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!

Humble Yourselves

James 4:10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Our verse today was short … but it has profound theological application for us.  Let’s put it in context first:

James 4:1-12 (NIV)

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  You adulterous people (those unfaithful to covenant with God)! Don’t you know that friendship with the world (desiring the things of the world) means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a fellow believer or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we look at our verse in context, it takes on deeper meaning and challenges us to look at the issues of humility and submission.  James begins with our own desires … the desires of our hearts.  He exposes the intensity of desire by describing the “carnal” behaviors associated with it … when personal desires exert themselves above what God wants and desires for us.  Sometimes our own desires drive us to murder or kill (and that could be with the tongue). Sometimes our own desires drive us to quarrel and fight.  Sometimes we believe that God should grant us what we pray for … but we have asked Him with wrong motives in our hearts ~ because what we want is often self-centered and not God-ordained.  James describes all of these behaviors as “friendship with the world” because they come from the desires of our flesh … and not from the Spirit of God.  And when a believer acts in these ways it creates “enmity with God” and he or she is in opposition to what God has called them to be in Christ Jesus.  Such conduct is not of the indwelling Spirit; rather, that person has grieved the Spirit (Cf. Ephesians 4:30), or worse, has quenched the Spirit (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) within them.

So in Verse 7, James confronts believers who have allowed themselves to be filled with everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— because these come not from the Father but from the world. (Cf. 1 John 2:16) He admonishes us to submit ourselves to God and to resist temptation and to flee from what will destroy intimacy with God.  James calls for repentance … a change in direction … a change in our mindset lest the enemy gain a foothold (Cf. Ephesians 4:27) which can then become a stronghold.  James advises that if we desire something for ourselves, then we are to humble ourselves before God and allow Him to exalt us … allow Him to grant it according to His will and purposes….  That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34)

Our Lord Jesus afforded the greatest example of what humility before the Father should look like; and we examined this in a recent study.  I will repeat it here because it is apparent that God wants to address our propensities to exhibit pride and self-exaltation:

Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Oh what this world would be … what the Body of Christ would be … if we would just submit ourselves to God and humble ourselves before Him. As believers, we have been invited to a great feast … to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  We are the wedding guests! But our seats at the table have been determined by the Host according to His own will and counsel.  There is plenty of room at the table for everyone to enjoy the celebration! But when we covet the best seats at the banquet … when our own spiritual or religious pride deceives us into thinking we hold a higher position or place of prominence in the Kingdom, God is not pleased.  He becomes jealous for His Spirit … who He placed within us. As Jesus taught,  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)

Here are a few of the stories that Jesus shared to illustrate the necessity of humility in our walk of faith:

Matthew 11:11 (NIV) – See Also Luke 7:28

“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John 13:3-5; 12-17 (NIV)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) – See Also Matthew 20:20-23

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Throughout the Scriptures, God asks His people … those who He called to be His own … to humble themselves!  And I believe humility begins with reverence for God; understanding that His Will … His Word … is the final authority over all He created; including us!  God is sovereign. Submission to Him means obedience.  We are to obey the Lord our God in all that He has commanded us.  As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, “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.”  Likewise, God opposes the proud … those who would exalt themselves.  For the proud do not seek God; in their thoughts there is no room for God. (Cf. Psalm 10:4) As King Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Cf. Proverbs 11:2) And, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Cf. Proverbs 16:18) And Solomon advised, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the heart of fools.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)

Lord, I pray that we your people, will humble ourselves under your mighty hand … and allow You to lift us up in due time.  For you will not yield your glory to another … and whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. You, Lord,  are the potter; and we are the clay in your hands. You, O God, determined in advance the works you have prepared for your people to accomplish.  You, O Lord, appointed gifts for your people as you determined.  What you chose for one you did not choose for another … so that we might submit ourselves to one another … so that we might serve one another in love as you taught us.  So I pray, Lord, that we will respond to this wisdom you have given us … that we, your children,  might be meek and lowly in heart … that we might not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. 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. So let us exercise our gifts according to your grace so that YOU and you alone are exalted! In your name, I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Losing Your Soul…

Mark 8:36 (NIV)

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

We have read and studied this verse before; but in light of our recent series of Scriptures focusing on the spiritual health of men, I believe we should look at it again in that context….

Generally, I think men are more challenged with keeping a balanced perspective on their career and financial goals because we tend to be occupational or vocational centric … meaning we place a high value on what we do and accomplish in our jobs and professions – the money we earn from doing so – and the self-esteem we attach to our careers and bank accounts.  It is normal to have an interest or concern about household finances because of our deep-seated desire to be successful and consistent providers for our families.  But Jesus asks us a very pointed question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”  Another related question for men might be: “What good is it to “prosper” yourself in your work but lose your marriage or your children or your health in the process?”  In other words, Jesus calls us to give consideration to the greatest priorities we have in our lives and to not lose sight of what has more eternal impact on ourselves and those we love.

The Apostle Paul shared this perspective with a young man named Timothy – who he mentored and discipled in the faith.  Paul said, “For we brought nothing into the word, and we can take nothing out of it.” (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:7) Perhaps that is the sobering reminder we need to form a healthier view of the life God has granted to each of us. Life is a gift.  Everything we have is a gift. And while work and the enjoyment it brings to our lives is an important aspect of it … it is really only a context for us to discover, learn, and grow in the knowledge of God’s will for our us.  Consider a parable that Jesus shared with His followers:

Luke 12:16-21 (NIV)

16 And He (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek His Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Men … we need to take this lesson and its wisdom to heart.  God wants to do so much in our lives and through our lives … not only to conform us to the image of His Son … but to develop us for the good and well-being of others; especially our wives and children.  So our spiritual health is critical; and we need to exercise it regularly each day in prayer and study of the Word.  Every once and a while, you and I might need to reset our mindsets as my pastor has often encouraged me to do.  And as the Apostle Paul admonished, “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.” (Cf. Romans 12:2) So when life gets out of balance and when begin to focus more on work and career more than focusing on God, I pray we will set more time aside from our work and personal ambitions to rekindle His Kingdom in our hearts so we can truly flourish in our spirits for the positive influence it will have on our marriages, our children, and our relationships with others.  I assure you; it will be time well spent.  As the Apostle John wrote, “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health – just as your soul prospers. (Cf. 3 John 2:2) Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Husband – Man of God

Ephesians 5:25-26 (NIV)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word….

I want to continue our focus on men. We have looked at their responsibilities as fathers; and now we look at their responsibilities as husbands.  These are roles that God has ordained for men to fulfill in His creation; notwithstanding there are men God has called to be single….  Our roles as men are not determined by the fathers we had (have) or the cultures in which we live (lived).  Who we are as men was designed by God our Creator; and He has revealed this to us through His Word.  We have seen where our roles as fathers have been compared to the relationship of God the Father to His own children.  Here in this verse, we see a comparison of our relationships with our wives to the relationship of Christ Jesus had (has) with His Bride … the Church.

The role of men in the marriage relationship appears to be one of leadership – in the sense that there is an imperative for the man to spiritually guard and guide his wife as Christ leads and protects His Church.  As Jesus is the Head of the Church (His Body), so are men ordained by God to be the head of the marriage relationship. We are to serve as protectors, providers, and “priests” over our marriages and our households in all righteousness and holiness.  And while this role is associated with the male and with his given authority, the key word here is “love”.  We are to love our wives just as Christ loved His Church … namely, in the same spirit and attitude with which Christ Jesus gave Himself for us.  We are to serve our wives with humility and grace … even as we see these qualities evident in the lordship of Jesus Christ over us.  Men, look for a moment at the example we have been given to emulate in our marital role:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature (in the form of) God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature (the form) of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He (Jesus) humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

While this passage speaks to the condition of our hearts and minds in all relationships; to me, it is especially applicable to the “mindset” men should have in their marriages. We should not consider the ordained authority we have been given by God as men to be used to our own advantage; rather, we are to be humble servants to our wives … not selfish or ambitious or full of self-pride.  We are to look to the interests (physical, emotional, and spiritual needs) of our wives even above our own.  Yet, I’m pretty sure if we have not attended to our own needs (especially spiritual), we will probably lack the capacity to be effective in the leadership roles of our marriages.  Meaning, if we are not spending time with the Lord in regular prayer and study of His Word, we are not going to be equipped to fulfill our God ordained roles as men … husbands … and fathers.

So, men, I encourage each of us to routinely practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, bible study, and to put on the full spiritual armor of God (Cf. Ephesians 6:11) … so that we can be the men of God we were designed to be.  Through healthy and sound marriages, we will be more effective in the provision for and protection of our families. To do so, we must always be connected to the Head … our Lord Jesus Christ.  For Jesus said we must abide in Him and He in us … because apart from Him we can do nothing.  (Cf. John 15:4-5)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 02/11/19

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Here we have a continuation of the 1 Corinthians 13 and the “attributes” of love that Paul enumerates.  We often hear this passage quoted at weddings as we observe “how” love should conduct or manifest itself in practical ways. In the context of the marriage relationship, these points are great advice to anyone; however, I want to remind you that the context here is not romantic love.  In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  He spoke about their manifestation; their purpose in edifying the church; and how the Holy Spirit determines what gifts and to whom they are distributed to the “common good”. He then stipulated that the diversity of gifts was supposed to have a unifying effect among believers in the Body of Christ.

I believe that it is within that context we need to see these “attributes” of love through the lens of spiritual gifts and roles within the Church.  Consider the theme of this passage in these terms:

Love is patient: Am I patient with other believers who have different gifts than mine?  Am I patient with those who are weaker in faith?  Do I get frustrated with others who do not have the spiritual knowledge that I have attained?  I’m sure you can think of more questions; but the point here is the context for how we demonstrate love through an attitude of patience and longsuffering with other believers.

Love is kind: How do I show kindness to other believers at church?  Do I greet them?  Do I show interest in their lives?  Do I listen to them in order to find ways to show support and encouragement? 

Love is not envious: Am I jealous of other people and their gifts of the Spirit?  Do I covet gifts that others have because I am not content with the gift(s) distributed to me?

Love is not boastful: Do I boast in the spiritual gifts that the Spirit has given me?   Do I show an attitude of superiority over other people and their gifts of the Spirit?  Do I consider my spiritual gifts more important or valuable than the gifts exercised by other believers in the Church?

Love is not proud: See questions to 4 above…. Am I condescending towards others when operating within my spiritual giftings?

Love does not dishonor others: Wow!  Think about this one…. Have we exercised our gifts in ways that disrespect other people?  Make them feel lower or inferior?  Are we sensitive to whether a person would be receptive to our exercising our gifts … or perceiving them as offensive?

Love is not self-seeking: How many of us self-evaluate our motives when operating in the Spirit … especially within the context of the Church?  Are we trying to draw attention to ourselves and our spiritual piety?

Love is not easily angered: I’m not sure about the application of this one.  It is hard for me to imagine someone exercising a spiritual gift in an angry manner.  But I suppose that could the case in question.  Do I get angry with others who do not accept my exercise of spiritual gifts? Do I get angry with those who believe the gifts of the Spirit were for the Apostolic Age and not for modern times?  I think this attribute is connected closely with patience and longsuffering….

Love keeps no record of wrongs: Forgive and forget!  The term used here is an accounting term.  Do you keep an accounting of all the times you have been offended by other believers? Are you offended when other believers exercise their gifts?  Do you feel slighted?

I believe the point Paul was trying to make here is that LOVE is the most excellent way to exercise your spiritual gifts.  In other words, when operating in your spiritual gifting(s), is love for others your overriding motivation for doing so?  When you exercise gifts of the Spirit, is your aim to edify the Church?  Spiritual gifts are not for our personal benefit or enjoyment. God is not giving us His divine power for our own privilege or private edification.  They are GIVEN to use for the common good … just as roles or positions of spiritual leadership were GIVEN by Jesus Himself to the Body of Christ for equipping us for works of service and the building of His Church for the purpose of unity of faith.  (Cf. Ephesians 4:11-13)   For any of us to exercise our gifts or roles without love for one another is “worthless” according to Paul.  It will profit you and I nothing of eternal value … and it will certainly not facilitate unity within the Body of Christ.  Do you have a gift or talent that you recognize in yourself?  Do you share it? Do you share it for the benefit of others?  Do you share it because you love other people … especially those of the household of faith?  Consider this thought:  God is love. So everything He does is done so in love.  Should not we who God created in Christ Jesus (in His image) do good works in love as well?

While these attributes or qualities define how love should operate within any relational context; I hope that we will look at them in the specific context of spiritual gifts.  Remember, your gifts and mine were determined by the Holy Spirit … distributed by the Holy Spirit … and given to us for the sole purpose of ministry to the Body of Christ and to a lost world.  There is no other practical or valuable purpose for them being exercised except for the glory of God and His Kingdom.  To think otherwise is … well … unloving as Paul would characterize it.  To me this teaching goes hand in hand with what Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 – that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – as this is our true and proper worship.  Offering ourselves through our spiritual gifts for the benefit of the Church is a sacrificial act … and it can be a humble demonstration of our love for God and one another….

Well, I’m not sure if I have conveyed my thoughts very well.  I hope, at least, that I have stirred your thoughts on this popular chapter of Scripture and challenged you with a different context in which to evaluate the sincere demonstration of your love for others.  I pray we will all exercise our spiritual gifts for the common good; motivated by the excellence of love for the glory of God.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Verse of the Day – 01/30/19

Ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Our Verse of the Day continues on the theme of “servant leadership” that was introduced during our last lesson.  As you recall, after their Passover Meal in the upper room, Jesus was teaching and instructing His disciples to practice an attitude of humility and servanthood like His own.  If you desire to be first … in a position of leadership … then you need to put yourself last and be a servant to all. (Cf. Mark 9:35) Then we looked at some practical ways to exercise humility and a servant’s heart that Paul offered in Philippians 2 and 1 Corinthians 9.  Here is this verse, we find some additional instruction from Paul.  I will reprint it along with the surrounding context of the passage for your reference:

Ephesians 4:1-7 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

So what we find in this passage are several key points related to servant leadership:

  1. Servant Leadership may come with a high price … for Paul is was imprisonment for his devotion and loyalty to Christ Jesus.
  2. Servant Leadership is inherent to living a life worthy of the election to salvation and eternal life that we have received as a gift from God.
  3. Servant Leadership requires our conduct to be completely humble; gentle; patient; longsuffering; loving; etc.  Sounds like the fruit of the Spirit to me…. (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)
  4. Servant Leadership is concerned about unity … making every effort to encourage unity and the bond of peace among believers.

Paul will continue to explain how servant leaders are equipped according to His grace as He determines to apportion it to us:

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)

11 So Christ Himself gave (the offices or roles of ) the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip His people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ (the Church) may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

What Paul is saying here is that Christ Jesus determines (selects and ordains) who HE places as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers over HIS people.  These are roles or offices … leadership positions … that Christ GAVE for the benefit and edification of HIS people (the Church). Their purpose is to equip believers for ministry in order for the Church to grow, AND to bring unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus in order for believers to mature and to attain the fullness of Christ. And the leaders that He has placed in these positions are not to seek being “first” or being “the preeminent” in His Body; rather, they are to be humble and to consider themselves “last” by being “servants to all”. So beware of those who appoint themselves to positions of leadership in the Church. 

There is only one FIRST … our Lord Jesus!  He is the First and the Last!  The Alpha and the Omega.  The Beginning and the End.  He is the head of the Body, the Church. (cf. Colossians 1:18) According to the grace of God, all of us who have been saved through faith, have been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (cf. Ephesians 2:10) But those Christ Jesus has GIVEN to leadership over His Church are to be “ servants to all”.  And those who are given specific roles as leaders to the Church should seek to fulfill their responsibilities with all humility and excellence – keeping in mind that leaders are to build up His people and equip them for works of service….

If you have been given by Christ Jesus to a leadership role within the Church, then let Ephesians 4:2 be the quick guide on how to conduct yourself in the “position” you are to fulfill.  Remember, Christ Jesus GAVE YOU to His Church for a reason. If that thought does not humble you, I am not sure what will.  Being given to minister to the Church does not make you the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is exercising the humility that comes with your appointment that will exalt you:

Matthew 18:1-5 (NKJV)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

Mark 9:33-37 (NKJV)

Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you discussed among yourselves on the road?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Luke 9:46-48 (NIV)

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside Him. 48 Then He said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Being a leader at the appointment of Christ Jesus will require you to be the least and a servant to all … but in doing so, you will produce much fruit to the glory of God the Father and our Lord Jesus.  I pray we will always remember the words Jesus spoke: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8) Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Evening!

Verse of the Day – 01/29/19

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.”

Our Verse of the Day is a call to humility….  Jesus taught that if you want to be the leader … if you want to be first … then you have to put yourself last.  A leader is expected to be a servant … a servant of all.  And Jesus role-modeled this “unorthodox” approach to leadership to make a spiritual point with His disciples.  We can find it the Gospel of John:

John 13:1-17 (NIV)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.

12 When He (Jesus) had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent Him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Think about this scene for a moment.  Jesus has just humbled Himself like an ordinary servant to make an important point with His disciples.  Jesus had taught that He and God the Father are One … of One essence … and yet Jesus demonstrates that He is willing to serve out of reverence to the Father who sent Him into the world.  Servants are not greater than their masters.  Messengers are not greater than the ones who send them.  And that is what His disciples (students or followers) were to become … ones sent on a mission (or Apostles).  And that is what we are … ones sent on that same mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  We are not greater than the One who has called us and sent us on this mission.  Therefore, we are to follow the example of Christ – and be servants of all!

In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul testifies to the humility of Jesus Christ and the power of servitude for the glory of God:

Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He Humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And Paul, as usual, shares some very practical advice on HOW to be a servant to all in his Letter to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Are you and I willing to wash feet?  Are you and I willing to become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might effectuate their coming to faith in Jesus Christ … and therefore be saved … bringing glory to the God who saved us?  What are we willing to do for the sake of the Gospel? I am reminded again of how any one of us came to faith in Christ:

Romans 10:14-17 (NIV)

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (cf. Isaiah 52:7) 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (cf. Isaiah 53:1) 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Everything we do as believers … as those who God has chosen to be conformed to the image of His Son (cf. Romans 8:29) … we are called to be “servants to all”.  This is our job description as followers of Christ.  We are to be ambassadors of the good news found in Jesus Christ … as though God were making His appeal through us. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) Paul did the most incredible work in this regard, and he urges us to follow in his footsteps.  God has called as many as He has chosen to be given to His Son for salvation (cf. John Chapter 17) … but we have to realize that we who have been granted salvation received it through the service of people of faith who lived before us.  My point being … God uses people to accomplish His work.  We were saved because another person was obedient to God and ministered the Gospel to us … just as God had ordained for them to do according to His own plan and purpose.  The work of salvation did not end with them … nor should it end with us who now believe because of their testimony.  It is an amazing thing to consider that God chose to save us in order to save others through us….  But that is a very humbling thing to consider as well.  The God who created the universe … who created me … wants me to be an instrument of His grace?

Consider what Jesus prayed:

John 17:1-10; 20-24 (NIV)

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those you have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. “I have revealed you (your name) to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Wow!  Such wonderful, inspiring, prayerful words to receive from our Lord Jesus!  First, we come to know that we were GIVEN by God the Father TO Jesus Christ to receive salvation and eternal life through Him. If nothing else, that should humble us into reverent fear and worship! But do you see the greater theme going on here?  Jesus is praying for those who will believe … who will come to faith through sharing the Gospel with them.  It is the message of sharing the truth of God to the world that unites us with all believers!  God knows who He has chosen to give to His Son, and He knows who will believe His report.  BUT WE DO NOT!  So in the absence of this specific knowledge, we are called to share the report … the Gospel … with everyone.  Yes, and we are to battle in prayer for everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth!  As Paul wrote to Timothy:

1 Timothy 2: 1-7 (NIV)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

We, as believers, were “predestined” to join the “legacy of witnesses” who have testified to the truth that is found in Christ Jesus! We came to faith because of hearing the message of Jesus Christ that was preached to us and we received it in our hearts.  We were born again of imperishable seed through the living and enduring Word of God. (cf. 1 Peter 1:23) And like the Apostles before us, we have been “sent” to serve those who are being born now and will come to faith (as God foreordained). The question is: “Will we be obedient to His call to share the Gospel with those God has chosen for salvation.” When I asked myself this question, my thoughts raced back to the Book of Ephesians, and here is what God reminded me:

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Note Verse 10.  We who have been saved by the grace of God are HIS handiwork.  God created us in Christ Jesus to do good works – which He prepared in advance for us to do!  That work is serving others. That work is ministering to others.  That work is proclaiming the kindness of God expressed in Christ Jesus.  For it is the kindness of God that is intended to lead people to repentance. (cf. Romans 2:4) Oh how I pray that each of us will understand this call to humility … to servant leadership! By its definition …. by its very nature … it is how we serve God and His Kingdom.  I pray that our lives will be “living gospels” to draw the lost to the Lord Jesus.  I think that is the heart of His message to the disciples.  This is what the call to be “servants of all” truly means….

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Evening!