The first really hard lesson I learned in the Christian life was to let God be God; to accept his sovereign right to rule my life and so be ready to accept as from his hand whatever circumstances came my way.
The second hardest lesson I learnt was to love Christ more than my life and therefore be ready to surrender my life to being his servant.
My perfect life, my perfect Christian life, had always looked something like ‘live in a nice house, with a good career, a reasonable pension, a happy marriage, successful kids and a fulfilling Christian life.’
Part of my struggle in learning to love Christ more than life was in putting aside my own interests, time and resources in the service of others. Being his servant didn’t just mean battling sin and buying commentaries. It meant the needs of others before my own.
Where this bites then is not in service but in sacrificing in order to serve. Giving up stuff I want and preferring to serve others.
How can we be the church, a community of God’s people, where each of us is set free – in the heart — from a life of self-concern and self-promotion to live lives of self-forgetfulness in which we delight to serve one another for Christ’s sake?
How can that ever be the life I want to live?
On Sunday morning, preaching at City Church, I preached for the first time on the parable of the workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20 and what we learned is that the secret of serving others comes when we;
Refuse to compare yourself to others
The parable is a story designed to change your perspective on your life and it works on you by rooting out of your heart and mine the problem of envy.
What stops us giving our lives in wholehearted service of our King? What stops us from pouring out our lives in the service of others? Isn’t it that we are continually comparing ourselves to others, competing with others? We continually assess how we are doing, continually looking at levels of accomplishment. It’s what we find Jesus’ own disciples doing just a few verses later! And envy stops you from serving others.
You will never be free to serve others until you are free from comparing yourself to others
Maybe we should note well what Jesus says both immediately before and at the end of the parable – 19:30 and 20:36. In the kingdom of heaven, in the gospel we can stop comparing ourselves to others.
How the parable works
It’s harvest time and a farmer is looking to hire people. At the beginning of the day he hires men and agrees to pay them a day’s wages. In v.3 he returns to the market place a couple of hours later and hires a few more men. Come and work for me and I will v.4 ‘pay you whatever is right’
Our farmer goes out again at the 6th, 9th and 11th hour hires more workers and then at the end of the day the farmer gives them their salary.
Starting with the last he pays them something they haven’t earned, something they haven’t deserved a full day’s wage – a denarius. You can imagine what the other workers are thinking at this point, wow this farmer pays bonuses I wonder what we’re going to get!
But as each worker steps forward he pays each of the others exactly the same wage – a denarius. You can imagine what they are thinking now, after all a day’s farming in the heat of the Palestinian day was really hard and so getting the same wage (v.11) they began to grumble against the landowner.
What’s the issue for them?
They complain to the farmer, v.12, ‘you have made them equal to us’. Here is envy at work, building resentment!
No doubt under an EU directive such behaviour would have been illegal. They would have been on the phone to their union representatives. As one commentator writes ‘Little seems more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!’
How do you react to this parable? Do you have some sympathy with the workers? Of course we do because it looks like an injustice on the part of the farmer?
Here’s the point of the parable: our natural way of looking at life leads us to compare ourselves with others and find fault with God.
After all the only reasons the workers complain is not because of what they receive from the farmer but what they receive from the farmer in comparison to others!
To the hard workers he says, v.13, I gave you what was fair, harking back to v.4. If he had employed everyone for a day, and given a day’s wages everyone would have left satisfied, happy with their lot.
It’s not that he has been unfair to them, but that he has been more than fair to others that bugs them. But why can’t the landowner do as he pleases with his wealth. He rightly says ‘Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?’
He chooses to be generous, gracious, to the last group of workers. Without giving the late workers a full days wage their families would have gone hungry.
Here is what happens when we live our lives comparing ourselves with others
The landowner says, v.15, ‘are you envious because I was generous?’ Literally, ‘is your eye evil because I am good?’
When we act in church out of selfish ambition, vain conceit, when we refuse to serve others we act from an evil eye. When we resent God’s generosity to others we are saying ‘I can’t be happy when I see God being more generous to others.’
The owner is good because he gives generously, the workers complain because they are jealous. Jealousy, wishing that you had what they had, leads us to blame God rather than praise God.
What is the solution?
To recognise that God has been good to me in calling me into his service and rewarding me for his service.
God has been more kind to me than I deserve and if I don’t deserve anything from God what business is it of mine how God treats others?
You will never be a servant of all until God sets you free from envy of others. You will spend your time comparing yourself to others and asking ‘does this person deserve my help?’ Full of resentment, anxious about what you have received you will divide your energies between those you think deserve your attention and those who don’t.
What set’s you free from comparison is focusing your energies, your prayers and your thoughts on how extraordinarily good God has been to you.
Here are 5 questions (adapted from a sermon by James Boice) to focus your thoughts:
- Why is God’s goodness to others often the occasion for anger in us?
- Why do we find it so difficult to rejoice with others over the good that enters their lives?
- Why do we spend our time calculating how we have deserved better?
- Why are we never satisfied with what we have received from God?
- Why do we always think God owes us more?
How can you actually become a servant of all?
Let the gospel change your perspective on God’s goodness to you and others
Mark Driscoll’s 10 tips on getting your message across this Easter Sunday.
As a family we have enjoyed reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’ the Jesus Storybook Bible as well as listening to the audio cds in the car. My six-year old knows that ‘every story whispers his name’ because through this Bible he’s learnt that the whole Bible is about Jesus. What’s more he’s getting better at anticipating how each Old Testament story points ahead to Christ.
Here is an excellent blog post by Sally Lloyd-Jones on just how crucial that copernican revolution really is if we are to produce children who don’t read themselves into every story of the Bible but begin to read Christ into every story.
Reading the blog I also discovered that the Jesus Storybook Bible has now also been made available as a Sunday School resource.
(HT: Mim Pike)
Christian Concern highlights the conclusion of Oxford Professor Roger Trigg, founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion that Christians are in danger of facing ever growing persecution for their beliefs in British courts.
Ron Edmondson has highlighted some of the weaknesses, apparent and perceived, in leadership for an introvert. Well worth a read. It’s also a great reminder of how crucial it is to be self-aware in leadership and why although we may want to simply play to strengths we do need to compensate for our weaknesses if we are to lead well.
Tullian Tchividjian explores the enormous possibilities for Christians who grasp the reality of justification by Christ through faith.
Here are 10 top take-homes for me from Jesus + Nothing = Everything
1. Functionally, living out the gospel does not come naturally, even for Christians
Obviously, before we were Christians, it was never our natural bent to seek all our satisfaction in Christ and the gospel; but even after God saves us, that isn’t where we naturally turn.
2. Therefore our Christian lives become focused on what we are doing rather than on what Christ has done. The results are disastrous.
Our rules become our substitute savior, and keeping those rules becomes our self-salvation project, with Jesus safely outside the picture. With enough rules and regulations set up, we don’t need Jesus.
3. Church makes things worse!
To make this situation worse, our idolatrous self-focus is only intensified by what is typically taught and preached in our churches. The fact is, a lot of preaching these days has been unwittingly unconsciously seduced by moralism. Moralistic preaching only reinforces our inner assumption that our performance for God will impress him to the point of blessing us.
4. The message we communicate is a denial of the gospel and a disincentive to non-Christians
Millions of people, both inside and outside the church, believe that the essential message of Christianity is, “If you behave, then you belong.” From a human standpoint, that’s why most people reject Christianity.
5. The truth of the gospel is that Jesus + nothing really does = everything. If only we would believe it.
If we are in Christ , then everything we need, we already possess…approved by God, accepted by God, redeemed by God, forgiven by God, and transferred from darkness to light by God.
6. Believing the gospel of justification deep down alone has the power to sanctify.
The gospel transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ’s external substitution…Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification.
7. All of our teaching and preaching must be an exposition of the gospel of justification
All theology is an exposition of the gospel, a further articulation of the gospel in all its facets, meticulously unfolding all its liberating implications and empowering benefits.
8. The gospel not only has the power to change us but to set us free to serve our neighbours
God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbour does – Martin Luther
9. Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it from others, because your identity is in Christ.
10. It is hard work to keep the gospel central to our thinking, living, and preaching. Unless we persevere in doing so we will naturally revert to a life of self-justification.
I’m always amazed at how hard it is for my heart to embrace what my head affirms.
The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward. Instead, we need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ. – Sinclair Ferguson
What would you like to ask the man whos church baptised 1392 people in 2011 in one of the most secular, least churched, cities of the United States of America?
I had the privilege of gathering a small number of people, including a Bishop, to have dinner with Pastor Mark in Birmingham last May. He gave us two hours of his time to listen to the challenges that face our city in how we get the gospel out to a lost generation. Not one of us had any connect with Acts29. He neither asked for, nor took, any of our money. We did a lot of listening and learning.
A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.
I live on a council estate in Birmingham and the one thing I know for sure is that men where I live are not going to church and there is no church I could think of many of them would want to go to including my own. Millions of people are going to hell and the church is not ready or able to do something. I’ll take all the help I can get from a guy who is helping me see how to get working class, blue-collar workers to hear about Jesus. Driscoll preaches expository sermons, over an hour in length, promises no-one wealth or health, talks honestly and openly about the reality of heaven and hell, calls upon people to live radically holy, self-denying lives and above all else talks about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus AND people are converted. It’s time to listen.
Whatever we think Driscoll has got wrong it pales into comparison with what he’s got right and for that I praise God. If I had to choose, I would rather he continued to go too far than not far enough provided that his basic conclusions are sound. The trouble for British evangelicalism, as it seems to me, is that we don’t like it.
The decision of Christianity Magazine to pre-lease a web article with highly edited and potentially misleading quotations from a Driscoll interview on his views on the British church can hardly be considered responsible publishing, and Mark Driscoll has a point when he questions the motives of the magazine in choosing to do so. I for one would not appreciate such a pre-release.
Whatever Mark Driscoll may have got wrong he’s got a whole lot more right. So come on British evangelicals – let’s take the medicine – and learn.
If you want to know Pastor Mark’s views on the British church at greater length in his own words then this might be a place to start A Word for all seasons.
In a day when it is easy to spend a lot of our time listening to great preachers from around the world on the internet how can we ensure that we are learning from those who preach faithful sermons to us Sunday by Sunday without wishing they were someone else or we were somewhere else.
This post by Steve Burchett on the Gospel Coalition site offers 5 suggestions.
One point that stands out to me and I’ve found to be true in my own church is that “The mature worshiper is easily edified.” He or she knows they are not going to be hearing the best sermon that’s ever been preached at their local church but they are ready to receive from God and learn. If it is novelty we seek, if it’s new and profound insights to blow us away we crave, we may well be disappointed because few preachers can live up to such expectations. If it is an opportunity to consider afresh even the things we know, to renew our commitment to live for Christ we should rarely be disappointed.
Mark Twain was right when he said ‘it’s not the parts that I don’t understand that bother me in the Bible. It’s the parts I do understand.’
A fascinating article in today’s Telegraph on the rise of Christianity concludes:
‘Church attendances, in freefall for so long, have started to rise again, particularly in Britain’s capital city. Numbers on the electoral rolls are increasing by well over two per cent every year, while some churches have seen truly dramatic rises in numbers.’
(HT: Brian Law)
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