These are the writings of Pastor Zech Schiebout. Originally, he wrote them for our Worship Service bulletin, but now they can be shared past the doors of our local church. His most current writing is featured at the top, unless it is part of a series. If in a series, it will be posted under the previous one to make reading easier.
Christ-less Christian Service
Now as they went on their way, Jesus
entered a village. And a woman named
Martha welcomed him into her house. And
she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his
teaching. But Martha was distracted with
much serving. And she went up to him and
said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha,
you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will
not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:38-42
At first glance we might think the
comparison of the text is between rest and workaholism, which, if this were the
case, would suggest we must rest frequently.
But Jesus has something else in mind.
The comparison drawn in this text is between two Christians, one of whom
believes Christianity is primarily about resting in Jesus’ work on her behalf
(Mary), and the other who believes Christianity is mainly about the work she
must do on behalf of Jesus (Martha). And
in case we wonder which option better, Jesus removes all doubt, “…one thing is
necessary. Mary has chosen the good
portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Martha had turned into a mess. We frequently live likewise: “Don’t be a
Martha” is common parlance. Thank God
the text highlights what went wrong so we can escape the life of an angry
busy-body. Notice three things about
Martha’s problem: The signs that
Martha has a problem, the source of
Martha’s problem, and the cure for
begin with five signs (indicators) of
Martha-like living: distractedness, anger, manipulation, loneliness, and
first sign: Martha was distracted (v.
40). The word distracted means,
“pulled away from a reference point.” Martha’s priorities were out of whack, or, as
we like to say, “Martha was majoring in the minors.” Jesus Christ was the reference point, the
central focus, the one on whom both ladies should have concentrated, but
Martha’s service pulled her away. No
doubt Martha was busy, probably making food for 15 people (the “they” in v. 38
means the 12 disciples were likely in the home too). She was cranked to the max: The lasagna was
burning, the cookies were smoking, the fridge door was left open because while
grabbing the milk from the fridge it slipped out of her hand, so she began to
clean it up until she realized the spilt milk was her last, so she ran out into
the yard to milk the cow, and when she re-emerged the burnt food was now cold
because the fire died out, so it had to be re-heated, and as she pulled the plates
out of the cupboard, one fell and broke, and to top it all off she was one fork
short. And Mary sat on her duff before
Jesus. Martha was irked.
reference point is like a gas station to a vehicle on a cross-country
trip. Travel too far away from the gas
station and the car will “break down.”
Most of us schedule gas stops into our travels, making sure our vehicle
is never too far from a reference point, but do we schedule Jesus into our
daily life? Do you live most of your
life away from Jesus, our reference point?
Do you sacrifice time with the Lord in order to work unnecessarily long
hours, or to put perfectionistic touches on a meal, or to browse the internet
for just five (plus fifty) more minutes, or to do any other activity which you
believe must be done, but in reality does not need to be done? If so, you are distracted.
second sign: Martha was angry. Her question betrays her anger, for from the
way the question is worded in the original we know Martha expected Jesus to
answer, “Yes.” “Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me to serve alone?”
Martha expected Jesus to say, “Oh, you poor dear, of course I care! I will send Mary to help you
immediately.” Martha did not ask an open
ended question; she used a rhetorical question to express her anger, anger
which came out in the next phrase: “Tell her then to help me!”
attitude in her service gives every Christian reason for pause. When we serve others, do we become irritated
with them? When you pick up after your
husband or your wife, do you become angry with them? When you clean-up after people, do you murmur
angrily under your breath, “Man, I wish they would stop making such a
mess!” Or when you work to support your
family, are you angry at your wife and children if they don’t thank you? If you are angry in these situations, then
you are no different than Martha.
third sign: Martha was manipulative. Martha did not allow Mary to prioritize
her own life; instead, Martha demanded that Mary change her priorities to match
hers. Marthas will not allow others to
decide their priorities; Marthas are controlling and demanding, and those
closest to them must shift priorities at a moment’s notice. If a Martha volunteers, everyone has to
volunteer; if a Martha cooks perfect meals, everyone must cook perfect meals;
if a Martha works long hours, everyone must work long hours. Simply put, we are Marthas if, in our
distracted busyness, we demand that others make our priorities their
fourth sign: Martha was lonely. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has
left me to serve alone? Martha had an Elijah complex: “I alone am
left, woe is me! If I died, there would
be none to carry on the work. Everything
depends upon me; everything rests upon me.”
Sometimes it is good to take a step back from our labor and see how
small it really is. The world will go on
just fine without us. We are expendable,
no matter what we think. Our children
will grow up whether or not we are alive; the industry in which we work will
hardly notice our death; and the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ will continue
to be built long after we decease. If,
in our service, we feel an incredible loneliness, like no one else can keep up
with us, or like no one else can accomplish what we can, or like we alone are
God’s gift to productivity and godliness, then we are Marthas, plain and
simple. And it should not surprise us if
we are all alone in our service. If we
choose to run through life at 90 mph, then there will probably not be very many
people close to us.
fifth sign: Martha was empty. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has
left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” She needed approval and
affirmation for her work. She needed
someone to watch her work. Her work was
not for others, but for herself; not about serving others, but about the praise
of others. If you cannot joyfully serve
without a “Thank you”, and if you grow angrier at those who refuse to notice
and praise your work, and if you grow depressed when no one compliments your
work, then you are not serving Christ, you are serving your own ego. You are trying to fill up the emptiness
inside with the praise of men. You are a
for the source of Martha’s problem: Over-commitment. “Martha welcomed
Jesus into her house” (v. 38). Jesus’
visit was probably announced beforehand by His disciples, as was His custom
(Luke 9:52; 10:1; 22:8), so Martha had plenty of time to prepare. But if she did not have time to prepare, she
could have said, “No, but I will arrange for someone else to host You.” This, I believe, is the crux and core of
Martha’s problem: she could not say, “No.”
Marthas fear letting others down, so they over-commit. Does this describe you, dear Christian? Are you over-committed? Are you over-stressed, anxious, angry,
manipulative, and demanding of others that they make your priorities theirs,
all the time? Are you unable to say “No”
for fear of letting down others? Do you
have too many things on your plate, none of which you can accomplish without
losing your patience and looking down your nose? Is your relationship with the Lord Jesus
Christ in shambles because you are too busy to spend time with Him? Is your marriage falling apart, or is your
relationship with your children less than it should be, because you work or
recreate (sports; gym-time; guy-time; television; internet) too much? Then you
are over-committed like Martha, and need to scale-back.
now for the cure. For starters, believer, you must know that
God already approves of you in Jesus Christ: You can stop trying to earn
it. God does not love you more because
of your service to Him. He loves you
because He served You by giving the life of His Son as a ransom. God’s love and acceptance of you is not based
upon how many meals you bake for the neighbors, how many committees you serve
on at church, how many folks you host at your house, or how many hours you
volunteer for the local shelter. If it
were, then Martha would be a godly pattern for living.
must also know, believer, that Jesus Christ could have taken Martha’s words
upon His own lips to condemn her. Try it
out. Imagine if Jesus had repeated back
to Martha what she said to Him, “Martha, don’t you care that you have left Me to
serve alone? Get to work helping
Me! Martha, don’t you care that I alone
have to pay for your sins? Don’t you
care that you are not going to hang on the Cross of Calvary? Don’t you care that you are not pulling your
own weight? Don’t you care that I alone—alone—am doing for you what you could
never do for yourself? Don’t you care,
Martha?” If Jesus had said that, I think
Martha would have taken a seat next to Mary, apologized to Jesus, and worshiped
Him with tears. Martha’s words could not
have been more true for Jesus. He was
the one who had every right to be angry with those He came to serve, but He was
not; Jesus had every right to be distracted from His work, but He remained
focused; Jesus could have railed against Martha that her priorities were
backwards, but He refrained; Jesus had every right to complain about
loneliness, but He did not; and Jesus could have declared no one noticed the
significance of His work, but He was silent.
Jesus’ labor was not small; the world would not have gone on fine without Him; the work He came to accomplish
was not expendable; and on the Cross
He alone was all alone: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
Christ’s work for you, believer, is the reference point which you must focus
on, cling to, and stay nearby. If you
lose Him, you have nothing left; if you stray from His work on your behalf,
your work on His behalf will become an empty enslavement. Until Christianity is more about Christ and
His work for us than about Christians and our work for him, we will live like
Martha: distracted, angry, manipulative, lonely, and empty. Are you more concerned with what you do for
Jesus Christ than with what Jesus Christ has done for you? Pause; breathe; relax. Sit at His feet. Listen to His teaching. Worship Him.
And when you rise up, having been filled with His love for you, work
hard. If you have been filled with Him,
you will notice something different about your work. Even in the most stressful times, your work
will become strangely joyous and fulfilling.
That is the difference between working in order to gain praise and
acceptance, and working because you have already been praised and accepted by
God. A subtle distinction, isn’t
it? Nearly akin to hair-splitting? Maybe so, unless you have experienced the
difference, and if you have, you realize it is no subtlety, but something you
can no longer live without, at least not peacefully so.
Church’s Solemn Testimony
I do not
account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my
course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the
gospel of the grace of God—Acts 20:24
church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, Christ Himself being the
cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), we are called to the same ministry as that of Paul: to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
It is no secret that the church of decades
past equated Christianity with a political party, a social issue, and/or
prohibited forms of entertainment.
Rather than using the Bible to testify to the gospel, the church used it to testify to her local hot-button
topic. The Bible, then, became the
sourcebook for information on how everyone we disliked ought to live. Before long, as you can imagine, hearts grew
cold, and belief and unbelief were no longer determined by faith in Jesus
Christ but by nicotine, cards, and television.
This is not to declare moral issues
unimportant. Being good stewards of our
bodies and time is necessary, especially if we believe—and we do—that God
desires we glorify Him every second.
However, these issues are secondary to the gospel of God’s grace, the
good news that Jesus Christ has died for sinners. For this message there has never been, is
not, and never will be a suitable substitute.
Churches have no business allowing men to preach “Christ Republicanized”
or “Christ Democratized” in public worship—vote your conscience, only make sure
you have searched the Scriptures for wisdom.
Nor do churches fulfill their ministry if they allow mere public
speakers to preach “Christ Nice-ified” to itching ears. There is nothing “Nice” about the
Crucifixion, and becoming a nice person will not merit you heaven. Nice is a personality trait—plenty of nice
non-Christians will spend their eternity wishing they had repented of their
niceness. And if entertainment is all we
seek, stay home. The church, for the
most part, is a lousy entertainer.
We might sum-up the church’s ministry with
the pithy phrase placarded just below the pulpit microphone in a Presbyterian
church outside La Porte, IN: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” None but the pastor could see the placard,
but all could tell if he obeyed. The job
of preaching is to throw hearts and souls off the cliff of self-sufficiency
into the blood-stained hands of our sufficient Savior. Hearts need melting, souls need feeding,
consciences need soothing, and lives need mending. Those afflicted need comfort, and those
comfortable in their sins and unbelief need affliction. What frail sinners need portrayed before
their very eyes is Jesus Christ crucified (Gal. 3:1), and when that Savior is
lifted up in our churches, He will draw all men to himself.
This is no seminary course in ministry;
this involves our everyday witness to the world. If we spend the bulk of our witness
condemning men, they will condemn us; yell at them and they will yell back;
rant and they will rave. But testify to
the good news of God’s grace, and the Holy Spirit may change them without
another word. Tell them with all seriousness
that the sacrificed Savior will pay for their wretched sins if only they
believe. Tell them God has provided a way back to the Father in Christ. Tell
them…they know not what they need, but we know!
They may not want to hear it, or they may think the message weak, but
tell them anyway, and pray God overwhelm their pride with His weakness. It is the crucified Christ of which men need
to hear, so let us not distort the message.
My fellow Christians, the churches of
Dachau and Auschwitz abide continually, testifying to the gospel of godly living—which is no gospel at all. And
in these concentration churches you will find dead and dying sinners starved,
emaciated, and whittled to the bone.
They probably don’t know why they starve. Here is why: our godly living is not the
gospel, it is merely the gospel’s fruit.
May it be said, today and ever after, that Gospel of Grace Church and
her every member testifies to the gospel of God’s
grace—the good news of a Gift, neatly packaged in the broken body and shed
blood of the Trinity’s 2nd Person.
To do otherwise is to starve the world of the only message which can
feed their souls. Are you feeding on the
gospel? Then share the meal.
Jesus in Religion
came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what
wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”
And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon
another that will not be thrown down.”—Mark 13:1-2
yourself walking on a 34 acre, man-made mountain consisting of stones 40 feet
long, 10 feet wide, and 10 feet thick, and surrounded by walls 1 mile in
perimeter. And then as you focus your
gaze upon Jesus, you catch a glimpse of the Herodian Temple in all its
spendor—17 stories of ornate grandeur, and as long and wide. Had we been standing with the disciples in
the Temple court our lips would have uttered a similar redundancy. The stones and buildings of the temple mount
were magnificent, to say the least, and all was built without cranes and
But Jesus, knowing our propensity to
worship religious beauty, interrupts the disciple’s idolatry with a prophecy
about A.D. 70, the year Titus would waltz into Jerusalem and leave the city and
Temple in shambles. What was Jesus
doing? Jesus was warning us of the
danger of enthroning religious symbols and relics in our hearts at the expense
of Jesus Himself. You see, while the
disciples marveled at the Temple, the reality to which the Temple pointed stood
right in front of them. God had finally
and permanently “Templed” among His people in the Person of Jesus Christ, but
even to His closest friends, Herod’s Temple appeared more glorious than God’s
Temple, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa. 53:2).
Jesus’ glory was concealed by ordinary flesh; Jesus was concealed in the
scenery of ordinary religious life.
It is a heart-wrenching reality that
oftentimes the religious institutions and practices designed to lead us into
closer communion with Christ actually take our gaze off Him. We marvel at eloquently spoken prayers and
strive to impress God with our own fluency, and so we spend our prayers
marveling at our prayers, and missing Christ altogether. We are impressed with well-bound Bibles in
the perfect translation, and so we spend our time admiring the book itself and
acclaiming the English translators, but soon our soul atrophies because the
Altogether Lovely vanishes from our Bibles.
We might even adore corporate worship and the fellowship of the saints,
and so we gaze upon the beauty of our order of worship and the gathered saints,
and suddenly our soul-nourishing worship and fellowship are dismantled one
stone after the next, until our Sunday routine becomes absent spiritual power
altogether. It happens so subtly we
seldom notice, but our heart feels the effects.
As soon as we substitute the worship of beautiful things designed to
display God’s glory for the worship of God, we commence down the destructive path
of worshiping beauty, and soon enough, since beauty cannot withstand the weight
of worship, beauty grows ugly and we are left in a world of ugliness—with a
ruined Temple and a devastated landscape.
There is only one way to avoid the
horrendous pain of a life fraught with idolatry: find Jesus Christ. You might have a hard time seeing Him, but
see him we must. He likely will not
appear the most beautiful option, the most entertaining choice, or the most
aesthetically pleasing piece. He
probably will not jump out at you on the pages of the Scripture, and He might
be hidden behind all the earthly blessings (house, family, career, health) for
which you thank God in prayer. He might
appear inconsequential and even needless during your week, and the way in which
we must enthrone Him may appear inapplicable.
We Americans demand our religion as our coffee: Instant and easily
accessible. But since Jesus does not
come “Instant” or in accessible, individual packets, you might find fellowship
with Him time-consuming and awkward.
But my brothers and sisters, Jesus is
well-worth our time. The glory of Christ
is that God’s beauty has become accessible to us, touchable and visible. Don’t let this accessibility sour His
taste. Jesus Christ is sweet and
altogether lovely. His Person is beautiful
to gaze upon. No longer do we go to a
beautiful building to deal with our sins; now we go to a Person. Gaze upon His Cross-hung body, and your
desire to worship prayer, worship, fellowship, and church buildings will
of Our Peace
since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ—Romans 5:1
said of former U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower, that during the stress of
D-Day preparations he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and slept as many
hours. This is to say nothing of the
Riveting Rosies who labored long in factory and home, and the soldiers who
found themselves stressed-out by the prospect of meeting their last bullet. In war there is no relaxation, no rest, no
carefree moments. All is edgy; tensions
are high; people live on “point.”
Squaring off against fellow flesh is
intimidating, especially if the odds are stacked against you. I cannot wait to ask David what ran through
the back of his mind once he arrived face-to-face (or face to knee) with giant
Goliath (1 Samuel 17:48), carrying five stones and a leather strap. “LORD, I have no idea why I grabbed five stones. I’m gonna fling this first stone about 80mph
with my scrawny arm, but if You don’t land it in the right spot, I’ll be
finished and will have no need of the other four!” That might have crossed his mind.
But Goliath was merely a man who could
destroy David’s body. God can destroy
both body and soul in hell, so war with Him has infinitely greater stakes. The unrest of being at war with the God of
your oxygen, the God of your heartbeats, and the God of your brain activity is
nerve-wracking. Since there is no
possibility of victory for one at war with the Christian God, there is no
peace. As long as God remains your
enemy, and as long as you intend to war with Him in your own strength, you
lose, and will lose always.
But the Apostle introduces a drastic
remedy into the equation of our strife with God. He calls it being justified by faith through
Jesus Christ. Who could have imagined
such a notion? Being justified is peace with God: the battle is over, the
treaty signed, the rebuilding begun.
Being justified means God on our side, God for us, God with us. Much more than a cease-fire, God has entered
into our country and into our hearts by the power of His rebuilding Holy
Spirit. All the damage which sin and
Satan had caused is overturned with a clear conscience and love for God. The massive rebuilding of post-W.W.II Germany
and Japan pales in comparison to the godly life being built-up within each
Christian. If we had eyes to see the
scope of God’s work in us, we might hasten His work by casting off our sins and
praying for an increase of grace and the Holy Spirit.
Now comes the sobering part of our peace
with God. Our peace came at a
price. The battlefield of our peace has
many names: the Skull, Golgatha, Calvary, Crucifixion Hill. If you go there today no trace of
battle-wrought blood remains, but it was spilt.
God warred against His own Son and God won; so did His Son; so did
we. Jesus Christ lost His Father’s peace
so we could attain peace; He took heaven’s bullets in our stead. You should have seen it; you can still read
about it. Never before and never since
has such a momentous battle ensued in all creation. The lines were drawn, the sides were
taken. All was quite on the battlefront
until the moment God’s Son became His Enemy.
And then it happened. It was more
than a chest wound, and it took off more than a limb. It was more painful than amputation, and more
devastating than decapitation. In the
longest hours known to man, when even New York’s minute slowed, Heaven’s Judge
unleashed hell from all sides. The
canons of Battleship Justice smoked black; artillery shells bombarded; not a
one missed target. What must it have
felt like? What must it have been
like? A bullet for every sin. We will never know. Thank God Almighty we never will. Now, having been justified, we have peace
with God, but forget not your peace came at a price. Some men die for just causes; Jesus Christ
died for your cause. Some men pay the
price for freedom; Jesus Christ paid for your freedom. Some men suffer the casualty of war; Jesus
Christ suffered the casualty of your
war—He paid at the Cross for the fight we picked in Eden. Savor your peace; it was an expensive war.
Yes, It Is
rose about 8:15am that Friday morning in early April. Each year about this time, hundreds of
thousands of Israelites who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem entered the city
for Passover. On the East side of
Jerusalem, Israel’s emblematic Passover lamb, which was brought into Jerusalem
earlier in the week, was nearing the end of its animal life. Throughout the week the lamb was scrupulously
examined by the religious authorities, and, in accordance with Passover
customs, if no fault was found with the lamb, it would be “staked” to the altar
of burnt offering in the Temple court by 9am on Friday. The Jews were very familiar with the
procedure by now; after all, they had been celebrating the Passover for at
least 1300 years (Exodus 12), and though slight changes had been introduced
into the ceremony, the essence remained intact.
Six hours later, at 3pm, inside the Temple court, the designated priest
continued the official Jewish Passover festivities by slaying the lamb staked
upon the altar. Just before he slit the
throat of the lamb, the priest pronounced a benediction, the last word of which
was, “Tetelestai”, which translated into English means, “It is finished.”
But on this particular year Jerusalem’s
West side was abuzz over a certain Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah, the
Christ. This Lamb, which had
triumphantly entered Jerusalem earlier in the week, was also nearing an
end. This Lamb, too, had been
scrupulously examined by religious authorities such as the Pharisees (Mark
12:13), the Sadducees (Mark 12:18), the scribes (Mark 12:28), Annas (John
18:19-24), the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:57-66), and the Sanhedrin (Luke
22:66-71); the Lamb also stood for examination before Roman authorities (Herod
and Pilate—Luke 23:1-25). And since no
fault was found with the Lamb (John 19:6), He was “staked” upon a wooden altar
just outside Jerusalem’s western wall at 9am (Mark 15:25). The entire world should have been familiar
with this procedure, for thousands of years earlier God promised He would send
a child of Eve’s to crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15), but no one understood. Six hours later, at 3pm (Mark 15:34), about a
1/3 mile west of the Temple court, God’s designated Priest ended the Passover
festivities for all time by becoming slain.
But just before the Lamb was sacrificed, the Priest pronounced His own
benediction in Greek, saying, “Tetelestai”, which translated into English
means, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
At last, the final “Tetelestai” was
uttered; the true Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) was
offered up; Christ Jesus our Passover Lamb was slain (1 Cor. 5:7). It was no accident that Jesus Christ died the
same day the Jewish Passover lamb was slain and to the sound of the same
benediction. God providentially ordered
that, and it is worth our marveling.
Moreover, it is no accident that Jesus
said, “It is finished.” He meant
it. Do you believe it? Do you really
believe it is finished? If we say
that Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross accomplished redemption once for all, then
we believe it doctrinally. But how about practically? Do you live as though “It is finished”? Do you trust that what Christ has done for you, on behalf of you, and in your
place has reconciled you to God, or do you believe the lie that God’s
acceptance of you is a process dependent upon the amount of sin in your
life? If that is how you live, then you
are still trusting in the sacrificial lamb of your good works to save you,
rather than in the Lamb who was sacrificed to save you. My fellow Christian, the blood of your
obedience, your niceness, your good works, and your kind speech cannot take
away your sins. Listen again to the True
Lamb: “It is finished!” On that
basis alone God accepts you as His
own. Your redemption is
accomplished. Stop slaying lambs in
order to become good enough; you’re not and never will be. Trust in the Lamb slain for you and then offer
your body as a living sacrifice. It is a
subtle distinction, but our life in Christ hangs on it!
God Is Our
nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and
my portion forever—Psalm 73:25-26
Each of us
has “portions” in the form of stuffed animals, automobiles, livestock, houses,
couches, clothing, appliances, property, and coffee cups. Upon these “portions” we place our name, and
we consider these tiny pieces of the creation ours. But if we look to these not as mere gifts but
as our primary portion from God, we
miss the benefit of Christianity’s true
God has allotted you Himself. As the Israelites were allotted portions of
land according to tribe (Josh. 18:10; 19:51), so God has apportioned to us
Himself. His everlasting arms are your
share of the property; His forever-love is your piece of land; His divine
nature is the portion of which we partake (2 Peter 1:4). And if we intend to participate in the
fullness of our portion we must abscond the lie that the strength of our hearts
lies in the things of this world. To
believe such is dehumanizing, reducing
image-bearers to the world of animals where he who lives with the most
toys leads and he who dies with the most wins.
God has not merely given us impersonal material goods; He has given us
Asaph made the mistake of equating the
Faith with comfort, convenience, and material possessions. Do you?
Do you look to physical health, mental acuity, material possessions, or
anything other than God for the measure of your strength? Then you are depriving yourself of the
portion which alone can satisfy your soul and strengthen your heart in the
midst of a fallen world. Riches come and
riches go, health comes and health goes, and comforts do the same, but there is
a portion belonging to you for which there is no substitute in heaven or earth
and which will always be yours in Christ.
That portion is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God as our portion has many applications
for us; here is one: Christianity is a relational religion. Christians don’t merely share possessions or
their various gifts, they share each other.
Christians can say with the Apostle Paul, “We were ready to share with
you not only the gospel of God but also
our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess.
2:8). You will know how much you mean to
someone by their willingness to share themselves—that
is the measure of a relationship.
Writing-out checks, lending a helping hand, or sharing material goods is
wonderful, and the church is such a place where these blessings abound. But sharing the life of a fellow believer is
a far superior portion. This is easily
illustrated in marriage: spouses who provide each other with goods and services
are a blessing; but spouses who share their very lives by apportioning themselves to the other are far more
delightful. Christians share not just
what they have, but who they are; not merely their things, but their
In Jesus Christ God has given you
Himself. He sent neither a bag of money
nor an impersonal box of righteousness from heaven, but a Person, through whose
poverty we have become rich and through whose sin-bearing we have become the righteousness
of God. More than that, Jesus Christ did
not come to hang a personal check from the Bank of Heaven on the Cross, but
came Himself to hang in our place. You
see, my fellow saints, the mind-boggling good news of Jesus Christ is that He
came not bearing gifts from God, but that in Him God came bearing Himself. No other portion compares. Let Him be the portion in which you delight
your soul, and then you will be strong.
And may our hearts sing the words of an old German hymn derived from
Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 73:25-26:
The whole world gives me no delight,
I do not ask for heaven and earth,
if only I can have you.
Love (Part 1)
He who is
forgiven little, loves little—Luke 7:47
“Sin”, where it is still used, has been largely redefined. And whether this redefinition is fueled by
political correctness, pluralism, or church growth matters little; that it is
taking place matters a lot.
Sin is no longer sin. It has become merely a mistake, an
unintentional lapse in personal character, an oops, a flub, a slip-up, a
miscalculation, or at worst an error.
Psychotherapy is explaining it away, and various disorders now justify
it, or convince us that sin is not our real problem after all. Christians, we are told, must get with the
times by changing sin’s definition. But,
the three letter word, “Sin”, has stood the test of thousands of years
throughout biblical history, and God has seen fit to maintain the same
definition with which He started: sin is heinous, weighty, our biggest problem
in life, and the very thing which has destroyed our relationship with God. And until we see sin for what it really is,
forgiveness will remain trite and our love will either fade or vanish.
In Luke 7 Jesus Christ curiously
intertwines love with forgiveness; curiously because he inserts the word,
“Little.” Inside that one word lays the
entirety of each Christian’s sin, and to the extent we consider our sins
against God little, we will love little.
On the surface it appears that Jesus is tying forgiveness and love
together, but He is actually tying sin and love together. In other words, it is not forgiveness itself
that determines the amount of our love, but the amount of our forgiveness that determines the amount of our
love. There is a direct correlation
between our view of sin and our love for Jesus Christ. Where sin is a minor disorder, Jesus is
optional, nice, and someone we can like; where sin is heinous and sickening,
Jesus is necessary and our First Love—One we cannot live without.
As one man put it, part of our mess is not
knowing we are a mess. Shallow sin needs
only shallow forgiveness, and shallow forgiveness issues forth in shallow
love. If our love for Jesus Christ is
shallow, it may have very little to do with our doctrine of forgiveness and
everything to do with our lack of clarity on how big a sinful mess we really
are. Has your love for Jesus grown
cold? It might be because the magnitude
of your sin has grown small.
Love (Part 2)
He who is
forgiven little, loves little—Luke 7:47
we noticed that the amount we have been forgiven determines the amount of our
love, and, since the amount we have been forgiven relates to the amount of our
sin, our love increases directly proportionate to our forgiven sin.
Some might declare “Unfair!” and blame
their lack of love on righteous living, but that is to miss the point. We all have sins needing forgiveness, and if
we have trouble finding those sins, we need look no farther than our good
works, which stand in great need of forgiveness. And though some Christians have had more sins
forgiven than others, no Christian has the warrant to love little, at least no
warrant from God.
We are often told, aren’t we, that the God
who is Just and declares all men filthy sinners is the hating God of our
ancestors, and, through some inexplicable, unbiblical change, we now enjoy the
transformed God of love who overlooks sin and rarely declares men sinners. But, and this is the irony many fail to
grasp, such a God made in man’s image is actually less loving.
This may not be apparent, but looking at
Jesus’ words from another perspective, namely, God’s, will bear this out. If it is true, and according to Jesus it is,
that he who is forgiven little loves little, then it is no stretch to say that
he who forgives little also loves little.
If this be the case, then no matter which side of forgiveness we are on,
either giving it or receiving it, more forgiveness means more love, and less
forgiveness means less love. And this is
exactly where the modern-day promulgation of a God who no longer speaks of
justice and sin leaves us with a frighteningly unloving God.
God’s declaration concerning the hideous
magnitude of our sin is vital for His glory.
If our sins are merely mistakes, then Jesus Christ had only show us a
better way to live and the Cross, it could be argued, was God’s mistake because
a dab of love would have done. But, if
our sins are heinous offenses which merit hell itself, and that they are, then
the Cross is the greatest proof that God is love. When a dab wouldn’t do, God poured love out
in His Son. Now that’s a love worth
writing home about!
For by the
grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to
think with sober judgment—Romans 12:3
address humility for the next few weeks, you should know, as usual, I have no
original thoughts. The Holy Spirit
through the Word has been my primary teacher, while Andrew Murray, C.S. Lewis,
and Henry Fairlie have helped me to understand pride in the heart better. I am very proud (I’m sure you knew), and now
I am proud that, at the beginning of this sentence, I was humble enough to
admit my pride. It appears we’re off to
a bad start, or maybe a good start, but certainly the only start we know
true. Each of us is very proud, and if I
convince you that you are proud, I shall have convinced you of the most
important step toward true humility:
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the
first step. The first step is to realize
that one is proud. And a biggish step,
too. At least, nothing whatever can be
done before it. If you think you are not
conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
For example, my wife and I attended
worship service where the pastor spent 10 very uncomfortable minutes validating
his humility. He may have convinced us,
even if momentarily, if he had begun by admitting himself conceited, but he did
no such thing, and thus, by touting his humility, successfully convinced the
congregation of one thing: their pastor was a proud man, and worse, blind to
it. Worse yet was my own heart. As I tried to figure out by what right the
preacher spent 10 minutes preaching his humility rather than Christ’s
humiliation, I prided myself that I had never done such a thing (only because
at that time, I had never preached at all), and never planned to. At that moment—the moment I was proud that
another appeared more proud—I realized just how sick my heart was, and always
had been, and always would be. Then
began my struggle against pride, and the struggle against being proud of my
zealous struggle against pride, and the struggle…well, you get it. I’m sure you do the same thing.
Pride is sin, and if ever we intend to
grow beyond it, we must confess we have it.
The alcoholic attending A.A. begins, saying, “Hello, I’m so-and-so. I’m an alcoholic.” There is more therapy in that line than we
realize. If the meeting ended there, a
lot would have been accomplished. The
angry person must admit his anger, the adulterer his adultery, the liar his
lies, and the envious his envy, or each must be a life-long slave to their
respective sin. The same goes for the
sin of pride. We can either admit we are
proud, or prepare for a life of tripping, stumbling, cliff-jumping, or whatever
Solomon meant when he said, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty
spirit before a fall” (Proverbs
16:18). If we believe ourselves proud,
we are off to a good start toward humility; if we believe ourselves humble, God
have mercy—we are in the death-grip of arrogance.
No one need teach us to think well of
ourselves. We do it naturally. The successful man believes himself
successful because he has worked hard and made good decisions. He cannot admit his work ethic and wisdom are
gifts from God, of which he was as
much unworthy to receive as the lazy fool who did not receive. Oftentimes, the suicidal man believes he
deserves better, so in a moment of despair, when life on earth, by his
estimation, has become a living hell, he does himself in. At that moment he has thought too highly of
himself, for anyone who knows what sin against a holy God deserves, must conclude
the worst life on earth is a far greater gift than the hell of God’s wrath we
deserve. Yes, Christians, whether rich
or poor, mentally healthy or unhealthy, physically able or unable, we tend to
think very highly of ourselves. In the
words of T.S. Eliot,
is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the
desire to think well of oneself.
A caution here is necessary. Paul wrote, in effect, “Do not think of
yourselves more highly than you ought to, rather, think of yourself
appropriately, neither too high nor too low, but with sober judgment, accuracy,
and truth.” Paul does not write, “Please
think of yourself in the worst of terms, always self-deprecating,
self-abnegating, self-condemning.” For
these are no more a sign of humility than self-promotion, and are often pride
masked in counterfeit humility. Someone
always speaking badly of himself can be very proud indeed: “I am nothing, I am
worthless, I am…, I…, I-I-I, Me, Me, Me!”
Subtle, aren’t we. When
self-flattery works not, pride resorts to self-censure. Pride cares not about what it boasts in, so
long as it is not in the Cross. Simply
put, pride can be as much in self-censure as in self-endorsement; as much in self-denunciation
as in self-advancement; as much in service to others as in self-service; and as
much in self-condemnation as in self-commendation, so long as each conversation
is about self. So says Andrew
that there are many who by strong expressions of self-condemnation and
self-denunciation have sought to humble themselves, but who have to confess
with sorrow that a humble spirit with its accompanying kindness and compassion,
meekness and forebearance, is still as far off as ever. Being occupied with self, even having the
deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self. It is the revelation of God not only by the
law condemning sin but also by His grace delivering from it that will make us
humble. The law may break the heart with
fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility that becomes joy to the
soul as its second nature…It is the sinner basking in the full light of God’s
holy, redeeming love, in the experience of that indwelling divine compassion of
Christ, who cannot but be humble. Not to
be occupied with your sin but to be fully occupied with God brings deliverance
form, Tim Keller asserts the same idea:
True humility is not thinking less
of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.
applicable form, C.S. Lewis drives home the point:
imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call
‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is
always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that
he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him
it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life
so easily. He will not be thinking about
humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
How, then, in the midst of our incessant
pride, can we be humble? What can change
our relationship with ourselves? What
can change our self-evaluation from lies to the truth? You know the answer by now:
we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of
you. It is your sin I am bearing, your
curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us
down to size like the cross. All of us
have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we
have visited a place called Calvary. It
is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.
“live close to the Cross, and search the mystery of His wounds,”
we grow in humility. The closer we live
to Calvary, the more humble we become.
Each Christian owns real estate at Golgotha, but few consider it their
primary residence. Many of us flee to
The Lamb’s Blood Shelter in times of crisis, but few reside long, and most
quickly relocate their hearts back to a more comfortable residence, far, far
away, where accommodations are plush, and pride is allowed to flourish once
again, and miserably so, until the next fall.
Then we come back, but only because we have to, and only as long as we
need to, and only because the Holy Spirit compelled us to. Someday soon, hopefully, we will tire of
resisting the Holy Spirit, and will stay; those who do wonder why they ever
left. It is our true home.
If you are not a Christian, you will be
happy to know real estate at The Cross is still for sale, and you qualify for
purchase. You can afford a plot, but the
price is high—sky-high, to be honest.
The cost is your life, the whole thing; the proof of purchase is faith
in Jesus Christ alone; and you can never permanently relocate, and eventually,
over the course of time, will no longer want to. It sounds like a strange place to live, in
the shadow of Someone’s death, that is, but once you believe His death brought
you life, and is the only way to eternal life, the strangeness wears off. And you are strangely comforted.
Allow me a question, my fellow Christian:
When you stand at the place where infinite wrath poured out—where the God of
Justice demanded the sacrifice for sin be damned, then broken, then drained of
every ounce of life and entombed consumed, and where for 3 hours God shut off
the lights to veil from sight hell on earth unleashed upon the head of He who
hung in the middle—when you stand there,
and know with all your heart and soul that it was your sin which occasioned Christ crushed by the waves of judgment,
are you overwhelmed with both pain and pleasure, distress and delight, grief
and gaiety? If so, you are tasting
humility: your soul sorrows because you cost Him His life; your soul is
satisfied because He wanted to do it, and did it. For you.
Humility Toward One’s Reputation
Jesus…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing—Philippians 2:6-7
of humility for oneself admits we never had it, or certainly no longer have
it. Humility can only be affirmed about
us by others, but never self-affirmed, or never truthfully so. Humility is so elusive, that once we have a
humble moment, the next moment we either slip back into pride, or become proud
of our momentary humility. If, for a
moment, we forget self and serve others humbly, we usually spend the moment
afterward pondering our service, and inevitably, without intention, we take
pride in our humble service, and then orchestrate a repeat performance, though
this time absent the former humility.
Then, when we awake from self-aggrandizing service, we remember that
passage in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), and, ironically, we are
encouraged that God understands how sick and self-centered we are, and so sent
Jesus to heal our disease.
The word translated “made himself nothing”
means “to empty.” The context of the
phrase hints at what Jesus emptied Himself of: He emptied Himself of the glory,
praise, prerogatives, and privileges of deity He enjoyed in heaven—He let go of
His heavenly glory to enter earthly suffering in a human body. The old King James Version of the Bible
renders this phrase, “Christ Jesus…made
himself of no reputation.” Though a
narrow translation to modern English readers, it highlights one aspect of
Christ’s emptying Himself. He left
behind His reputable status to take on our disreputable condition, sin
Jesus’ reputation was trampled on by
everyone. Nathanael doubted Jesus could
amount to much of anything, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John
1:46), and the crowds who encountered Him said He was merely John the Baptist,
Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14). Others said worse of Him, denoting Him a
glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19). Jesus Christ, indeed, became of no
reputation, or of infinitely lesser reputation than He had in heaven, yet He
Let’s not misunderstand, Jesus certainly
spoke the truth, and the truth of the matter is that He is God in the flesh,
the Son of Man, Jehovah incarnate, and the only way to the Father. He made no bones about who He is, and even
amid rejection, His truth-telling bore no sign of a peevish insecurity. He stated the Truth, and if men confined His
reputation to disrepute, He cared not, “but continued entrusting himself to him
who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus
Christ came not to advance His own reputation among men, but to die on the
Cross to advance our reputation with God.
Therefore, though we are not told His thoughts, we might suggest that
with each slight against His reputation, Jesus thought, “You think being from
Nazareth is bad? You think hanging out
with society’s moral reprobates is heinous?
You think being called an over-eater, a wino, and a partier is bad? You haven’t seen anything yet! Wait until you see Me crucified among the criminals
on a God-forsaken tree!” Jesus Christ,
my brothers and sisters, needed not scamper around the Palestinian countryside
in self-promotion, for He had bigger fish to fry than losing His reputation
among men. On the Cross, he would
momentarily lose His reputation with His Father. At that moment, He truly became nothing. He had no earthly possessions, no successful
career, no popularity, and no friends sticking closer than a brother. Worst of all, for the first and only time in
all eternity, He had not His Father. He
had one thing and one thing only: our reputation; our sin. To that He clung through hell itself. All He had to do was let go of our sin, let
go of our reputation, say, “I am NOT one of these; I am the perfect Son of
God!” and we would have been hopelessly lost.
Through the gauntlet, Jesus clung to that which bruised Him deeper,
pummeled Him harder, and tore Him further.
See how much He loves you? He
held onto the worst of you, so you might have the best of Him. He exchanged reputations, and felt every
ounce of rejection as a result.
This gospel demands, of course, as always,
that we respond appropriately. If God
would do all that for us, then, overwhelmed with joy, our hearts ask, “What can
I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” Andrew Murray answers:
to self has no surer death-mark than a humility which makes itself of no
reputation, which empties out itself, and takes the form of a servant. It is possible to speak much and honestly of
fellowship with a despised and rejected Jesus, and of bearing his cross, while
the meek and lowly, the kind and gentle humility of the Lamb of God is not
seen; is scarcely sought.
responding to Jesus’ incarnation and death entails letting go of earthly claims
to glory and of the honor we desperately try to accumulate. Carl Trueman explains:
Christian, I am not meant to engage in self-justification any more than
self-promotion; I am called rather to defend the name of Christ; and, to be
honest, I have yet to see a criticism of me, true or untrue, to which I could
justifiably respond on the grounds that it was Christ’s honor, and not simply
my ego, which was being damaged. I am called to spend my time in being a
husband, a father, a minister in my denomination, a member of my church, a good
friend to those around me, and a conscientious employee. These things, these
people, these locations and contexts, are to shape my priorities and my
allocation of time. Hitting back in anger at those who, justly or unjustly, do
not like me and for some reason think the world needs to know what they think
of me is no part of my God-given vocation. God
will look after my reputation if needs be; He has given me other work to do.
Humility is not concerned with a reputation
for humility—that is pride. Humility is not concerned with one’s reputation at
all. A humble Christian serves God not
for the possibility of accolades from men, but because God condescended in
Christ to become him, redeem him, and give him an infinitely glorious
reputation in heaven. A mature
Christians realizes that his reputation with God is secure, and thus, in one
sense, not rebelliously but humbly, ceases caring altogether what men think of
him. He knows God smiles upon Him in
Christ, and He has made God’s approval His only concern. A. W. Tozer states this well:
meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. He
has accepted God's estimate of his own life: In himself, nothing; In God,
everything. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and
he has stopped caring.
And now we conclude, asking, “How can I
tell if I am humble toward my reputation, or at least on the way toward
it?” The only way to tell is in
community with others. We will dive
deeper next time into humility toward others, but for now, Andrew Murray
provides yet another insight into humility, this time in the form of a litmus
man feels no jealousy or envy. He can
praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised and
himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learned to say with Paul,
“I am nothing.” He has received the spirit
of Jesus, who pleased not himself, and sought no his own honor, as the spirit
of his life.
Are you envious of others? Jealous of their accomplishments or
reputation? Can you truly rejoice when
others are preferred before you? Can you
praise God when someone else is blessed while you remain rejected, slighted, or
in pain? Do you? If so, then you are experiencing the
first-fruits of genuine humility. If
not, then consider again the humility of Jesus.
A thorough, heart-penetrating, heart-permeating reflection on what he
has done for you—for you, dear
Christian—is the only message which will change your heart.
Found in Christ’s Glory
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves—Philippians 2:3
In our consideration of humility we have noticed all men, to some
degree, lack it. And to the extent we
lack humility, we are blinded by pride, our
pride, but very attentive to it, and condescendingly so, in others.
one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world
loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except
Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves…The vice I am talking
of is Pride or Self-Conceit.
In Philippians 2:3, the word
“rivalry” originally referred to a day laborer—someone who worked one day at a
time, and, as a result, approached all of life with a short-term attitude. Initially, the word had no negative
connotations, but simply described working-class employees such as the workers in
the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Eventually,
though, the meaning of the word took on a negative overtones:
The aristocratic scorn of the man of property and culture for the daily
wage-earner is responsible for this change in the meaning of [rivalry]…It
regards the [wage-earner] as suspect from the very first in view of his concern
for gain and his readiness to do things only for profit.
The word became a derogatory term describing those stricken with
myopia—nearsightedness or shortsightedness—the kind of person who lives only
for the sake of short-term, personal gain.
But that is not all. Such a
person, let’s call him a “rivalrist,” competes with everyone all the time. C.S. Lewis, again, explains:
want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, “How
much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of
me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in
competition with every one else’s pride.
It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so
annoyed at someone else being the big noise.
small-minded competitiveness—we really
are a mess.
Rivalrists have few 0r little
longer terms relationships, and usually do not mind as long as they obtain what
they need through the few they have.
They choose acquaintances carefully, not for godliness’ sake, but for
self’s sake, and typically to promote their agenda. If someone cannot help them promote their
agenda, they cut them loose. The
rivalrist is unable to lift his head higher than immediate
self-satisfaction. Everything is a rush,
everything affects them, everything is a big issue—huge, actually—and no distinctions between what is important and
what is not exist. Consequently, a
rivalrist lives to win small battles, not caring at all to win the war. He will sacrifice his marriage on the altar
of petty issues, turning every ant hill into Everest, and care not if the
marriage ends provided he looks better than his spouse, and provided everyone
knows it was her fault, not his. A
rivalrist gladly ruins congregational life so long as they get their way and
someone else takes the blame. They are
the teammate who cares not that the team wins, but only how many points he
scored, and the employee who cares not whether the company bankrupts, so long
as they receive a lucrative salary. A
rivalrist endlessly defends himself to others, making sure others know they
have done nothing wrong, or very little, in any circumstance. They usually demand that those closest to
them enter their “Truman Show” bubble.
And those who are drug from the outside in wonder what the big deal is,
and why they were drug in, and why the rivalrist is so caught up in everything
so little and so irrelevant to life and godliness in this massive world.
Why does a rivalrist live
this way? The answer may be found in the
word “conceit”: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” The word conceit is literally, “empty glory”
or “lacking glory.” A rivalrist competes
with others for temporary glory because they feel empty inside; they lack glory
and are desperately trying to get it back.
Deep, deep inside each one of our hearts and souls, we sense we were
created for glory. We know there must
have been a time, some time ago, when we, or someone curiously connected to us,
had the glory we now desperately desire.
Our desire for glory tells us we once had splendor, beauty, grandeur,
radiance and all the rest. Our hunger
for glory tells us we lack something we had, or never had but should have, or,
by grace, will soon have again. And it
is this insatiable hunger, this unremitting appetite deep inside every single
human being, Christians included, which compels each person to strive after the
glory we lack.
Our feelings are true. God created Adam and Eve in His image and
likeness, with glory. Adam and Eve were
glorious in God’s sight, and they knew it, they felt it. They suffered nothing like an insecurity
complex or low self-esteem. But the fall
changed it all. Absent the glory, we feel so insignificant, so irrelevant, so ignored,
so overlooked, so empty. And if you look
carefully, or at all, with this in mind, you will notice all human
beings are in a global competition for glory.
We all want it, we all believe we have a right to it, we all know we
cannot live without it, and are all trying to make sure we won’t have to. We hang out with the right friends for a
“fix” of glory via their friendship; we trash someone’s reputation for another
“fix.” And when others fail to give us
the glory we want for ourselves, we lash out, we speak up, we sound
But what we often forget is that there is
no satisfying glory on earth. We are all
fighting for a phantom, a figment of our imagination which we all imagine just
out of reach, but upon reaching it, the mirage laughs, the emptiness sets in,
the guilt grows. Our attempt to obtain
what we cannot live without failed again, and once again we have ruined others
in the process.
There is, my fellow Christian, only one
way to live humbly with others. We must
embrace our insignificance. That feeling
way down deep inside each one of us, you know, that nagging feeling which
whispers “You are nothing; you are pathetic; you are insignificant; you are
worthless”, and that we all suspect true but will not accept as true—that feeling we must embrace. It is true.
We have all sinned and therefore “fall short of the glory of God”
(Romans 3:23). Literally, we “lack” the
glory of God. When Adam and Eve fell,
the glory departed from us. Now we are
just insignificant people, irrelevant and easily overlooked. We are just one among the morass of fallen
men, and will one day be buried alongside the rest, soon to be forgotten.
But there is hope in one Person, and if
you believe in Him then the glory has returned.
In Jesus Christ, Ichabod—“the
glory has departed” (1 Samuel 4:21)—is replaced with Incarnation—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have
seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). In Jesus Christ, the glory has come
back. You, fellow saint, are
significant, noticed, and doted upon. In
Jesus Christ you are known by name and defended at God’s throne. Everything we lost has been restored, and the
glory for which we have desperately searched enters into our hearts and
satisfies our souls. Rivalry fades,
contention leaves. We have nothing left
to prove, for in Christ we are approved.
Alas, not just anyone, but the
One has noticed us. Our hearts
rest. Joy sets in.
Now for application. How can we stop demeaning others? How do we end a lifestyle of rivalry? We end it this way: Marinate your heart in
the gospel until its substance soaks into you and becomes part of who you
For example, the next time you have the
urge to speak derogatorily about someone, pause for a moment (always a good
idea) and preach to yourself (you might want to make it a silent sermon), “Who
am I kidding? I am utterly worthless and
insignificant in myself. I am an
unlovable mess, so inglorious that I deserve to be passed over and
ignored. But God, in infinite grace,
noticed me and chose me for love. He has
made me, worthless me, an object of His abiding affection! Therefore, my glory does not depend upon the
opinions of others, nor theirs upon my opinion.
My glory depends upon my status in Jesus Christ. I am loved infinitely; I am accepted
unconditionally. I feel better now. I need not tear down another to make myself
look good. In Christ, I already look
good to the only Persons whose judgments matter. I have nothing to say. The rivalry is gone. My true glory has satisfied my heart. God forgive me for nearly chasing a mirage.” The subject changes; the conversation
continues down a better path.
But my dear Christian, forget
not that your glory, your eternal glory, cost the Savior His. Jehovah took on flesh; the Almighty entered
our weakness; the LORD of armies subjected himself to the Roman army’s
crucifixion—the centurion thought it marvelous (Matthew 27:54). It was.
The Glorious One became inglorious to transform our shame into
glory. Jesus Christ loved us so much He
traded places with us, and on the Cross He became who we are and bore what we
deserve: God-forsaken creatures deserving hell.
Oh, dear Christian, you have the privilege of living a life free from
rivalry, small-mindedness, continuous battles, and constant ego-advancement,
for you have been loved and died for by a Savior who gave up His glory so you
could receive it. His eternal glory is
now yours. In Christ, you are glorious, and now, having heard
God’s acceptance of you, you must live according to this unseen reality, no
longer flustered by the sight of your decaying body or by the sounds of people
stealing your glory. Let them steal it, for
there is nothing to steal—we have no earthly glory. Our glory is in Christ; no one can steal it;
did you think someone could?
Counts Others More Significant
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves…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—Philippians 2:3,5-6
some texts which, on the surface, seem to demand we lie, or distort the truth,
or act as though we were entirely blind and undiscerning. Philippians 2:3 is such a passage. After all, isn’t the Holy Spirit asking us to
ignore or deny that He gives various gifts, and each in different measure? And if gifts are directly proportionate to
personal significance, then how can someone more gifted than myself count me
more significant? And how can I count
less gifted persons more significant than myself? We shall attempt an answer.
The phrase, “In humility count others more
significant than yourselves”, reads more literally, “In humble-mindedness, consider others more
significant than yourselves.” To count
someone else more significant is “to engage in an intellectual process”
by which we decide to use our giftedness for the good of others. That decision, lived out every day, is the
way we count others more significant than ourselves, which means we are
required to think, and think carefully, if ever we are to live humbly. How do we know humility involves the
mind? Because Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in
Christ Jesus.” To learn how to think in
such a way that we consider others more significant than ourselves, then, we
must consider the mind of Jesus.
Jesus Christ was in the glorious form of
God, possessing both the same nature as God, and all the external glory of God,
and exuding all the radiance and splendor of God, for He is God. But Paul says Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be
grasped” (2:6). The word translated
“count” is the same word translated “consider” in v. 3. So Paul is saying Jesus did not sit in
heaven, thinking, “I have very few gifts, I am of no value or
significance. Those people down there are
way more valuable and talented than I.”
Not at all. Jesus understood His
greatness—His God-hood, His glory, His equality with God, His deity—and
concluded that it was not something He needed to hold onto (grasp). He concluded He could give it all up, leave
it all behind, and go to a place where no one would understand the glory He
left, and where no one would understand the beauty and majesty of his
Person. Do you know why He concluded
this? Because He figured He could live
without it. And live He did!
Why would Jesus give up His prerogatives of deity? Why
would Jesus Christ not count His equality with God something He should hold
tightly and never let go? What motivated
Jesus Christ to leave the very place we so desperately desire to be? What drove Jesus Christ to enter the
pain-filled, sin-ravaged world, out of which we long to escape?
What makes Jesus Christ so great and
glorious? What makes Jesus Christ so
infinitely helpful to us? What makes
Jesus Christ melt our hearts? Isn’t it
that he used His greatness for our good? Isn’t it that He figured out, in conjunction
with the Father and Holy Spirit, how to put his infinite perfection to use for
our sake, for our redemption, to make us significant? Isn’t it that He used His greatness to turn
flesh-and-blood creatures into partakers of the divine nature? Isn’t what makes Jesus so great that He left
behind His greatness to become the lowliest, in order that the lowliest might
participate in His greatness? Jesus
emptied Himself so we could be filled; He lowered Himself so we could be
raised; He did not hold onto His equality with God so we could receive promises
from God we can hold onto. Jesus Christ
did not count His equality with God a thing to be held onto because He
considered you—you, beloved
Christian—more significant than Himself.
Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the conquering Son of
Man, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Person through whom all creation was
made, the one to whom all authority has been given, gave up all the glory and
honor due His Person because He counted your redemption more significant than
His ease. He decided saving you from
hell more important than saving Himself from it; He considered your presence in
heaven worthy of His leaving heaven a few decades.
And only to the extent we grasp the mind
of Jesus can we grasp what our minds ought to be. For the person who asks, “How can I consider
less gifted persons more significant than myself?”, the answer is simple: The
same way Jesus did. Are you much less
gifted than Jesus Christ? Yes you are,
and infinitely so. Yet did He consider
your redemption more significant than His suffering? Again, “Yes.”
Therefore, the more you consider His humility toward you, His counting
you more significant than His own life, the more you will count others,
regardless of their abilities, more significant than yourself. Andrew Murray explains:
question is often asked, “How can we count others better than ourselves, when
we see that they are far below us in wisdom and in holiness, in natural gifts,
or in grace received?” The question
proves at once how little we understand what real lowliness of mind is. True humility comes when, in the light of
God, we have seen ourselves to be nothing, have consented to part with and cast
away self, to let God be all. The soul
that has done this, and can say, “So have I lost myself in finding thee,” no
longer compares itself with others. It
has given up forever every thought of self in God’s presence; it meets its
fellow-men as one who is nothing, and seeks nothing for itself; who is a
servant of God, and for his sake a servant of all. A faithful servant may be wiser than the
master, and yet retain the true spirit and posture of the servant. The humble man looks upon every, the feeblest
and unworthiest, child of God, and honors him and prefers him in honor as the
son of a King. The spirit of him who
washed the disciples’ feet, makes it a joy to us to be indeed the least, to be
servants one of another.
this look like?
An employer noticed an attitude of
superiority among his employees. The
employees were usually hard working, but had lately become proud of their work
and status in the company, so they no longer served one another. Tasks which they had been glad to perform as
part of their job, were now beneath them, so they bickered about who should do
them, or demanded others do them, or left them undone. The employer, noticing this attitude over the
course of weeks, and knowing mere words of chastisement would not fix the
problem, decided the best thing he could do for the good of the company and the
employees was to perform the menial tasks himself. Each morning, when the employees arrived at
work, the employer was busy doing janitorial work, cleaning up the mess left by
the employees the day before. The
employer swept floors, organized shelves, and threw away trash, performing the
dirty work the employees thought beneath them.
The look on the employees’ faces was priceless. Their conversation was filled with
astonishment: “Why is our boss doing the lowly work we find beneath our
dignity? Doesn’t he have more important
work to do? Shouldn’t he be using his
gifts and talents in other ways? Why is
a millionaire doing our janitorial work?
Why is our employer, our manager, our boss, cleaning up after us?” You know what happened next. Without a word, the superiority stopped;
attitudes changed; and the entire company began functioning like a well-oiled
machine. It worked.
Why did it work? Because it was patterned after the Humiliation
of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Incarnation is
the only answer for humility toward other people. The employer, though he had prestige and
respect, did not count his high status something to be held onto at the cost of
losing his employees. So he humbled himself,
and used his “glory” to redeem the attitudes of his employees. And so it is with all our relationships. Christian parents who play with, work with,
read to, hang out with, and enjoy their children usually have a powerful
influence on them. Conversely, fathers
and mothers who want to remain in tip-top intellectual, financial, and physical
form, and who consider their time with the intelligent and astute (other
adults) something they cannot limit or let go of for the sake of their
children, and who therefore neglect incarnating emotionally, intellectually,
physically, and psychologically into the lives of their children, are of
little, or no, redeeming influence upon their children—such parents consider
themselves more significant than their children. If you like psychology, the a recurrent result
of such neglect is “Reactive Attachment Disorder”—caused by, among other
things, standoffish, neglectful parents.
If you don’t like psychology, the Bible has examples of what happens
when parents distance themselves from their children: Hophni & Phineas are
sons whom Eli did not take the time to restrain (1 Samuel 3:13). Of course, smothering parents can be just as
And if ever we intend to be useful tools
for God in saving souls, we must consider non-Christians more significant than
ourselves. If we remain in our
comfortable Christian circles, keeping the form of our moralistic reputation
intact, and considering our time with other believers something we cannot limit
for the sake of time with unbelievers, then we should count on being of little,
or no, redeeming influence upon non-Christians.
For those who say in response, “Yes, but is it really right for me to
befriend the sexually immoral, known thieves, criminals, drug addicts,
prisoners, partiers, messed-up people, and other really big sinners? I think you know the answer. Whom did Jesus befriend?
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they
say, “Look at him! A glutton and a
drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
sake of someone’s redemption we should become the best friend a non-Christian
has ever had. And for the sake of their
redemption, we should avoid participating in their sin. Just how you do this is up to you, only we
should be doing it.
I doubt you will find a Christian who
considers him or herself to be more significant than Jesus Christ, and I think
Christ would agree. Yet in some
ineffable way, Jesus Christ considered us more significant than Himself. His incarnation hints at it; His Cross proves
it. True humility is using one’s very
best gifts for the redemptive sake of someone else. Jesus Christ thought you so significant He
used His deity to accomplish your redemption.
The thought of you suffering eternal, conscious torment in hell moved
Him to come suffer it for you. You are
that significant to Him, believer, and that is something worth your
am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves—Luke 10:3
don’t stand a chance against wolves.
Lambs are weak, frail, and directionally challenged; wolves are strong,
robust, and come equipped with a compass—they can find prey anywhere. Yet that did not stop Jesus from becoming the
Lamb of God among wolves, and neither did it stop Jesus from sending out His
disciples as sheep among wolves.
An imbedded principle in this text is that
Christians must spend time living among their enemies. How can we love our enemies if we are never
around them, or how we can return good to them if we do not make ourselves
somewhat vulnerable to their evil, or how can we withhold our reviling if we
are never reviled?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor
hanged to death in 1945, wrote,
Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other
Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the
midst of his enemies. In the end all his
disciples abandoned him. On the cross he
was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of
bringing peace to the enemies of God. So
Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the
midst of enemies. There they find their
mission, their work.
sheared as a lamb when stripped of all His earthly security and made
vulnerable; Jesus surrounded Himself with a wolf-pack when He lived among His
enemies and walked straight into Jerusalem the week He would die; and Jesus was
‘eaten’ by the wolves at His crucifixion.
He was the true Lamb who lived among wolves; you, dear Christian, cost Him His life, is He costing you
Christian fellowship is one of the highest
delights on this earth. Sweet communion
with God and his people—it just doesn’t get any better. But let’s keep in mind the purpose of this
communion: to re-strengthen us for life among the wolves. Christian fellowship and community was never
meant to replace our life among non-Christians; rather, it was meant to
re-invigorate and bolster us for the challenges of living among non-Christians.
if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but
as you will—Matthew 26:39
so we are told, “is the wimp’s way out.
It is allowing someone else to come over us, and that can only mean
weakness; or worse, cowardliness; or worst, vulnerability.”
But what if submission is the greatest
display of strength there is, and what if becoming vulnerable is the greatest
test of courage known to man? No one
would deny that submission involves acquiescence to another, but Christians
would deny that such acquiescence is wimpish; and no one would deny that
submission entails vulnerability, but Christians would deny that such
vulnerability derives from weakness.
Quite the opposite: the one who acquiesces to another is no wimp, but
strong; and the one who becomes vulnerable to another is no weakling, but
courageous. How do we know this? Any wimp can rebel against authority, and any
weakling can do whatever they want.
Everyone born is capable of such; it is nothing unique. In fact, newborn infants rebel all the time,
and who would call them strong and courageous? Weaklings cannot submit; only
the courageous can.
Don’t believe it? Listen to Jesus in the Garden. The cup had been placed in front of Him, He
caught a glimpse of the Cross, and He asked the Father if another way to save
us was possible, and if so, if that way could replace the way of the
Cross. And in the greatest display of
strength known to mankind, Jesus concluded His request, “Not as I will, but as
you will.” Jesus a wimp? Jesus a submissive weakling? Not a chance: Jesus our courageous stronghold
who finally paid for our wimpishness with His life. That is strength; that is courage; that is
true power. Jesus Christ, the anti-wimp,
submitted His life to the Cross to redeem us from our wimpishness—our inability
to submit to God. And in so doing, Jesus
proved that true strength lies in submission, and true redemption lies in
coming under the will of another.
Because of His submission to God’s
authority, Jesus has now been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt.
28:18). Are we strong enough to submit
to His authority structures as singles, husbands, wives, children, or citizens? If we are not, then let us keep at least one
thing straight: we are the wimps! It
takes strength to submit. Are we strong
enough in Jesus Christ to submit to His authority structures in our lives?
Resolution through Identity Relocation
Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help
these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with
Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of
Syntyche were fairly prominent women in the Philippian congregation. Likely they helped Paul plant the church in
Philippi by sending mailers, advertising in the Yellow Pages, launching a
website and Twitter and Facebook accounts, and bringing food for the weekly agape feast. But, as usual among the prominent, issues of
pride and self-importance boiled to the top.
By the time this letter was read to the Philippians, the length of
disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche was about 6-12 months—enough time for
Epaphroditus to travel 800 miles to Rome, get sick and nearly die on the way
(Philippians 2:30), wait for Paul to write his letter, and travel 800 miles
back to Philippi. Generally speaking,
long-standing disagreements, such as the one between Euodia and Syntyche, begin
over an issue—what time to host an event, which songs to use, how much money to
spend, what food to bring, which book to buy—but almost always progress to
matters of personal identity. And before
we know it we build our personal identity
on the outcome of the disagreement.
You can always tell when this happens.
When we feel as though our very life is at stake—when the outcome
defines who we are—it has happened. When
we accumulate books, dead authors, and mutual friends into a veritable army
against our opponent, it has happened.
And when our thoughts and speech change from “So-and-so believes
such-and-such, but I believe this-and-that”, to “So-and-so is dense,
dim-witted, and worthless, but I am bright, witty, and infinitely valuable”, it
has happened—we have turned a disagreement over an issue into a battle of
identities. The outcome of the
disagreement is no longer about times, songs, money, food, or books, but about
which person is better.
Identity crises tear churches apart. Years, even decades, of solid relationships
vanish overnight, and Christians are left to make sense of the meltdown. Most Christians diagnose meltdown in terms of
externals or behavioralism. Thus, advice
to those in conflict goes something like this: “You shouldn’t take things so
seriously. Laugh a little and take a
vacation. Come back when you feel
relaxed and less stressed.” Hardly good
advice. Say Euodia and Syntyche follow
the advice, probably within 3 months time they will be at it again, only this
time over a different issue. And though
they may hate perpetual conflict, they are powerless to stop. The root problem remains.
The apostle Paul has a different
method. From out of nowhere he drops the
phrase, “Whose names are written in the book of life”, and we are left
wondering what an entry in the book of life has to do with conflict. It has everything to do with conflict. Names in the Bible denote identity (Jesus: He
who saves; Melchizedek: king of righteousness; Abraham: father of a multitude;
Benjamin: son of my right hand). Names
matter; they define who you are. The
problem with Euodia and Syntyche, then, according to Paul, is not that they
disagree over an issue, but that they have forgotten where their self-worth
resides. Their disagreement is not over
times, places, books, or songs (in fact, if they are honest, they probably
don’t remember the issue over which they initially disagreed); their
disagreement is over who is more important, who is more valuable, who is more
popular, who is more significant. We
have all been there. Think of any
long-standing disagreement you have (had) with someone, and ask yourself this
question, “If I tell so-and-so they are right and I am wrong, or if I say I
prefer their idea over mine, what would happen to me?” Allow me to answer the question for you: you
would feel like less of a person—worthless, useless, insignificant, empty,
trivial. Though you say merely, “I
prefer your idea over mine”, it feels
like you are saying, “You are a better person than I. God loves you more. You are more valuable than me. Your name is worth more than mine.” It feels this way because, at that moment, we
have so idolized being right—being right has become our functional savior—that
losing the debate means being blotted out of the book of life. At that moment, we care more about someone
else’s opinion of us than about what God has done for us—we give another
Christian way too much power over us.
Ridiculous, aren’t we. Someone
wrote our name in their book of rejection, and we mistook their book of
rejection for God’s book of life.
My fellow Christian, you should rejoice
your identity is already secure; you don’t have to make a name for
yourself. Your name has been permanently
inscribed in the book of life,
in the book (Daniel 12:1), in the book of the house of Israel (Isaiah 4:3; cf.
Ezekiel 13:9), and in heaven (Luke 10:20; cf. Hebrews 12:23). Your name was written in the Lamb’s book of
life (Revelation 20:27) before God created the world (Revelation 13:8;
17:8). Your self-worth and identity are
secure; therefore you need not, should not, must not, secure self-worth and
identity from anywhere else. If you do,
it will kill you spiritually. You see, on
the Cross, Jesus’ name was temporarily blotted out of the book of life that our
names might be indelibly inscribed in the Book.
Jesus Christ was forsaken (Matthew 27:46), that we might be welcomed
(Romans 15:7). The Lamb was slain before
the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8), that our names might be written
in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundations of the world. Jesus Christ momentarily lost God’s seal of
approval that we might acquire His eternal seal (Revelation 9:4). Jesus groaned in agony with a crown of thorns
on His forehead, that we might sing in triumph with His and His Father’s names
written on our foreheads (Revelation 14:1).
Don’t you see, on the Cross Jesus took upon Himself our wretched
identity that we might gain His identity; He became a worthless criminal, that
we, criminals, might acquire His righteous name. God already smiles upon us; who cares, then,
whether we are right or wrong, or whether the church follows our idea or
someone else’s? God doesn’t base your
salvation on it; probably, then, we shouldn’t either.
The question remains: How does all this
help two Christians resolve conflict?
Answer: someone (preferably both) has to be mature enough in Christ to
bear the cost of sacrificing their identity and self-worth. Someone has to allow the good news of their
new identity to permeate their heart so thoroughly they can look foolish,
insignificant, and worthless compared to the other person, and they can allow
the other to write their name in the book of death because they know the true
Judge has spelled their name correctly in the Book of Life. Has this gospel permeated the innermost
recesses of your heart and soul?
A few applications before we close:
1. For ourselves in conflict. If we do not continuously receive our
identity from the book of life, but from our own or someone else’s book, we
will equate our self-worth with the outcome of every disagreement, and every
single disagreement we enter will become a (major) conflict. Does this describe you? Are you always in conflict with someone? Then you are not looking to Jesus for a name,
but are desperately trying to make a name for yourself. We must banish our pride, cease giving
ourselves and others that much power over us, and humble ourselves under the
fact that we cannot build a glorious identity.
We have far too high an opinion of ourselves. Our names are not that great, and never will
be, no matter what the world says. In
fact, God found our names so pathetic, He sent His Son to replace our names
with His glorious name. Rest yourself in
Jesus’ name, in His identity, and, amazingly enough, perpetual conflict will
vanish from your life, and though others disagree or compete with you, you will
be at peace in Christ.
2. For our view of the person we disagree
with. If, while we disagree with
a fellow believer, we do not allow their identity rest in the book of life, we
will tear them down and destroy their self-worth. If, at the moment we tear them down, they are
seeking their identity in Christ, and not in our opinion of them, they will
probably ignore our slights or postpone discussion until we become secure in
Christ; but if, at that moment, they are seeking their identity in our opinion
of them, they will turn ugly. You would
too. Brothers and sisters, when we
disagree with another Christian, we ought remember we are disagreeing about
issues, not about personal identities.
Fellow Christians are fellow heirs of the grace of life; we should not
attempt to erase each other’s names, then, form the book of life by smearing
their identity and self-worth. Doing so
only proves we are insecure in Christ.
3. For a third-party peacemaker/mediator (i.e.,
the “true companion” in Philippians 4:2).
If you are asked to help resolve a conflict between two parties, you
should know at least two things:
A third party (usually) sees more clearly than
those in conflict, which is why outsiders to a conflict often say, “What is the
big deal? Those two are arguing over
nothing!” However, the moment a third-party
peacemaker makes the same mistake as those in the conflict—the mistake of
investing his or her self-worth in the outcome of the debate rather than in
Christ—the peacemaker becomes useless.
If we are looking for an identity—if we are proud and insecure—then we
are the last ones who should help others out.
Our insecurity and pride will cause more insecurity and pride, and our
counseling will add gasoline to the fire.
Make sure before you begin each counseling
session you pray for God to remind you where your true value resides. It resides neither in other’s opinions, nor
in the outcome of the debate. It resides
in the book of life. If that is where
your identity rests, you will not be ruined or despairing if your counsel is of
no help to those in conflict. And if
your identity rests in Christ, you will not become proud like the 72 in Luke 10
if by God’s grace you are able to drive out the demons of discord and
of God and the God of Peace
of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus…the God of peace will be with you—Philippians 4:7,9
prominent people (such as Euodia and Syntyche) disagree publicly and sharply,
the whole congregation ails. Paul knows
this, and in vv. 4-9 advises the entire congregation how to live as Christians
in the midst of the conflict:
1. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say,
Rejoice (v. 4). In
conflict, the demeanor of an entire group can change from joy to despair, and
knowing this, the Holy Spirit twice writes, Rejoice,
and particularly in the Lord. Though we
humans let each other down, and provide much cause for despair, there is One,
and One only, who never lets us down, and in whom we can rejoice always: Jesus
Christ our Lord. All the time, and
especially in conflict, His redeeming work should be our focus and delight.
2. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone
(v. 5). Reasonable Christians have
general good-will toward men which defuses the volatile. They carry not chips, but grace on their
shoulders. As from a bakery exudes
delightful aromas of pastries and cookies, from reasonable Christians emanate
heaven’s scent—the smell of grace—and a grandeur so unassuming and
unpretentious it disarms the most contentious.
3. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about
anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let
your requests be made known to God (vv. 5-6). When conflict arises, so does anxiety. What Christians among conflict need is
knowledge that Jesus Christ is near, and that God is big enough to handle the
conflict. He is, and to Him we should
pray. In the words ascribed to Martin
Luther, “Pray and let God worry.”
4. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things (v. 8).
People among conflict tend to fill their minds with one-sided
half-truths, the worst in others, wrongs committed, ugliness, and everything
else worthy of denunciation. Paul recommends
another approach: thinking about the impartial truth, the best in others, the
ways others have served us, and anything lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy
about each other.
have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things (v. 9). A great help to people in conflict is the
godly example of others. We often handle
conflict the way those in authority over us (parents, teachers) handled it. In conflict, then, we should remember godly
examples and imitate their approach to conflict resolution.
And now we ask, “How can I become strong
enough to handle myself in this godly way while in or among conflict?” Answer: by allowing the peace of God to
satiate our heart, mind, soul, conscience, will, spirit, and everything else
inside of us which fuels behavior:
are at peace in their own consciences will be peaceable toward others. A busy, contentious, querulous disposition
argues it never felt peace from God.
How do I acquire this peace? Let God acquire it for you. God is a God of peace, not of discord. Before time began, the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit existed in perfect peace and harmony.
Reverently, I say, They never disagreed, and never will. Not until Adam and Eve sinned was turmoil
introduced to humanity, and ever since, man, by nature, has been God’s enemy
(Romans 5:10). Now, since God is so much
a God of peace, He sought to reconcile us to Himself rather than abandon us to
eternal discord. Ever since Genesis
3:15, our Creator and Redeemer has been on a peace-making mission. The entire Bible resounds with the mission:
Israelites wanted it so badly that teachers (prophets and priests) healed deep
wounds with children’s band-aids, saying, “Peace, Peace,” when there was no
peace (Jeremiah 6:14); Isaiah looked forward to the day when a servant, through
His suffering, would bring us peace (Isaiah 53:5); at Jesus’ birth the angels
announced the Peacemaker’s arrival (Luke 2:14); as Jesus rode into Jerusalem,
he hinted that what He was about to do (crucifixion) was the only way to
achieve peace (Luke 19:41-42); the apostle Paul pinpointed a Christian’s peace
with God in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1); and Paul pounded home the nail of peace
in Colossians 1:19, leaving no question where true peace resides:
Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to
reconcile all things to himself…making
peace by the blood of the cross.
Most equate blood with war; God equates
blood with peace. Jesus Christ bled for
our peace, suffered for our peace, and was crushed with our iniquities that we
might have peace. Do you see what our
peace cost God? God went to war against
Himself to stop His war with you. God
endured discord on the Cross, so the discord between He and you could be eternally
removed. God brought hell itself into
His relationship with His Son, so that we could be at Peace with Him. Do you see how much God desires we be at
peace with Him? Do you see how much He
wants to grant us peace?
Now we can be at peace during life’s worst
storms. When the storms of conflict
engulf you, Jesus’ blood brings peace.
When surrounded by conflict, the Cross comforts. Jesus took at the Cross what no earthly
conflict can counterfeit, so no matter how furiously conflict rages, it need not
devastate us. In Christ, we have
overcome our greatest conflict, our conflict with God. We should probably not worry, then, whether
the God of peace can handle our tiny conflicts, no matter how big they appear
to us. He probably regards them as child’s
play compared to the conflict He resolved at Calvary.
Horatio Spafford became a prominent lawyer
in the city of Chicago. In 1861 he
married Anna, and four daughters followed soon afterward. When the Chicago fire of 1871 swept through
the city, Horatio lost nearly everything because he was heavily invested in
real estate. But he suffered a greater
loss in 1873 when, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his wife and
daughters rode, collided with another, killing over two hundred people, four of
them his daughters. When his wife
reached the shores of Europe, she sent him back a telegram which read, “Saved
Alone.” Horatio caught one of the next
ships out toward Europe, and when he arrived near the spot where his daughters
had been killed, he penned these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
shed his own blood for my soul.
Stillness of soul amid stormy sea billows;
serenity amid sorrow; tranquility amid tumult; calm amid conflict; peace amid
party-strife. Have you acquired this
peace in Christ? Do you live each day on
the basis of this peace, or do you spend your time thinking about relational
conflicts? When the peace of God from
the God of peace pacifies our inmost being, we can handle the worst conflicts
with our heads on straight. Do you have
this peace yet? No? Then set up your lawn chair at Calvary and
re-play the Battle. At Calvary, the war
you thought important (a tense relationship) will appear scarcely a scuffle;
and the war you thought irrelevant (the Cross) for daily life, will leave you
sobered, satiated, and able to handle any and all conflicts without being
thrust into turmoil.
for Knowing God
I do not
cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of
our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and
of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts
the Holy Spirit included Paul’s prayers in the Bible. They are powerful tools for genuine
godliness, revealing the divine delicatessens upon which his soul fed, and upon
which he desired we feed. On a side
quip, you’ll find Paul’s prayers so un-American. Physical comfort, perpetually pristine
health, monetary accumulation (retirement accounts, savings), a new camel or
donkey (car), and immaculate apparel (for preaching in the synagogue, of
course), though not inherently problematic for prayer, Paul seldom
mentions. His prayers are filled with
God, getting to know God, calling upon God, and his desire that all Christians
(saints) encounter the fullness of God.
Poor Paul, he missed out on praying like
an American; or, poor us, we miss out on praying like Christians. Either way, though I suggest the former
false, Paul prays that God give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in
the knowledge of him. Or, to paraphrase,
Paul prays Christians may receive more
abundantly the Holy Spirit who teaches us how to live in relationship (wisdom)
with God the Father and how to know God more fully (revelation), in order that
we might grow in intimate knowledge of God.
His prayer is strange. First, it is strange Paul prays that those
who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) be given the Spirit. Christians already possess the Spirit. Why, then, do we need God to give us the
Spirit? The answer is that what we
already possess must be strengthened
(Eph. 3:16). Though the Holy Spirit
dwells within us, we need Him to dwell in us more fully in order that we might be filled with all the fullness
of God (Eph. 3:19).
Second, it is strange Paul prays for
growth in our knowledge of God. Jesus
said that all who believe in Him have eternal life (John 3:16), and later said
eternal life is knowing the only true God (John 17:3); therefore, every
believer knows God. Why do we need to
know him more?
The simple answer is though we know God,
we do not know Him enough. The word
translated “knowledge” can mean “intimate knowledge” or “heightened
knowledge.” Just as we believe in Jesus
Christ, yet our believing is weak, and just as we are sealed and filled with
the Holy Spirit, yet we grieve Him and are not full, so too we know God really
and truly, yet not fully. Do we know
God? Not as well as we should. Martyn Lloyd-Jones expounds:
of knowledge of God] explains why people find prayer so difficult. If you cannot pray for an hour, why cannot
you? You can talk to neighbours and
friends for an hour easily, nay, for hours.
Why then is it difficult to speak to God for an hour? There is only one answer; it is because we do
not know Him. We do not know Him
sufficiently, and we are not conscious that we are in His presence.
our siblings and friends, but we know
our spouses. A genuine work of the
Spirit of God brings us from knowing about
God to knowing God (conversion), and
from knowing God to knowing God (intimacy). Intimacy with God is Paul’s prayer for
Permit me a few closing comments of
prayed this prayer for all the saints
in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1). Therefore,
intimate, life-changing, soul-satisfying knowledge of God is not limited to a
particular vocation (minister), personality (somber, sentimental), or location
(closet); intimacy is available to every saint, of all kinds, all the time. Do you know God intimately? Are you growing in intimacy with Him?
2. We know
the Holy Spirit of wisdom is answering Paul’s prayer when throughout our daily
lives we grow in relationship with God.
When our relationship with God controls not mere snippets of devotional
life, but all of life, then our hearts can be warmed that God is not only for us, but in us. Is Christ, the hope
of glory, working inside of you? Are you
growing, be it ever so slow, in
desire to serve God with all of your life, all the time?
You know the eyes of your heart are being
enlightened when the Bible addresses you. When the Bible speaks not merely about a
strange people, long ago, in a far away land, but speaks to you, today, in your
living room, then you know yourself to be a blood-bought child of God. The Spirit of revelation speaks the language
of Christ crucified straight into the Christian’s soul. Only Christians hear it. Do you hear Him speaking to you on the pages
of Scripture? If so, listen carefully,
for He is intimately relating to you by revealing Himself.
We will spend the next three articles
discovering the importance of knowing God.
In particular, there are three benefits to intimacy with God:
That you may know
what is the hope to which he has called you (Eph. 1:18b);
2. [That you may know] what are the riches of his
glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18c);
[That you may know]
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Eph.
a Different Hope
That you may know what is the
hope to which he has called you—Ephesians 1:18b
Hope is so
fundamental to human beings we cannot live without it. Hopelessness is helplessness; hopelessness is
despair; hopelessness is meaninglessness.
A man without hope is a dead man walking, a man barely alive, a man with
a pulse but no purpose. Snuff out
someone’s hope and you snuff out their life.
Most people cope with dashed hopes by accumulating numerous hopes, so
when one is snuffed out another provides refuge. Health vanishes, so we switch hope to
medication; marital bliss fades, so we hope in our children; career goes south,
so we hope in friendships to give us life.
On we go through life, bouncing from one dashed hope to the next, always
hoping the next hope will not leave us hopeless.
And then it happens. It is the equivalent of Job’s life, read
about in 42 inspired chapters, experienced yourself, or seen in others. It
is the destruction of all hopes and dreams, life on the rock-bottom, the moment
the future offers you no relief or possibility of relief. It
is the moment you realize Job was neither delirious nor demented when he cried
out, “Though [God] slay me, yet will I hope
in Him” (Job 13:15). It is the “aha”
when you realize the God you love, and who loves you, has dashed all your hopes
except one. At this moment we are
strangely comforted—without yet warmed; empty yet eased; lacking yet
You see, as American Christians we tend to
believe God owes us, God must make my
life easy, or worse God wants to make
my life easy. That belief, then, sends
us in search of the easy life which God, apparently, desires we have. The problem with life, then, or so we think,
is not that God does not guarantee happiness and ease, but that we have not yet
discovered the life which God has called us to live. Once we have found that life, we erroneously
reason, everything will come easy.
Belief that a comfortable life now is
God’s will for Christians is so deadly it needs immediate treatment. There is only one hope (Eph. 4:4) to which
God has called you, my fellow Christian, and it is not a hope rooted in
comfortable living: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all
people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Christian hope is focused on the future: the
appearing of Christ (Titus 2:13); the resurrection (Acts 23:6; 24:15); eternal
life to come (Titus 1:2); receiving the inheritance of eternal life (Titus
3:7); and the expectation of our coming salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Hope is the guarantee of a glorious future
which changes the way we live today.
Christians have a glorious hope in Christ (1 Timothy 1:1); therefore we
live not helplessly or lifelessly, but hopeful and full of life.
This means, then, that the greater our
intimacy with God, the more we realize motivation for life cannot be found in
the tangibles of this life. Christians
are not driven, or should not be driven, by the hope of lucrative careers,
prestigious homes, prodigious children, perfect marriages, or plush vacations
replete with lawn-chairs which don’t collapse, Coronas which never dehydrate,
sand which never blows in your face, turquoise seas forever calm, and skies
Crayola blue. Each of these tangibles is
delightful, and if granted should be enjoyed, but when they become our hope,
life turns sour. Lucrative careers can
satisfy a non-Christian (sort of, but not really), but once you have been
called of God (converted), a lucrative career no longer satisfies your soul,
and you see it never did. C.S. Lewis describes
Christian hope this way:
Most people, if
they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do
want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world
that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first
fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some
subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning,
can really satisfy. I am not now
speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or
holidays, or learned careers. I am
speaking of the best possible ones.
There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing,
which just fades away in the reality. I
think everyone knows what I mean. The
wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent,
and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us…
find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most
probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it,
that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to
satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one
hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthy blessings, and on
the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only
a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I
must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not
find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I
must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to
help others to do the same.
Paul’s prays that we may know the hope to which we have
been called. You can always tell
those Christians who know it. They have
peace in life no matter the circumstances.
When things go well they are thankful, not proud or presumptuous; when
things fall apart they are patient, not overly despairing or destitute. It seems as though nothing swells their head
and nothing destroys them, almost as if they were anchored in something, or
Someone, beyond this life. They
are. They are anchored in Jesus Christ,
who sought His hope not in popularity or success, not in comfort or vacation,
and not in family or friends, but in the joy that was set before Him. He endured the Cross, despised its shame, and
is now seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:1-2). You too, believer shall be seated there
soon. Your race will soon be over and
the battle done. But for now there is a
cross upon your back which you must carry, and the hope of another life which
must drive you. God has called us to
this. Do you know this hope? Then you have been called.
Saints’ Rich Inheritance
That you may know…what are the
riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints—Ephesians 1:18c
an Ephesian Christian, gathered in corporate worship, sitting happily adjacent
a brother who, the night before, exercised in the gymnasium but apparently
skipped the baths. As the congregation
filters in, people greet and sit, and the rustling leaves of heartfelt conversation
fill the air. At the point where young
pastor Timothy ordinarily calls worship to order, he announces a slight change
in the service. The text printed in the
bulletin has been changed from an Old Testament text to a letter from Paul
because Tychicus, another pastor trained by Paul, arrived in town a few days
prior to give a missionary update on Paul and to encourage the Ephesian hearts
(read the letter). After numerous,
“Amen!”’s from the congregants, deafening silence prevailed. You could have heard a pin drop, or a mouse
squeak—a marketer from Sprint would know how to say it.
Tychicus begins reading, and comes to our
passage: “That you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in
the saints.” Deep groans emanate;
comfort sets in; thoughts percolate.
“Did Paul really write what I just heard?” After worship many rush the front. They read the Greek. Paul really said it. He called them saints (Eph. 1:1), and urged
them, through prayer, to know more fully the riches of their glorious
Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek inheritance
laws maintained that sons (or other children if absent sons), by virtue of
their sonship, received the family inheritance.
If you were an Egyptian, Jewish, or Greek son, and your parents owned
anything, you were guaranteed an inheritance.
Roman law diverged slightly from this
practice. According to Roman laws,
parents were not obligated to give their possessions to their children; rather,
parents were free to give their possessions to whomever they pleased,
presumably those who had procured their favor.
So when the Ephesians, themselves citizens of Rome and familiar with
Roman inheritance laws, heard Paul pray he desired they know the riches of God’s
glorious inheritance, they heard a profound gospel.
What gospel did they hear? They heard God loved them not because He had to love them, but because He desired to love them. God gave them a glorious inheritance not
because He was obliged to give it,
but because He wanted to give
it. In other words, somehow, or by
Someone, the Ephesian Christians had procured God’s favor—His freely-bestowed
favor. They stood to inherit something
from God, for God was pleased with them.
How can it be that we, a people so
unworthy, from a God so majestic, receive an inheritance so glorious? How did we obtain His favor? Why does He treat us so richly? Would someone please explain this phenomenon,
Jesus Christ left behind His heavenly
riches that we, through His poverty, might become rich and participate in His
riches; Jesus Christ left behind his heavenly glory, taking upon Himself our
inglorious flesh, that we might enter into heavenly glory; on the Cross, Jesus
Christ was cast out, cut off, despised, rejected, forsaken, shunned, evicted,
dispossessed, divested, stripped, abandoned, exheridated (dictionary.reference.com—“Thanks”), and disinherited, that through
His sacrificial death, whereby He was disinherited, we might gain an
inheritance from God in Christ.
My fellow believer, do you feel rich and
glorious? Do you feel valuable and
precious? Do you find yourself
surrounded by a sea of saints, an enormous cloud of believers, who, like you,
have had eyes in their hearts spring to life to see the unseen? Do you experience within your daily life,
contrary to all external appearances and circumstances, an other-worldly
reality which convincingly declares you will soon be (and now are) wealthier
and more glorious than the wealthiest and most glorious person who has ever
lived? Are you aware that Someone, a
god, the God, the only true and living God, the glorious God of the universe,
has written you into His will, and that your self-worth no longer depends—no
longer should depend—upon anything else but that entry?
Have you considered the riches which are
yours both now and in eternity in Christ Jesus?
Do you consider that God Himself has sought you out in order to heap
upon you copious and glorious riches in Jesus Christ? Do you live daily in the reality that you, a
child of God, have a glorious future awaiting, full of God’s riches and
surrounded by fellow saints? If you are
a Christian, you can, you should, you must.
And especially when you feel—in your innermost being—poor, broken,
inglorious, lacking, passed-by, neglected, and even disinherited, you will want to, you will need to, you will have to
soak your soul in His Inheritance. At
these moments will feel as though you cannot live without constant
consideration of this unseen reality.
Because you can’t. Did you think
God’s Power Toward Christians
That you may know…what is the
immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe—Eph. 1:19
If only we
knew. We know the power of a tsunami, of
a volcano, and of tectonic plates sliding against one another. We know the power of jet engines, gunpowder,
atomic bombs, and armies. Each of these
is powerful, often very powerful, but the God who established them is
exceedingly more powerful than all combined.
And that power is directed toward believers, or so we are told.
You may have encountered them in mirror or
person. They are cynical believers,
convinced God is too weak to overcome, to overpower, to overwhelm. Their skepticism about God’s power in
believer’s lives cowers under pious talk about human depravity, personality
traits, and insurmountable sinful habits.
They wear-out the witticism, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick”,
as if God were a tenured professor at Canine College, and we His elderly,
obdurate dog-pupils. They believe, of
course that God is all-powerful, and they’ll prove it by unleashing the fancy
word—omnipotent—just in case you
questioned their theological compentency.
Yet words aside, they speak like God is powerful, but live as if He were
powerless; they talk like God is omnipotent, but deny it by the way they pray;
and they pretend God is almighty, but His power dies the death of a thousand
qualifications in their hearts: “God is immeasurably powerful toward His
children, BUT...BUT…BUT…” And on it
D.A. Carson explodes the endless
qualifications when he writes:
Paul cannot be satisfied with a
brand of Christianity that is orthodox but dead, rich in the theory of
justification but powerless when it comes to transforming people’s lives.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones presses the point home even further, emphasizing the power
of God in creating a Christian:
A Christian is the result of the
operation of God, nothing less, nothing else…A Christian is not merely a member
of a church, he is not merely a good man, he is not merely a man who has made a
decision. A person can do all that and
still not be a Christian. A Christian is
one who has been created anew; and there is only One who can create, namely,
God. It takes the power of God to make a
Imagine the power it took to raise Jesus
Christ from the dead, to seat Him in the heavenlies and to subject the entire
world under His rule. That same power is
directed toward us, toward you, Christian, and it will change you
and your faith-siblings whether we like it or not.
Only let us pray that we would come to
know this power, to experience it, to bask in it. Let us be on our knees praying for a revival
of God’s redemptive power toward us. Few
things are as discouraging as Christians cynical about God’s power. God has reconciled enemies to Himself; why,
then, do some believe His redemption lacks the power to reconcile bitter
Christians to one another? God has
turned our hearts toward Him with the Cross of grace; why, then, do we sneer at
the possibility that grace can change others.
God has raised Jesus from the dead; why, then, do we scoff at the simple
faith of one who believes God will raise many people from spiritual death to
We need look no further than life inside
the church to see God’s power. By God’s
power, proud Christians are humbled and glory-seekers are stripped of glory;
gossips are silenced and backbiters are discredited; liars are found out and
thieves starve physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. No, beloved, God is neither dead nor fooled,
and His power in us and toward us will not allow us to live lives of
self-centered gratification. You and I
may silence the people who call-out our pride, but we cannot silence God’s
power. When we listen neither to the
Scriptures nor to those who speak God’s Word into our ears, God shows Himself
powerful by circumventing our ears. He
intervenes with His power and leaves us flattened. Did we think He would do otherwise, as though
He wound us with an infinite spring to run without divine intervention? Do you know this intervention? Have you experienced it? Have you finally understood that you cannot
out-power the Omnipotent, fool the Omniscient, or out-maneuver the
More powerful than 20 bullets to your chest,
more overwhelming than a 60 foot tsunami ramming into you at 200mph, and more
intense than the heat and wind of an atomic bomb’s flash zone, God’s power
overwhelms us, conquers us, changes us, subdues us. God favors not dead-orthodoxy: the idea
conjured by experiential skeptics that going through the motions and believing
right doctrine is somehow pleasing to Him.
Our God is a missionary God, a revival God, a powerful God at work
within us and for us. Quit explaining
away His power in believers. And if you
have spent your life afraid God might aim His power toward you, you can stop
being afraid now. At Golgotha the power
of God’s wrath broke His Son; now the power of His mercy and grace is
ours. If only we knew. Do you know it in your life? Do you pray for it in your life and the lives