We’ve been working through a series on Stewardship over the past few weeks. Stewardship is the word that Christians usually use to talk about how we see and use all the good things that God has given us in this world. Our jumping off point was 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 where Paul is asking the church to set aside some money he can bring with him to help out the needy church in Jerusalem, but hopefully, by now we’ve all realized that godly stewardship encompasses so much more than just our finances.
We’ve talked about a lot of subjects in this series. We’ve talked about the reputation the church has with the world around us when it comes to money, why we pass the plate on Sundays and the importance of building a habit of a lifestyle of generosity.
We’ve covered a few big Stewardship questions, the first of which is “Whose is it?”. Regardless of whether it’s our time, talents, treasure, or testimony, the first question Christians need to ask is, “Whose is it?”. The answer to that question radically our outlook. If it’s mine then I can do whatever I want – but if it’s God’s, then that means I’d better ask Him what He wants me to do with it.
That led to the study of the Parable of the Talents where we asked the second big question, “What am I supposed to do with it?” and the most general answer to that question was simply, “God wants us to do something with it that will serve others and honour Him.”
Next came a discussion of the “risk” of using what we have and how our perception of God changes how we see everything we have. If we believe God is generous, then we will be generous with others – but if we feel God is holding out on us, then the risk sharing is too great and we end up holding onto things more tightly and share a lot less.
Which brings us to last week’s message where we moved from not only talking about taking the risk to do “something” with what God gives us but how to use these gifts “best” We started with God’s gift of time and how to perceive and use it in a biblical way.
Along the way, I came up with a brief statement to challenge us and clarify what Christians believe about the use of their time, talents, treasure, and testimony. It simply says, “Everything is God’s and I am a steward of His resources. I will use what He has given me, as best I can, His way, despite the risks involved.”
Are you with me so far? If you want to get caught up on the series, head to my Art of the Christian Ninja blog and you’ll be able to read and listen to them all there.
Talents and Abilities
Today I want to talk about the stewardship of our Talents and Abilities, but first I want to show you this:
David Green said at the end there, “We do not own this company but we’re the stewards.” His son, Steve Green said, “This business has been blessed by God. He has given the family the skills and ability, the opportunity, the time, the ideas – all of these have come… from God, and so for us to lay claim to any of that would be wrong.”
And then Debbie Kinsey, “Management Ministries Coordinator” – which I don’t know what that is, but it sure sounds like an interesting position – she said she heard an employee say, “I clean restrooms and I clean floors to help David Green get the gospel spread worldwide.”
That is a group of people that have a good, Christian understanding of Christian stewardship.
Whose Am I? – Radical Individualism
It all goes back to our first question, right? Whose is it? – but in this case, it’s a little different. It’s not, “Whose is it?? It’s, “Whose am I?” All throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that everything is God’s – the sky, the seas, the animals – but we sometimes forget that we ourselves are God’s.
We live in a radically individualistic society. For a long time societies, cities and nations were built on the premise that the family, the church, our countrymen, the state, the king, or God was the highest thing of value, worth the higher honour, and the most worth protecting, that has shifted in our culture to the highest value being individual rights.
It used to be that if someone’s life was going off the rails, they were making bad decisions, they were being selfish, you could say, “Don’t you know that you’re hurting your family, you are having a bad influence on your friends, you need to change your ways because your life is having a negative effect on those around you.” That concept is more and more foreign today.
Now, we are told from a very early age that we are special, distinct from the group, that the highest consideration in our life should be our own needs, wants, desires, hopes and dreams. This is seen as breaking the bondage of the oppressive forces that have held people down for so long – parents, religion, government, teachers, and everyone that says “no”. The heroes of modern stories are less and less the ones who put themselves second and fight for others or the “cause”. Now more and more of our society’s “heroes” are the ones who break away from everyone else, do what they want, and become whatever they want to be. Instead of running toward others, they run away, and then attract likeminded others to them.
I like superhero movies and I’ve noticed that even the superhero genre is affected. Superman used to put himself at risk and fight for “truth, justice and the American way”, but now he’s brooding, distant, and seems only to fight begrudgingly. If you’ve seen the new Superman movies you’ll remember Superman’s Mom’s advice:
“I never wanted this for you. Be their hero, be their monument, be their angel, be everything they need you to be – or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”
That’s radical individualism. Even though you’re Superman, sent to earth to help people and be a good example, his mom is like, “Meh. Who cares about the world? Do whatever makes you happy, kid.”
As we’ve moved farther from God we’ve become more enamoured with ourselves. As we’ve allowed sin to dictate more and more of our actions, we’ve pushed God and others more and more to the side. As we grow more radically individual, our moral compass gets more out of whack. Think about it? What do the rise in abortions, the legalization of drugs, the crazy divorce rate, social media addiction, the destruction of our environment, the military’s consistent recruitment struggles, and the legalization of assisted suicide have in common? Radical individualism.
If the universe revolves around you, then why keep the baby if it will just be a burden to you? If my desires matter most, why not get stoned whenever I want, even when at work or driving? If my happiness and comfort is paramount why stay in a difficult marriage? Why not litter everywhere and mow down a rainforest? Why should I put myself at risk of getting shot somewhere overseas or be stationed somewhere I don’t want to live? And then, if it’s all about me, why not kill myself when I feel like I’m not accomplishing what I want to do anymore?
We Are Not Our Own
That is the absolute opposite of what Christianity teaches. The Bible teaches us that we are not our own. Listen to some of these verses: “…you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 137:13) “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” (Job 10:11) The way you look, how your body is built, your height, eye colour, beauty and deformities are all designed by God. Same with your neighbour, your child, and your friend.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That means that not only did God design us, but also made each of us able to do good works, and then prepared some things for us to do!
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says to Christians, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.” The Bible doesn’t present anyone in this world as free. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” (John 8:34) An unrepentant sinner doesn’t actually do whatever they want, they do what sin wants them to do – which is why it ends up destroying them. In the same way, a Christian doesn’t do whatever they want, but instead have given themselves to God. They were ransomed from hell by the death and resurrection of Jesus. He paid the price and now owns them.
Romans 6:16-18 says it this way,
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
The Bible doesn’t present anyone as being free in the ultimate sense (full-autonomy). No one. Everyone is in servitude to someone – either sin or Jesus. Christians recognize this and say, “I’m so sick of being tossed around and beaten by the my slave master, Sin. I am regretful of all that it has made me do and wish I could get away from him. But I’m trapped and he owns me.” Jesus says, “I will pay your ransom. I will buy you back from sin and death. I will trade my life for yours and then be your new master, your new Lord. And my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Come and be with me.” Part of being a Christian is making Jesus not only our Saviour, but our Lord. And recognizing Him as Lord means recognizing that we are not our own.
You Are a Gift
But there’s another way that we are not our own. Throughout the Bible people are presented as gifts to one another. I can’t think of anyone in the Bible that was placed on earth to be by themselves.
It was not good for Adam to be alone, so God presented Eve to him, and they were to live life together. Abraham was brought out of obscurity not to be made special, but to be the father of nations by which the Saviour would come. Joseph wasn’t made the most powerful man in Egypt because he was so talented, but so the Israelites could be saved from famine. David wasn’t made king because he was so strong and popular, but because He was a servant of God who could defend and lead his people. His successes and failures affected everyone. The times when things to really wrong in the Bible is when people get selfish. Their sin ends up spreading all over the place and ruining all kinds of things.
Consider Jesus. Listen to Colossians 1:15-18, “
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
That’s quite a description, isn’t it? Everything was “created through him and for him”. The word, “firstborn” there doesn’t mean Jesus was created, it’s a title. He’s the prince of all creation, the one who will inherit it all. Everything is His. He is preeminent.
Now listen to Him teaching His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28,
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Jesus, the preeminent One, says, “No one on earth, not even me, is an island unto themselves. Everyone is a gift to everyone else.” Jesus didn’t come as king of the universe, but as the ultimate servant, the ultimate gift to mankind.
That’s how Christians see themselves – not as mere individuals, but as gifts to each other. First, when we are born, we are given as gifts to our family. We cherish babies of all kinds because they are gifts to us from God. Then, as we grow, we live and serve our family, placing their needs above ours – and they do the same for us. We learn how to serve and be served as we are part of a loving family. Then, we leave our family and we are given as a gift, and receive the gift of a spouse. We get married to someone who helps in ways our family can’t – and we help them in ways their family can’t. In the ups and downs of marriage we learn how to be more holy, more selfless, more humble, more giving, more sacrificial – in short, more like Jesus. And then, in marriage we are given as the gift to our own babies, and the cycle continues.
But more than that. Throughout our lives God gifts us to more people. We are given as a gift to our country to be a good citizen. We are a gift to our church. We are given as a gift to our friends and neighbours. We are given as a gift to our workplaces, our employers and employees, to help each other flourish and find meaningful work in this world.
But as I said, this all gets messed up when selfishness and radical individualism take hold of our hearts, when we start to erect borders and walls between us and others.
- We try to erect the wall of racism, saying that our people group is better than another, refusing to help or listen to others because of a difference in skin colour or nationality.
- We erect economic walls believing that rich people are better than poor, or poor are better than rich, or the middle is better than anyone else.
- We erect walls between the sexes, chauvinism that says men are better than women, and messed up feminism that says women are better than men.
- In the church we see all kinds of these walls, like ageism where young people and old people can’t get along, even long enough to sing the same song.
The devil plays us against each other and they we do his work for him. All of these divisions are ungodly, sinful, and dangerous. Galatians 3:26-29 says to believers,
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
It says, “Guys, the divisions are gone. It’s not about you. You’re all family now. So live for each other.”
The Bible says repeatedly that God has given each of us different sets of gifts to steward. Some have more time, others less. Some have more talents, others less. Some have more money, others less. Some have more experience, others less. Our job is just to figure out what God has created us to do and then go do it. And whatever that is, it’s always going to be about honouring God and serving others.
Three More Things
I just want to say three more things and then I’ll close.
God Don’t Make No Junk
First, I hope that this study helps to changes our perspective of ourselves and others. Sometimes we look at ourselves or someone else and think, “Wow, I’m useless. I’m not strong enough, not brilliant enough, not creative enough, not old enough, not young enough, not experienced enough, not put together enough. God made me wrong and I don’t really have a place in this world. If I was more like this person or that person then I’d really do good, but I’m not.”
I hope this study helps you see that no one is useless. No one is an accident. And, because of the grace of God, no one is beyond his ability to use for His Kingdom. You have strengths, even if you haven’t discovered them. You have abilities, even if you’ve buried them under a pile of sin, fear and shame. But even if you were utterly incapable of doing anything – like a newborn baby – you would still have inherent worth because you are a child of God and one of His image bearers. As they say in the South US, “God don’t make no junk.”
I thought it was really interesting when David from Hobby Lobby in the video said that he used to feel guilty because his whole family went into ministry but he had a heart for selling things in retail stores. He felt bad because he thought that God like ministers, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers better. Why? Because he had a poor understanding of what God expected of him.
If you are constantly comparing yourself to others and trying to be something God didn’t create you to be, you are going to feel like junk. And, on the other side of the coin, if you judge people by your own standards and not God’s, then you are going to see them as junk. You are going to look at your own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of others as problems, excuses as to why you and them aren’t good enough for God to use. And you will want to do what we all do with junk that has no value, that is worthless – you’ll want to throw yourself or them away.
But that’s totally wrong. As long as David thought that God only wants people to be pastors and missionaries he felt like junk. But once he figured out that God didn’t make him to be in full time ministry in a church, he finally figured out he can be in full time ministry by serving God in and through passion he has for managing retail stores and selling craft supplies. That’s amazing! And it’s true for you too. God calls very few people to be missionaries and pastors and teachers. He calls most people to serve outside the church, in their families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. And He uses people of all sorts to do it.
Moses stuttered. Abraham was old. Hosea had a super messed up marriage. David was a hothead who wanted to kill people who he didn’t like and then had an affair. Jonah ran away from his mission. John Mark ran away too. Elijah suffered from ministry burnout. Paul was blind, sick, and used to chase and murdered Christians. Timothy was so stressed out he had stomach problems. Lazarus was dead. And yet God used them mightily.
Whether you think yourself too weak, or you are that prideful person who keeps judging others as disqualified. Listen again to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
We Will Be Judged
Second, I want you to realize that at the end of time, the Bible says that Jesus will evaluate every person, every Christian’s contribution to the life of the church and the deeds they have done. Just like the master came home and took account of what his stewards did with their talents, so will Jesus inspect what we have done with what he has given us. Listen to the words of Romans 2:6-8, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
How we use the abilities, talents and spiritual gifts that God has given us will be judged. Listen closely. Christian, your salvation is assured, because that is dependent on the work of Jesus Christ. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:11-13, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
The foundation of our salvation is built by Jesus, but the life we build on that foundation, the way we use the gifts we’ve been given according to our ability, that will be judged.
We do well when we cultivate a healthy fear of God in this area.
How to Use Them Best
The third question of stewardship, if you remember, is “How do I use it best?”, right? So how can we use our talents and abilities best? That’s a tough one to answer because they are so varied, but let me try.
If you are serving in your wheelhouse right now, you know you’re where you’re supposed to be, then great. Give me a call and talk to some Christian friends about how you can grow in that area. But if you are like a majority of people and haven’t got that figured out yet, then what I want you to do three things:
First, ask God if you are doing the right thing or if you should change? Ask Him to guide you to where you are supposed to serve Him and be open to His call. I’m only a preacher today because I decided one day to be open to a radical change. So open your heart and ask God.
The second is to explore your gifts. In other words, try different things. Take a few personality tests, a spiritual gifts inventory, and a job placement test. Volunteer for different things to try them out. If you stink at it, that’s ok. You’re allowed to make mistakes here. We still love you. What better place is there to experiment with your interests than surrounded by a loving church family, right? There are a lot of people who are serving in the wrong place either because of fear or obligation or confusion. I don’t want that for you.
And third, I want you to get brave and talk to people who care for you about what they see in you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then listen. Be willing to try doing what they see in you instead of dismissing it out of fear or because it’s too much work.
If you’re a fan of Star Trek, which I am, then you’ll remember the famous quote from Wrath of Kahn where, a couple times, Spock says, “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and Kirk finishes with “or the one.” The first time was when Kirk was assuming command and Spock was convincing him that it was only logical for the better leader to be in charge. But at the end of the movie, when Spock is dying after saving the ship, he’s locked behind a door that can’t be opened and he and Kirk share their last words. Spock begins again, “Don’t grieve… it is logical… The needs of the many outweigh…” Kirk says, “…the needs of the few…”, and Spock finishes with “or the one.”
The dynamic between Kirk and Spock is one of the most famous in TV history. Spock was all about pure logic where Kirk was driven by his passions. In fact, in the next movie, Kirk’s passions lead him to go and find Spock again, who has come back to life (don’t ask), and when they do finally talk, Spock asks why Kirk would risk so much for him. Kirk replies with “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”
Trying to find a balance between these two is part of the challenge of living in Western society. On one hand we have to live as neighbours and citizens of the same country, so we need to agree upon some common ground – laws for example. On the other hand we also value, as our Charter of Rights and Freedoms says, “life, liberty and security”. People should be able to live freely, without oppression. And so we are always balancing the needs of the many and the needs of the one.
Now, I’m no historian, but I’ve noticed something of this switch happening in our own culture. There something pervading society these days that, though not new, is, to me, much more pronounced than it has been in the past. It’s something people are calling “Radical Individualism” and is an imbalance of what I just described. The Spock like logic of “the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one” has been overtaken by the Kirk like passion of “the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many.”
“Radical Individualism” is when a person or society places the rights of an individual over those of the rest of society. Instead of considering what is best for the group, the highest consideration is that of the individual need – regardless of the cost to the rest. Some people see this as freedom from outside forces – from parents, government, religions, and teachers who have been oppressing them for so long. They cast off the shackles of what everyone else wants them to be and do and chart their own path, learn their own lessons, create their own truths – and everyone in the group is expected to accept whatever anyone wants to say, do, or become.
In the past, individualism has sometimes been a good thing. Ending slavery is a good example of when the needs of the individual should have outweighed the needs of the larger group. So are laws that force companies and corporations to hire and make life easier for disabled persons. Sometimes the larger society is being selfish, or is unaware of a need, and should do what is right for the sake of the smaller group or individual. Military action is often motivated by trying to defend a smaller group from a larger one. These are good things.
However, as our society has promoted more and more individual causes they are losing the ability to be able to “identify a singly system of shared values and beliefs”. When everyone says they deserve special treatment, or claims to be a victim, then who’s virtues should prevail?
This is when tolerance gets out of control. Instead of being a respect for people’s differences and an acknowledgement of the need to respect people, it becomes an excuse to allow anyone to do anything without fear of reprisal. There’s no line that an individual cannot cross. Their own “personal morality” has higher value than the shared values or even laws of the land. And then mix in our knowledge of our own sins and desire to keep that sin in the dark and we start to think that no one has any right to impose any value on anyone else. If everyone is equally special, everyone is equally corrupt, everyone needs to tolerate everything, and everyone gets to decide what is right, then our God-given right to life, liberty, and personal freedom degenerates into “anything I choose must be right”.
And that’s Radical Individualism. I am my own highest authority, only my choices matter, the world exists for me, and therefore everything I choose must be right. Or, as we read it in the book of Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Just consider how this messes up so many parts of our world. Living only for yourself destroys marriages, families, friendships, churches, sports teams, armies and nations.
A Personal Brand of Christianity
As I said, this way of thinking isn’t new, and Christians, and most people throughout history, have not seen Radical Individualism as a good thing, but as dangerous. It is dangerous to think that our way is the right way, our thoughts are the best thoughts, our culture is the best culture, our thinking is the best thinking.
The point of that video we watched at the beginning was to humorously show what happens when churches start to buy into this individualistic mindset of thinking that what people need isn’t Jesus, but Western Christian Culture. I know a lot of people inside the church that believe that if we can just make people into good church people, then they will fall in love with Jesus. This was how global missions for a long time. Instead of going to Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world to spread the message of Jesus to people – they would spread western society. Instead of learning the language, they’d teach them English. Instead of using the culture’s type of architecture, they’d plop a European style church in the middle of their village. The idea was that if they could turn everyone into good Europeans, good Anglicans, good Catholics, then they’d be saved.
And we do the same, right? Instead of sharing Jesus with people, we share our church. Instead of sharing the Bible with them, we share our favourite preacher. Instead of telling people what Jesus has been doing in our lives, we give them a book to read. Instead of talking to them about what Jesus has said, we share a really good song we’ve heard. We invite kids to Sunday School or VBS and tell them Bible stories about how to be good, moral, little boys and girls, and forget about the part where we tell them about their sin and need for a Saviour, and if we do talk about Jesus we end up using words and concepts they simply don’t understand.
Now, I’m not saying that sharing sermons, books, songs and VBS’s are bad – but they are certainly a way that we can end up spreading our church culture, our own individual, personal brand of Christianity – instead of the Jesus of the Bible.
What does that say about our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and the message of the Gospel? It says that we don’t think it’s powerful enough. We think we need to prime the pump by making people different before the Spirit will speak to them, before Jesus will meet them. They have to become little versions of us in order to be worthy or ready for the gospel.
Servant to All
Open up to 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. It says,
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This is how Christians are meant to see the world. We talked last week about the dangers of trying to be cool and self-entitlement and before that how all of our decisions have ripple effects into the lives of those around us. This is the crescendo of those lessons.
In Jesus we are “free from all”. Over and over in the New Testament we are told we are “Free”. We are no longer bound under the Law of Moses that can only condemn us. We are free from the consequences of sin. Freed from the darkness. And, since Jesus is our Lord, we are now friends with and followers of, the highest authority in the universe. His way is our only way. There is no one else we must answer to. We are “free from all”. We fear no person, organization, government, principality or power in this world because we have been made free. And that is a glorious freedom.
But along with these reminders of our freedom come a command. 1 Peter 2:16 says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. “ Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” With that great freedom comes great temptation towards Radical Individualism. We can become drunk on the idea of freedom.
Where once we were captive to human authorities telling us what to do, we now know that only God can command us – and are then tempted to remove ourselves from all human authorities. Where once we were enslaved to false religion and false doctrine, we now hear God’s voice ringing clearly – and are then tempted to push aside all religion, all books, and all teachers, believing ourselves to be perfect in wisdom. Where once we were slaves to guilt and shame, we now know the love and grace of God – and are then tempted to sin all the more because we know that God will always forgive us.
And when that thinking sets in we start to create our own theologies and doctrines, cut out and add to the scriptures as we see fit, and create our own, personal religious actions and systems – which we end up wanting to spread to the others that we see as enslaved. This is what it means to “use your freedom as a cover-up for evil”. It means that our freedom leads us to create an ungodly version of Christianity that looks more like us than Jesus, and we start demand that people follow us and our ways rather than Him and His.
But, the missionary Apostle Paul says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
When two of His disciples came to Him asking to be the greatest men in His new Kingdom, to sit on His right and his left, Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They thought that following Jesus meant that they would be free from the oppression of the Jewish Sanhedrin, free from their Roman oppressors, and finally be rulers of nations with only Jesus above them – but they had gotten it all wrong. Jesus’ kingdom is an upside down one. He says to them, “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 20:22, 25-28)
He says in Matthew 16:24-26, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
If you want freedom, it comes through the cross. If you want to gain everything, it comes through loss. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, then you must be a servant of all. That is the direct opposite of Radical Individualism.
We are free from all, but instead we “make ourselves a servant to all”. And notice those words “I made”. It means to make the choice every day. Though Jesus was God in the flesh, Creator and Ruler of all things, for whom all things were made and will one day return – He made the choice to live as servant, even unto death. Which is the model for all believers.
All Things to All People
We then see some examples of what this meant in Paul’s life, which can help us understand what it means in ours.
“Paul never compromised the doctrines of Scripture, never changed God’s Word in order to make it more palatable to people in any given place. He never went against God’s law or his own conscience.” But, “in matters that did not violate any principle of God’s Word, Paul was willing to become like his audience in order to win them to Christ.” When someone needed to bend, he bent. He didn’t bend the world to himself, but he bent to the world.
A good theological word for this is “condescension”. God condescends to us so we can understand Him. He makes Himself low so we can know Him. Like when we talk baby-talk to an infant, or simplify our explanations to a child, God speaks in a way we can understand. As one of my favourite theologians, RC Sproul says, “God, in order to communicate with us lowly mortals, must speak to us in lisps.”
And so must Christians condescend or bend to the world around us. It’s a way we serve them. We don’t force them to come to us, but we go to them. We don’t force our language on them, we learn theirs. We don’t force our lifestyles on them, we participate in theirs. Never compromising God’s Word or our conscience, but always serving them in a way they can understand.
To the Jews he became like a Jew. What does that mean? In other words, though he was free from the Law of Moses and all the many traditions and rules they had come up with since, when he was with them he conformed himself to their pattern of life. He didn’t stand on street corners and tell everyone to stop their traditions, to give up the temple, to stop sacrificing, to change their clothes, and all the rest, but instead, he chose to participate in the traditions, went to temple, and wore the clothes so that they would be able to hear him.
People are weak and very distractible. If you look weird to them, it’s going to take a lot more time to get them to listen – if they ever will. So we suck it up and serve those around us by engaging with them in a way they can understand. For love’s sake we learn their language, their customs, and their way of life. We eat what they eat, dress like they dress, learn what they like – their sports, shows and businesses – and become conversant in it to use as a bridge of friendship and then the gospel. Again, never compromising God’s Word or your conscience.
You can’t say, “I watch Game of Thrones because everyone at work does and I want to be a good missionary.” That show is pornography and is sin to watch. Maybe it means you expand your musical range, watch some popular movies, read a book they are interested in, go to an concert or sporting event with them that you aren’t super interested in, because it’s important to them and it is a way to show them love. And that love opens a door to sharing the gospel.
He says, “To those under the law I became as one under the law… to those outside the law I became as one outside the law…” Again, never compromising God’s word or his conscience, Paul knew that he needed to live as one of the people he was trying to share the gospel with. So when he was with the Jewish people he lived as a Jew, but when he was with the Greeks and Romans, he adapted himself to them. He served them by changing himself. He didn’t make them bend to him, but instead, he bent to them. He didn’t “throw aside all restraints and live like a pagan to win pagans to Christ” but instead learned and appreciated their culture and didn’t try to force them into His own. We see that in his preaching and his lifestyle (Acts 17-18). That’s servant hearted, Jesus focused, love.
He says, “To the weak I became weak…” He means the weak in conscience, the new believers, the ones who didn’t know as much about God as he did. We’ve talked about this over the last few sermons. Paul lived a life constrained by the consciences of others. He limited his freedoms – what he ate, where he went, and how he spoke. He was delicate with them in order to guide them into deeper knowledge of Christ and a better understanding of the freedom He gives people.
This is a huge one today, and goes back to that video we watched. Instead of forcing everyone into our belief system, and mocking them for being so stupid, we come alongside them, and walk at their pace, until they are stronger.
With some people you can have a drink, make certain jokes, talk about different movies and shows, or obscure or challenging theological concepts – while with others, you simply can’t. You need to give up your freedoms and bridle your tongue for their sake until they grow more mature. Why?
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
We do it for the sake of the gospel. We do it so that nothing gets between us and the message we’re trying to share. We do it for the joy of seeing people come to Him and being able to worship Jesus with them. We do it to share with them the blessing of what it’s like to be a Christian.
My encouragement to you this week is to look at your life. In what ways have you embraced Radical Individualism, thinking that you are the most important person around, regardless of the needs and desires of others? In what ways have you compromised your ability to share Jesus by trying to share your own personally crafted religion instead? Are you a student of the people around you? Your spouse, your children, your friends, your family, your church, your neighbourhood, your workplace? Are you listening to them so you can talk to them about what interests them, in a way they can understand, in the hopes of building a bridge of friendship so you can share the love of Jesus? Is it possible you are so busy talking to them that you haven’t taken the time to listen to them – and that they can’t hear you because you’re not not speaking in a way they can understand?
 Life Application Study Bible – 1 Corinthians. Pg 128-129
In the previous sermon we spent time going through Mark 10:32-45 and talking about God’s view of how the world works, and how it flies in the face of our individualistic mindset. We are told all the time that we need to “stand up for our rights”, “assert ourselves”, “show our independence”, “be our own highest authority”, and ultimately “set our own rules because we are our own god”.
Individualism is the rule of the day. Anyone can be whoever they want to be, everyone is special, and no one needs to bend for anyone else. Obviously this can’t work out in reality, but it doesn’t keep people from trying.
Bruce Jenner and Transgenderism
Perhaps the greatest, and most glaring recent example of an individual’s power to make their own decisions today is that more and more people are starting to believe that something as binary and static, formerly unchangeable and absolutely inarguable, has become… fluid… changeable… based on opinion.
What I’m talking about is gender. More and more people are starting to believe that the gender they were given at birth, doesn’t really determine what gender they really are. You can have male anatomy, and still feel like (and be called) a female – and vice verca. This was most recently made popular by the famous American, Olympic Gold medal winning athlete, making a very public transition from the man known as Bruce Jenner into the woman known as Caitlyn Jenner.
This is a growing issue in Canada too. Perhaps you remember the story that made news a while back about the 23 year old model that might have won Miss Universe Canada, but was disqualified because she used to be a man – even though she changed her body and legal status to be officially(?) female. And just a couple of years ago, a bill came across the House of Commons that made it formally illegal for a person to be discriminated against based on being transgendered. This isn’t just something that’s happening in the shadows, but is making national headlines now.
This opened up a can of worms for a lot of people who are worried that this basically eliminates things like men’s and women’s public washrooms, since anyone can decide what gender they are at any time. They can be born as a man, dress in slacks, but self-identify as a female, and therefore use the “women’s bathroom”. It’s all very confusing.
I don’t pretend to understand all of what’s going on there, nor do I fully grasp the psychological and legal intricacies of the transgender movement. I certainly agree that we shouldn’t target people who have gender dysphoria or gender confusion. These people are clearly hurting and in a great state of confusion, and they need our love, not our malice or unkindness.
But this kind of thinking does give us a great example of the western people think about individualism: “I am my own god and I can determine everything that is right for me – even changing my own gender, if I choose to believe that God gave me the wrong one.” But it doesn’t have to be gender, it can be almost anything that we believe we are solely in control over, and that we have the only right to determine what is best for. Our money, time, relationships, religion, activities, hobbies, internet usage, sexual habits, career, vacation, charitable giving, tithe, eating habits – anything. The question isn’t whether we believe we individualists who believe we are our own gods, but what areas of our life we believe that we are gods of.
As I said last week, God’s answer to individualism, as we find it in scripture, is submission to the authorities that God has given us. And just as a review, the five arenas that God tells us to submit are First to God, then to Government and Church Leaders, Wives are to Submit to Husbands and Children to Parents, then there is the mutual submission we are to have for one another. That is the God-given structure that we are to be living by in this world, and when we do, we are not only obeying God, but are worshipping him – and, I believe, save ourselves a lot of grief.
Examples of Mutual Submission
I promised that, because we didn’t have time last week, I would spend some time this week talking about how mutual submission works practically, and I’m sure that will give us a lot to talk about. If you recall, I said that Mutual Submission is all over scripture. It’s basically the default-position for Christians: When in doubt, put yourself last – and it’s not just a matter of humility before others, but ultimately out of obedience and love for God and thanksgiving and reverence for Christ.
- Ephesians 5:21 says we should be “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
- 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
- Philippians 2:3-4 says, “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.”
And remember, this all comes from what Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45,
“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.”
This thinking kills the individualistic, me-centred, selfish, “my way first” mentality. But how does it work out practically. Here’s a few examples of how mutual submission works – and these are equally for married couples as they are for church relationships, the only thing that changes is the intimacy level:
1. By Being Accountable to One Another
The first way that we mutually submit to one another is to readily practice being accountable to one another. In other words, allowing other people to speak into our lives, giving us encouragement and correction, when we need it. We make ourselves part of the Christian community by joining a church, growing in relationship to the other believers there, being honest with our troubles and struggles, and then being open to listening to what those people have to say to us.
Our first instinct, driven by fear, is to hide ourselves from others – pretend to be something we’re not. Our second instinct, driven by individualism, is to believe that we are better than others, and that they have nothing to say that can help us. Our third instinct is to think that we are worse than everyone else and that we have nothing to offer to others because we are such a mess ourselves. All three of these are wrong.
We need to take the risk to start relationships, or we run the greater risk of falling into error and having no one around to pull us out. We need to repent of our belief that we are better than others, because that’s pride and it separates us from God’s will. And we also need to understand that just because we are messed up doesn’t stop us from coming alongside other messed up people who need our help.
The Bible is extremely clear that it is the responsibility of every Christian to not only worship alongside other believers, but to be actively engaged in helping one another grow closer to Jesus.
- James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
- Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Jesus makes it abundantly clear in Luke 17:3 where He says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…”
A note on this one: this also means we keep one another’s confidences. We don’t spread gossip and slander about people, especially when they have come to us and obeyed God in confessing their sins to us, asking for help.
2. Serving One Another
Another way we show mutual submission toward one another is serving each other. Simply taking the time to do something for someone else, putting their needs before our own, is a way of showing love for them – which is showing love for God. Jesus was the perfect and ultimate example of this, as He loved and served so many people in His earthly ministry – and ultimately by putting humanity’s needs before His own and dying for our sins.
But these gestures don’t have to be huge, and there’s no static way to do it. Yes, we’re all supposed to be hospitable to one another, but that doesn’t mean we all have to it the same way. Some will write cards, others make food, others visit, others teach, others contribute financialy, others clean… we work and love as a team, as a family.
Romans 12:6-10 says it this way,
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
3. In Sharing
Along that same line of thinking, another way to show mutual submission is to share resources. Take something we have and give it to someone who needs it more. That could be our time, money, possessions, or homes. We put our self-interest second, and do without for a time, so that someone can have something they need.
We already talked about stewardship before, but consider that whenever we give something away to someone in need, we are in fact saying, “I am choosing to go without because I believe that person’s needs are more important than my own, their joy is more important than my own, their comfort is more important than my own, their family is just as important as my family, so I want them to have the same opportunity I have.” Sharing and giving are a way to submit ourselves to others.
- Hebrews 13:16 tells Christians, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
- Jesus gave a promise and a warning that we must share when He said in Luke 6:38, “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.”
- And in Matthew 10:42 Jesus makes sure we know that even our smallest gifts given to other believers are seen by God and credited to us, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
4. In How We Dress
Last week we talked about Crop Top Day, so it sort of fits that we would talk about how we dress as a way to mutually submit to one another. One of the thing that bugged me about Crop Top Day was not only that it showed no regard for authority, but no regard for others. How their actions affected others didn’t seem to enter into their thinking.
What about the young men and young women struggling with lustful thoughts? What about the young women who struggle with body image issues? What about the teachers who just wanted to teach their classes, but were forced to contend with hundreds of defiant students, breaking the school rules all day long? What about the principal who now had to field dozens of phone calls about a private conversation he had with a student? What about the children who weren’t allowed to dress that way, but participated anyway? What about the parents of the other students?
Now, believe it or not, I can sympathize with these young women, and the issues that they brought up through Crop Top Day. They are sick of living in a world where every time they look at the clothes in their closet, they have to worry about what they will look like that day, who they will be judged by, how much skin they can/must show, whether they’ll be sexualized by all the animalistic, porn-fueled, drooling males out there… it must be exhausting trying to decide what to wear in the morning. Plus, when it gets warm in the classroom, it’s fairly natural to wear less fabric so one can feel cooler. I get it.
But we have to realize, even in the church (and this applies to both men and women), that what we wear does affect people, and God does have a say in what we wear. It is not a single-person decision, but one in which we submit to God first, and then submit ourselves to others, dressing so that we can love our neighbour in the best way possible – whether that’s the neighbour in the desk next to us, the house next to ours, the car parked next to ours, or the pew next to us.
So, we must ask ourselves – both men and women – a lot of questions: Is the look I’m projecting (and the smell I’m producing too – let’s not forget about cologne) obedient and honouring to God, and loving and respectful to others. Is it “modest”, does it show “self-control” and “humility” (1 Tim 2:9)? Am I wearing it for the glory of God? Is this an attempt to compete with others or to puff up my pride? Am I being sensitive to the weaknesses of others?
This isn’t about getting our own way, and having our own style. It’s about loving God and submitting to others, even when that means we don’t get to wear what we want to wear.
5. Overlooking One Another’s Foibles
Another way that we show humility and mutual submission to one another is to choose to overlook and work with one another’s foibles. “Foibles” is a great word. It’s not really used to describe a person’s sins, but their weak points. It’s used by swordsmen to describe the weakest part of the blade of the sword, from the mid-point to the tip. Swords are still dangerous, but like anything, they have a weak-point, and a good swordsman knows what it is and deals with it accordingly.
Similarly, when used to describe someone, it speaks of that person’s weak points, an eccentricity in their character, a limitation or a flaw that they have. We’re not really talking about sin, but perhaps an area of weakness that the person is tempted in most, or something built into their genetics or their personality that they have little or no control over, but it causes inconveniences or annoyances for others.
There’s a million of these, so I can’t list them all, but I promise you that your friends and your spouse can list yours fairly quickly. You may dislike how a person dresses, or their strange way of talking, their inability to show up on time – or their pathological need to always do everything perfectly. Some may drink wine with dinner, others have dietary restrictions. Some have a hard time hearing, while others seem to shout every word they say – or talk very quietly all the time. Some people stutter, others talk like they swallowed a thesaurus, some people love puns. Some are afraid of technology, others get distracted by too many things going on.
Some are more serious. There are people with physical handicaps, learning disabilities, addictions, psychoses, struggle with depression, irrational fears, emotional scars, and more.
For example, I know I’m weird and that you guys put up with a lot. I’m a biblical theologian who loves watching My Little Pony with my four kids. I struggle with occasional bouts of depression and have at least some level of social anxiety disorder. I can talk for days about some subjects, but can’t start a conversation to save my life. I’m in a position where I need to be social, but I find going to parties, meeting new people, and having to make small talk basically paralytic. I have weird eating habits that change constantly. I love reading classics and writing books, but also popcorn movies, loud music and pinball.
I know all my quirks and foibles cause no end of problem for people – but I’m not alone because I know everyone here has their own. And what’s amazing is that Jesus loves us anyway, and that He’s given us a church to be a part of that is supposed to love us too!
Actually, the scriptures are very clear that when it comes to our differences, we need to be willing to give each other a LOT of grace – in marriage and in the church. Let me return to Luke 17:3-4 and finish what Jesus said there.
- He said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Might I suggest that we might gain a new respect for a person, and learn something about submission, if we are willing to walk a mile in their shoes.
- Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
What a great way to respond to someone’s foibles. Let’s ask ourselves, How would I want to be treated if I was in the same position as them, came from the same culture, struggling with the same issue, faced with the same upbringing, dealing with the same difficulties? How would I want people to treat me?
How to Learn to Submit
So let me close this way: Many of us struggle in the area of submitting to God, to God’s appointed authorities, and to one another – so how can we cultivate the humility we need in order to learn to submit.
First, we need to realize that we are sinners in need of a Saviour.
- Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
- David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
- “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18)
- James said, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10).
As long as we think we can save ourselves, exalt ourselves, heal ourselves, then we will never be able to submit to anyone else. As long as we think we are greater and smarter than anyone else, then we will never ask for help. And we need Jesus.
Realizing we need Jesus means, second, realizing that we can’t do this on our own. We need to be close to Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit in order to have the humility necessary to obey God. So we need to read about Jesus, talk to Jesus, and listen to Jesus every day. He is our example, our motivation, and our source of strength. As Ephesians 5:21 said, it is our reverence for Christ that is our ultimate motive for submitting to Him and one another. And as we submit in reverence to Jesus, God starts to form our characters to look more like Christ’s.
Third, we have to realize that God’s plan of authority and submission isn’t meant to frustrate us, or take things away, but to be a blessing and a protection to us, because He loves us. Children are protected by their parents, wives are protected by their husbands, citizens are protected by their governments, churches are protected by their elders, and they are all protected by God.
We must realize that when we resist God’s plan for how the world is supposed to work, we are not only resisting God’s purpose, but also God’s protection for our lives. None of us are greater than anyone else, but instead, we need to realize that God has created us to need one another – and that we each have a role to play so this world can operate properly. When we get outside of God’s authority structure – when we are not under godly authority – that’s when our lives go off the rails. And God has given us what we need in order to have the guidelines, the proper tracks to run on, because He loves us.