Saturday, May 25, 2019

Is There a Limit to Our Service

Mar 1:7  And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie

It is interesting that each of the Gospels record these words of John the Baptist.  As it turns out, this phrase had special meaning in his day.  Jesus, of course, was a rabbi to end all rabbis.  In these days rabbis couldn’t hold regular work and have time to study and teach and so their students were expected to do all sorts of things for them to free up their time.  One regulation found in the ancient times read like this, “Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher, except the loosing of his sandal-thong”. 

So evidently John was known for saying that the one thing that was beneath a student to do for his teacher; something reserved for slaves alone, he was not even worthy to do for Jesus.  John said this in the context of pointing out that Jesus existed before him and was of a higher rank than John.  John knew that Jesus was more than just the latest Rabbi to come along.  Jesus was no mere man but the Word made flesh, the God-Man.

But these words also help us put into perspective not just how we relate to Jesus Christ but to our fellow man.  John knew that he wasn’t even worthy to loosen the sandal of God because he was Jesus’s sinful creature.  The Gap between him and Jesus was the distance of a worm crawling around in a wheel’s rut and Jesus is the moon.  When we have the proper perspective of ourselves before God then we can understand our relationship to the rest of humanity.  We are all worms, crawling around on this earth who deserve nothing but God’s wrath. 

If this is so then it is a particularly obnoxious sin for anyone to think there are acts of service and kindness that is beneath them when it comes to serving one another and even more so in the local church family.  The fact is that the Son of God, our creator, stooped to our level and served us in the most humiliating ways possible.  He was hung naked on a cross and as if that wasn’t enough, the innocent suffered the wrath of God in the place of us rebels.  If he did that for us then who are we to put limits on what we will do to serve each other? 

Of course this is precisely Paul’s point in Philippians 2, Php 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Php 2:5  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Php 2:6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, Php 2:7  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

His point is that if Jesus being God condescended to serve man then how can we put limits on our service to each other.  The fact is, there is only one person who can actually condescend to a lower level and that is Christ.  No matter our station in life, we are all just sinners deserving of Hell and cannot condescend because we are already as low as we can get. 

By the way, this point loses its punch if Jesus isn’t God.  If he is just another creature who served us then any example could be used.  But because of his original position, his stooping to become a man and die for us removes any excuse we have for not serving one another. 

Lastly, Paul reminds us that those who serve like Jesus did will be exalted as Jesus was.  The Lord is gracious to reward sinners for doing what is their duty!  This goes with Jesus’s teaching that it is the servant who is great in the kingdom, not the one being served, Mar 10:43  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, Mar 10:44  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Notice that Jesus uses the cross as the same motivation for our service as well. 

We are not worthy to serve the Lord in the most menial task, yet by grace he gives us the privilege to “untie his sandal”.  But we must remember that there is no task that is beneath us when it comes to serving one another.  If this mind is in us, then how can the church not be a place of love, peace and fellowship?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Walking With a Limp

Gen 32:25  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Gen 32:31  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 

We know that Jacob in the first part of his life was a deceiver and a conniver.  He got along in life by trying to take advantage of people, con them, get along by his wits and so on.  What he did not do was to seek the will of God and depend on him.  It is something that we all struggle with - listening to our hearts or this world and living in light of natural wisdom that puts me at the center of everything or listening to the revealed will of God found only in his Word. 

I think the main lesson in Jacob’s encounter with God at Penuel was that God is teaching Jacob that he cannot find God’s blessings if he is going to live by his own strength primarily seen in his constant scheming.  Jacob, and we, must learn that we are weak and unwise and need the power of God and his wisdom to live life properly.  So in the account we read of God coming and wrestling with Jacob, the result is that Jacob’s hip is purposefully displaced so that he must walk in a weakened state. 

I believe this is a picture of how God works in every saint’s life.  He moves us from dependence on our own strength and wisdom to relying on him for all that we need.  God has ways of pulling the rug out from under us so that we have no other option than to trust him to take care of us. 

Jacob was about to meet Esau who was coming with 400 men and Jacob assumes Esau is still angry with him and has come to do him harm.  Even though the Lord has shown him that an army of angels are with him, Jacob still schemes by dividing up his family with the hopes that Esau will attack some but spare others.  He has little confidence in the Lord’s promises and protection.  So what does the Lord do?  Instead of allowing Jacob to run the show by his cunning, he gives Jacob a limp so that when he meets Esau he will look weak and vulnerable.

There is a parallel passage to Jacob’s account that helps explain what is going on with Jacob.  It is found in 2 Cor. 12 where Paul goes through the same lesson that Jacob did but in a context that we can more easily relate to. 

2Co 12:7  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  2Co 12:8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. Here we see the same wrestling match or struggle with the Lord.  The Lord has sent something to Paul that makes him appear weak and Paul assumes that this will hinder his ministry.  And so three times he prays that the Lord will remove it but the Lord does not.  Like us, Paul is wrestling with God’s providence that often makes no sense to us; we assume we can do a better job if we had more money or better health or if our church was bigger or if we had talents that someone else has, etc.  And although we ask God to give these things to us, quite often he does not.

Next we see the Lord “dislocating” Paul’s hip; in other words he is explaining why he wants Paul to walk with a limp; to appear weak in front of the world.  2Co 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…“   Paul had to learn that it is the Lord’s power that is going to make Paul successful, not how well he speaks or what he looks like, etc.

Finally, in vs. 31 above we see the sun coming up and Jacob walking off with a limp.  The same thing must happen with Paul and us, …Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Co 12:10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   God gives Paul light by explaining that when we are weak and God’s work is done through us, then God gets the glory.  If by our talents, looks and money we build a ministry then we will name it after ourselves and God’s glory isn’t seen.  When God makes us weak then we depend on him and whatever we do can only be attributed to the Lord.  So 2 Cor. 12:9-10 is Paul living or “limping” in the light of God’s revelation and the rest is history as we consider what Paul and all God’s people have accomplished throughout church history as they followed the Word of God and lived for the Lord’s glory and not for ourselves.

It is tremendously freeing to know that I don’t have to appear like I have it all together in front of the world or in front of the church.  I just need to do my best to honor the Lord in whatever condition he has put me in and he will be served and pleased with me.  This brings contentment and joy and eliminates envy because I don’t need what someone else has to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”!