To Serve Or To Be Served

 

As the Lord taught and preached in the first century, He was the living fulfillment of all the prophecies regarding the Messiah who would redeem mankind.  Even though His many miraculous works testified to this truth, many people refused to believe in Him because He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be.  He came from humble origins and sought none of the trappings of power which were common in that time, and which were the core of the Jews’ expectations regarding the Savior.

Even the twelve men chosen by the Lord to be His apostles struggled with these things.  On more than one occasion the Lord scolded them because they were vying among themselves to see who would be number one.  In Mk. 10:35-41 James and John asked Jesus to elevate them to positions of importance, one on His left hand and one on His right, in His glory.  This made the other ten men angry and they became indignant with James and John.

In response to this incident, the Lord told them that they were acting just like the rulers of the Gentiles.  The world’s way was to strive for prominence, but it would not be this way among His disciples.  He told them that the one who wanted to be first among them must be the slave of all.  Then, in Mk. 10:45 the Lord said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  It took a long time for the twelve to learn this lesson, but they eventually got the message.  After the Lord’s ascension into heaven, they did indeed become servants and, with the exception of Judas, spent the remainder of their lives living up to the Lord’s admonition.

This is a principle that is often lost on modern believers.  Too many today treat the church as though it were a religious version of the “Make A Wish Foundation”.  They shop for a church with a laundry list of services that they want the church to provide for them.  They enter the worship assembly expecting to have their every desire fulfilled, like patrons in a restaurant.  They listen to the sermon, not to be encouraged toward righteous living, but in hopes of being entertained so they will feel good when they leave.  If the church doesn’t meet their expectations, they move on to the next one, and the next, until they find what they want.

The Lord’s teaching and example, however, stand in stark contrast to this attitude.  True believers do not come to Christ in order to be served.  They are moved by what the Lord did for them by shedding His blood on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.  As a result, they know that they must serve Him.  They do this by serving each other, and by doing all within their abilities to help the church.  A true believer comes to the church with an eye toward what he or she may do to facilitate the church’s work.

In order to be the kind of disciple the Lord intends us to be we must take a different view of the church than most do.  To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we must ask not what the church can do for us, but ask what we can do for the church.  Instead of expecting the church to wait on us hand and foot, we should be looking for the ways in which we may serve the needs of the church.  We must do this because the church is us, and it can only do what we ourselves do.

The Lord said that to be great in the kingdom we must become servants.  When we humble ourselves and serve rather than being served, we honor our Lord, and we fulfill His expectations for us as disciples.

Salt & Light

 

The largest single collection of the Lord’s teachings is what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  It is recorded in great detail in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7.  In this great discourse the Lord laid the foundation of what would be required of His disciples.  Very early in His discussion the Lord used two important images to illustrate the effect He expected His disciples to have on the world.  These images are salt and light.

In Mt. 5:13-16 the Lord said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The imagery of salt and light are powerful illustrations because of what they do and how they work.  Salt essentially has three effects.  First, it is a preservative.  It has long been used to cure meat where there is no means of refrigerating or freezing it.  Second, it enhances the flavor of the foods on which it is applied.  Many foods, like eggs and potatoes, taste much better with a little salt on them.  Third, salt causes thirst.  Anyone who has eaten a salty snack food knows this is true.  The reason salt has these effects is because it is chemically different from the items on which it is placed.  If it were of the same composition as these foods, it would make no difference in them.

Light is just as powerful an imagery.  Light enables us to see in situations in which we would otherwise be unable to see.  Light facilitates and sustains life on the earth.  Without light, life on earth would be impossible.  Light also lifts our spirits and often takes away our fears.  It has this effect because light dispels darkness.  It does so because it is the exact opposite of darkness.  Where light shines there can be no darkness, and darkness can only exist where there is no light.  The two are mutually exclusive.

When these images are applied to Christians, we can easily see why the Lord used them to refer to His disciples.  We are different from the world because our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16).  Like salt, we are a preserving agent in the world.  God spares the world because of His people, who are trying to lead the lost to salvation.  We also enhance the world by our presence in it because of our godly examples.  Our godly way of life leads others to thirst for God’s truth, and the salvation that may only be obtained in Christ.  We make the world a better place by being salt in it.

In a similar way, as light we shine the good news of Jesus Christ and His salvation into the darkness that has enveloped the world.  As we reflect the light of our Lord by our godly lives, we expose sin for what it is, and we show the way to eternal life through Jesus our Lord.  We show those who are stumbling in the darkness the narrow path that leads to life.  In these ways we make the world a better place by being light in it.

When the Lord used the imagery of salt and light to describe His disciples He didn’t say that he hoped we would be salt and light.  Neither did He say we ought to be salt and light.  He said we are salt and light.  By virtue of having been purchased by His blood we have been made into salt and light by the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  This is what we are, and this is what we must be in order to please Him.

(Note:  The picture above is a salt shaker with an LED light inside it.  My son made this to portray the imagery of salt and light)

Courageously Committed

 

The period of the Judges was the most chaotic era in the history of Israel.  The atmosphere of this time is summarized in the final words of the book of Judges.  In Jdg. 21:25 the scripture says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  During this time Israel would rebel against God and suffer punishment from Him at the hands of a neighboring nation.  Then they would cry out for help and God would deliver them by means of a judge who would then lead Israel in a period of peace.

One of the most fascinating events in this period was when God called Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites.  The record of this incident is found in Jdg. 6-8.  When Gideon accepted God’s commission, he called the people of Israel to fight against the Midianites.  32,000 men responded to his call, but God told Gideon that this was too many people.  In Jdg. 7:1-7 God put Israel through several tests in order to show them that He alone would deliver them.

The first test was a simple one.  God told Gideon to tell everyone who was afraid to go home, and 22,000 men departed.  This was still too many people, so God told Gideon to take the remaining 10,000 men to water.  As the men drank water, God selected 300 who drank by cupping water in their hands and lapping it from there.  All the others were sent home.  God then instructed Gideon to arm the 300 men with trumpets, torches, and empty pitchers.  These would be the weapons by which Midian would be defeated.  The end of the story is that God brought about a great victory and Israel enjoyed forty years of peace thereafter.

This incident is a study in levels of commitment.  All 32,000 men who initially responded to Gideon’s call were committed enough to answer the call.  However, 22,000 of them were cowardly in their commitment.  That is, they were so fearful that the Lord could not use them.  The 10,000 who remained after the fearful went home were more committed than they, but 9,700 of them were carelessly committed.  That is, when they went for a drink of water they threw caution to the wind as they drank.  These men literally stuck their faces in the water as they drank and were therefore unprepared if an enemy should attack them.  Their careless commitment made them unusable for the Lord’s purposes.

The 300 who remained were the most committed of all who answered Gideon’s call.  They were courageously committed.  We know this because they were willing to go into battle carrying nothing but a trumpet, a torch, and an empty pitcher.  In other words, they trusted God to the point that they would put their lives on the line to fight in the manner He prescribed.  Thus they became tools in God’s hand to win the victory that brought peace back to Israel.

In application, the same levels of commitment that marked Gideon’s army are found within the body of Christ today.  All Christians have shown that they are committed to the Lord by virtue of their obedience to the gospel.  However, some are cowardly in their commitment.  They are fearful of offending unbelieving family and friends and their service to the Lord suffers because of it.  Others are carelessly committed, letting their spiritual guard down, leaving themselves vulnerable to the temptations of the devil.  Neither of these is particularly useful in the Lord’s service.  Those who are like Gideon’s 300, however, are courageously committed.  They are unafraid to stand up for the truth, and they are willing to serve the Lord with the tools, and according to the commands, that He has provided.  By their courageous commitment the Lord continues to win victory after victory over Satan and his minions.  Let us all, therefore, strive to be as committed as Gideon’s 300.

With No One’s Regret

 

Someone once said that we should live our lives with a view toward who will cry at our funeral.  The point of this statement is that our conduct should be such that our family, friends, and acquaintances will be sorry that we have passed from this life.  It seems inconceivable that a person could be so mean, or so evil, that no one was sorry to see him die, but we know that some have come very close to this dubious distinction.  In modern times, men such as Adolf Hitler, or Josef Stalin, or serial killers such as Ted Bundy, passed from this life with very little sorrow at their passing.

In ancient times there may have also been men like these, whose passing brought few tears, but the scriptures identify one man whose death was met with absolutely no sorrow.  This man was Jehoram and he was the king of Judah after his father, Jehoshaphat, died.  In 2 Chr. 21:20 the scripture says of him, “He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years; and he departed with no one’s regret, and they buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

Jehoram was despised by the people of Judah, but what made him so?  In 2 Chr. 21:4 the scripture says that when he ascended to the throne he immediately killed all of his brothers, and even some of the rulers who had served his father.  This was an unprecedented act in Judah, but had been routinely practiced by the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom.  A second thing that made Jehoram despised is that he followed the example of the kings of Israel in leading Judah away from God.  He did this because he was married to a daughter of wicked king Ahab of Israel (2 Chr. 21:6).  Although he only reigned for eight years in Judah, Jehoram’s evil influence was so great that even the reforms of good kings Josiah, Uzziah, and Hezekiah were unable to keep Judah from being punished by God.

Considering the evil impact that Jehoram had on his nation, and their utter disregard for him at the time of his death, what can we learn from his life?  First, we learn that the things we do, whether good or bad, can have a powerful effect on many people.  The things we do can even affect those we may never know.  If we live in rebellion to God’s law, we must be prepared for the consequences of doing so, not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of our children and grandchildren, as well as neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and many others.  On the other hand, if we live righteously, our positive influence can lead these same people to eternal life.

Secondly, we learn from Jehoram that how we treat others greatly affects their opinion of us.  It seems certain that Jehoram treated his people so badly that they were happy to see him gone.  If we follow his example, we may expect the same kind of reaction when we die.  We may also expect to be called to account for the wreckage we left behind because of our evil influence.

Jesus said we should treat others in the same way we would have them treat us (Mt. 7:12).  This means that we must consider what effect our actions will have on the lives of others.  If we follow the Lord’s command, we will do all within our power to live righteously.  If we do so, we may indeed expect our family, friends, and acquaintances to shed sincere tears when we pass from life.  We can also expect to receive a reward in heaven at the end of time.  Jehoram’s sad epitaph was that he departed with no one’s regret.  May we so lead our lives that this cannot be said of any of us.