Blog Archives

A Good Report

“And you know his character, how as child of a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”

(Philippians 2:22)

Over the years, between my time as a school teacher/administrator and as a pastor, one of the more enjoyable things that I have had the privilege of doing is to write letters of recommendation for students and former students. Whether they were applying for jobs, to colleges, or for scholarships or other honors, it is always a joy to tell others of the character of one you admire. And this, Paul has been doing on behalf of Timothy — and indeed, based on these words, Timothy has much to live up to, indeed.

Notice too that these words of Paul’s about Timothy are not an empty compliment. Timothy has proved himself to be faithful and useful to Paul by labor, integrity, and sacrifice. It is the laboring of Timothy in faithful service that gives definition and meaning to this statement. Of course, as Christians, we too ought to strive, like Timothy, that the same might one day be said about us not only by those Christians who have mentored us but ultimately by God himself pronouncing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We certainly do not earn our salvation nor can we ever do enough and sacrifice enough to warrant such a statement from God, but that statement of God takes on meaning in light of the sacrifice and faithfulness of the service for which we strive.

Indeed, let me reassert, we are not saved by or through our works…if works are added to grace then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:5-6). If even one single work is necessary…no matter how small or insignificant seeming…then grace is meaningless. Even if that one work is nothing more than a choice one makes to accept grace, then it is still a work and grace is nullified. Salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end and many of us are brought into the kingdom kicking and screaming…but even if we aren’t, it is still God who brings us. If we seek, it is because God is drawing us to seek Him. Apart from God we are dead in our sins and a dead man can do nothing to help himself. God must first give us life and then we can respond.

That said, we are also called to make our calling and election sure by building on the things that God has begun in us (2 Peter 2:5-11). My challenge to you is to do so in such a way that, like Timothy, a good report will be issued in that day we stand before Christ’s judgment seat.

The Pastor’s Heart

“But even if I am made a drink offering over the sacrifice and worship of your faith, I rejoice — also, I rejoice with all of you!”

(Philippians 2:17)

Here, in Paul, we find the heart of a true pastor. His heart is laid forth that even if his very life is poured out from his veins as a drink offering as a means by which the faith of the people is built up, Paul would gladly do so. Paul will use this language again in 2 Timothy 4:6 as he closes in on that time when the Romans will put him to death on account of the Gospel…this is a man who is quite prepared to die so that those under his care might have true life. As David gladly fought lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-36) to protect the sheep in his charge, so too, Paul gladly fights the forces of the enemy, the devil, to protect his charge, even if it means laying down his own life.

While, as pastors in the western world, we are rarely (if ever) confronted with a situation where we might have to put our lives on the line to preserve a member of our flock, we are often called upon to make other sacrifices for the wellbeing and care of the sheep that God has placed in our care. Yet, how often the “professional clergy” fail to do this. How often, pastors sacrifice the wellbeing of their congregation to advance their own ends or their own reputation in the community or world. How often do we see pastors using a church as a means to an end (whether bouncing from church to church in hopes of bigger churches with bigger salaries or by manipulating the sympathies of the people in the congregation to gain gifts or other benefits).

Beloved, those who seek to use their congregation as a platform to serve their own ends are not serving as pastors. Pastors who are not willing to be poured out even as a drink offering for the strengthening of the faith of the congregation do not have the heart of Paul. As I was told many years ago by another pastor and as I have told many times to others, the pastorate is not a job; it is a lifestyle. We do not punch a clock at the end of the day; we are not given the luxury of not coming in because it is our “day off,” and we are by no means ever amongst those who can leave their job “at work.” We live our calling day in and day out and if we are unwilling to do so, we are unfit for the call.

Does that mean that pastors should resign their pastorate because they have lived poorly in this way? There are many who should. What it means is that, in understanding this great truth, we should repent. And all of us have room to repent daily for none of us fully lives up to the model set before us by Paul…and if not Paul, how far we are from the model Christ set before us. And, if you are not called to be a pastor, but the pastor that God has placed over you is not being faithful in this, do not set out with pitchforks and torches, but approach him in love and grace and encourage him in love to fulfill his calling. Sometimes, in the warp and woof of life, it is easy to be distracted from one’s first love by the busyness that can so consume our days. We all fall woefully short; praise God that there is forgiveness found in Christ.

Feeding One Another

“Considering not only your own things but also the things of each other.”

(Philippians 2:4)

Clearly, this statement goes hand in hand with the words that have come before it…that of considering others as more significant than yourself. We have become very much a “me first” generation. We focus on taking care of our own needs first then the needs of our families. Then, after we take care of our own needs, we look to the community and to the church with whatever happens to be left over. Such is not the definition of sacrifice; it is the definition of selfishness. Abel offered to God that which was best while Cain offered to God that which was left over…which did God accept? Whose offering does our offering look more like? Cain’s?

Paul gives us the definition for a humble Christian lifestyle right here in these few words: count not only your own needs as important, but also look to meeting the needs of your neighbor…particularly those neighbors who happen to be born-again believers. If we, as a church, want to be seen once again as a vital member of our community, then this is how it will take place…we will serve the needs of others and not just needs that we perceive we have for ourselves.

Loved ones, God has a habit of using a life that is not interested in his or her own glory, but gives all of the glory to God. One of the ways we learn to have that mindset is by counting the needs of others as more significant than our own. Truly, that does not come easily to us; our sin nature resists it; but it is that for which we should strive. And like the verse above, when I meet with people in counseling situations (especially marital counseling situations) 9 times out of 10, the source of the problem is selfishness. Each party wants needs met before they will be willing to meet the needs of their spouse. Until we adopt the mindset that we are interested in our spouse’s needs (regardless of whether she meets ours) and we trust in God to meet all of our needs through prayer, then we will be stuck in frustration. Joy comes when we care for each other.

A story is told of a man getting a tour of heaven and hell. In Hell he found that people were all skinny and emaciated and then he saw why…they all had arms that were fused straight (no bending at the wrist or elbow). They could not feed themselves. Then the man went to heaven and found that people’s arms were fused straight as well, yet people were well fed and content. Then he saw why: everyone fed one another, not themselves. That is a picture of what Paul is speaking of here but I would put forward another thought — not only ought we expect the body of Christ  to feed each other (not themselves) in heaven, should we not expect that on earth as well? If we don’t strive for this, we rob ourselves of true blessedness.

Cannot Serve Two Lords (Luke 16:13)

“No household servant is able to serve two lords: for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will cling to the one and look with contempt on the other.  You are not able to serve God and mammon.”

(Luke 16:13)

 

There is an interesting transition in the language that Jesus uses in this verse.  The verb that is employed in this verse in terms of serving is douleu/w (douleuo), which refers to one’s service as a slave to another.  It is the verb from which we get douvloß (doulos), meaning bond-servant, the term that Paul so regularly uses to speak of himself in terms of his service to Christ.  You might expect, then, that the word for servant used at the beginning of this verse would be douvloß (doulos) as well.  Yet, it is the word that Jesus uses is oijke/thß (oiketes), which is the word that is used for a household servant—a word that can just as easily (though less commonly) be used to refer to someone who is a member of the household.  Essentially, the point that is being made here is to describe not just a common slave, but a slave with privileges as part of the household. 

What an important picture this is in terms of helping us to understand the connection that Jesus is making as he rebukes the Pharisees.  The Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law were given the obligation of God to steward the word of God and the things of God’s righteousness before the people.  In addition, though all were not priests, they all shared a role in keeping the ceremonial law of God pure and undefiled—a law that found its ultimate fulfillment (at least for the day) in the temple sacrifices that the priests made.  Thus, these groups of people—the groups that by this time have been actively seeking to arrest Jesus and have begun discussing his death—were more than just servants of God in the eyes of the people, but they were servants within God’s household—much like the household steward that this parable is about.

It is interesting as well, to look forward to the two teachings that Jesus gives immediately after this parable.  In the context of this section of Luke, Jesus has been giving a series of parables, then breaks for two specific teachings, and then goes back to a parable.  As Jesus is addressing the failure of the Pharisees to steward God’s truth, it seems to make sense to interpret these two teachings in the same context.  The first teaching is about how the Pharisees are more interested in justifying themselves legally before men—using the Law of God to make themselves look good in the eyes of the people instead of using the Law of God to point people toward God’s grace.  The second of these teachings is that of adultery, something that God often accuses the people of when their hearts stray from him toward the idols of this world.  In other words, because the Pharisees have been faithless stewards, seeking to glorify themselves in the eyes of men, they have become guilty of spiritual adultery before God—something for which they will be dealt with quite harshly.

One final note about this parable: the mention was made earlier about this steward of unrighteousness being a reflection of the older brother from the previous parable.  Many through history have pointed out that the rebuke of the older brother within the parable of the Prodigal Son was aimed at the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law.  These men stayed home and resented the return and reinstatement of their lost brother.  In the parable of the steward, we are confronted once again with one who is more interested in the letter of the law than to see debtors reinstated in the eyes of the master.  The difference is that in the parable of the steward, the steward repents and offers forgiveness to the debtors forgiveness of their debt to reinstate them in the master’s eyes.

Oh, beloved, how we are to desire forgiveness and the reconciliation that comes through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Yes, reconciliation is important in human terms, but what is most important is in eternal matters.  What are you doing in your family and in your church to use the wealth—the mammon of unrighteousness—that God has given you, to win others to Christ?  How are you stewarding the word of God—that which is of true value—to glorify God amongst the nations?  We have a tendency to think of our wealth as “ours” and to do with what we please and not as something that God has given us to steward.  All too often we use the Word of God to make people feel inferior to us and not to point them toward redemption in Christ.  Too often we are guilty of praying diligently for the salvation of those we love and whose company we enjoy and not being so diligent in praying for those who have offended us.  Oh, loved ones, let us not be like the Pharisees, but be like the steward who repented.  God has given us a task to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all the world—and that task begins at home.

We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,

Who the path of sorrow has trod,

That all of the world’s great peoples

Might come to the truth of God,

Might come to the truth of God.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noonday bright;

And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,

The kingdom of love and light.

-Henry Earnest Nichol