I’m consistently amazed how we can start studying something months ago, using commentaries written over a hundred years ago, studying a catechism written 450 years ago, based on scriptures written thousands of years ago – and how they all speak directly to our needs for today. Truly, our Lord, His Holy Spirit and “the word of God [are] living and active” (Heb 4:12).
Please open up to Matthew 7:7-11.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
A couple weeks ago, before we were interrupted by winter deciding to come all at once, we studied how God is not only the Almighty, Creator of the Universe, but also a loving Father. To quote the Heidelberg,
“That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father. In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.” (Q.26)
Today’s study picks up on one of the words in that answer and explains it further. It’s the word “provide”. The more I study the Heidelberg, the more I like it, especially because this is such a natural next question.
I can imagine sitting with someone and having this conversation. We talked a bit about this last time. I ask them, “Do you believe in God?”, they give some vague answer like we heard, and then they ask me, “Ok, what do you believe about God?” and, like a good boy, I give answer #26. But, what’s their natural next question? “But you’re life isn’t perfect. How can you say that God is all-powerful and all-good and all-loving, but so many of His faithful followers are going through such rough times? What about the terrible tragedies we see all the time?”
Question 27 asks that same question,
“What do you mean by the providence of God?”
How do you reconcile that God is your great provider when at the same time you are in want?
Right? We just read that Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…. how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” So what gives? Why isn’t every Christian on earth healthy, wealthy, safe, and comfortable? What do you mean by saying God is your provider and you trust Him?
The answer in the Heidelberg goes as follows:
“God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”
Question 28 follows,
“What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence?”
In other words, “So what?”. If the answer to, “What do you mean that ‘God provides’?” is that “everything happens according to His plan”, that doesn’t really answer why Christians aren’t healthy, wealthy, safe, and comfortable, does it? So, the next, logical question is, “How does it help you to know that all things come by the hand of God, even if some of those things are tragedies and adversity?”
The answer to 28 is that it means,
“We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
This is what it means to have faith in a God that is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving. It means that we believe that whatever happens, whether “rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, health and sickness, riches and poverty…” they all come by the hand of a loving, faithful, wise, good, God who knows what is best – even when I don’t understand or agree with Him. In a word, it means “trust”. I go back to that line in answer 26,
“In him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father.”
God Tickets and Stuffed Bears
This doesn’t make sense to most people, even Christians, especially Western Christians, because, just like so many before us, we equate comfort and wealth with God’s blessing. If times are good, then we must be doing things right and have enough faith – but if times are bad, then that means we did something wrong and God is either mad at us or we don’t have enough faith. But that’s absolutely NOT how God works. The Bible says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) The idea that God is only good to good people, faithful to faithful people, loving towards loving people, generous to generous people, is unbiblical, and a dangerous thought for believers to have.
Why? Because it means that our faith, our forgiveness, our peace, our joy, our provision, our hope, is in our hands. It means that our faith is transactional – that we spend our good-boy and good-girl tokens at the God store and He dispenses blessings. We treat God like one of those arcades where you play games and get tickets. You’ve been to one of those, right? Where if you do well at skee-ball, hit the right number on the spinning thing, sink enough shots in the basketball game, that it spits out tickets to spend at the little shop so you can get a prize. Sometimes we treat God like that. We think that if we do enough good deeds we’ll gain enough tickets to spend on blessings and miracles. And if God’s not giving us what we want or need, it means we don’t have enough tickets for that item so we need to try harder.
But what’s that doing to our heart? When you go to one of those arcades and look at the items, and finally find that one thing you want – the video game, the giant bear, the cool shirt – what do you immediately think? That it takes way too many tickets. They want 20,000 tickets for that bear and the skee-ball machine only spits out like 12 at a time. This place is unfair. It’s a scam. We start to think of God like that. God’s unfair. God’s asking too much. God is a scam.
Or say we do really good at the games, hit lots of jackpots, sink a tonne of baskets, and get those 20,000 tickets. When we walk up to the counter to get our prize, what are we thinking? “I’m so great. I’m such an awesome person. Look at all the work I’ve done, the good I’ve done, and wow, do I ever deserve this blessing. I’ve earned it. I’m the best. God, all I need from you is for you to exchange these good deeds for that miracle, please. Then I’ll talk to you later once I’ve built up my stash again.”
Believing God’s provision to be transactional does not lead to faith in God, dependence on God, trust in God, hope in God, believe that God’s way is best – it leads to either pride or despair. Pride that you’ve done so many wonderful things that you’ve earned all the good in your life and didn’t need Jesus at all – or despair that you will never be able to do enough good deeds to get the really nice prizes from God, because God is unfair. Both of those are terribly dangerous versions of faith – but are very popular in the world.
What’s the solution to that type of thinking? Trust. And how does God grow trust in His people? By giving us opportunities to trust Him, so that we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that we cannot be our own saviours or our own providers.
Ask, Seek, Knock & James
Many people here can attest that this is true. That, it was during times of struggle or lack that they learned the most about God’s love and provision. That, it was during times of pain and confusion that they learned the most about God’s comfort and care. That, it was during times of fear and worry that their pride was finally broken and they came to God for help and learned what it meant that He is their almighty, loving Father. Sure, there were times of anger, whining, complaining, lashing out, depression – but at some point in all that, they fell to their knees, gave up trying to control the situation, gave up believing in their own goodness and willpower, and realized that God doesn’t just love them sometimes, only when they are good, but at all times, and that He will “turn to… good whatever adversity he sends me in this life of sorrow” because His love and provision is present and active even in adversity.
The man in that video figured it out and showed it through patience, service, and faithful tithing. He could have reacted a lot of different ways – self-pity, anger, grasping every penny, threats and arguments, refusing any work that wasn’t in his own skill set – but he didn’t. He took the jobs as they came with a thankful heart, waited patiently, gave faithfully, and allowed God to be His provider. That’s how it works in the Christian life.
That’s why Jesus says in that passage in Matthew 7, “Ask… seek… knock…”. It is when we stop struggling, gathering, controlling, hoarding, fighting, and eating ashes, and finally relent and come to God, humbly realizing that He is our saviour and provider (and we are not) that He can work.
To “ask” God for something requires that we not only understand that we have a need, but a need we cannot provide for. Why would we ask for something we know we can just get for ourselves? To “seek” means to connect those prayer requests to a life of faith, seeking “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, knowing “all these things will be added to you” as you are seeking because God knows what you need (Matthew 6:32-33). To “knock” means to persevere in that faith and in that seeking.
Why doesn’t God just answer when we “ask”? Why does He require we “seek” and “knock” as well? Because we are such slow-learning creatures. These lessons take such a long time to learn.
Consider the words of James, written to Christians spread around the Roman world, who were suffering through persecution and poverty, oppression from without and conflict and church splits within, and the temptation to give up. Turn with me there, and we’re going to jump around a bit, but I want you to see the whole argument. Start in chapter 1:2-4.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.…”
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change….
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions…..
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful….
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 1:2–4, 16–17; 4:2–3; 5:7–11; 13–18)
Remember The Prophets
I know that’s a large section of scripture, but I think it’s critically important for us to read today, because we need to understand that God is our provider and He is worthy of our trust. Sometimes we need to be reminded that God loves you where you are at right now and is more than willing to provide what you need. Not what you want, but what you need. Sometimes we don’t have because we do not ask. Sometimes we don’t have because we ask with wrong motives. Sometimes we don’t have because God is doing something special in our lives and the only way for us to become steadfast, perfect and complete in our faith, the only way for Him to build our faith-muscle, our faith-skill, is for Him to use “trials of various kinds” that require us to go through a time of testing.
In James 5:10 it says that when we get narrow-minded, near-sighted, and confused about God’s love we should look to those who came before. “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.” In other words, we hold in high esteem those who go through tough times and come out the other side even more faithful than when they went in, right? So, when you are facing difficult times – trials, lack, fear, confusion, persecution, uncertainty – I want you to turn to two places.
First, to scripture, to remember what the lives of faithful people in the Bible looked like. Jesus was the most loving, faithful, perfect, most spiritual, most giving, person to ever live. How did His life go? Times of rest, times of testing, times of suffering, times of success, times of betrayal, and in the end, He was crucified for crimes He didn’t commit, and then rose to life in the greatest victory in history. We follow in Christ’s footsteps, do we not? So we too will also see times of rest, testing, suffering, success, betrayal, death, and victorious resurrection.
Consider the life of Paul. Same thing, right? A terrible sinner who hated Christians converted by a miracle to become a great missionary and faithful servant of Jesus. When he was a Christian killing Pharisee, he had power and prestige. When he became a follower of Jesus he followed in the footsteps of Christ – times of rest, testing, suffering, success, betrayal, death, and victorious resurrection. Who would make the trade from oppressor to oppressed? Paul did. Why? Paul answers this way in Philippians 3:7-8
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Consider the life of Joseph. Blessed and loved from birth as a favoured son. Given great revelations from God of the power and influence He would have. And what was God’s preparation ground for that greatness? To be hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, to be falsely accused, and spend years in prison.
Consider Job, the most righteous man on earth. His life was full of blessings. But what was God’s plan for him? The same path as Jesus and many believers. To use Job to show Satan what real faith looks like, and to teach the world a lesson about faith that would be passed on for generations. What did that look like in Job’s life? God allowed everything he had to be destroyed in a day.
What was Job’s reaction?
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’” (Job 1:20–22)
Those are the words of a man who understood and trusted God as his provider.
And I could keep going with names. If you know scripture, you know that this is the standard pattern for all those who are faithful to God. It is normal for God to send “trials of many kinds” to his people for our good and His glory.
But I told you that there are two places to turn. First, to scripture, and second, to other believers. Certainly, to those in this church who have experienced adversity and anxiety and who have faced it with faith and hope, because they are right here. This is one of the greatest values of small groups and home groups – which I hope you are in – because they allow you to not only share your concerns but also hear from other people who have gone through (or who are going through) similar times.
But these Christians don’t just need to be in our church, they can also be elsewhere. Like the stories on RightNow Media, or in books and movies.
And so, I want to close with a clip from a man that I admire as a faithful, godly, Christian pastor. He is a famous author who has written around 90 books that have sold millions and millions of copies. But he does something that not too many other authors do. First, a lot of his books are available free on his website, but the second one might surprise you.
That’s a man who understands the danger of losing sight that God is his provider and has set up boundaries in his own life to make sure he never forgets.
We’re continuing a sub-series within our study of the Gospel of Mark where we are going to look a little more closely at the lives of the Apostles. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the Apostle Peter, and I reminded you that as we go through these mini-biographies that I want you to do a few things.
First, I want you to find yourself in this group. Without a doubt one of the Apostles’ personalities will jump out at you and you’ll be able to see yourself in them. Look for the ones who were tempted like you are tempted, have the same weaknesses and strengths as you, and see what meeting Jesus and following Him did for them.
Second, I want you to notice how different these people are and embrace the understanding that God calls lots of kinds of people into His kingdom.
Third, I want you to be thankful that you have been chosen just as Jesus chose the disciples. Thankful that you have a divine purpose for your life. You may stumble and fall, but God’s grace is always available to you and once you accept that grace and begin to walk in faith, you can discover that divine purpose.
Are You Veruca Salt?
Have you ever seen Charlie and the Chocolate factory? Probably my least favourite character on there is Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich kid who gets everything she wants.
Do you know anyone who is spoiled and privileged? Someone willing to jump to conclusions before knowing all the facts because they assume they understand everything without asking questions. Someone willing to step onto the ice before they even have their equipment on because they know how good they are. Someone who open their mouth and speaks before they have engaged their brains because no matter what they say people dote on them and think they’re cool? Read the rest of this entry »
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.”