Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 13 - Service

A lack of service

Stuart Scott, the author of The Exemplary Husband and From Pride to Humility, describes this manifestation of pride as, "Since they seldom, if ever, think of others, it's unlikely they're even aware of service opportunities". If I could count the times I have to smack myself later for not recognizing an opportunity to minister to another... it'd be a big number, let's just say that! Usually in those instances, I'm more concerned with if my "needs" are being met - not theirs. (I write "needs" like that because it's likely that it's really my "wants or desires" that I have in mind.)

If I stop and think about this, I quickly want to defend myself. There has to be a reason! "I'm busy enough trying to get everything done in my own life". It sounds awfully selfish, doesn't it? The more I think about it, I come up with times that I've gone out of my way... well, how many times have I truly "gone out of my way" to help someone? More often than not, I figure if I can help someone out when it's convenient for me than that's good enough. Sad, isn't it?

Another characteristic of a person that struggles with this point of pride is that they quite often will wait to be coaxed into serving. Does this describe you? Ever? This doesn't have to be on-hands-and-knees "begging and pleading", but it often just entails a slight enticement, wherein the person asking simply points out a benefit to you that you may not have thought about. Perhaps it will get you recognition among your peers or the admiration of a "certain someone". I can think of many times that I've agreed to some measure of service for selfish reasons alone.

I am confident that it is quite rare in this world, even among professing Christians, that anyone does something for another for entirely selfless reasons. Usually, there is some benefit to ourselves. If you can manage to think entirely objective about this, try to imagine a time when you might have done something for another when you weren't expecting some sort of pay-off at the end. It doesn't have to be monetary or physical, but perhaps it's just an emotional pay-off or some intangible "coupon" that you figure you'll redeem later ("...but remember that time I did..."). Being completely honest with ourselves, we may find that we can count the times we did something truly selfless on one hand.

If we do get coaxed into some area of service, all too often we serve until we no longer feel praised enough, and then we leave service. It really is human nature: we need recognition for our part. It's a thought we've all had, "I just want to be recognized or acknowledged for my help in this process." However, when through this process of progressive sanctification, we realize that we are a new creation through Christ, and start putting on His love for others, we will begin to find a peace and fulfillment in the Spirit that was unachievable in our old self. We have been called to a life that is beyond any of the promises that this world can offer, and we have an obligation to share that with others, either to bring them to life in Christ, or to serve the other members of the His Church.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

And in our service to others, our manner of thinking is paramount. We are not serving from ourselves and by our own means, for our own gain, but we are simply "stepping into" those works that He has ordained for us to perform since before the beginning of time.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

How do we effect this change in ourselves? Well, it's not of our own volition, but through the abundant grace of God, and in humble service to Him and His children.

Serving others in humility

As children of the King, we are to be on the lookout for ways to serve and help others. In all practical applications, we can be first to volunteer for those jobs that no one else wants.

Through the application of marriage, from The Exemplary Husband, through which these lessons on pride and humility were derived, the humble husband will especially serve his wife. The author, Stuart Scott, reminds husbands often that the responsibility of headship in the family and home is to be modeled in every way after the relationship that our Lord Jesus Christ has with His bride, the Church. As husbands, we are not to lord authority and headship over our wives and children, but we are to embrace our role as an opportunity to lay down our lives and devote our time, energy, and abilities to their spiritual and physical welfare. Our primary responsibility is to their spiritual maturity and development, and then to their physical needs.

Ultimately, in all things we are serving our God! In taking our responsibilities, jobs, family, and opportunities seriously, and in giving everything that we have to putting forth our best efforts, we are bringing glory to Him and living a life of worship and praise by investing all that He has given us wisely and faithfully.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 12 - Sarcasm

Being sarcastic, hurtful, or degrading to yourself or others

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:6-10)
It's no secret that proud people need to be "better than others". And people that want to raise themselves up, often do it by putting others down, especially when they have no other talent or skill through which they might receive recognition or glory. We've all probably known someone like this in our life, maybe we even see it in ourselves. These people are very good at making "back-handed comments" that appear like friendly "play" or "kidding".

If someone does appear hurt by the comment, or it is not received as "play", quite often the offender will just brush it off as, "I was just joking - lighten up!" Or, if someone mentions that a comment they made was inappropriate or hurtful, it may have been excused as, "Yeah, yeah, that’s just the way I am; it’s my personality. He/she knows that - they knew I wasn't serious."

The point is, no matter whether the other person knows "your personality", the Word of God teaches us that our words can wound, maybe unintentionally:
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
Notice the contrast in this proverb? The "tongue of the wise" heals versus one with "words like sword thrusts". Quite often in the Book of Proverbs, the "wise man" is contrasted with the "fool". I think we could read the implication in Proverbs 12:18 that it is the fool with the rash words, with words that wound, that cut deep.

Even if the words you say are technically true, but they are not used to build-up or encourage the other person, we are still "wise" in concealing our knowledge:
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly. (Proverbs 12:23)
In addition, it has been said that this can be applied to the "wise man" that has himself been slandered, but doesn't find it necessary to go about telling everyone how he's been wronged. Whereas, the fool must go to everyone to complain about the "injustice of it all" and "defend his good name" or whatever else. Another point of view, is that the wise man may know "the latest news about so-and-so" but doesn't spread it around; instead he employs prudence in presenting his knowledge at the right time and place, and to the right people.

So, in putting on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10), we should be...

Seeking always to build others up

We are commanded to encourage others, using only words that build up and say what is necessary for their edification. We should never cut others down.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
Perhaps you've heard "you shouldn't gossip" and you know that it's not right, but "is that really in the Bible?" 2 Corinthians 12:21 lists "quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder" together as things that the Apostle Paul hopes not to find among the Church in Corinth when he arrives. Christians have no reason to belittle their brothers and sisters in Christ. We are even called to love our enemies, so there is no excuse for speaking ill of anyone.

On a related note, many times people will conceal their gossip or slanderous remarks like this: in a Bible study, they may present a prayer request as, "If you know Bill Smith, he's been involved in such-and-such and we all need to pray for him". Or in conversation one may say, "I know that Jill Smith is your friend too, so you should know that I saw her doing such-and-such... we need to pray for her". If you find yourself saying things like this, stop. No one is fooled by your feigning concern - this is out-and-out gossip. Take your concerns and prayers for your friend directly to God.

If you believe that a brother/sister is involved in sin, we each have an obligation to rebuke them - privately (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3). Now, we could go on and on about this, but I would recommend to you to read Matthew 18, or this article for more information.

Here is a little chart that you'll find there that lays out how believers are to handle these situations:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My new Greek N.T. (and commentary)!!!

I had mentioned previously, back a couple posts, that I really wanted a tangible copy of the Greek New Testament, so I went to eBay and found one cheap. Here's what I bought:
  • Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce Metzger, Allen Wikren, Carlo Martini, The Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1968.
  • Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 1971.
I also found this:
  • John Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, Macmillan, 1951
I'm very excited. As soon as I'm through with this semester (at IUPUI), I'll have all summer to start teaching myself N.T. Greek!!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

(continued) John 13:34 - 35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 [ESV])

From the Greek New Testament:

John 13:34 ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἡγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους.
  • Entolen kainen didomi humin hina agapate allelous, kathos egapesa humas hina kai humeis agapate allelous.
  • Commandment new I give to you, that you love each other: even as I love you that also you love each other

John 13:35 ἐν τούτῳ γνώσονται πάντες ὅτι ἐμοὶ μαθηταί ἐστε, ἐὰν ἀγάπην ἔχητε ἐν ἀλλήλοις.
  • En touto gnosotai pantes hoti emoi mathetai este ean agapen exhte en allelous.
  • By this know all that my disciples you are, if love you have for each other

In the previous post, we studied this passage in the thirteenth chapter of John. I concluded from that study, that we could clearly understand why Jesus called this a "new" commandment, in that He had "raised the bar", so to speak, and calls us to love others not just as ourselves, but more than ourselves. This is congruent with His other teachings in that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Similarly, the Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul to "count others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

And so, today we are going to look at the second instance where Our Lord gives us this commandment. At the end of John 14, in verse 31, Jesus says, "Rise, let us go from here." Without spending too many words on this, one can find many suppositions and/or speculations on exactly what His meaning is here. Some portend that until now, He and His disciples are in Bethany, and they are rising to go to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Others say that they are rising from that Passover Feast (the Last Supper) to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. Still others take it to mean that Jesus is saying, "Now that I've explained it all to you - let's get to it." As I read it, I see them reclining at supper (whichever one, we won't go into it) and having now finished His discourse previous, they rise and leave that place. The following discourse takes place during this period of travel (to some location, another point we will not go into now).

Which bring us to chapter fifteen, wherein we are presented with the illustration of the True Vine. The gist is: Jesus is the Vine and we as believers are the branches. As Jesus "abides" in the Father and receives all things from Him, we too are to "abide" in Jesus, receiving all things through Christ, from the Father.

This term, "abide", suggests a "present active" tense which means it is an ongoing, continuous activity. Throughout the rest of this chapter, the reader cannot escape the concept that to "continue to abide", or to remain in connection with, Jesus Christ is vital to bearing fruit. Just as a branch cannot be separated from the vine and be expected to produce fruit, we too cannot expect to exist apart from Christ and yet bear any fruit.

We too can see the "conditions" necessary to bear fruit. In addition to (1) continuing to abide in Him (v. 4), we must (2) be cleansed (pruned, v.2), and we must (3) obey (keep His commandments, v. 10). Previously, in John 13, when Jesus was washing their feet, we could see a correlation being made to the "washing" or cleansing effect that the Word has on us. It is in this cleansing, by His power and grace, that we are being made pure through the process of sanctification begun at the moment of regeneration (see Psalm 51).

Which brings us to the subject of this post, verse 12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you". We are unable to escape notice of the context in which He give us this commandment... again. He doesn't call it a new commandment this time, as He just told them this recently. But He's "packaged" it with a little more explanation, both prior and following.

Coming from the exhortation to continue abiding in Him, understanding now what that fully entails, and then distilling the core of His ministry into this one commandment, we are to understand that the power to keep this commandment does not originate within ourselves, but in Christ, and that too from the Father. On the heels of this commandment, through to the end of this chapter (and into the next), Jesus unpacks the fullness of this commandment, explaining that it is the culmination of all of His teaching, and even telling of the consequences to His followers of obeying, and thereby being associated with Him.

In conclusion, the short explanation is: Christ gave us a "new commandment", that in its purpose and effect is unique to the Christian. It is in obeying this commandment that fruit is manifested in us, lending credence and evidence to the faith that we profess to have in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, only the man or woman who continues to abide in Christ has access to the power necessary to carry out this command. In this world, during our normal daily lives, we may see altruistic acts done in the name of many different things. But I believe that this study has shown us that the true follower of Christ cannot perform uniquely, unselfish acts of mercy or benevolence for another, apart from the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. And while it is heretical for anyone to say that they do not have any sin in their life, onlookers will be able to see a distinguishing, overall style of life in the true Christian that is separate and unique from secular culture and this world.

I'm reminded of a sermon I once heard by A.W. Tozer. I do not recall the exact words, but I remember a certain phrase he used. He mentioned that the dearest brothers and sisters in Christ are those in which he can sense the sweet fragrance of The Rose of Sharon, our Lord and Savior; as it isn't necessary for him to have heard from them some eloquent confession or profession, but the "scent" of Christ is all around them in their love for others, and mostly in their love for their God, and it is these in which he truly finds fellowship.