We are unworthy servants

luke-1710In the parable of the unworthy servant, Jesus, the Master Teacher, used a lengthy rhetorical question expecting a negative answer. As he typically did, Jesus used a well-known reality of first century life to make a powerful point about what discipleship to Him looks like.

A rhetorical trap

Jesus offered a picture of a small landholder with one servant who performs various duties. He starts the story from the perspective of the master and uses an absurd recommendation to set a kind of rhetorical trap.  The simple point of Jesus’ words is that the servant who completes the work expected of him does not in any way put his master in debt to him or under any obligation to him. They get this point from the reality of cultural expectations.

Jesus snaps the trap 

Then Jesus snapped the rhetorical trap by shifting to the perspective of the servant and what it means to be His servant. Verse 10 describes the attitude of the true followers of Jesus.

The parable of the unworthy servant

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:7-10).

  • “The object of this parable is to show that all the zeal manifested by us in discharging our duty does not put God under any obligation to us by any sort of merit; for, as we are his property, so he on his part can owe us nothing” (John Calvin, Harmony on Matthew, Mark, and Luke 2.194).
  • “…the master insists, in thoroughly conventional fashion, on obedient submission—with Jesus insisting in verse 10 that no less obedient submission is due to God. Taken by itself, the first half of the parable denies the follower any role in setting the terms of discipleship. … And the second half denies the possibility that service for God is intrinsically meritorious” (the Challenge of the Parables of Jesus, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, pp. 297-298)

Application

  • What kinds of actions, attitudes or dispositions does v. 10 exclude? Or What are the opposite attitudes or dispositions?

Meditate on Jesus words  

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:24-26).

Prayer

“God, help us all to turn to You with broken and contrite hearts. Enable us to repent even of our repentance when we are subtly proud of ourselves for being repentant. Help us to serve You and one another in humility. Forgive us for the arrogance and selfishness that too often characterize our lives. Help us to be more like Jesus, the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Help us to never think that we have or are anything before you apart from our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.”

Audio link – click here.

Steve Cornell

Who will be in heaven?

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

To answer this question, we’ll have to move beyond cliches about those who “accept Jesus into their hearts.” Salvation cliches too often conceal an important truth that Jesus exposed.

Let’s get right to the point

Only the humble will be in heaven. I’m not sure how one could read the teaching of Jesus and reach any other conclusion. Heaven will be filled with humble people, with the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). The proud of heart will be excluded. The broken and contrite, God will not despise.

This should make people who strive to be religious very nervous. It should also warn those who are working their way “up” the structured ranks of orthodox Christianity to pause (as the apostle Paul did) over a ledger of gains and losses in Christ (Philippians 3:3-9).

How often did Jesus emphasize this truth?

Immersed in the expected ways of human culture, Jesus’ first disciples…

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The change we all need

flat,550x550,075,fWhen you look at all the trouble in the world or in your own life, remember that we need more than external changes to our social and political circumstances.

Deep inner change is necessary if we hope to address our deepest needs.

But can we produce this inner change in ourselves or in others?

According to Scripture, we need a divine recreation or a new creation – by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) — for the restoring of the image of God in us.

We need the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” to “make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

We need to be reconciled to God to become a “new creation” in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). And it follows that, “all this is from God” (II Corinthians 5:18), because it cannot be from us.

But what does this new creation look like?

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person” (II Corinthians 5:17). Then we learn that, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (II Corithians 5:17b, NLT).

  • What does this involve?
  • What does the “new life” look like?

We know how we become a new creation in Christ. This is explained clearly for us. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. … For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19,21).

  • But what does this change look like in my life?
  • Or, What should it look like?

Radical reorientation of life

Perhaps the best way to explain the change is through the previous verse – “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (II Corinthians 5:15).

This is a radical re-orientation of life because of our relentless compulsion to live for ourselves.

When Jesus called people to follow him, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NLT). The words “turn from your selfish ways” are very strong. Jesus was not saying that we just need to think of others a little more. These words point to self-renunciation. And this fits with the imagery of daily taking up your cross. This is an abandonment of self; a renouncing of self or death to self. Radical? Yes. But also liberating!

My greatest challenge in life — ME.

Me, myself and mine! This new person in Christ (where the old life is gone and a new life has begun) is observed when I “no longer live for myself but for Christ, who died and was raised for me.” I am tempted to live for myself on three levels. I can find myself alternating between them when I make life about me.

  • Self-indulgence
  • Self-pity
  • Self-congratulations

A life lived for self is a prison – not freedom. The message of our culture is the opposite. The path that seems so fulfilling but leads to despair is the self-centered or self-absorbed life.  The new person in Christ is distinguished by the opposite. And in this life of “death to self” and self-giving devotion to the Lord of life, we find the joy of restoration to the image of the One who created us and humbled himself for us so that we may live.

Mediate on these words

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:3-11)

Lean deeply into these provisions and promises

  • “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (II Corinthians 3:18).
  • “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (II Corinthians 1:21-22).
  • “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires (Galatians 5:16-17, NLT).
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25).

Steve Cornell

Conflict – an opportunity to grow stronger

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

Instead of being unrealistically alarmed by disagreements and conflict, we should view them as opportunities to grow deeper and stronger in our love for one another (I Peter 4:8).

God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity then is a deeply shared commitment to work through our differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3

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Is pastor appreciation month a good idea?

pastor_appreciation_dayChurches suffer when the people fail to honor their leaders. 

Members of Churches are clearly commanded to show appreciation for their pastors. But is it helpful to set aside a special month for pastor appreciation? Could it (in some cases) do more harm than good?

What does Scripture teach?

Scripture makes a clear connection between congregational response to leaders and how it affects a leader’s work. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

The health of many congregations would improve if church members took more seriously these words from the apostle Paul, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Appreciating pastors

I often talk with other pastors and can tell you that they battle discouragement in their work. Clergy burnout is a serious problem that a pastor’s appreciation month will not correct. Of course, this doesn’t mean that an annual reminder to appreciate pastors is a bad idea. But what happens when people don’t take it seriously — or as seriously as a pastor thinks they should? Does this set up an opportunity for pastors to arbitrarily measure appreciation or to wrongly focus on being appreciated?

I pastor a large church and I receive very few cards or expressions of appreciation in relation to pastor’s appreciation month. Does this mean I am not appreciated? I choose not to see it that way. We choose not to promote the occasion and I refuse to measure appreciation by what happens during one month. Furthermore, too much focus on being appreciated can be a dangerous trap. It’s easy for all of us to feel unappreciated and we must not allow a desire to be appreciated to be an idol.

Traps in pastoral appreciation

Some pastors are given many gifts and cards during pastor’s appreciation month. These Churches often put a greater emphasis on the occasion. Then when other pastors (whose churches don’t do much for pastors appreciation month), hear about all the appreciation shown to their colleagues, they become tempted to feel unappreciated. I realize this scenario cannot be blamed on an effort to encourage pastor appreciation with a special month, but we must be aware of the traps that could be associated with it. It’s easy to feel like you are taken for granted in pastoral work. And this possibility only increases with the length of one’s tenor because of the old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

I appreciate encouragement and my work would be a bit harder without it. Yet if a leader depends too much on being appreciated and encouraged, he will risk compromise in his leadership. The many hours pastors pour into individuals are unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible expression of appreciation. Sometimes this is true because people feel you are supposed to be there for them or they think you’re being paid to help them. Others are so consumed with their own problems that they fail to show appropriate appreciation to those who help them. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (see: Luke 17:11-17).

Final thoughts

So churches need to be taught to appreciate their leaders (see: Galatians 6:6; I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and leaders must not allow the idol of appreciation to rule their hearts. But leaders must guard their hearts when thinking about appreciation. Leaders who rely too much on appreciation or approval ratings will be tempted to abrogate their roles when needed most. Stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. Grow in your identity and security in Christ before entering the arena of leadership.

As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. But leadership in the footsteps of Jesus will always involve mixed response. Effective leaders need a tough hide and a tender heart. If your hide is too tough or your heart too tender, you’ll get hurt and possibly compromise your calling (see: Colossians 3:23; I Corinthians 10:31).

Scriptures to protect you from misguided perspective

  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
  • “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).
  • “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…. so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).

Steve Cornell

It takes a community — of the Spirit

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Humans are social beings. We are not meant to be alone (and we know it).

Our lives depend on others from beginning to end. We are designed to flourish in community.

But human relationships are the cause of some of our deepest problems. Living peacefully with one another is often a perplexing, painful and costly project. Although we still find that it’s not good to be alone, it’s complicated, difficult and sometimes dangerous to be together. 

God’s answer for our social and community needs is the Church. The work of Christ on earth cannot be thought of apart from the Church. He’s the one who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).

Those who are deeply concerned about transformation must apply their thoughts and concerns to the Church. The Church (as God’s new community) is not merely an organization but an organism. In some ontologically organic way, each believer (upon…

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The God of the vulnerable

Reflect deeply on the way God is revealed in both His greatness and His love for the vulnerable. (Audio version here)

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. …. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:14-19).

Great thoughts on this subject “The gods that the ancient world worshipped were concerned with great people — the mighty and cunning, the swift and the gorgeous. The rest of humanity served as a backdrop — bit players, foils, and inconsequential fodder for the grand plans of kings, generals, and deities. Not so with the God of the Bible. We see God’s strange interest in the people on the margins carved upon every page of Scripture. It was evident in Yahweh’s selection of a nation of slaves to be his special people. It echoed in his choice of sheep-tenders to be the first to hear news of the Incarnation. We may miss how odd it actually is because we live in a culture that is deeply shaped by Christian assumptions. Though it is often violated, to care for the weak and vulnerable remains a Western virtue. This generally wasn’t the case in the cultures that surrounded Jewish and early Christian communities. Like modern Social Darwinists, ancient societies typically saw weakness as unworthiness to live. As the Roman philosopher Seneca described Roman culture during Jesus’ time, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Consider then the marvel of a God who not only tolerates the feeble and lowly, but places special premium on defending and caring for them. What a contrast. We see God, the most potent and self-sufficient Power imaginable, continually expressing profound concern for the least potent and self-sufficient — the orphan in distress. The Law describes, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow …” (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV). The Prophets echo the same truth: “For in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3b). And, again, in the psalms, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families …” (Psalm 68:5-6). As we grasp this outlandish, beautiful reality, we encounter the truth of God’s father heart. It pulses not only for the orphan, but for each of us as well. He pursued us when we were destitute and alone. He adopted us as his children. He invites us to call him “Abba” and to live as his daughters and sons. Of course, we must not miss the fact that God calls his people to do the same. We are to live out “pure and faultless religion” by caring for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). As we do this, we reveal God’s heart to the world. Whether by adoption or foster care or mentoring or supporting the local Church in care for orphans around the globe, we display that astonishing reality that the Great One cares passionately for the least. And in the process, we experience God’s heart more deeply ourselves as well — a peculiar, marvelous love for the orphan. A peculiar, marvelous love for us” (Rick Warren). This is our God

  • “A father to the fatherless, a defender of   widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalms 68:5).
  • “Though my father and mother forsake me,
 the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).

A call to be like our God

  • “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3).
  • “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, …” (Jeremiah 22:3).
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”                                                        (James 1:27).
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Steve Cornell