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Posts Tagged ‘usefulness’

The Requirement for Usefulness

November 13th, 2017

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV)

Several people mentioned to me yesterday how much they appreciated the sermon on Joseph’s promotion. For years he had been locked up in confinement, and seemed to maintain his faith and servant attitude, but suddenly he was catapulted into national prominence. Yet this promotion did not go to his head, he did not become proud. Rather he learned to listen to others rather than speak himself. He was humble and wanted God to get the glory from his life.

Most of us can handle adversity easier than we can handle success. We learn to worship and serve the Lord, even though we are personally going through a difficult time. But when we receive a promotion, when God blesses our job or our ministry, then we are tempted to pride. We are tempted to lord it over others, to forget God, to become selfish and stingy. The one who tithes sacrificially on a meager salary, will be tempted to give less than a tenth when he gets a raise. We far too easily forget God’s goodness to us, and imagine that we do not need Him any more.

Joseph did not do this. His faith was as remarkable when he was experiencing advancement as when he was undergoing adversity. He was humble, God-centered, ready to serve others, not lustful over attention or the praise of men.

A requirement of all who God will use is a broken spirit. Jesus said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26 ESV)

When God called Paul, along with the call was a prophetic statement, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” We are unsure how much money Paul had - we know that sometimes he was in significant financial hardship, but we also know that he was always like this. Paul himself said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11-12). He had learned - by the Spirit’s work in his life, by his challenging life calling, by the examples of other believers around him - the art of dealing with all circumstances.

Kipling has this marvelous line in his little poem “If” - “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” Paul learned, as we all should learn, that disaster does not remove God’s hand from our lives, and triumph does not remove our need to remain humble and faithful before Him. In all situations and conditions, the Christian’s goal must remain the same - that God would be glorified in and through our life.

There is no person in Scripture that God used in any significant way that He did not also break. He broke strong wills, egotistical mindsets, hedonistic lifestyles, self-centered agendas. He broke people that He might use them, and bless them. Brokenness leads to greater usefulness and greater joy than selfishness does. The selfish person is a miserable person. Harry Overstreet made the profound observation: “The ungiven self is the unfulfilled self.” We are made by God not to live selfishly for our own glory, but to be broken, humble, and poured out before Him.

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Run in Vain?

September 5th, 2016

That you may become blameless … holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. (Philippians 2:15-16)

Twice in his writings the apostle Paul compared his life to a drink offering being poured out. Drink offerings in the Mosaic Covenant were wine poured out on the burnt offering (Numbers 15:4-5). It was a additional offering to the burnt offering, not the main offering. So Paul, as he used this metaphor for his ministry, illustrated that he himself was secondary in the matter. Christ was first, and His work in lives to transform them was the goal of Paul’s ministry - not any attention that he might bring to himself.

Yet in these two occurrences of Paul’s use of this metaphor, we can see some development in his thought, a slight but important change in his thinking and understanding.

The first use is in Philippians 2:17: “If I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Philippians was one of his prison epistles, and in the letter he expresses his commitment and his Christian joy in the expansion of the gospel. But the words that preceded his use of the metaphor express his concern that, if the Philippian Christians did not hold fast to the word of life, that he might have run in vain, or have been poured out in a useless way.

We sometimes feel the same way, that the validity of our ministry and the usefulness of our ministry is all connected to the visible results. All Christians are servants in some way or another, and we often feel that if we do not leave some changed life here, someone whom we have touched or influenced for Christ, that we will have run our own Christian race in vain. Paul was expressing this concern - not out of fear of rejection by God, but just for the concern that he wanted to see the gospel of Christ take root in people.

The second use is in 2 Timothy 4:6: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” These were the last words we received from the apostle. He was martyred shortly after he wrote 2 Timothy. But he followed them up with, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He warned Timothy, and all preachers since, that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine, but would instead find teachers to tickle their “itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3).

Here there is a calm resignation - not of defeat but of recognition of the fallenness of the world and the nature of Christian service. Some will receive Christ. Some seed of the truth which we live and share will fall on good soil. Some will reject Christ. The effectiveness of our service is not always tied to the visible fruit that we may see and measure, but that we were faithful to live out the truth and to share the truth of Christ’s love.

We need a balance between these two thoughts. As we serve Christ, we should see if we are being effective. There should be no pride in a ministry that offends people for no reason, that leaves no life touched or changed. Christ taught His disciples that when they came to unresponsive people, that they should shake the dust off and move on to more fruitful places and people (Luke 10:11). But we must also be sure that we are being faithful to the message itself, to Christ Himself, and to the spirit of love. We should be careful not to over-obsess on the visible results.

At the end of our lives we will realize that our lives are little more than drink offerings being poured out for Christ. We are of little consequence in and of our selves alone. What matters is not the tool that the craftsman uses, but the craftsman himself and the object he is creating. And the same is true for us in our service for Christ. We who serve are not what matters. Some people will reject our witness and some will receive it, but what is most important is that the Lord was involved in the process of our service, using our gifts and influence to spread His love and His gospel.

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