Monday, July 17, 2017

True Greatness

“…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:26-28 ESV)

            In my latest sermon at Prince of Peace, I talked about the lust for power.  I noted that, even though we may not aspire to a position of great authority, we often demonstrate a lust for power by our refusal to submit to those who are in authority over us.  If you’d like to listen to this message, you can click on this link:

            I believe this is true. However, as we consider the lust for power, we must also bear in mind Jesus’ definition of greatness.  He reminds his followers that greatness in the kingdom of God is not the same as the world’s idea of greatness.

            When we aspire for greatness, we seek the benefits it will bring to us.  We like the idea of people submitting to us.  We like the idea of people serving us.  We want others to place our preferences and desires ahead of their own.

However, according to Jesus, being great does not mean being served.  It means serving others.  Being first does not mean that others attend to us, it means being a slave.  In other words, authority is given not for the benefit of the person in authority, but for those under his authority.

The words used by Jesus do not typically appeal to us. We don’t like the thought of being a servant.  And that word “slave” really grates us.  They don’t appeal to us for the very reason I just mentioned. They tell us that the focus of our attention and energy is not to be our own needs and desires, but those of others.

A king is not to use his authority to seek his own benefit, but that of his subjects.  A pastor or church leader uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his congregation. A husband and father uses his authority not for his own benefit, but for that of his wife and children.  An employer uses his authority not for his benefit, but for that of his employees and clients (or customers).

We must recognize that this does not always mean succumbing to the mood of those in our care.  Those that we serve are sinners. And leadership often means holding that sin in check. It may mean that we give to them not what they want, but what they need. It may mean withholding from them an earthly benefit they desire in favor of submission to the will of God.

Jesus then uses himself as the ultimate example of this truth.  He tells us that even he came into this world not to be served. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If anyone deserves to be served, it’s Jesus.  Yet, even though he is deserving of all honor and glory, he used his authority for our blessing.  He came that the penalty of our sin might be paid and that we might spend eternity in his presence.

We, of course, can never live up to his example.  Our sinful nature always focuses our attention upon ourselves.  But, as we see our struggle in this area, we can confess our sin to the Lord seeking his mercy.  We can also seek from him the strength to lead according to his calling and institution.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Loving the Hateful

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Luke 6:27-28

The words of Jesus, seen above, are extremely challenging.  How hard it is to love those who hate us.  Our natural inclination, and the feelings within us, tell us to hate them in return.

Our sinful nature wants payback.  It wants revenge.  It wants to give to these people what they deserve.  It wants to give to them exactly what they’ve given to us.

If we realize the sinfulness of these thoughts and feelings, we still understand how hard it is to love people like this.  At the very least, we pursue an attitude of indifference toward them.  Even if we don’t seek their harm, we certainly don’t seek their benefit.

For this reason, these words of Christ seem like an impossible standard.  We’re to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.  We’re to bless those who curse us and pray for our abusers.  As we read on in the text we’re told to offer our cheek to the one who strikes us on the other.  He says that we’re not to withhold our possessions from the one who steals from us. We’re to give to everyone who begs from us.  And we’re not to demand the return of  our possessions which were taken by another.

We read these words and our reaction is this: “Jesus wants us to be a doormat?” It seems that, according to this statement, we’re to let others walk all over us.  We don’t understand the reason for these commands that run so counter to our nature.

But then, in verse 32, we begin to see his reasoning.  We see that, in these actions, we display the character of God.  In performing these actions, we display the nature of God. He tells us that, if we love those who love us, if we do good to those who do good to us, if we lend to those from whom we expect to receive, it’s no benefit to us.  In doing these things, we’re no different than sinners, for they behave in this way.

However, if we live out the call of Christ, our reward will be great.  We’ll be sons of the Most High. This is true because it’s how he behaves toward us.  It’s true because he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  We are called to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

As we reflect on the gospel, we understand how this plays out in our own lives.  God loves us even when we’re ungrateful.  He loves us even when we’re wicked.  As Paul tells us in Romans 5: “...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He goes on to say that while we were his enemies, we were reconciled to God.

You see, Jesus didn’t come into the world for a people who recognized their sin and pleaded for mercy.  He came into the world for a people who hated him and who wanted nothing to do with him.  He gave his life for them that they might be reconciled to God.  It’s only after his sacrifice, and it’s only because of his sacrifice, that we love him in return.

We, then, are called to display to others the same mercy God has displayed toward us. Despite their sin and their hate, we’re to love them. Despite their wickedness, we’re to seek their blessing. And, above all, we’re to seek their salvation. We're to do so because this is the desire of our Father.