anointing gets you?!
Lord, I’m reminded that we often don’t get to pick our own team, in your service. You send us ornery, bitter people with nothing but needs, then require that we help them! It’s because we are in your service, and you have sufficient resources for every need, both ours and theirs, that You entrust these people to our care. You allowed that motley bunch to end up under David’s leadership, not because he needed them, but because they needed him, rather than Saul. You apparently gave him all the resources required, and he survived. Before David was ready to be king of Israel, he needed to learn how to be captain of the mis-fits.
You are good, and Your plans are good! That’s a concept onto which David had to cling, even for years, and most of us who have attempted to follow You have found ourselves dangling by that same hope. “This is not what I had in mind, and these are not the people I was hoping would be on my team, but I’m committed to serving You, which means serving them.”
When the anointing finally kicked in, and David eventually found himself king over all Israel, there emerged a special bodyguard, “The Thirty,” David’s most trusted men. I wonder how many of “The Thirty” had once been with David in the cave of Adullam.
Lord, help me not to be picky about whom it is I will serve, or whom I am willing to serve alongside. “Servant of all” is the phrase. Help me to love whomever You put in my cave.
Servant of All
Called To a Different Standard
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:27-38
We get to choose our standard. We may either live by the standard of this world or the standard of our Lord. The world’s standard does not demand much which is unexpected; the Father’s standard requires us to be kind to even the ungrateful and evil. It is precisely in this way that we show ourselves to be His children, because when we are merciful, generous and loving, we are revealing ourselves to be people after His own character.
The same scenario applies to judging and condemning others: We get to choose the measuring stick which will be held up against our own lives—it’s the exact same standard we applied to others.
In giving, forgiving, judging, lending, showing mercy and responding to insult, we have the opportunity to choose whose standard we will live by—the Father’s or the world’s. In those day-to-day choices, we bear witness to our true Master. If I were a child of the world, I wouldn’t have to bother with it. But I want to live as a son of the Most High.
Servant of All
The Servanthood Seminar
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:46-50
Not only is there a tendency among us to constantly compare our status; there is also a tendency to mistrust anyone who does not march to the same drumbeat to which we’re accustomed. What is it that makes us want to climb over people to reach the top, or shut the door on those who are different or who color outside the lines?
There is usually a line forming when it comes to leadership—particularly if there’s any significant amount of power or prestige attached to the position; I don’t notice the same phenomenon taking place when it comes to serving. There are leadership seminars, leadership books galore—today I even saw a “leadership” Bible—but when I read the Bible, I see passage after passage about aspiring to be a servant, and few if any about trying to be a leader. I think we’re missing something!
For years I have gotten slick mail advertisements touting the latest seminar or conference guaranteed to turn me into a world-class leader; I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever been invited to a conference about being a servant. I don’t think I ever have. If we pay our money and take the time, we ought to have a reasonable expectation of this thing helping us to get further up the ladder, not down, right?
And here’s Jesus, one more time, emphasizing that the great person is not the well-accredited “leader,” with amazing charisma and a forceful yet winsome personality. Rather, “he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” That message probably won’t fill many auditoriums, especially at $300 a pop. But at least that message is in the Bible. Lots.
Servant of All
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37
What strikes me the most today about this story is the unplanned nature of the Samaritan’s response. He didn’t set out looking for someone to help; he wasn’t doing this as part of a program to help poor, wounded Jews everywhere—he was responding to the need he saw in front of him, to the best of his ability, then going on about his business. There is such a lesson in here for people like me, who tend to think in terms of comprehensive, incremental solutions, and who then give up before starting because the problem is too vast and my resources too small.
It seems that I need help, in order to get it right. I need the Holy Spirit to tip me off that there is a test coming, and that I need to respond in love to the situation before me. Otherwise, my tendency is to notice the problem and go home to work on some sort of big plan for dealing with it, soon to get discouraged or distracted, and eventually to forget the whole thing. I like to plan out my mercy. Unfortunately, that’s the stage in which it often remains—the planning, good intention stage. I usually don’t do very well with unplanned opportunities. So how do I pass the unplanned mercy test, especially when I don’t know it’s coming?
Unplanned mercy happens when mercy is always the plan.
Servant of All
Fighting For the Cheap Seats
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11
Aggression is so much a part of our culture that those who don’t exhibit it, rather than being praised, will more likely be criticized for it, even by members of their own family. It’s painful for parents to watch their non-aggressive children play soccer, when they politely let their opponents get to the ball before they do. “Be aggressive! Get in there and fight for the ball!” Back in the van after the game, they are then yelled at because they’re hogging the treats. Aggression: “Turn it on!” “Now turn it off!” “You snooze, you lose.” “Nice guys finish last.” “Nice guys are lucky if they even finish!”
There’s never much of a fight for the cheap seats. We are geared to grab the best, and feel it’s our birthright. (Remember James and John?) And along comes Jesus, once again, to tell us to seek out the cheap seats, to not just settle for the lowest places but to pursue them, to remind us that “... everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Learning from Jesus Christ instead of learning from the world is a daily mind-washing experience! There’s a lot to get rid of, a lot that needs to be cleared away in our way of thinking. To follow Christ is humbling, but I guess that’s the idea. Humility isn’t learned at the head of the line, nor the places of honor. You get humility in the cheap seats. Then comes honor.
Servant of All
A Channel of God’s Kindness
When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah (3/5 bushel) of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Ruth 2:15-20
Ruth is a book about kindness: God’s, Boaz’s, Ruth’s. It is such a sweet and wonderful story, one that began so badly and turned out so well. Kind of like the story of mankind! There is a Redeemer for all of us!
Boaz is kind to Ruth, but he seems to be kind to everybody! One of the best ways we can serve God is by serving others, noticing them, appreciating their kindnesses and faithfulness. Boaz does all of that and more for Ruth. He’s thinking about Ruth’s dignity, about her needs, about her devotion, about her emotions in leaving her own country, about her safety....he commends her for her character... Here is a man who really is concerned for the needs of others. Help me to be that kind of man, Lord, especially around the wife and the children you have given me, but also around others. Help me to be a reflection of your love.
Boaz is a channel of God’s kindness. That kindness begins to turn around the bitterness Naomi has felt for so long. Her reaction to Ruth’s return shows she’s getting it: “Where have you been?! Who took notice of you?!” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
Not only does God’s kindness lead us toward repentance—it’s God’s kindness that rekindles hope.
Servant of All
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:1-7
I’m uncomfortable with the individual nature of Christianity in America, the philosophy that says, “As long as I have my own personal relationship with the Lord, everything’s O.K.” Again and again, the Bible reminds us of a great deal of responsibility for one another, from the first chapters of Genesis (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) to Revelation, where we are referred to as a kingdom of priests. Priests have a responsibility for others, as well as themselves. We are saved, not so we can smugly look down on other people, but so we can help them into the lifeboat, too.
It doesn’t stop with getting them into the lifeboat. If we really are as strong as we think we are, we are called upon to use that strength to help people besides ourselves to continue in the Christian walk. As Christ bears with our failings and shortcomings, we are to bear with one another. We are to look for ways to build up, rather than criticize.
The Christian life is not a solo pursuit. We can’t just say “I’m serving God,” and have nothing to do with fellow servants. Part of our service to God is treating our fellow servants with love and respect. God’s glory is not found in a bunch of individuals each doing their own thing, independently, but when they encourage one another and live in harmony. If we serve each other like Christ serves us and we learn to join together in praising God, if we discard the attitude that lets us be selfish with our salvation, the world will see us glorifying God with one voice, and many will praise Him, too.
Servant of All
The Name to Proclaim
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5
Really? Really? Is what we proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake?
I think I may be on to part of our problem.
Just last night, I saw a television show advertised featuring the latest, greatest superstar pastor. I don’t want to criticize someone I’ve never even met—obviously God has granted him a huge degree of success—but time after time in these scenarios, with precious few exceptions, what I’m seeing is the “name” being proclaimed—and the name is not Jesus; it’s the name of the rising superstar. An empire sprouts seemingly overnight, the name and face are everywhere, and all too often, what happens next is that someone sees that face in a place it’s not supposed to be, doing something no Christian should be doing, the empire implodes, and when it’s all a big mess, suddenly then the name of Jesus appears, to be stuck to this embarrassment.
If we started with proclaiming the name of Jesus, we’d do a lot better! If we refused to get on the Christian celebrity bandwagon, and focused on serving a non-Christian world instead of trying to razzle-dazzle them, we’d be more on track. Sadly, we have a hard time resisting the temptation to proclaim ourselves, even though “ourselves” are absolutely nothing without the grace of God. “Ourselves” are not supposed to be jostling each other up the ladder of fame, in order to lead the biggest churches in America, or have our face plastered on the sides of busses. “Ourselves” are not what we’re supposed to be proclaiming; Jesus Christ is what we are supposed to be proclaiming.
Once again, serving is the answer. The unsaved world simply doesn’t need more people offering to “lead” them, but they desperately need more people who are willing to serve them in the name of Jesus. We have a name to proclaim, and a job to do. Let’s get started.
These devotionals are from Serving God, a one-year devotional book by Dave Ness. All scripture references are from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV). Serving God may be purchased in softcover or e-book through Amazon.com.