Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

Chapter 9: Discipleship - Service

The Empowered Servant

God has empowered us in order to serve the world as He sees fit and to be the good in the world. He has empowered us to serve humanity as He serves whereby we can serve Him. ...

The Greatest Servant Teaches About Serving

The lesson for us? God is not looking for rulers; He's looking for servants. And servants aren't seeking for honor, they are looking for opportunities to serve.  ...

Jesus Describes His True Followers

Jesus explained what kind of people are eternally blessed of God. They are people who have repented of their sins and have been born again. They are those who have made Jesus their Lord and are destined to spend eternity in God's kingdom. They can be recognized by how they live their lives....

Cost of Discipleship

Being a true disciple of Jesus in the twentieth century can be just as dangerous as it was for the early Christians. Most of us will not be asked to pay the ultimate price for our discipleship. Nevertheless, all of us must answer the question of how dedicated we will be to our life with God. ...

Being His Disciple

Again, he says to his disciples: "Get up, let us go!" (Jn 14,31). By these words he shows us that neither his nor his disciples' place lies here. Where are we going, then, Lord? ...

Why God Prefers Losers

When I say God prefers losers, I mean he prefers people who know their weakness, see their flaws, admit their mistakes, and cry out to him for help. God specializes in taking losers and displaying his power through them. ...

Servant Leadership

To be first you must be last. In the kingdom of God the way up is down. Jesus overturned worldly notions of power and replaced them with the paradox of servant leadership. In essence he is saying, "It doesn't matter who has the title. Look for the one with the servant's heart and there you've found your leader." ...

God Incognito - Humility of Jesus

Christ calls us to join with him. In a downwards journey. Seeking not ourselves and our betterment. But seeking other people. Seeking other people's betterment. Jesus teaches us to seek other people, not as a means to make ourselves more popular or even to make ourselves better people. But to seek other people for their own sake. We don't need good works for our own sake. But other people need them. ...

The Paradox of the Cross

Why would Jesus use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him? Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people's attention. He did this to say that following Him was not "child's play." It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple. But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him. ...

Chapter 9: Discipleship - Service

The Empowered Servant

by Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Varghese P. Manikat

Where is God? This question plagued his mind and he searched for Him. The search grew taxing as the days wore on and yet his God never appeared to him. He cried, prayed, wept bitterly pleading just to see a glimpse of his Savior. Just to witness the One True Good and all his troubles and worries and tribulations would be put to rest. For then he would find solace. For then he would know that this pain has meaning and purpose. He yearned for an embrace to soothe this aching and to ease this constant turmoil. But all this was to no avail. He began to question whether he was not good enough to see visions or to experience His Lord. Why, he asked, has the Lord turned a blind eye to me? Why did the Lord hide Himself from me? In times of desolation and emptiness we seek good. We seek solace and comfort in the belief that then our worries would have meaning. We seek justification for our fight against evil and sin. In our selfishness or perhaps in our overwhelming circumstances we fail to see that each individual is equally overwhelmed with afflictions. All around us are people, seemingly free of problems, unable to lift themselves up. When Jesus Christ bore the cross, He instituted a way of life by being the shining example for us. God has empowered us in order to serve the world as He sees fit and to be the good in the world. He has empowered us to serve humanity as He serves whereby we can serve Him.

When we serve humanity, we are serving God. The Syriac word for service, Teshmishtha,, has two meanings. One is service to God and the other is service to man. To be a servant of God requires one to abstain from serving the flesh and to serve righteousness. As it is written in Romans 6:16 , "Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" When we attempt to serve God, we are obeying His teachings and examples and in order to serve Him one has to embody the qualities of God. We see through the Old Testament that justice and righteousness entails governing in such a way that there are no conflicts. The norm of justice is the character of God. Furthermore, important concepts of righteousness are uplifting the downtrodden and helping the needy. As we read in Isaiah 40:29, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." A misconception of a servant is a person who beckons to another's whims and calls. However, this concept merely uplifts the other's ego to the heights of a god. In a sense, it is a false pride bestowed by the servant. To truly serve another implies to meet their needs. It entails uplifting them from their weaknesses and strengthening them. That is true servitude. Since such a service enables goodness to spread amongst man. When each individual utilizes his or her talents for the upliftment and betterment of others we pass on our talents to them. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, "For just as the body is one and has many members... 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts." Such service uplifts humanity in total thereby overcoming weakness and faults. A wilful servant can remedy all matters of sin from others. In order to alleviate the ailments of humanity one must also be able to lead.

The last thing we consider when we think of an ideal leader is one who serves. We imagine victories, royalty, charisma, and pomp. We imagine a king sending his troops to their death and when triumphant he basks in glory. Can a servant lead? Erhart identified seven dimensions of servant leadership. They were, forming relations with followers, empowering followers, helping growth and success by providing opportunities to enhance skills, behaving ethically, demonstrating conceptual skills, putting followers first, and creating value for others outside the organization. A true leader therefore incorporates all of his/her followers. They take them along and lead from the front by spearheading and being an example. A true leader does not shun others instead strives to uplift the downtrodden. Imagine your favourite teacher. This teacher would encourage each of his/her students to succeed and reach their full potential. He/she would create an environment that allows for the students to realize their talents. But in order to achieve this level of leadership one truly has to humble himself/herself. A leader cannot be intimidated by the success and advancement of his/her followers. However, in some leaders unfortunately this is what we see. It is a fear that if I help this individual, this individual will overtake me and therefore be the leader and I will be the follower. How awful is this sentiment and fear. How detrimental it is to those who have capabilities and talents that are unable to be utilized for the good of humanity. Such a leader, therefore, does not serve the people but instead serves themselves and their success. As the old saying goes, "If you scratch my back I will scratch yours." A genuine leader revels in the success of their followers and thrives from this. This builds a mutual trust in fact. That is why in 1977 in a ground-breaking paper on servant leadership Greenleaf wrote that trust is at the root of servant leadership. This trust allows for mutual benefit and growth. It abolishes any traces of resentment and even prevents the establishment of such negative thoughts. Time, sacrifice, patience, all such virtues are necessary to build such trust. A key part of this, as Farrholm states, is that servant leaders are leaders who are willing to convey their willingness to comprehend the individual needs and capabilities of employees and to serve those needs seem to be an important factor in building trust. Trust in a leader, which is mostly aroused through open communication and disclosure, may give individuals a sense of control by feeling protected by the leader's good intentions. Open communication and honesty are key attributes and qualities of a healthy servant leader follower relationship. Clear communication creates an environment that is free of negativity. That in itself allows freedom to share ideas and makes the leader more approachable. Moreover, the colleagues would be more inclined to share difficulties that they face since there is an understanding that the leader is committed to solving problems. These concepts and qualities appear simple and straightforward. However, it is such humility and patience that is so difficult to attain and to be a true servant leader is no easy task.

Jesus instituted a way of life by teaching followers and empowering apostles. He taught to uphold his ministry of caring and catering to the needy. He cared for the sick and downtrodden. When a leper approached Jesus to be cleansed everyone was taken aback. Lepers were shunned from society and their families. They were untouchable and even religious leaders did not associate with them. Jesus broke down such barriers. He physically reached out with His hand and cleansed the leper thereby restoring "his proper relationship with his family, community, and God." Jesus is teaching us to not shun others especially those who are afflicted and unwanted by society but instead we must reach out to them, understanding that they can be made whole and uplift them. As we read in Galatians 3:28," There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Again, in Psalms 113:7, "He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap." In Capernaum Jesus was approached by a Roman centurion. In those days, the Jewish leaders did not look kindly upon Roman soldiers and there was an animosity towards them. The centurion requested that Jesus may only utter a word that his servant would be healed. Jesus, marvelling in the soldier's faith, uttered a word and the servant was healed. Through his actions, Jesus teaches us to break down barriers and impediments.

When Christ appointed 72 people to teach He sent them as "lamb among wolves." In Luke 10:19 Jesus commands them, "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." He appointed his apostles to lead His church and these apostles in turn handed down that authority to our Patriarchs and fathers. Empowerment is a motivational concept focused on enabling people and encouraging personal development. It is an integral part of the servant leadership concept. The leader must be able to prepare the individual for the obstacles ahead. As the saying goes, "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." In order to be empowered one has to have self-awareness. Farmer defines role identity as a self-view or meaning ascribed to the self with respect to a specific role. Furthermore, an empowerment role identity is the extent to which an individual views him or her as a person who wants to be empowered in a role. Empowerment role identity strengthens the positive relationship between servant leadership and innovation implementation behaviour. The follower has to imbibe his/her capacity in carrying out the his/her duties. When President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country," he was instilling this sense of role identity. That is he was allowing the American people to embrace their duties towards the country. In this way, it strengthens the resolve of the individual and truly makes that duty their own. It is similar to when we work independently for our cause than working for a "boss" or employer. Our Lord in fact entrusted us with the duty to serve Him. He chose us knowing that we are capable of carrying out the missions he has placed for us. It is up to us to recognize the trust He has placed in us, our abilities He has gifted us, and utilize them to serve the Church.

The Kingdom of God is where God is King; but since God is King there is justice, righteousness, and holiness. God roamed this earth that we now live in. He healed the sick, uplifted the needy, reached out to the outcasts, and taught the poor. Jesus Christ instituted a way of life in order to bring the Kingdom of God on this earth through us. We have the power to change our society. It is amazing to think that we have the power to completely change our routine, actions, perceptions, our way of life in just an instant. We have the tools and the leader to succeed in this mission. We derive the strength through prayer, patience, and faith. He did not eradicate poverty, pain, or afflictions. Instead he empowered us to be the answers for all the problems in this world. However farfetched it may seem, if we embrace this reality we can bring change for good. Loren Eiseley writes the story of a little boy, "Off in the distance, an old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young boy paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can't return to the sea by themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water." The old man replied, "But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I'm afraid you won't really be able to make much of a difference." The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one!"

The Greatest Servant Teaches About Serving
Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

When we read about James' and John's selfish request to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in His kingdom, it makes us realize how much they needed to grow spiritually at that point in their lives. But praise God, they did eventually grow up, although not overnight. James and John should also serve as reminders to us that God is dedicated to our spiritual growth, and He will complete the good work He's begun in us. Additionally, we should be patient with young believers who still have a long way to grow. James and John were like we were at one time, and like some of us still are! But God is patient with us all, as demonstrated by Jesus' patience with His disciples.

There were several problems with the request made by James and John. First, God the Father would only consider granting that kind of honor to those who were equally devoted to Him as Jesus was, and who served others to the degree that Jesus did. So Jesus asked James and John if they were able to drink from the same bitter cup and be baptized with the same baptism of suffering as He was to experience. Jesus was speaking of being mocked, spit upon, beaten, flogged and crucified. Although they probably didn't understand what He was talking about, they claimed they were able. Jesus prophesied to them that they would suffer and die for His cause, although again, they probably didn't understand what He meant.

The second problem with the request of James and John is that they were asking for something that Jesus didn't have a right to grant. Jesus explained that it was not His place to decide who sits next to Him in the future kingdom. That is a decision made only by God the Father. This also shows us that God the Father and Jesus are two distinct persons, and not the same identical person as some mistakenly think.

The third problem with the request of James and John is that it revealed their lack of understanding of what God considers the greatest virtue a person can possess. He honors servanthood and exalts those who humble themselves. Conversely, He humbles those who exalt themselves. If anything, James' and John's request got them further away from the seats of honor in which they desired to sit!

The lesson for us? God is not looking for rulers; He's looking for servants. And servants aren't seeking for honor, they are looking for opportunities to serve. Is that you?

Q. We already know who will be seated at Jesus' left hand from other Scriptures. Do you know who it will be?

A. It will be God the Father, because Jesus is now seated at His right hand.

Q. Jesus will obviously be exalted and honored by His Father in the future kingdom. Will it be only because He is the Son of God?

A. No, it will also be because Jesus is the greatest servant, giving His life for everyone, and because Jesus humbled Himself more than anyone else ever has. Paul wrote, "Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name" (Philippians 2:5-9).

Application:

In our reading today, Jesus revealed not only that He would die, but also why He would die. He said it was to give His life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45). A ransom is a payment made to release someone from captivity. Jesus' death was the payment required by God's own justice to release us from our captivity to sin and our destiny in hell. Jesus' servanthood on our behalf will bring blessing to us for eternity, so we can say that Jesus will be serving us forever, which is one reason we'll be praising Him forever!

Source: Family Style Devotions

Jesus Describes His True Followers
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-16

Many people came to Jesus seeking to be blessed, wanting to see a miracle or receive healing or deliverance. But Jesus didn't come to earth simply to attract large crowds of curiosity seekers or provide temporary blessings. He came to "call sinners to turn from their sins" (Luke 5:32), so people would be eternally blessed. Although it's certainly a blessing to see a miracle or be healed of a sickness, people who are blessed by God only to that degree will still spend eternity in hell when they die. Truly blessed people are those who are eternally blessed.

One day as the curious and blessing seekers were gathering, Jesus took the opportunity to explain what kind of people are eternally blessed of God. In short, they are people who have repented of their sins and have been born again. They are those who have made Jesus their Lord and are destined to spend eternity in God's kingdom. They can be recognized by how they live their lives, and Jesus described them in the first portion of His sermon on the mountainside. These are the people who are eternally blessed. Let's consider how Jesus described them.

First, Jesus said that the person who is eternally blessed of God is one who realizes his spiritual poverty apart from God (see Matthew 5:3). Before anyone can be saved, he must see his need for salvation and the impossibility of saving himself.

Second, Jesus said the person who is eternally blessed of God is one who mourns. What did He mean? Possibly Jesus was referring to the mourning a person experiences during the first stages of his repentance, when he realizes how he has offended God. Jesus taught that unless a person is sorrowful for his sins and repents, he would not get into heaven.

Perhaps Jesus was speaking of the sadness that all true Christians feel when they view the world around them, a world that is in rebellion against God and is so far from His original plan. One day those of us who mourn will be comforted, when God creates a new heaven and earth, a place where everyone will do God's will.

Third, people who are truly and eternally blessed by God are those who are gentle and lowly. One version of the Bible uses the word humble to describe these blessed people. In order to be saved, a person has to humble himself, admitting his helplessness to save himself and depending solely on God's mercy for salvation. True followers of Jesus continue on the path of humility throughout their lives, recognizing their own inadequacy and complete dependence upon God for everything. As Jesus said, one day "the whole earth will belong to them" (Matthew 5:5). Those humble followers of Jesus will one day be the only people who live on the earth, eternally blessed, because God will have condemned everyone who is proud.

Fourth, truly blessed people are those who long for everyone to be obedient to Jesus. True followers of Jesus hate all the disobedience that exists in the world, but they can look forward to the time, according to Jesus' promise, when worldwide righteousness will be a reality. That will happen when Jesus rules the world.

Fifth, truly blessed people are merciful. Born-again people can't help but show mercy to others, because they realize how much mercy God has shown them. They will one day experience the fullness of God's mercy when they enter into God's heavenly kingdom, knowing how unworthy they are of such blessings.

Sixth, truly blessed people have pure hearts. Jesus promised that they would one day see God! All true Christians will experience that indescribable blessing, so Jesus must have been describing another characteristic of all His true followers. They have repented in their hearts of wickedness and evil, and now their hearts' desire is to obey their Lord. People who aren't born again have impure hearts and are motivated by selfishness.

Seventh, people who are truly blessed of God are "peacemakers." Jesus must have been describing another characteristic of all true believers, because He promised that the peacemakers would be called children of God, something that all true believers are. True Christians love people with the love God has deposited within them, and thus they hate discord and strife. They work to maintain harmony in their relationships. People who are full of hatred and are always involved in strife are not really saved. Paul wrote that people whose lifestyles are characterized by hostilities, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, divisions and envy will definitely not inherit the Kingdom of God (see Galatians 5:20-21).

Eighth, the truly blessed person is one who is persecuted because he lives for God. Once again, it's clear Jesus must have been describing another characteristic of all His true followers, because He promised them that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Anyone who truly believes in Jesus will be persecuted. That doesn't mean he will be put in jail or tortured, but it at least means that he will be hated and talked about by others. Jesus once said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26, NASB). When we are persecuted, Jesus said we should be happy about it, because it indicates we're among the blessed group of people who are going to heaven. Peter wrote, "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed , because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:14, NASB, emphasis added).

Finally, Jesus described His true followers as being the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world." In Jesus' time, salt was used primarily as a preservative---to keep foods from going rotten. If it weren't for the followers of Jesus, the world would surely become completely rotten and everything about it would be evil. However, our job is not only to keep the world from going completely rotten, but to work to improve the world by letting our lights shine. We should bring the light of God's truth to people who are living in the lies of darkness so that they can join us and be eternally blessed as well!

Q. Did you notice that most, if not all, of the blessings Jesus promised in today's list are future blessings? And that those who will enjoy those future blessings might suffer some in this life? What does that tell you about God's perspective of our present lives?

A. It tells us that this life is not as important as our future lives. Our present lives are temporary and will end someday, but our future lives will be eternal. Therefore, it is very wise to make temporary sacrifices in this life to enjoy eternal blessings in the next life. A well-known missionary once wrote, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Q. As you read through Jesus' description of a truly blessed person, did you think about your own life? Was Jesus describing you?

Application:

Although people who are not saved might think we're foolish for following Christ, and even though we might suffer temporarily because of it, we know we're truly blessed by God, because we will be citizens of God's kingdom forever.

Source: Family Style Devotions

Cost of Discipleship

by Dennis E. Tamburello

Scripture: Matthew 10:34-42

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? In the first three centuries of Christianity's existence, following Jesus often quite literally entailed the kinds of conflicts that are delineated in today's gospel lesson. It could mean alienation from one's family; for Matthew's community in particular, it meant alienation from "members of one's own household" (Mt 10:36), i. e., one's fellow Jews who could not accept Jesus as bringing the law to fulfillment. Once systematic persecution by the Roman empire set in, the decision to be a Christian became a life-threatening one. It was a choice not entered into lightly.

The "cost" of discipleship has been conceived in a number of different ways over the course of our history. That cost certainly seemed to go down after Christianity was tolerated by Rome and ultimately was declared to be the official state religion. One of the great tragedies of Christian history is that the church, now generally free from the threat of persecution, became a persecutor itself (especially of Jews).

Partly in reaction to the laxity that had set in after toleration, certain Christians decided to remove themselves from the mainstream of society to live the gospel more intensely. Some were hermits or solitaries; many more came to live as members of formal religious communities, both monastic and apostolic.

Unfortunately, this led to a bifurcation of the notion of discipleship. Although the medieval church declared marriage a sacrament, thus recognizing it as a way of life that gave witness to God's active presence in the world, it also tended to value formal religious life more highly. To live according to the "evangelical counsels" of poverty, chastity (here understood as celibacy) and obedience was to follow a more perfect way. Even now, the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law continues to speak of members of religious institutes as "following Christ more closely" and "totally dedicated to God" (see Canon 573, Code of Canon Law, trans. Canon Law Society of America, Washington, DC, 1983, p. 573). One might legitimately ask: are not all Christians called to follow Christ as closely as possible and be totally dedicated to God?

The reformers of the sixteenth century rejected the medieval understanding and tipped the balance in the other direction, exalting marriage as the primary or even as the only legitimate context for serving God, and denigrating religious orders as nothing more than bastions of corruption and works-righteousness that perverted the meaning of baptism.

Today's gospel text itself may seem, at first glance, almost to favor a celibate existence, as when Jesus says, "Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Mt 10:37, NRSV). But Jesus was not against the family, as can be seen in texts like Mt 15:3-6 and 19:3-12. The last verse of this latter pericope speaks of those who have "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." This verse at least defends the legitimacy of choosing a celibate life as a powerful way of witnessing to the priority of the reign of God.

The real issue is precisely this: whether we are willing to put Jesus and the reign of God ahead of all other priorities. Today, most theologians share the view that all Christians are called to the fullness of discipleship. This discipleship can take many different forms, and there is no need to label one form as inherently "better" than another. In every age, there have been people who have taken discipleship with the utmost seriousness. They may have been married, single, or members of religious orders; but what they had in common was a surpassing desire to love and follow Jesus in all things.

The letter to the Romans reminds us that our relationship with Jesus is rooted in the gift of faith (see especially Romans 3-5). Jesus does speak of the "rewards" of discipleship at the end of today's lesson, but we should not understand this in the sense of good works laying claim to salvation. It is better to say, as Augustine did, that God chooses to crown as merits what in fact are his own gifts. The sixteenth-century reformers could accept this kind of formulation, as can be seen in this statement from Calvin's Institutes: "Yet those good works which [God] has bestowed on us the Lord calls 'ours,' and testifies that they not only are acceptable to him but also will have their reward" (McNeill-Battles translation, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960, 3.15.3, vol. 1, p. 790).

Being a true disciple of Jesus in the twentieth century can be just as dangerous as it was for the early Christians. Disciples of Jesus have lost their lives for trying to protect Jewish brothers and sisters during the Nazi Holocaust; Christian missionaries have been murdered in third-world countries because they have dared to stand up for the rights of the poor and the oppressed. Most of us will not be asked to pay the ultimate price for our discipleship. Nevertheless, all of us must answer the question of how dedicated we will be to our life with God.

Source: Sermon Mall, published by Theological Web Publishing, LLC

Being His Disciple

by Philoxenes of Mabbug (?-c.523), Bishop in Syria

Listen to God's voice pushing you to come out of yourself to follow Christ... and you will become a perfect disciple: "Whoever does not renounce all he possesses cannot be my disciple." After that, what is there to say? What answer can you give? All your hesitation and questioning falls flat before this single saying... And elsewhere Christ says: "Anyone who forsakes his life in this world will keep it for eternal life... If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him" (Jn 12,25f).

Again, he says to his disciples: "Get up, let us go!" (Jn 14,31). By these words he shows us that neither his nor his disciples' place lies here. Where are we going, then, Lord? "Where I am my servant will also be" (Jn 12,26). If Jesus cries out to us: "Get up, let us go!", who would be so foolish as to stay here with the dead bodies in their tombs and dwell among the dead? Therefore every time the world tries to hold you back, remember Christ's words: "Get up, let us go!"... Every time you feel like sitting down, staying put, being happy to stay where you are, remember that insistent voice and say to yourself: "Up you get! Let's get going."

Because, in any case, you have to go. But go as Jesus went: go because he tells you to and not because the law's of nature carry you away in spite of yourself. Whether you like it or not you are on the way of those who are leaving. Leave, then, because your Lord tells you to and not necessitated by constraint. "Get up, let us go!" This voice arouses the recumbent; it is the trumpet voice casting out the sleep of laziness with its cry. It is a force, not a word. All at once it clothes the one who hears it with new strength and pushes them on from one thing to another in a winking... "Get up, let us go!" Do you see how he, too, accompanies you? What are you waiting for?... God is calling you to set out alongside him.

Source: Philoxenes of Mabbug (?-c.523), Homilies, no. 9 ; SC 44  

Why God Prefers Losers

by Dr. Ray Pritchard, Keep Believing Ministries

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:7

God prefers losers.

That statement sounds positively un-American. As General George Patton famously remarked, "Americans love a winner. America will not tolerate a loser." Then we have this from Coach Vince Lombardi: "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." We all want to be on the winning team, don't we? That's why millions of people filled out brackets during March Madness, and it's also why over 100,000 people gathered at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky last Saturday for the Kentucky Derby. And it's why millions more watched the live telecast. That multitude included my wife and me. I learned about the back stories on a number of different horses and their owners. So you find yourself inevitably pulling for this horse or for that jockey or for that set of owners. I say that as someone who generally has no interest whatsoever in horse racing. But the truth is, if I'm watching a sporting event where I don't already have a favorite team, I'll pick one of the teams to root for. I just do that automatically. I suppose most people are like that. We like competition, and we like to be on the winning side.

But the preeminent example is football. At least down South it's always football. Here in Mississippi we have a heated rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. A few miles east you have Alabama and Auburn. Further south you have Florida and Florida State. Up north you have Ohio State and Michigan. In South Bend you have Notre Dame versus everyone else.

A year ago I attended the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus, Ohio. I was one of over 100,000 fans who gathered in the stands to watch one of the most storied rivalries in college football. A few days after the game a friend sent me a copy of The Winners Manual by Jim Tressel, head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Besides being a fine coach (his teams at Youngstown State and Ohio State have won five national championships), he is also a man of character and a strong Christian. In his chapter on "Handling Adversity and Success," Tressel includes this provocative quote from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft:

"Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can't lose."

Then he adds his own commentary:

"I love that quote because it puts so many things in perspective. When 'smart people' think they can't lose, there's an upset brewing. That's when David beats Goliath and the underdog triumphs" - Jim Tressel (p. 156).

That's the problem with winners. Once you think you can't lose, you feel invincible. At that point, you're about to become a loser. You just don't know it yet. You can win too much, too soon, too easily. Before long you prove the old adage that it's just a short step from victory to defeat. For all the problems that losing brings, at least it cures the illusion of invincibility.

When I say God prefers losers, I mean he prefers people who know their weakness, see their flaws, admit their mistakes, and cry out to him for help. God specializes in taking losers and displaying his power through them. During a radio interview I was asked why so many of the heroes of the Bible had serious flaws. My answer was simple. That's all God has to work with. All the perfect people are in heaven. The only ones on earth are the folks with serious weaknesses. The talent pool has always been pretty thin when it comes to moral perfection. So God works with sinners because that's all he has to work with. In heaven we will all be perfected by God's grace. But until then, he uses some pretty ornery people who fall short in many ways, and he does some amazing things through them.

You can win too much, too soon, too easily.

Consider the roll call of God's imperfect heroes:

Noah got drunk.
Abraham lied about his wife.
Sarah laughed at God.
Jacob was a deceiver.
Moses murdered an Egyptian.
Rahab was a harlot.
Gideon was fearful.
Jephthah made a foolish vow.
Samson had serious problems with lust and anger.
Eli failed as a father.
David was an adulterer and a murderer.
Solomon married foreign wives who turned his heart toward idolatry.
Elijah struggled with depression.
Jonah ran away from God.
Peter denied Christ.
Paul argued with Barnabas.
Barnabas compromised the gospel.
James and John wanted special seats in the kingdom.
All the apostles argued about who was the greatest.

God prefers people who know their weakness, see their flaws, admit their mistakes, and cry out to him for help.

If God chose only well-rounded people with no character flaws, some of the credit would inevitably go to the people and not to the Lord. By choosing flawed people with a bad past, a shaky present, and an uncertain future, God alone gets the glory when they accomplish amazing things by his power.

And that's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7. It's one of the most important verses for understanding who we are and how God works through us. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." In this verse we find three statements we need to ponder.

I. The Gospel is a treasure.

When Paul says, "We have this treasure," what does he mean? We can see the answer in verses 3-6:

"If our gospel is veiled" (v. 3).
"The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (v. 4).
God "made his light shine in our hearts" (v. 6).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the treasure we possess. Yesterday I came across the website for John Barnett, a pastor from Kalamazoo, Michigan. While looking at various things he has written, I came across a wonderful statement called The Confessing Church. Pastor Barnett puts it this way:

"Through seven divine works of God, guilty sinners are made ready for dwelling in the Presence of God forever; and their bodies, formerly slaves to sin, instantly become the very dwelling place and temple of God. How does God do all that? He does it through the seven elements that make up the Gift of Salvation."

He then offered this list (with supporting material) of those seven elements:

1. I am FORGIVEN: God has removed my Debts.
2. I am JUSTIFIED: God has changed my State.
3. I am REGENERATED: God has transformed my Heart.
4. I am RECONCILED: God has become my Friend.
5. I am ADOPTED: God has changed my Family.
6. I am REDEEMED: God has changed my Ownership.
7. I am SANCTIFIED: God has changed my Behavior.

If a man has all this, he is rich. It doesn't matter how much money he has in the bank because if he has all this, he is rich in what matters most. Compared to this, Donald Trump is a pauper.

How do we come to possess the treasure that is the gospel? Verse 4 says that unbelievers are blinded by Satan who keeps them from seeing the glory of the gospel of Christ. But then verse 6 puts the credit where it belongs when it says that God "made his light shine in our hearts." In other words, God did it! If we are saved, it is not because of anything we said or anything we did. Our condition was so hopeless that apart from God's grace, we had no hope at all. We would never have discovered the truth about Jesus on our own. As the song says, "Once I was blind but now I see."

If we are saved, it is not because of anything we said or anything we did.

II. God hides his treasure in jars of clay.

Have you ever watched "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS? That's the show where people bring their knick-knacks, their family heirlooms, and things they found at a flea market to an appraiser, hoping to discover that that funny-looking ceramic clown turns out to have been made by some obscure Polish genius who lived for a while outside of Warsaw but later moved to Buffalo in the early1820s where he made only a few dozen of these very rare ceramic clowns. And you have one. "How much did you pay for it?" "Eighteen dollars." "Well, Mrs. Jones, I have good news for you. At auction I would expect this ceramic clown to go for at least $45,000." Camera cuts to Mrs. Jones who looks like she's about to faint. And all the viewers start scouring their attic to see if they might have one of those ceramic clowns stashed in a box somewhere.

Sometimes a vase turns out to be a "vahse." And $18 becomes $45,000. Sometimes the greatest treasures come in ordinary pots. In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd found a ceramic jar containing very ancient scrolls in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea. Since he could not decipher the scrolls, he had no idea what they said. Later more scrolls were discovered in the same cave and in other caves nearby. The shepherd eventually sold three of the scrolls for approximately $29. Only later was it determined that he had stumbled upon the greatest collection of biblical manuscripts found in the 20th-century, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those scrolls contained parts of every Old Testament book except Esther-all of them dated a thousand years earlier than any copy known at that time.

You never know what you might find in a clay pot.

Sometimes the greatest treasures come in ordinary pots.

The word used for "jars of clay" in verse 7 refers to ordinary earthenware. These clay pots were used by common people to store grain, hide valuables, and to keep oil for lighting their lamps. Paul is saying, "We're not like a vase from the Ming dynasty. We're cheap brown pots you can buy at Wal-Mart." Here are two things we know about those clay plots:

They were fragile.
They were easily broken.

That's us, folks. And it's true of all of us all the time. When I gave this talk at David Langerfeld's Sunday School class in Tupelo, a woman on the front row listened intently to everything I said. Afterwards she remarked on how true it seemed to her. "My father died in February. It's been a hard year. I know all about being fragile and easily broken."

We all have our limits whether we like to admit it or not. We can go and go and go but sooner or later, life catches up with us, and we are broken like everyone else.

We like to think we can handle anything. We can't.
We like to think we can go forever. We can't.
We like to think we can stand up to anything. We can't.

Here's a good lesson in biblical self-esteem:

Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust.

We're nothing but a bunch of ordinary clay pots. God formed the first man out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7), and we're all made from the same clay. What happens to our bodies when we die? They begin to decompose, returning back to the earth from which they came. So this is our true identity-we're all just little clumps of dust, some of us dressed up a little better, some of us look a little stronger, some of us last a little longer, but in the end we all go back to the dust.

And this is where God "hides" his gospel-in fragile jars of clay. Perishing people who are here today and gone tomorrow.

In one of his sermons John MacArthur writes about what it means that God chooses to work through "jars of clay." He points out that when God wanted to communicate his message, he didn't go to the elite of Egypt, Greece, Rome, or even to the elite of Israel. "Where did He go? He went to the shore of Galilee and found a bunch of fishermen." Then he adds these words:

I think God absolutely delights in that. He chose clay pots through whom to preach his great salvation message. He passed by Herodotus the historian, he passed by Socrates the philosopher, he passed by Hippocrates the father of medicine, Plato the philosopher. He passed by Euclid the mathematician, Archimedes the father of mechanics. He passed Hipparchus the astronomer, Cicero the orator and Virgil the poet. And he chose what some would tell us is a little hunchback Jew with a deformed face without great oratorical abilities. And he put in that little clay pot the priceless treasure and he's still doing it.

The last phrase is the key. "He's still doing it." God intends to bless the world by "hiding" the gospel in "clay pots" that don't seem very impressive by worldly standards. We wouldn't do it that way. But God had a special purpose in mind.

III. He does it to demonstrate the true source of spiritual power.

Translators use different phrases to highlight the power Paul has in mind. They speak of the "surpassing greatness" of this power or "this extraordinary power" or "this transcendent power" or even "this splendid power." The Greek word for power is dunamis, from which we get the English word dynamite. That's a fitting word because in our world power is often very negative. In the hands of sinners power can be very dangerous. Power divides people, it separates families, it creates a gap between the rich and the poor, and it destroys the ties that bind us together.

Before I went to bed on Saturday night, I turned on the TV and saw a live news report about an attempted car bombing in Times Square in New York City. Someone filled an SUV with gasoline, fireworks (meant as a detonator), black powder, electrical wire, two clocks (as timers), and a white substance thought to be fertilizer. When street vendors saw smoke coming from the SUV, they alerted authorities who were able to defuse the bomb before it exploded. It was a sobering reminder of the dangerous nature of power in our world. Police said they think the perpetrators wanted to create a fireball that would kill and wound many people on a Saturday night when thousands of people crowded into Times Square.

That's one kind of power.
God's power is different.

God's power is different. It unites people, tears down walls, restores marriages, rebuilds families, lifts up the downtrodden, heals broken hearts, forgives the deepest sins, imparts hope in the darkest hour, and gives light in the valley of death.

God arranges things so that the whole world will know that this sort of life-changing power comes from God and not from us. He has lots of different ways of reminding us about that. Consider the story of Gideon in Judges 7. When the Midianites attacked Israel with 135,000 soldiers, Gideon led an army of 32,000 men in the counterattack. That's a 4 to 1 advantage for the bad guys. Evidently God didn't like those odds because he told Gideon to tell all those men who were afraid to fight to go home (v. 3). Twenty-two thousand men departed, leaving him with only 10,000. That would make it 13 to 1. Evidently that was still too low so God instructed Gideon to dismiss all the soldiers who didn't lap water like a dog (vv. 5-6). Only 300 men were left, making it about 450 to 1. That suited God just fine so he told Gideon to attack whereupon Gideon divided his men into three groups of 100 for a nighttime assault. He instructed his men to wait until the changing of the guard (around midnight), and then blow the trumpets (the ram's horn, called a shofar), hold up torches, and shout "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon" (v. 20). That "ambush" so greatly shocked the Midianites that they fled in fear and confusion, attacking each other in the process, leading to a total rout by Gideon's band of 300 men. Guess who got the credit when the battle was over?

God did. And that's what he had in mind all along. Before the battle began the Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength" (Judges 7:2 NLT). Sometimes God has to "cut us down to size" so that when the battle is over, he alone gets the glory.

"God is looking for nobodies who will become somebodies in his hands."

When God wants to win a victory, he chooses a loser and makes him a winner. Or as Jack Wyrtzen used to say, "God is looking for nobodies who will become somebodies in his hands." God put this treasure in earthen vessels - on purpose! He does it so that when great things happen, the people around us will come to only one possible conclusion:

"All I know is, it can't be him. It can't be her. He's not that smart. She's not that strong. It's got to be God."

God wants the world to see what he can do through people whose trust is in him alone. And that's why he puts the treasure of the gospel in fragile "jars of clay." He delights in people like us! The weaker we are, the more he can do through us.

That brings me back to the quote from Bill Gates: "Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can't lose." That's why God prefers losers. The less we are, the more he becomes to us. Winners think they don't need God very much. If we think we're moderately strong, all we need is a "moderately strong God" to help us out. But when we see how little we bring to the table, then we cry out, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner." Those simple words, prayed in hours of deep darkness, receive an answer from heaven because they touch the heart of God.

As I prepared this message, I ran across a hymn based on this verse, translated from the original German in 1907. It forms a powerful summary of the message of 2 Corinthians 4:7.

Earthen vessels, marred, unsightly,
Bearing Wealth no thought can know;
Heav'nly Treasure, gleaning brightly -
Christ revealed in saints below!

Vessels broken, frail, yet bearing
Through the hungry ages on,
Riches giv'n with hand unsparing,
God's great Gift, His precious Son!

Vessels of the world's despising,
Vessels weak, and poor, and base;
Bearing wealth God's heart is prizing,
Glory from Christ's blessed face.

Naught of earth to cloud the Glory!
Naught of self the light to dim!
Telling forth Christ's wondrous story,
Emptied to be filled with Him!

That's all we are, folks. Clay pots, fragile and easily broken. But God delights to place the gospel treasure in people like us. A while back I was reading about the great ministry of Dr. Billy Graham. What is the secret of such a fruitful life? Scholars agree that his sermons are not particularly unique. You cannot explain his success merely by the force of his intellect or his many natural gifts. Why did God raise up a young man from North Carolina and catapult him to worldwide fame? Years ago one writer gave this answer: "God uses Billy Graham because he knows he can trust him with his glory. Billy won't try to claim it for himself." That explanation stands in good harmony with our text. And it ought to lead each of us to ask, "Can God trust me with his glory?"

Professor James Denny of Scotland remarked that "there always have been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them." Are we too clever for our own good? Are we so self-sufficient that we have no need of God, and he makes no use of us? Questions worth pondering.

But let's end with this encouraging thought. God uses broken, fallible, and very weak people because that's all he's got to work with. Do you sometimes feel like a "cracked pot?" Do you sense your own weakness and cry out to Jesus for help? If so, take heart and be glad. God's army isn't perfect. Someone has called the church "the march of the unqualified." So get in line and join with the rest of God's clay pots and see what he can do through you.

References:

2 Corinthians 4
Judges 7

© Keep Believing Ministries

Servant Leadership

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

"What were you arguing about?" (Mark 9:33)

No wonder they wouldn't answer him.

After all Jesus has said and done, after all his miracles and the repeated teaching, what are these guys talking about on the road? They were arguing about who was the greatest. Unbelievable! In the Jewish society of that day, as in most societies in every generation, there was a huge emphasis on power, position, prestige and titles. "Who's number one?" is still the operative question. Because he knew their hearts, Jesus knew about their sinful ambition even before he asked what they were arguing about. Like little children caught misbehaving, they were ashamed to answer him.

At that point he could have rebuked them again, but instead he chose this moment for an unforgettable teaching experience. He does it by giving another of his pithy sayings. To be first you must be last. In the kingdom of God the way up is down. Jesus overturned worldly notions of power and replaced them with the paradox of servant leadership. In essence he is saying, "It doesn't matter who has the title. Look for the one with the servant's heart and there you've found your leader."

Jesus said, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He died like a servant is supposed to die, giving all he had for the sake of others.

  • If you've got to argue about who's the greatest, you can be sure it's not you.
  • If you've got to tell me how great you are, how great can you be?

Grab a basin and a towel and just start serving. Leave the bragging to others. That was Jesus' plan, and it still works today.

Lord Jesus, you came to earth as a servant. We know you as Savior and Lord. Show us what it means to know you as a servant. Amen.

Going Deeper

Are you surprised that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest? Why are we so obsessed with power, position and titles? How does Jesus turn that thinking upside down? Would you rather be a servant or a leader? How might your life change if you were both a servant and a leader?

Source: Keep Believing Ministries

God Incognito - Humility of Jesus

by Sigurd Grindheim

Scripture: Phil 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
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 human being, 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,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Phil 2:5-11 TNIV

 Inge Sargent's Story

In the 1950-s, Sao Kya Seng, the prince of 34 independent Shan states in northeastern Burma, also known as Hsipaw, came to Denver, Colorado, to study agriculture. Since he wanted to experience what it was like to be a student in the US, he kept his identity secret. Not even his professors knew who he really was.

One of his fellow students was Inge Sargent from Austria. Both of them being exchange students, Inge and the Burmese prince quickly found that they had a lot in common and started to spend more and more time together. Their friendship grew into love but the Burmese prince decided that he would not let on his true identity even though they were seriously dating. He did not want Inge's decision to date him to be colored by the fact that she could marry into royalty. So when he finally proposed, with an engagement ring of ruby and diamond, Inge still did not know who he really was. Inge said yes and they got married, as any other couple, in the US.

For their honeymoon, Sao Kya Seng was taking Inge to his home country, so that she could meet his family and see where he was from. When their ship reached the shores of Burma, hundreds of people were waiting at the harbor. Many of them had gone out in small boat, holding up welcoming signs. A band was playing and some people were tossing flowers at the ship. Surprised at all this excitement Inge turns to her husband, and asks whose arrival they are celebrating.

"Inge," he says, I am the prince of Hsipaw. These people are celebrating our arrival. You are now the princess."

(From Twilight over Burma: My Life As a Shan Princess, by Inge Sargent.)

The story of Jesus is the story of God coming to this world in a way you never would have expected. It is the story of God incognito. Jesus, who was himself God, came to the world and concealed his divine majesty by becoming a human being like you and me.

"Being in very nature God, he 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."

Why did he do this? This is the way he shows his love for us.

Do you know what impresses me about some of my good friends? That they will let me be myself when I am around them. I don't have to pretend. I can just relax. I don't have to pretend that I have everything together. I don't have to pretend that I am holier than I am. I can just be who I am with all my imperfections. Friends that let me be like that, are the friends that don't play games with me. They don't have a polished facade that they keep showing me without letting me see their weaknesses. They show me the trust that they let me look into their own life and they give me the freedom that I can be comfortable letting them share of myself.

Do you think of God in that way?

Have you played the game when you hear a word and you are supposed to say the first word that comes to your mind? If I say "God," what words do you think of? Heaven? Glory? Holy? Exalted? Throne?

How about slave? obedient? death? lowly? pathetic? shame?

A Norwegian preacher once said that Jesus stepped down so low, so that he would always be below us, so that he could always be there and catch us when we fall.

Have you noticed how many people that want to be your friend when it comes to offering good advice and telling you how to do things? They want to be the older brother friend or the older sister friend. They want to be the ones that always know. Not that they mind sharing their superior knowledge with you. That's how they show that they are your friend. I think of these people as people that like to be your friend, the friend that is placed a little bit higher than you. I don't like to have too many of these friends. I prefer the people where I can be the one standing a little bit higher, the friendship where I can be the one that knows best. But how difficult it is to find the friend that is happy to stand below you.

How hard it is to be that friend, who is happy to stand below.

Can you imagine that God came to be that friend. When he came to the world he abandoned all his power, status, and influence, and became a carpenter without a permanent address. Of course, for the incarnation to happen, he had to let go of some of his divine majesty, so that he could fit in a human body. But there were so many other ways he could have chosen to become a human being. He could have come in a way more appropriate for someone of such tremendous importance. He could have come as a king, or at least as a wealthy, highly respected member of the community

"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 human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross!"

Imagine that there was one person, one man, that was ultimately responsible for all the suffering in the world, a man that had so much power and influence that he alone controlled world events and caused millions of people to die of starvation, caused nations to go into war and people to suffer. Imagine that his workings were finally disclosed to the world and an international tribunal was set up to mete out the appropriate punishment for this person. Execution would be too mild a reaction, that would be over in a moment. Something would have to be devised so that this person could experience the suffering he had inflicted on so many people. Imagine that a drug had been invented that could reverse the effects of aging. This drug could be administered to this person, so that he would have to live his whole life over again. This time a life of suffering. What should we let his life be like?

The misery, of course, had to start from the minute he was born. He would have to experience the agony of being hated just because he was born. Let him live a life as a victim of racism, constantly to be judged by the color of his skin, before he had the chance to do anything, people would have made up his mind about him. Let him be born a Jew, the most hated people of all.

That would of course not be enough. We would have to make sure, not only that those of another race hated, he would have to be despised by his own kin as well. There would have to be something that made him different from the outset. Let him be born out of wedlock among conservative village people.

This is only the beginning. He would have to suffer an unstable childhood. He would have to have traumatic experiences starting in his very early years. Let him be born in a war torn country. Let there be an attempt on his life while he is still an little child and let him grow up in a foreign country as a refugee.

Needless to say, he would have to be poor. He would have to be born to a family who could not afford to pay for decent health care, so that he would be born under less than sanitary circumstances.

He would have to suffer psychological hardship when he grew up. He should what it was like to be rejected by other people, rejected so that it really stings. Let him experience making friends, friends who would turn around and hand him over to be killed just for a small amount of money. Let him experience his best friend swearing that he never knew him.

He would of course have to suffer the utmost pain any human being has ever seen. Let him be given into the hands of sadistic torturers, who would make him their play thing. Let him then finally die, a slow, shameful, and utterly painful death.

I have just described to you the life God himself chose to live, when he came to earth as a human being. "And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross!" My story is inaccurate only in the sense that no one made Jesus live this life and die this death. He freely chose to let this be the life and the death that he entered into.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9).

Christ's way was a way downwards, so that he could bring us upwards. He died so that we might live. He suffered for sins, so that we might be justified.

First of all, Christ did all these things in our place. But Christ's downwards life is also an example for us to follow. The whole passage that we have read this morning is introduced by a direct admonishment to us: "In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:"

Jesus' downwards movement is supposed to be the blueprint for our own life. We are called to have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus had, a mind-set that makes us happy to suffer loss of our own privileges, our own status, our own wealth, so that we can move downwards and lift others up. If you want to live your life as a follower of Jesus, this is what you are aiming for.

To follow Jesus will not give you wealth, fame, or popularity in this world. Nor will it give you a prize for your impressive spirituality. You see, the way of Christ is not a way upwards. It is a way downwards. Just as it was a way downwards for Jesus, from heaven to earth and from Galilee to the cross outside Jerusalem. So also is the way of Christ for us a way downwards.

This should tell us something about how we relate to other people. This is in fact the point Paul is making at this juncture in his epistle to the Philippians: "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." (Phil 2:3-4). In our interaction with other people, we should not use them to lift ourselves up. We should not pick friends based on how we can become more popular ourselves, or based on how we can look good ourselves. Rather, we should be happy to brought down so that we might bring others up. We should pick friends so that we can do good for them.

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior" (Rom 12:16).

This is why Paul always emphasized that the life of an apostle was a life of giving up his rights. As an apostle he had the right to receive financial support from the Corinthians when he preached to them. But he abandoned this right. For he would rather share the gospel free of charge and be among the Corinthians as a loving father rather than a fee charging schoolmaster. He admonished the Corinthians to abandon their freedom to eat and drink whatever they wanted, when it caused their brothers to stumble. It is more important to act out of love to your fellow Christians than to make use the privileges that are rightfully yours.

Many times I have been frustrated: why are there so many annoying people in the church? Bear in mind that I am not talking about any of you. I started coming here relatively recently. I don't know who the annoying people are yet. But in the different churches I have been going to over the years, I always find that I wish there were not so many irritating people.

But I also have to admit that I believe that's exactly the way the Jesus wants it to be. Because he loves annoying people so much that he came down to earth to die for all the annoying people that have ever lived. Compared to the holiness of Christ, all of us are really annoying people. But the amazing thing is that he likes annoying people so much that when he chose his twelve closest friends, he chose the money worshiping Judas Iscariot, who was going to be judgmental and grumble about the way other people spent their own money. Not only that, but in the end he was going to betray his master for a handful of change. There was the cocky Peter, who always had to speak up before he involved his brain. There were the arrogant brothers, John and James, who thought they deserved the place of honor in the kingdom of heaven. There was the blind Bartimaeus, a very annoying and loud man, impossible to shut up when he started his shouting. All of them were also quite dense, usually incapable of grasping anything that was told them by the use of metaphor. Certainly not any company for a genius, who, at the age of 12, had all the scholars in the nation's capital spellbound by his insights.

Jesus did not chose the friends that would jump start his social life and help him be elected home coming king. He enjoyed the company of the outcasts.

That is why I think one of the best measures of the Christ-likeness of a church, is how many annoying people that feel at home there.

The way of Christ is a downwards movement. How much that tells us about spirituality. Very often, what we think of as spirituality is exactly the opposite. It is an upwards movement. It is our attempt to lift ourselves up. It is our attempt to grow. Our attempt to become a good person. And it is all about ourselves. All about how I can be spiritual. How I can be a good person.

Christ shows us a different way. A way of spirituality that has nothing to do with lifting ourselves up and trying to climb on a spiritual ladder. Because we do not have to do that. There is nowhere for us to climb for Christ has come down to us. If you will understand what I mean: There is no need for us to become a better person, for in Christ we already are everything that we can be. We are perfect in the eyes of God. That was what Christ did for us when he came down. He became poor so that we might become rich. He died for our sins so that we might be righteous and holy and perfect before God.

Christ therefore calls us to join with him. In a downwards journey. Seeking not ourselves and our betterment. But seeking other people. Seeking other people's betterment. Jesus teaches us to seek other people, not as a means to make ourselves more popular or even to make ourselves better people. But to seek other people for their own sake. We don't need good works for our own sake. But other people need them.

Jesus says: "The greatest among you will be your servant" (Matt 23:11). In other words, the way to greatness is a way downwards.

The way downwards, however, does not end at the bottom. That is paradoxical message of the gospel. Luke 14:11 "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." The way upwards ends at the bottom, but the way downwards ends at the top.

Jesus' way did not end at the cross, it continued with his crucifixion and glorification. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

If we live a life with Christ, we can rejoice when we are brought low, because Christ's downwards journey ends in heaven.

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
(Rom 8:17)

The Bible often likens our relationship with God to that of a bride's relationship to her groom. As the church of Christ, we are Christ's bride. The second coming of Christ is often described as the great wedding banquet, when Christ, the groom, will come to get us, the believer, his bride, and lead us into his glorious kingdom. That is when we will hear the words: Welcome home. You are now the princess!

© Sigurd Grindheim

The Paradox of the Cross

by Greg Laurie

Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciple, we are to "take up our cross daily and follow Him" (Luke 9:23). But what does that mean?

To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in that time and culture. The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things, from a religious icon to fashion element.

When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith-particularly the Christian faith. But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death. In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.

Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?

Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people's attention. He did this to say that following Him was not "child's play." It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple. But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.

What does it mean to "bear the cross" today?

Often, we hear people say that they have a "cross" to bear. They will say, "My cross is my parents!" Their parents would probably say, "Our cross is our children!" They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their "cross to bear." But that is not what the cross means.

The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.

It really is a paradox: by "dying to self," or "losing yourself," you "find yourself." Through death, you find real life.

What does it mean to "die to self"? So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.

To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
It means "swallowing your pride" and telling someone about Jesus.
It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.

Now let me ask you, "Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?"

The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life!

Paul summed it up well when he wrote:

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

Copyright ©2012 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

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