Why Church? Week 5:
Pastor Ron Macciola
What do you want to be when you grow up? That's a favorite question we enjoy asking children. And the answers we get usually are "a policeman" or "a nurse" or maybe "a fireman." Some kids are visionary. They answer "a movie star" or "a singer" or "a doctor" or "a professional ball player." One recently told me he wanted to be either a car mechanic or a garbage collector. When I asked why, he gave the classic answer for a nine year old: "So I can get dirty!" I smiled as I had a flashback to my own childhood. And I understood.
Let's take that same question and ask it another way. Let's imagine asking Jesus Christ what he wants us to be when we grow up. Suddenly, it's a whole new question. I honestly believe He would give the same answer to every one of us: " I want you to be different.. to be a servant." In all my life I cannot recall anybody ever saying that when he grew up he wanted to be a servant.
It sounds lowly... humiliating...lacking in dignity.
In his helpful book, Honesty, Morality & Conscience, Jerry White talks about the concept of serving others. "Christians are to be servants of both God and people. But most of us approach business and work- and life in general- with the attitude "What can I get?" rather than "What can I give?"
We find is encouraging to think of ourselves as God's servants. Who would not want to be a servant of the King? But when it comes to serving other people, we begin to question the consequences. We feel noble when serving God; we feel humble when serving people. Serving God receives a favorable response; serving people, especially those who cannot repay, has no visible benefit or glory from anyone- except from God! Christ gave us the example:
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28)
To be a servant of God we must be a servant of people.
In business and work the concept of serving people must undergird all that we do. When we serve we think first of the one we are trying to serve. An employee who serves honestly in his work honors God and deepens his value to his employer. On the other hand, the self-serving employee will seldom be valued in any company.
Jesus' Command: "Be Different!"
When Jesus walked the earth, He attracted a number of people to Himself. On one occasion, He sat down among them and taught them some bottom-line truths about how He wanted them to grow up. The scriptural account of His "Sermon on the Mount" is found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. If I were asked to suggest an overall theme of this grand sermon, it would be- "Be different!" Time and again He states the way things were among the religious types of their day, and then He instructs them to be different. For example:
Matthew 5:21-22, 5:27-28, 5:33-34, 5:38-39, 5:43-44: "You have heard... but I say to you..."
In Matthew 6, He further explains how they were to be different when they gave to the needy, and when they prayed and when they fasted. The key verse in the entire sermon is, "Therefore do not be like them..." (6:8). You see, Jesus saw through all the pride and hypocrisy of others and was determined to instill in His disciples character traits of humility and authenticity. His unique teaching cut through the facade of religion like a sharp knife through warm butter. It remains to this day the most comprehensive delineation in all the New Testament of the Christian counterculture... offering a lifestyle totally at variance with the world system. In the introduction of Jesus' sermon, doubtlessly the most familiar section is found in Matthew 5:1-12. Commonly called "The Beatitudes," this section is the most descriptive word-portrait of a servant ever recorded.
Let's reread these immortal words slowly:
And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive money. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righetousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:1-12).
Let me suggest three general observations:
1. These are eight character traits that identify true servanthood. When all eight are mixed together in a life, balance emerges. It is helpful to realize this is not a "multiple choice" list where we are free to pick and choose our favorites. Our Savior has stated very clearly those qualities that lead to a different lifestyle which pleases Him. A close examination of each is therefore essential.
2. These traits open the door to inner happiness. Here are the fundamental attitudes which, when pursued and experienced, bring great satisfaction. Jesus offers fulfillment here like nothing else on earth. Study how each begins: "Blessed are..." This is the only time our Lord repeated the same term eight times consecutively. J.B. Phillips' translation picks up the thought correctly as he renders it "How Happy" and "Happy." Those who enter into these attitudes find lasting happiness.
3. Attached to each character trait is a corresponding promise. Did you notice this? "Blessed are... (the trait) for... (the promise)". Christ holds out a particular benefit for each particular quality. And what great promises they are! Small wonder when He finished the sermon we read:
The result was... the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matt. 7:28-29). Never before had His audience heard such marvelous truths presented in such an interesting and meaningful manner. They longed to have those promises incarnate in their lives. So do we.
So much for the survey. Let's get specific. Rather than hurrying through all eight in a superficial manner, let's work our way through these first four qualities with care. We shall be able to understand both the subtle shading and the rich color of the portrait painted by Jesus for all to appreciate and apply if we take our time and think through each servant characteristic.
"The Poor in Spirit"
At first glance, this seems to refer to those who have little or no money-people of poverty with zero financial security. Wrong. You'll note He speaks of being, "...poor in spirit..." One helpful authority, William Barclay, clarifies the meaning:
These words in Hebrew underwent a four-stage development of meaning. They began by meaning simply poor. They went on to mean, because poor, therefore having no influence or power, or help, or prestige. They went on to mean, because having no influence, therefore down-trodden and oppressed by men. Finally, they came to describe the humble and the helpless man who put his whole trust in God.
This is an attitude of absolute, unvarnished humility. What an excellent way to begin the servant's portrait! It is the portrait of one who sees himself/herself as spiritually bankrupt, deserving of nothing...who turns to Almighty God in total trust. Augustus M. Toplady caught a glimpse of this attitude when he wrote these words that became a part of the church's hymnody:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!
This spirit of humility is very rare in our day of strong-willed, proud as a peacock attitudes. The clinched fist has replaced the bowed head. The big mouth and the surly stare now dominate the scene once occupied by the quiet godliness of the "poor in spirit". How self-righteous we have become! How confident in and of ourselves! And with that attitude, how desperately unhappy we are! Christ Jesus offers genuine, lasting happiness to those whose hearts willingly declare:
I am a shell full of dust,
but animated with an invisible rational soul
and made anew by an unseen power of grace;
Yet I am no rare object of valuable price,
but one that has nothing and is nothing,
although chosen of thee from eternity,
given to Christ, and born again;
I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state,
of the vanity of creatures,
but also of the sufficiency of Christ.
When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself.
When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself.
When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself,
When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will,
When I should study, love, honor, trust thee, I serve myself
I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself,
Instead of thee I look to man's approbation,
and am by nature an idolater.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own god, or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is god thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart;
Show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross and leave me there.
A special promise follows the trait of spiritual helplessness: "...for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," says Jesus. The indespensable condition of receiving a part in the kingdom of heaven is acknowledging our spiritual poverty. The person with a servants heart- not unlike a child trusting completely in his parent's provision- is promised a place in Christ's kingdom. The opposite attitude is clearly revealed in that Laodicean congregation, where Christ rebuked them with severe words. They were so proud, they were blind to their own selfishness:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you our of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:15-17)
Chances are good that there wasn't a servant in the whole lot at Laodicea. First and foremost in the life of an authentic servant is a deep, abiding depency on the living Lord. On the basis of that attitude, the kingdom of heaven is promised.
"Those Who Mourn"
Matthew, in recording Christ's teaching, chose the strongest Greek term in all his vocabulary when he wrote mourn. It is a heavy word- a passionate lament for one who was loved with profound devotion. It conveys the sorrow of a broken heart, the ache of soul, the anguished mind. It could include several scenes:
Morning over wrong in the world, mourning over personal loss, mourning over one's own wrong and sinfulness, mourning over the death of someone close.
Interestingly, this particular term also includes compassion, a sincere caring for others. Perhaps a satisfactory paraphrase would read: "How happy are those who care intensely for the hurts and sorrows and losses of others..." At their heart of this character trait is COMPASSION, another servant attitude so desperately needed today.
Several years ago one of the men in our church fell while taking an early morning shower. As he slipped on the slick floor he fell against a sheet of glass with all his weight. The splintering glass stabbed deeply into his arm at and around his bicep. Blood spurted all over the bathroom. Paramedics arrived quickly with lights flashing, sirens screaming, and the "squawk box" baring from within the cab. The man was placed on a stretcher as the family hurriedly raced against time to get him to the emergency ward nearby. Thankfully, his life was saved and he has fully recovered. As I spoke with his wife about the ordeal, she told me not one neighbor even looked out his door, not to mention stopping by to see if they needed help. Not one... then or later. They showed no compassion by their lack of "mutual mourning." How unlike our Savior! We are told that:
"... we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
True servants are like their lord, compassionate. And the promise for those who "mourn"> The Savior promises "... they shall be comforted." In return, comfort will be theirs to claim. I find it significant that no mention is made of the source or the channel. Simply, it will come. Perhaps from the same one the servant cared for back when there was a need. It is axiomatic- there can be little comfort where there has been no grief.
This far we've found two attitudes in true servants- extreme dependence and strong compassion. There is more, much more.
The third character trait Jesus includes in His portrait of a servant is gentleness. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth" (v.5)
Immediately, we may get a false impression. We think, "Blessed are the weak for they shall become doormats." In our rough and rugged individualism, we think of gentleness as weakness, being soft, and virtually spineless. Not so! The Greek term is extremely colorful, helping us grasp a correct understanding of why the Lord sees the need for servants to be gentle. It is used several ways in extrabiblical literature:
- A wild stallion that has been tamed, brought under control, is described as being "gentle."
- Carefully chosen words that soothe strong emotions are referred to as "gentle" words.
- Ointment that takes the fever and sting out of a wound is called "gentle".
- In one of Plato's works, a child asks the physician to be tender as he treats him. The child uses this term "gentle".
- Those who are polite, who have tact and are courteous, and who treat others with dignity and respect are called "gentle" people.
So then, gentleness includes such enviable qualities as having strength under control, being calm and peaceful when surrounded by a heated atmosphere, emitting a soothing effect on those who may be angry or otherwise besides themselves, and possessing tact and gracious courtesy that causes others to retain their self-esteem and dignity. Clearly, it includes a Christlike-ness, since the same word is used to describe His own makeup:
Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from ME, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
And what does the promise mean "... for they shall in herit the earth"? It can be understood as one of two ways- now or later. Either "they will ultimately win out in this life" or "they will be given vast territories in the kingdom, to judge and to rule." Instead of losing, the gentle gain. Instead of being ripped off and taken advantage of, they come out ahead! David mentions this in one of his greatest psalms (37:7-11):
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Fret not yourself because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Fret not yourself, it leads only to evildoing.
For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there.
But the humble will inherit the land,
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
See the contrast?
From the outward appearance it seems as though the wicked win out. They prosper in their way, their schemes work, their cheating and lying and unfair treatment of others appear to pay off. They just seem to get richer and become more and more powerful. As James Russell Lowell once put it:
Truth forever on the scaffold. Wrong forever on the throne.
But God says it won't be "forever". The ultimate victory will not be won by the wicked. "The gentle" will win. Believe that, servant in the making! Be different from the system! Stay on the scaffold... trust your heavenly Gather to keep His promise regarding your inheritance. It is you who will be blessed.
Before closing this chapter, I want us to consider another character trait of a servant- the fourth in the list of eight.
"Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness"
The true servant possesses an insatiable appetite for what is right, a passionate drive for justice. Spiritually speaking, the servant is engaged in a pursuit of God... a hot, restless, eager longing to walk with Him, to please Him.
Eleventh-century Bernard of Clairveaux expressed it in this way in his hymn, Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts:
We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountain-head,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
Bernard's pen dripped with that insatiable appetite for God. But there is a practical side of this fourth beatitude as well. It includes not just looking upward, pursuing a vertical holiness, but also looking around and being grieved over the corruption, the inequities, the gross lack of integrity, the moral compromises that abound. The servant "hungers and thirsts" for right on earth. Unwilling simply to sigh and shrug off the lack of justice and purity as inevitable, servants press on for righteousness. Some would all them idealists or dreamers.
One such person was Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations, who died in a tragic airplane crash while flying over northern Rhodesia on a mission to negotiate a cease fire. In his fine book, Markings, the late statesman wrote:
Hunger is my native place in the land of the passions. Hunger for fellowship, hunger for righteousness- for a fellowship founded on righteousness, and a righteousness- for a fellowship founded on righteousness, and a righteousness attained in fellowship. Only life can satisfy the demands of life. And this hunger of mine can be satisfied for the simple reason that the nature of life is such that I can realize my individuality by becoming a bridge for others, a stone in the temple of righteousness. Don't be afraid of yourself, live your individuality to the full- but for the good of others. Don't copy others in order to buy fellowship, or make convention your law instead of living the righteousness. To become free and responsible. For this alone was man created...
And what will happen when this passionate appetite is a part of ones life? What does Jesus promise? ...they shall be satisfied.
A.T. Robertson, a Greek scholar of yesteryear, suggests the term satisfied is commonly used for feeding and fattening cattle, since it is derived from the term for fodder or grass. What a picture of contentment! Like well-fed hefty livestock... contented in soul and satisfied within, the servant with an appetite for righteousness will be filled. It is comforting to hear that promise. Normally, one would think such an insatiable pursuit would make one so intense there would be only fretfulness and agitation. But, no, Jesus promises to bring a satisfaction to such hungry and thirsty souls... a "rest" of spirit that conveys quiet contentment.
We are only halfway through the list, but it's a good place to stop and summarize what we have seen in this inspired portrait thus far. Jesus is describing how to be different, how to be His unique servant in a hostile, wicked world. He honors particular character traits and offers special rewards for each.
1. Those who are genuinely humble before God, who turn to Him in absolute dependence, will be assured of a place in His kingdom.
2. Those who show compassion on behalf of the needy, the hurting, will receive ( in return) much comfort in their own lives.
3. Those who are gentle- strong within yet controlled without, who bring a soothing graciousness into irritating situations- will win out.
4. Those who have a passionate appetite for righteousness, both heavenly and earthly, will receive from the Lord an unusual measure of personal contentment and satisfaction.