First Place is Last Place

Mark 9:35

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I find it interesting that the message of humility continues to cross our attention…. And, again, the verse provided for us is one where Jesus is teaching His disciples on how to view themselves in the context of their roles as disciples … and later as apostles.  Let’s put our verse into its surrounding context.  It is similar to the narratives that we have read from Matthew and Luke a few days ago.

Mark 9:30-36 (NIV)

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.36 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I find this fascinating … regarding the argument over who was the greatest in the group of disciples.  Why?  Because the matter came up on the heels of their failure to heal a boy possessed by an impure spirit.  Jesus had rebuked them for their lack of faith … even when He had given them power and authority to perform such signs and wonders. (Read Mark 9:14-29) Nevertheless, they were apparently enamored with their “power” to exercise authority over physical affliction, illness, and demonic oppression.  One can sense that these giftings began to fill them with spiritual pride. It would seem they were misguided with self-importance because of the power and authority given to them. So Jesus had to correct their wrong thinking.  Their gifts were given to serve other people … not themselves or to affirm their own spiritual egos.  Their gifts were given to draw people to the divine source of power manifested through those gifts … to confirm the truth of the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus, the One whom He sent into the world to save the world.  Spiritual gifts are about Jesus … and not about us.

How easy it can be in our flesh to glory in our spiritual gifts rather than to exalt the One who gave them. Jesus cautioned the disciples to keep their attitudes in check … to remain humble even while operating in the supernatural.  This is evident from the narrative recorded in the Book of Luke when Jesus appointed and sent out disciples to heal the sick and to share the Gospel:

Luke 10:17-20 (NIV)

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

It is not always about what we do or how we serve the Lord Jesus.  It is simply about Him … His Name … His Identity … His Love which surpasses all understanding!  As Jesus stated, we should rejoice in our salvation through Him!  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the tools He uses through us (His servants) to show forth His power and glory … so that the Gospel is seen and heard in truth by unbelievers!  Gifts confirm your authority to speak the truth … not to exhibit some sort of superiority over others.  Spiritual gifts manifest your heart is obedient to the One who called you and gifted you to serve one another in love.  With this thought in mind, there are two passages regarding spiritual gifts that Paul wrote which I would like to share here:

Romans 12:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Paul will continue in 1 Corinthians 13 to expound on the way of love … to affirm that love is the most excellent way to approach the exercise of the gifts that we have been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus taught (commanded) His disciples and us as well … “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Cf. John 13:34) Love is the reason for the gifts He has distributed to us … to empower us to work together as one body for the sake of those who are lost … those who have wandered … those who are broken in spirit and in need of healing.  Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Cf. Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32) As the Body of Christ, that is our mission as well.  We are ambassadors for Christ … and He has given us of His authority and His power to accomplish His mission in our time; in our generation.  So, I pray that we would all humble ourselves and carried out the work that we were created in Christ Jesus to do … good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

THE WAY OUT

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

As we continue in the pursuit of holiness for our lives, this verse is quite appropriate for us to study and put into action.  Let’s break it down and examine it more closely:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.

No matter what you are going through … no matter what you face in the battle against sin in your life … there is someone else who has waged the same fight. The sinful human nature is common to the human life we experience here on earth.  And if you have been “overtaken” by the sin that so easily ensnares you (Cf. Hebrews 12:1), know you are not alone.  What you have allowed to become a stronghold in your life is common to all mankind.  And I believe the greatest temptation that has overtaken any human is the sin of unbelief because I think when most sin occurs … when we are most vulnerable to its deception … is when we fall into faithlessness toward God … when we ignore His invitation to intimacy … when we lose the awareness that God sees all!  David asked: “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7) There is no place we can go outside of His presence.  When we wander from God, in a sense, we do not leave His presence; rather, we leave His divine power and His hand upon our lives.  Unbelief weakens us!  Unbelief paralyzes us!  It renders us powerless to overcome sin rather than being mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.  Yet, there is an answer to this plight of temptation!

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NKJV)

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (of the flesh) but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

The reason temptation can overtake us is because we try to fight the battle in our flesh and not in the Spirit realm.  Our weapons to resist … to flee …  are not natural but spiritual. And those weapons are fasting, prayer, and the sword of the Spirit … which is the Word of God! (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) Paul instructed us to put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil (temptation) comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand. (Cf. Ephesians 6:13). For this is what Jesus did when He went into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan.  With every high and lofty arrow of deception aimed for His heart, Jesus responded to Satan with Scripture: “It is written….” (Cf. Matthew 4:4-10) Do we know the Word of God well enough to fight or resist temptation? Are we equipped to do battle and to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ?  Jesus warned His disciples on the night of His betrayal: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Cf. Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38) This is real warfare, folks!  And on the battlefields of our minds, the war will be won or lost….

God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.

What an encouragement to know that even when we are tempted … even when we are weak … even when we are faithless … God is still faithful to us.  Yet, too often we lose a battle.  And it appears that we wave our white flags of surrender far too soon at times.  When we “cave to crave” we have not reached what we can bear. Remember, God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear! So what happens? Why do we fail?

James 1:12-18 (NIV)

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.

So we see that temptation comes from within our hearts. We just read about the condition of man from the beginning … when the Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Cf. Genesis 6:5) So it follows that we need clean hearts and right spirits in order to find the path to triumph.  David asked, “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Psalm 20:9) Paul observed that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) But God is faithful!  His kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4)   And David found the path of repentance that we would do well to carefully observe.  I encourage you to read all of Psalm 51 … but this excerpt is what came to my heart: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

The truth of the matter is you and I WILL be tempted.  The text does not read, “But IF you are tempted….”  No human is or has ever been without temptation.  It is part of the human experience God created.  And even though God has shown Himself mighty and powerful on behalf of His people … they have wandered and rebelled against Him.  God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) Yet, Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Cf. Luke 18:8) Faith is essential in the battle against temptation, because faith determines whether we will engage our human will to act upon the temptation presented.  “For without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6) I am reminded of where Moses wrote:

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 (NIV)

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to Him and revering Him.

God took His people into the wilderness and then He led them through it.  God caused His people to hunger … and then He fed them.  The Lord declared through Moses, “Man does not live on food alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  God provides for both our physical hunger and spiritual hunger! No, the testing and trials that the Lord allows are not temptations; rather, they reveal the truth of what lies with our hearts.  And when we decide to face the truth … when the discipline we receive of the Lord is discerned and understood … then we will discover that God has provided a way out of the wilderness.  We find that God has made provision to sustain us.  Oh, yes!  When we completely surrender everything to our Lord and Savior … when we enter into intimacy with Him … He will change the inclinations of the thoughts of our hearts.  He will renew a right spirit within us.  God will give us His divine power; and His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who call us by His own glory and goodness. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

Another thought that just occurred to me on the issue of temptation:  I believe the more we pursue intimacy with Jesus … the more He disciples our faith in Him … then the more we can expect to experience trial and temptation in order to test our faith.  I considered what Jesus said to Peter at the Last Supper in the Upper Room:

Luke 22:31-34 (NIV)

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

It was not only Peter who would be sifted as wheat in order to separate the valued, true seed of faith from the worthless, deceptive outer covering of chaff … that made faith appear larger than it was in reality .  It would be all of the disciples … just as it will be all of us.  We will all be sifted!  We will all be subjected to temptation … to test our faith! Even Jesus was not immune from being tempted by Satan.  And the Apostle James advised us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Cf. James 1:2-4)

But I want us to notice how Jesus said He had prayed for Simon Peter.  Jesus prayed that Peter’s FAITH would not fail…. Now we know from the narrative that Peter did in fact fail during the next battle he faced … and the rooster crowed.  But we also know that Peter later triumphed … being baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit. Because the Lord was with Him, Peter persevered in faith, and he went on to win the war … to “finish the race.”  His faith did not fail!  And this is something for us to grasp, that even now, Jesus sits at the right hand of God … seated at the throne … interceding for us. (Hebrews 7:24-25) God may send you into the wilderness, but He will lead you through it to the Promised Land.  God may allow you to hunger, but He will fill you and sustain your life.  God may allow Satan to sift you with temptation to test the genuineness of your faith, but Jesus will intercede for you … that your faith may not fail.  Peter would later share and express his experience:

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV)

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Cf. Psalm 44:22) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!  God provided us a way to endure temptation.  His name is Jesus!  And I pray that we will realize that Jesus is ever interceding for us that our faith may not fail.  I encourage you to take some time and read the “Hall of Faith” presented in Hebrews 11.  Then, let the triumphs of those faithful people of old resonate within you.  And then, after your meditation, continue to this passage:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer (author) and perfecter (finisher) of our faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart….

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Be Holy, Because I Am Holy

1 Peter 1:15-16

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

A solemn reminder … that we are to be holy just as God is holy!  This means we are set apart unto God.  This means God is the center of our being.  This means we seek intimacy with God in order to be like Him in holiness.  There are several Scriptures that address this call to holiness … and the word sanctification comes to mind as I write.  Perhaps we could explore what Paul wrote on the subject:

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (NIV)

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A couple of thoughts here:

Our sanctification, our walk toward holiness, is the expressed will of God.  Paul connects that sanctification or holiness entails abstinence from sexual immorality; however, holiness goes far deeper into the inclinations and motives of our hearts … our souls.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.  And this is what we should pursue through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, God chose us for salvation and sanctification.  And note how Paul articulates this process – the Holy Spirit works to separate us from the world unto God … and His work begins when we believe the truth.  In fact, Jesus prayed for our sanctification!  Look at this passage as Jesus prayed to the Father:

John 17:13-19 (NIV)

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

When we believe the Word of God … and put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ … this is the conception of sanctification.  This is moment that holiness is birthed in our hearts.  We are born-again … not of this world … not of the flesh … but born of God through the Holy Spirit working through the Word … the Word of Truth!  And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the Truth! (Cf. 1 John 5:6) Oh, how I pray we all will take the call to holiness to heart … deny ourselves as symbolized in fasting … and sanctify our hearts through prayer and intimacy with the Lord.  This is what He desires for His children to be … and for the prodigal to be … and for whosoever will believe in Him to be! The time has come for authentic relationship with God … and this requires our sanctification…. Have your way … Holy Spirit! Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!