How Do I Deal with Discouragement? (Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out) (Burning Questions Series #3)
This World is Getting Worse (And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It)
Last week we said that this world is not our home. Has anyone felt that they just want to get off this planet and be with Jesus this week? To reach our final destination:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
We all have times like that, don’t we? When we are suffering, discouraged or in pain – or watching someone we love that is suffering, discouraged or in pain – it is a constant reminder to believers that we aren’t where we are supposed to be. Hebrews 13:14 echoes what we talked about last week with Augustine’s two cities: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
That’s one of the feelings that happens when hard times come, isn’t it? We feel that way, don’t we? Our feelings of “This isn’t right! It’s not supposed to be like this!” are actually fairly accurate. You’re right – it’s not. The original intention of this place we call “Earth” was that we would be happy, productive, free and walk in the presence of God. But because of the effects of sin, we are not happy, productive, free and connected to God. No, instead we are unhappy, work much harder than we should have to, are bound to temptation and destruction, and there is a veil between us and God.
That’s the bad news – but it’s true. And there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no technology we can build, no pill we can take, no food we can eat, no politician we can elect, no doctor we can see, no scientist we can fund, that will be able to make this world all better. Sure, God has put some amazing people on this earth who have done some amazing things to help bring peace, healing, humour, comfort, and wonder to more and more people – but they’re all just a stop gap. For every medical breakthrough, there are a thousand more diseases. For every scientific innovation, there are a million unanswered questions. For every great politician, there is a despotic dictator. For every comedian there is are a hundred naysayers. For every Mother Theresa there is a terrorist or suicide bomber. For every family willing to pursue adoption, there are hundreds more who would rather kill the baby instead.
I’m not saying this because I’m a pessimist – I’m saying this because it’s true. Those outside of these walls, who believe in the “triumph of the human spirit” or “the amazing potential of mankind” are only fooling themselves into believing that there is a bright day in the future where we will have conquered death, disease, famine, plague, and natural disasters. It’s a pipe dream. This world, for all its joy and wonder, is a terribly messed up place – and there is nothing we can do about it.
The Question of Discouragement
And so, today’s question become extremely pertinent: “How do I keep from getting discouraged when I continually fail in certain areas of my life?” I appreciate that question, but I want to expand it a little further to simply asking the question: “How do I keep from getting discouraged?” Whether it’s personal failure that we bring upon ourselves or a natural disaster that happens to us, I believe the response is fairly similar, so that’s what I want to address today.
Turn with me first to Psalm 37:1-9 we can find a very practical list of ways to react when we become discouraged. Let’s read the whole thing together and then, over the next couple weeks, we’ll take it apart into five different parts.
As a quick intro, this Psalm is written as a sort of proverb set to music. It’s chock full of practical truth about how things are supposed to work. They are in alphabetical order (in the Hebrew language) and each build upon one another. One writer in the 16th century said, “They hang together not unlike many precious stones or pearls, which are strong on one string in one necklace.” (Amyrald):
“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”
So the five steps we see there are “Fret not”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Commit your way to the Lord”, “Be still before the Lord.”, and “Refrain from anger.” We’re going to talk about the first one today.
1. Fret Not Yourself (Take Control of Your Thinking)
The first thing that the Psalmist tells us to do when we come face to face with evil – which for him are evildoers, but it could just as easily be the evils of temptation, sickness, struggle, tragedy, heartache – is to “Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” This has everything to do with preparing our mindset before the tragedy comes – or steeling ourselves against it when it arrives.
For the Psalmist, the problem is “evildoers”. He says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” In other words, he’s looking at wicked people doing wrong things, and yet they are still prosperous. This theme happens a lot in the psalms as the good guy bemoans the fact that he’s being good and suffering, and yet the bad guys are all having a great time. It bothers him greatly, so here we see him talking to himself and also talking to others about it. He’s taking control of his out-of-control thinking.
This is the first thing we have to do for ourselves too when evil comes upon us. This is the first step in the battle against discouragement – to take control of our thought life. This is actually found quite a lot in scripture.
- Psalm 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.
- 1 Peter 1:13 says, “…prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
- Last we read Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”
- (Also Romans 12:2, Mark 7:20, Philippians 4:8)
This is a practical action, a step of obedience, that we are given to do in scripture, given to us to combat the temptation to become discouraged. These are active commands, something we are supposed to do. It doesn’t just happen – it’s something which we must choose to participate in.
As an exercise in how to do this, to take control of our thoughts, turn with me to Matthew 5 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, called the Beatitudes. These are a great source of encouragement, and a great place to find right-thinking about the difficult times that we face in our lives.
Reading the Beatitudes Forwards, Backwards & Inside-Out
But I want to do something a little different today – I want to read them forwards, and then backwards, and then inside out.
Starting at verse 3, forwards we read
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Now let’s read that backward: “The Kingdom of Heaven is for people who are poor in spirit. It is the poor in spirit that are blessed.”
Now let’s read it inside-out: “Wretched are those who believe they are spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of Hell.”
That puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? What is a sure path to discouragement? To believe we are spiritually and emotionally strong enough, in and of ourselves, to deal with what this world has to offer. How can we feel wretched? By trying to attain the Kingdom of Heaven by our own strength.
To gain the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must realize that we cannot, ever, be strong enough to deal with the weight of the world on our own. Sin is too big, the troubles of this world are too big, and our personal problems are too much for us. We are designed to need God, need Jesus, and need other believers. Once we realize that and seek out other sources of strength outside ourselves, we will begin to see blessing and understand “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.
Whenever we feel like we can handle it, that we don’t need God or our Christian family – we need to take that thought captive and realize it for what it is – a demonic temptation toward the pride of thinking we are sufficient, and a ploy to get us alone so we can be attacked more easily. Don’t fall for it.
Mourning & Denial
Forwards, verse 4 reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Backwards that reads: “To feel the comforting of God, one must feel sorrow.”
Inside-out that reads, “Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of sinfulness, for they will be troubled.”
Discouragement comes to those who are unwilling to admit that they are sinners that do evil for which they will accountable for. If you walk around believing that nothing is your fault, everything bad is someone else’s responsibility, that you never make mistakes, and that if everyone would just listen to you then life would be better – then you are setting yourself up for a world of troubles.
However, when we allow ourselves to mourn, grieve, and accept the fact that sin is real in this world, and in our own hearts – that our personal sin is a contributing factor to the suffering of this world – then we can finally come to the place where we will turn to God for comfort. As long as we are living in denial that anything can go wrong, or that anything is our fault, then we will never accept the comfort of God.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so discouraged because things keep going wrong around me, and I’ve got nothing to do with it! Everyone around me is always wrong. I’m surrounded by incompetence. I deserve better!”? That’s a person who refuses to mourn for their sin and will never feel the comfort of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It’s only when we admit we are sinners, that we are guilty of sin and responsible for our actions, and that we need forgiveness – when we mourn our sin – that we will be met by the amazing grace of Jesus.
We must take this thought captive – that we are faultless – and come to God for forgiveness.
Another side to this, more obviously is that in order for us to feel the need for God’s presence, we must feel His absence. Sometimes God will put us through times of grief, that drive us to mourning, so that we will understand what life without Him is like.
Take this thought captive as well – when we think that God is punishing us through suffering, remember that He already punished Jesus and that that which we are mourning is meant to drive us to God, not away.
Meekness & Self-Centeredness
Verse 5, when we read it forwards says: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Reading it backwards we see: “The ones who will gain the most, are the ones who are willing to give up what they think they deserve.”
Reading it inside-out we read: “Wretched are the self-centred, for they shall be empty.”
This is kind of the opposite of the first one. The first reminder was that we shouldn’t be alone but this is the flip-side. Sometimes when discouragement, troubles and disaster comes, it’s really easy to get self-centred. Everyone wants to know what’s going on with you, you are the centre of attention, they’re reading your posts on Facebook, you’re getting phone calls, visits, emails, nice cards, flowers, casseroles. It’s easy to start to get used to it and think you deserve all that you are getting – that the universe revolves around you. Ironically, the attention we sometimes get when we are in the midst of suffering, can puff up our pride.
Have you ever met a “drama queen”? This is a person who is in the habit of creating and responding to situations in an overtly overdramatic, melodramatic, exaggerated way. Something goes a little wrong – they forget to pay their credit card on time, their favourite tv show is cancelled, they have a fender bender, someone gives them a negative comment – and the curtain rises and the performance starts!
Their lip quivers, the tears roll, the vague Facebook posts start flowing, “People are so rude! I’ve never been treated so rudely as I was today! Who do people think they are?”
They call you up and start with “You’ll never believe what happened to me today!” And then start to tell you of the many, horrible things that occurred that day. The only issue is that they ALWAYS have problems and all of them are huge! Everything is about them, all the time. The world revolves around them and their problems. They don’t know what to do with themselves if they’re not the center of attention and getting pity from as many people as possible!
The word “meek” means someone who is “gentle and humble”. So long as we have the world revolving around us – there is no way that we can inherit it from the One whom it truly does revolve around. (Tweet this quote) Put it this way – when we are using our sufferings to draw attention to ourselves and puff up our pride, we are wasting our sufferings, because we they are meant to draw us to our knees, build our humility, and cause us to be more dependant on God.
The other side of this is that we end up forgetting that other people have problems too. Sometimes our problems make us blind to others. A meek, gentle, humble person who is going through a hard time – is still concerned for others. It is the meek who God promises will inherit the earth, because even in their suffering, they are still thinking about how they can love others.
So, we must take captive the thought that our suffering is a way to gain attention for ourselves and forget about others. When we dwell, only on our own sufferings and refuse to help, serve, and pray for others, or draw closer to God, we are on the path of spiritual destruction. We are wasting the suffering, and can’t help but end up feeling discouraged.
Wretched are the Uncommitted
Let’s do one more Beatitude. Skip down to verse 11.
Forwards it reads: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Backwards that reads: “They persecuted all the prophets in the Bible, all the ones who believed in me before you. Because of your relationship with Me, they are going to falsely accuse you, speak evil of you, persecute you, and hate you. The only way you will be able to rejoice and be glad in these times is if you remember that your blessing and reward is in heaven, not here on earth.”
Inside-out that reads: “Wretched are the uncommitted, who drop their relationship with Jesus when it becomes inconvenient, and who think the Christian life is an easy ride, for their destination is Hell.”
Again, as I said, this is about right thinking. A friend of mine reminded me this week that all of the apocalyptic, end times, Revelation parts of the Bible are there to remind us about our ultimate goal—to experience the presence of God in Heaven.
Scripture reminds us that people are going to hate us, Satan will attack us, our bodies will fail us, the nations will be at war, the very ground beneath us will shake and break up – and it is all a reminder to us that we are not home.
Last week I reminded you that we are “aliens and sojourners” in this world. Even this environment around us is toxic. Our home is in heaven, but we’re not there yet. This life is merely a fraction of all eternity, and even though it feels all-encompassing now, the suffering we will endure only a moment in time.
If our Treasure is truly in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), where moths and vermin cannot destroy it, and where thieves cannot break in and steal it, then – and only then – can we rejoice in our sufferings. Why?
Because suffering causes us to press closer to God, depend more on Him, long for His presence, weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, share in the suffering of others, see the poverty of our spirit and desire the Kingdom of Heaven, hunger for righteousness instead of worldliness, show mercy because we have received it, and because it is a way for God to clear our minds of all the fluff and nonsense of this world.
As Romans 5:3-5 says:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
But even more than all that, when we think rightly of our sufferings, we realize that we are being made more like Jesus, who suffered more than all of us, so we might be free from suffering forever.
Don’t waste your suffering. Don’t allow it to discourage your faith – instead, allow it to push you into the arms of God, so you might know the hope that comes from God’s love poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately we’re going to have to pick up the other steps of Psalm 37 next week, because we’re not going to have time today. I think it’s really important that we cover this first part of “taking every thought captive” or “fretting not” because it is so critically important that, when suffering and discouragement comes, that we begin with right thinking about it. That’s the most critical first step.
So we’ll end there for now, but until we come back next week, I encourage you to read the rest of the Beatitudes forwards, backwards and inside-out (to practice right thinking) and meditate on Psalm 37:1-9 (for practical ways to combat discouragement).
We shout for joy to You, God,
joining the praises of all believers across the earth.
We sing to the glory of Your name!
We give to You our praise!
How awesome are Your deeds, O God!
We are in awe of Your power.
So great is Your power that Your enemies cringe before You.
The whole earth worships You and sings praises to You;
they sing praises to Your name.
We come here in joy,
we are led forth in peace,
the mountains and the hills break forth into song,
the trees of the fields clap their hands.
We have been invited, and we invite
our family, our friends, our neighbours, and the world
to come and see what You have done in our lives, God.
You are awesome in Your deeds toward the children of man.
We remember when You turned the sea into dry land and Your people they passed through the river on foot.
In the same way we have felt beset by sin,
surrounded by the enemy of our souls,
fearing for our lives,
and You have delivered us across the impassable river,
and You have our feet set on dry ground,
and we walk towards the promised land
– towards You.
We rejoice in You alone.
God, You rule by Your might,
You keep watch on the nations.
We choose to believe that all the things happening in the world right now are under Your watchful eye
and that nothing is happening without Your permission.
We may not understand it, but we trust in Your love.
We pray against the rebellious, the evil, the sinful, the tempters
— let not the rebellious exalt themselves.
We thank You for keeping us among the living,
for giving us a hope and a purpose,
for keeping us in the faith,
and for not let our feet slip.
Our faithfulness is not of our own doing, but because of Your strength.
We even praise and thank You for our trials,
for You, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
You laid a crushing burden on our backs;
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water…
many of us feel like we have been to hell and back…
but we know that because of Your grace You have given us an abundant life,
just as You promised.
And so we come to You in praise,
bringing the offering of song,
of our finances,
of our wills,
We will perform our vows to You, and not falter in our promises.
The words our lips have uttered today and in days past…
all of the things our mouths have said when we were in trouble,
we will keep.
Forgive us for making idle promises to You,
for taking Your name in vain,
and help us keep our promises.
We want to hear You today.
We come to You to listen.
We who fear God, want to hear all You have done for our souls.
We come to lift up Your name and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We cried out to You,
admitting our sins,
repenting of them,
and asking forgiveness,
and You have put high praise there instead.
We know that if we still love our sins,
if all we say today was only words,
that You have not listened.
But God, we do not cherish iniquity.
We truly desire You,
and God You have truly listened
and have attended the voice of our prayers.
Blessed be You, our God because You have not rejected our prayer
or have removed Yourself from us,
but continue to give Your love to us everyday.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Saviour,
(taken from Psalm 66 & Isa 55:12)
Our heart for service is rooted in our relationship with God,and an understanding of all that He has done for us. It is empowered by His Holy Spirit within us. We serve out of thankfulness for our salvation and the presence of God in our life.This is the final section of the Four Core Christian Disciplines – Serving Others.
Let’s start by reading Matthew 20:17-28:
“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. 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.’”
You have to love moms, right? This mother’s name was Salome and she wanted the best for her sons, and so she went straight to the top and asked for it. She knew Jesus quite well because she was probably Jesus’ aunt, which made James and John His cousins. And she wanted from Jesus what all moms want for their kids… a good future.
Drinking The Cup
“Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, ‘We are able.’”
Jesus looks right at James and John and asks them to think about this. They have just heard, in no uncertain terms, what Jesus was going to go through when He got to Jerusalem –but I don’t still don’t think they knew what they were asking for. The disciples never did really understand how Jesus was going to inaugurate His new Kingdom. It didn’t compute that Jesus would suffer and die… even though He had already told them three times.
In the same way, many of us don’t really understand what we are getting into when we come to Jesus for salvation. Certainly we understand our sin and our need for salvation, but many of us can’t grasp the scope of the journey we are embarking on when we decide to make Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And so, in the same way as James and John, we look at Jesus and say, “Yes! Be our Lord and we will follow you.”
Look at their response:
“’We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”
In scripture the “cup” represents a person’s divinely appointed destiny—God’s plan for their life. Every person that hears the words of Jesus and truly understands and accepts the gospel message is asked the same question by Jesus: “Are you able to drink the cup?”
In other words, “Are you ready to submit your life to your divinely appointed destiny, and let God run His plan for your life… or do you still want control of it?” He said it this way in Matthew 16:24,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In Matthew 10:34-39 He says,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is the first and most critical point when it comes to the Discipline of Serving Others. Giving our lives to Jesus is almost never what we expect. Jesus often takes our lives in a very different direction than we would have chosen.
James and John did indeed drink the cup of the Lord. James gave up His whole life in service to Jesus. When he was called to follow, he left behind the security and comfort of his father’s fishing business and spent the rest of his days living an unsettled life wandering from city to city. As far as we know he never married, had no place he could call home, only owned the clothes on his back, and was the first apostolic martyr (Acts 12:12). He had an amazing ministry and was mightily used by God, and grew very close to Jesus, but this was certainly not the life that he ever would have chosen for himself before Jesus called him.
John became a church planter, a pastor of pastors, seminary teacher, traveling preacher, and wrote four books of the Bible: the Gospel of John, three letters, and the Book of Revelation. His life was as fruitful as it was difficult. While the 11 apostles died violent deaths because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, John suffered through persecution and exile. But there is no one in the bible that talks more about the love of Jesus than John.
These two men had very different cups. Both knew joy, love, effective ministry, and God’s blessing… but also much suffering and sorrow.
“Will you drink the cup of God’s divinely appointed future for you?”
“Will you trust that His way is better, His ways are higher, and make Him the true Lord of your life, putting yourself behind His will, no matter what the call may be?”
If not, there’s no point in listening further because you are still Lord of your own life and master of your own destiny. There’s a reason that we speak of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour – those two titles are indelibly tied. He is our Saviour – the only one who could (or would) pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to God. But accepting that gift also makes Him our Lord. If we believe He is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the World, then we must accept that He is our creator and the master of our lives. If He is the Saviour of our souls, then He is also the Master of them.
So before we talk about Serving Others we have to talk about Lordship. Is Jesus your Lord, your Master, your Boss, your King, the One to whom you go to for direction, wisdom and strength? In the words of Proverbs 3:6, Do you “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him…”? Are you directing your paths, or is He?
If He is your Lord,
then you can and will serve others.
If He is not,
then no matter what you are doing,
you are ultimately only serving yourself.
Saved to Serve
The second thing we must know about Serving Others is that the call to Salvation is a call to Service. Let’s continue reading from verse 24:
“And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 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.’”
First, notice something important here: Jesus didn’t rebuke James and John for asking to be men of power and influence. He never said, “You shouldn’t want to be great! You should be humble and lowly and small and poor and obscure! People who follow me aren’t allowed to be powerful and influential!” No, instead, He said, “You want to be great? I want you to be great too, and greatness is worth seeking! But, the path to greatness doesn’t look the way you think it does. True greatness comes as a result of serving others.”
Being saved and Serving Others is inseparable, intertwined, hand in glove, two sides of the same coin. Listen to Matthew 25:31-46 and hear how Jesus talks about His people, His Kingdom and His disciples in terms of Service:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is a picture of final judgement, the final separation of the saved from the unsaved to their eternal destinations. This is the pronouncement by King Jesus to the sheep who are believers, and the Goats who are non-believers. A huge difference between those who are saved and those who are not is a heart for Serving Others – it is a defining characteristic of believers.
Now, it’s important to remember that Christians do not serve others to get saved, they do it because they are saved. Service flows out of the love that God is pouring into their hearts. When a person is connected to Jesus, and is having their cup filled by Him, they cannot help but serve. They are like a balloon that is being filled up with water… it can only take so much and then it has to either give some away, or they’ll burst. Maybe you’ve felt this.
You spend some time in prayer, or bible study, or worship and God gets a hold of your heart and calls you to into service. You feel the desire to do something with what you just learned, experienced, or felt. That’s a normal Christian response.
It’s often followed by a demonic attack reminding you how busy you are and that you don’t have time for that. Or the reminder of how unskilled you are or how that’s not really your job. Or how you’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, or being overwhelmed by details and thinking “I don’t know where to start, so I guess I won’t”, and you just hold your breath until that impulse to serve goes away. Have you felt that?
God says “Go and do: Encourage that person, start that ministry, feed that family, correct that person, help that child, get to know that man or woman, wash those dishes, join that committee, give up something so someone else can be blessed.” I know it’s happened to you because Serving Others is the proper outflow of our relationship to God. It is the practical outworking of a heart that is in line with Jesus.
Listen to how James 2:14-19 ties together our faith in Jesus Christ and the good works of service we do:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
A lot of people say they believe in God. James says, so what? Even the demons believe that. If you believe in God, then you must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ – He is the only Way (John 14:6). And if you have faith in Jesus Christ, then you will work out that faith through service. It’s that simple.
Christian Service is NOT a Commodity Exchange
If you have no connection to Jesus, or are not being consistently filled by Him, then you will not serve – you will want to be served. You will come to be served by others (some people call it “to be fed”), but you will not serve. If you are not regularly connecting to God in prayer, study and worship, then He is not regularly filling you up and you will feel spiritually dry. You will spend your time and energy on worldly things. If you’re not connected to God then you won’t feel divine care for others or the confidence to get out of your comfort zone to do anything for anyone else… unless you get something out of it in return. That’s not Serving Others, that’s an exchange of commodities.
“I’ll take care of your kids if you take care of my kids” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange. “I’ll have you over to my house if you have me over to your house” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll serve on this committee if I can have my way in certain areas of the church” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll donate this to the church, but only if I can put a plaque on it” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange.
We do not exist on this world merely to exchange commodities… Christians are different. Christian service is NOT about Give and Take. We give without expecting in return. We serve sacrificially, because Jesus loves us and served us sacrificially. It’s not about being fair, or just or getting what we deserve. It’s not about tit-for-tat or “if you, then I’ll.”
Jesus says in Matthew 10:8:
“You received without paying; give without pay.”
In the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:32-36 he says:
“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.”
The Source of Christian Service is Jesus
When Paul was speaking to the church in Philippi about how they were to act like Christians, he talked about the importance of sacrificial service. He based it all on the love, connection, salvation and model we have in Jesus. He says in Philippians 2:1-4:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You can almost hear him pleading from his prison cell in Rome, “If you are at all Christians… if you know anything about Jesus… if you have even the faintest clue about what He has done for you… if you have been impacted in any way because of the amazing grace of the salvation of your souls through Jesus Christ… then stop being selfish and start taking care of each other!”
Ultimately we serve other because Jesus served us. And when we serve others, we are serving Jesus!
Paul wasn’t dumb. And even 2000 years ago people were busy with families, money concerns, time management problems, and the worries of life. Everyone has cars to gas up, is tired on the weekend, and problems we need to look after. We’re all in the same boat. No one is different! There is not one person in this church or any other, from the inception of the Christian faith, that cannot come up with 10 good excuses for why they can’t serve right now.
Paul’s answer to our excuses starts in verse 5:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
No one can out serve Jesus. We think we have a lot on our minds? Read the gospels and see how busy, stretched and emotionally and physically draining Jesus’ ministry. We think that we are too good to be around those kind of people? Jesus was perfect in every way, and yet humbled Himself to come to be around sinful, wretched, rebellious humanity. We think we’re too important to do that job? Jesus had the power and glory of God, and yet He washed feet, served food, stayed up till the wee hours of the night teaching the same people the same lessons over and over, and ultimately died on a cross that He didn’t deserve. We think we’re too tired to do that job? Jesus would often work all day, pray all night, and then do it all again. Jesus was arrested during the night, got no sleep, was beaten severely, and still marched towards the cross to die for our sins.
All our excuses evaporate when we look at the life of Jesus Christ – and then realize that the same Spirit that was in Christ dwells also in us, giving us access to the same spiritual resources Christ had (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:14). That is a gift… a service… that Jesus provides for us every day.
We are going to cover questions like “How does this work out practically within the church?”, “What must I do?” “Where am I to serve?” next time as we look at 1 Corinthians 12. Your homework right now is to simply get quiet with God and ask Him to examine your heart of service.
“Lord, do I have a servants heart?
Show me what areas I’m not obeying you in the area of Service,
and help me be encouraged by seeing how you have already been using me to serve others.
you say in your word that ‘whatever we have done to the least,
we have done for You’
so help me to see you in the eyes of those around me.
Help me to cultivate a soft heart of service to show you love
and spread your love around.”