Tag Archives: servant

Becoming a Yes Man

Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)

Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)

Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?

Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:

  1. He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
  2. He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
  3. He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
  4. Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?

I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.

The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.

So here are my two challenges for you:

  1. Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
  2. Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.

So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.

“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

What is the purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

I think there are two purposes that Scripture reveals for Spiritual Gifts. In fact, these two reasons complement one another because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have one without the other for very long. They are:

  1. Building
  2. Uniting

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

Building up the Body is listed as the reason that Christ has empowered some people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Another way you could translate this verse would be to say that he equipped them “for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.” In other words, we weren’t given spiritual gifts to use them on ourselves. In fact, that idea is completely out of the question. For example, imagine a soldier whose been trained, conditioned, equipped with all his gear. The times comes for him to deploy, but instead of going to war he takes all his training and equipment and goes on a hunting trip. It’s the same way for anyone who has been granted a spiritual gift and merely uses it for their own benefit. Not only are they being selfish, they are squandering their gift on themselves when it should be used for building up the entire Church. Instead of benefitting ourselves, our spiritual gifts should be benefitting dozens–if not hundreds–of people. I should add here that when I say “building up the body” I mean both outward and upward. We should be building out–which is why there are apostles, prophets, and evangelists–and we should be building up–which is why there are shepherds and teachers. But, beware of creating an atmosphere of competition to see who has the superior spiritual gifts. This leads to division, which is antithetical to the second purpose of spiritual gifts.

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13)

When each part is working properly, per Ephesians 4:16, the body will “build itself up in love.” The spiritual gifts are meant to build the body up, and part of being built up is being unified. Jesus said that no group which is divided against itself can stand (Mark 3:24, Matthew 12:25). This applies to the Church. If spiritual gifts are not being used properly–for example, if they are being used out of pride, selfishness, etc.–then they will inevitably be used by the Destroyer to slowly and subtly dissolve unity. Think about it, when Paul wrote that “when each part is working properly [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16)” he must have surely known the opposite was true. When each part is not working properly it prevents the body from growing, which means that it will destroy itself in hatred.

So what does this mean? First, it means we are called to use our spiritual gifts. Part of “working properly” is working; in other words, if you’re not serving you are not properly using your spiritual gifts, period. Second, everyone has spiritual gifts. Not all spiritual gifts are equally flashy, but all people are given spiritual gifts which means that all people are necessary if we are to reach full maturity. Finally, as we use our spiritual gifts, we must constantly check our hearts and our motives. If we are using our spiritual gifts for anything beyond building and uniting the body, we must do the hard work of checking our hearts and repenting where necessary. So I encourage you to examine where God has given you both gifts and passion. Be open to serving in several different capacities before you decide you’ve found out exactly where you fit in the Body. And remember to do all things in a manner that builds and unites the Church.

You gotta serve somebody

One thing I’ve noticed while reading different translations of the Bible is how different one of Paul’s introductions often sounds despite the fact that the translation committees are all using (mostly) the same Greek manuscripts. Normally, Paul introduces himself as an Apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, and 2 Timothy 1:1). But elsewhere, in Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, and Titus 1:1, Paul introduces himself with a different Greek word: doulos (pronounced “do-loss”). This is also the word the authors used to describe themselves in James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, and is even used to refer to all Christians in Revelation 1:1.

What I find interesting is that this word usually has two different translations:  bondservant or servant. In the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and King James Version all use the word “servant” or “bond-servant” and then they usually put “slave” somewhere at the bottom of the page as a footnote.) These are all considered fairly conservative translations. Yet in two of our more liberal translations, the New Living Translation and The Message, we find the word doulos translated a little accurately. They use the word “slave.” (The lesser-known Lexham English Bible also uses the word “slave.”)

So which is is? What are Paul, James, Peter, Jude, John, and all Christians? Are we servants or are we slaves? In The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, R. C. Sproul helpfully writes:

In the Greek text, the word that the apostle uses is doulos which is not properly translated ‘servant’. A servant in the ancient world was a hired employee, a person who could come and go at will, who could resign from one job and seek employment elsewhere if so inclined. But a doulos was a slave owned by a kyrios, a master or a lord. Frequently in the New Testament this type of imagery is used to portray the relationship between Christ and his people: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price.’ Christians are those who belong to Christ. He is our Lord, he is our kyrios, he is our Master.
Paul will explain in the book of Romans that man, out of Christ, is in bondage to sin and a slave to his own evil impulses, inclinations and desires. This is man’s natural condition in the fallen state. Yet Paul wrote elsewhere that where the Spirit of the Lord is, where the Spirit of the kyrios is, where the Spirit of the Master is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17). How are these truths to be reconciled?
Paul had learned that man is only free when he becomes a slave to Christ. Outwith Christ, he is a slave to sin; but when enslaved to Christ, he knows the royal liberation that only Christ can bring. Paul, in citing his own credentials, regards as his highest virtue that he is a slave of Jesus Christ.

In John 8:34, Jesus says that whoever sins is a slave to sin. Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all knew that the only way to become free from sin was to become slave to Christ (John 8:36). That’s why Paul the “slave” mentions that he is free in 1 Corinthians 9:1. As Bob Dylan once sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The only question you can answer is who you’ll serve. Will it be a harsh taskmaster bent on your destruction? Or will it be a kind, gentle Lord?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30.