Mark 9:33 Then they came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
Philippians 2:5-7, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave…” (Bible quotes from HCSB)
I am a follower of Jesus Christ because He has purchased me (bought my freedom) out of the slave market of sin. As my Master, Jesus compels me into His service; I am not compelled by force or by threats of violence, but by the power of His love (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Cor. 5:14-15). As my Lord, Jesus commands me to take on His posture (“the form of a slave”) and become a servant (a slave) to others.
I was reminded of the above after reading Mark chapter 9 this morning for my devotions. I took note that as Jesus walked down the road to Capernaum with his disciples (Wow! Wouldn’t you give anything to walk the road with Jesus?), His disciples were engaged in a “Who’s going to be the big man on campus” debate. Later, Jesus instructed His disciples (and us) to consider that greatness is not seen in how much status you have in the eyes of others. Jesus taught His disciples that greatness in God’s kingdom is seen in how much you serve. For when we take on the posture of slaves and serve one another, we take on the image of Jesus; and isn’t Jesus, truly, the greatest person of all.
Let’s be honest: we do not like being servants, and we especially do not like being called slaves. However, Michael Card reminds us (A Better Freedom) that the, “choice is not between slavery and freedom. The choice has always only been… whose slave will you be?” Michael Card continues, “As Jesus had offered wisdom through foolishness, maturity through childlikeness, and wealth through poverty,” Jesus’ followers understand that the only way to a “better freedom” is to be found in slavery to Christ.
“In order to become rich you must become poor, (Lk. 12:33) in order to become mature you must rediscover your own childlikeness, (Mk. 9:36) in order to become wise you must embrace the foolishness of the gospel. (I Cor. 3:18) In Jesus, life comes through death (Jn. 5:24) and the only true freedom comes from slavery to Him. (I Cor. 7:22) He came to turn the world upside down, to shatter all our definitions and images, and to fulfill them. The fundamental mysteries of following Jesus are always rooted in paradox.”
“These are the harsh realities of faith in Jesus and if we are to be followers of him, in the truest biblical sense, we must give ourselves to understanding them.” (Michael Card, A Better Freedom)
Through the gospel God exerts his power to transform lives and change cultures. I am of the opinion that the church does not need another summit or conference on racial reconciliation or multi-culturalism; what’s needed today are preachers who will prophetically proclaim the gospel. When the gospel is preached to people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive it, they receive it, and they demonstrate their faith in the gospel by walking in “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Let me suggest that anything short of this (changing or accommodating our music styles, or creating night club like atmospheres in our sanctuaries, etc.) will not bring the needed flame of radical revival, but will produce a mere reshuffling of the same old deck of lukewarm cards.
I love this section from George and Woodward’s book, The Mark of Jesus. Using an example from the history of the church, George and Woodward challenge us to consider afresh the power of the gospel to change our lives. They write:
The Testimony of Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr effectively depicted and defended the lifestyle of Christians. In his First Apology (c. A.D. 155), Justin challenged Emperor Antonius Pius to take a good, hard look at the way Christians lived. Justin apparently did not fear that an investigation by the emperor would find the Christians to be hypocrites: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest we ourselves should bear the blame for what those who do not really know about us do in their ignorance.” Then, in a marvelous passage, Justin described how the power of the Gospel had transformed Christians at the very core of their aspirations and desires:
Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair command of Christ may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.
According to Justin Martyr, Christians turned their backs on sexual immorality, on the making of money as a life avocation, and on yielding to racism. Rather, they shared their goods even with those whom they had formerly disdained for racial reasons—those who belonged to other tribes. Many Christians were living in unity and were intent on seeing their non-Christian neighbors come to Christ. They prayed for their enemies with the hope that they might likewise become followers of the true God. They believed that only those persons were worthy to be called Christians who actually obeyed their Lord’s teachings.
As for those persons who did not obey Christ’s teachings (hypocrites), Justin Martyr offered little comfort: “Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved. For he said this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’”Justin Martyr, therefore, viewed “apologetics”(the defense of the faith) in a somewhat different fashion than we often do, if we limit its scope to the presentation of the “theistic proofs”or historical arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Certainly Martyr made the case for fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the truthfulness of the resurrection. But Martyr was not hesitant also to make the point that many of the Christians he knew obeyed Christ’s teachings. This would mean that any hypocrisy charge regarding them would not stick. He wrote: “Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity: and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation.”
Justin Martyr’s presentation of how Christians actually lived out their faith received confirmation of sorts from a surprising quarter. Pagan critics, while condemning Christianity as an irrational faith that attracted the weak-minded, on occasion paid backhanded tributes to the Christians by describing them as those who kept their word and shared their goods with each other. Undoubtedly, the early church had its hypocrites who by no means followed Christ in the way Justin Martyr indicated. At the end of the second century, Tertullian complained that he knew Christians, including members of the clergy, who ran after money and church offices rather than seeking to follow Christ’s teachings. For many early Christians, not following Christ’s teachings indicated a person was worse than a hypocrite; the person was a “non-Christian.
Proverbs 3:1 ¶ My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;
2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you.
Many of our struggles in life come upon us because we listen to the multitude of negative voices that bombard us daily. Below is a list of just a few of the many voices that speak to us every day.
- We hear the voice of fear
- We hear the voice of failure
- We hear the voice of defeat
- We hear the voice of rejection
- We hear the voice of incompetence
- We hear the voice of criticism
- We hear the voice of slander
- The voice of guilt
- We hear the voice that says we are not loved
Sometimes these voices are rooted in our past circumstances. Sometimes these voices are fixed in our present circumstances. No matter where these voices come from, they are not the voice of the Spirit of God. For:
- God says “fear not”, for I have not given you the spirit of fear, but of “power, love, and soundness of mind.” (Isaiah 41:10; 2 Timothy 1:7)
- God says we are not failures because “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)
- God says we are not defeated, because in Christ “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
- God says we are not rejected. Quite the contrary, we’ve been 1) adopted as sons to Himself, 2) according to His will, and 3) for His glory. Simply put, God has “made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5,6,7)
- God says we are not incompetent because we “are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10; see also I Corinthians 12)
- Regarding criticism, God says “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33)
- And when haters slander us and try to bring us down to their level with hurtful words, God says “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11,12)
- God speaks to us with the voice of forgiveness, saying it is I, “Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:3-5; see also 1 John 1:9)
In essence, God says we are His “beloved”.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1,2)
What God says of His children defines them for both time and for eternity. By faith believe what God says, and by faith live your life accordingly. Of the thousands of voices that are in the world today, voices that cry out for our attention, only One voice says authoritatively, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11) When this voice speaks, it speaks the truth with power. This is the voice of freedom. This is the voice of God. (John 8:32)
I love these words from Eben Otuteye, that I have shared below:
Affirm and meditate on the life of God in you. Meditate on your oneness with God. If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior then God has put His spirit in you and His spirit has merged with your spirit. Therefore deep at the spiritual level you are one with God. (You may be wondering “if I am one with God how come I am not perfect and I still have these wacky beliefs, behaviors and attitudes?” The answer is that it is your mind and your body that are in the way but God can fix that).
Recognize, acknowledge and thank God that the best and the greatest thing that can ever happen to a human being has happened to you. You have the best and the greatest thing that a person can ever have: you have the life of God in you.
God, by His Holy Spirit dwells inside of you and is always with you and He fully fills your whole being. He is Emmanuel, the Lord with us. He is Jehovah Shammah – The Lord is there; the ever present One. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ and Christ is in you and you are in Christ. Your spirit is fused and merged with the Spirit of God and you are one with God. (John 17:23; 2 Peter 1:1-7)
Meditate on and thank God for the fact that He has put His life in you, which means that you are one with perfect love; you are one with all power; you are one with all wisdom; you are one with all knowledge; you are one with every good thing. You are one with the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God. Nothing can ever overcome or defeat you because the omnipotent power of God is working in you, through you, and for you. The omnipotent power of God, combined with His wisdom, lovingkindness, and faithfulness towards you, makes you always a winner and an overcomer. Nothing can separate you from the love of God and nothing can separate you from the power of God. That makes you more than a conqueror in all things.
You are a child of God and whatever is born of God overcomes the world. Whatever is born of God overcomes all circumstances and situations. Since you are merged with God and you are one with God, that means whatever comes against you has to contend with God. Whatever comes against you needs to overcome God in order to be able to overcome you. There is nothing that can overcome or defeat the power of God. Therefore, nothing can overcome or defeat you. The power of God working in you and for you guarantees that you will win in every situation and over anything. Meditate on this.
2 Peter 1:2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
When my wife and I finished reading the book of Job for our daily devotions one very convicting take away that the Lord brought to our attention was how easily criticism flows out of our mouths to either condemn and pass judgment on others.
When Job’s friends observed Job’s life collapsing right before their eyes they wrongly judged him by thinking that all this calamity was happening to Job because he was guilty of something.
- Eliphaz – Job 4:7 ¶ “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? 8 Even as I have seen, Those who plow iniquity And sow trouble reap the same.
- Bildad – Job 8:3 Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice? 4 If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression. 5 If you would earnestly seek God And make your supplication to the Almighty, 6 If you were pure and upright, Surely now He would awake for you, And prosper your rightful dwelling place.
- Zophar – Job 11:7 ¶ “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? … 10 “If He passes by, imprisons, and gathers to judgment, Then who can hinder Him? 11 For He knows deceitful men; He sees wickedness also. Will He not then consider it?
- Zophar – Job 20:27 The heavens will reveal his iniquity, And the earth will rise up against him. 28 The increase of his house will depart, And his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath. 29 This is the portion from God for a wicked man, The heritage appointed to him by God.”
- Elihu – Job 34:20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail, And they shall not escape, And their hope-loss of life!” … 34:35 ‘Job speaks without knowledge, His words are without wisdom.’ 36 Oh, that Job were tried to the utmost, Because his answers are like those of wicked men! 37 For he adds rebellion to his sin; He claps his hands among us, And multiplies his words against God.“
Although Job’s friends had lots negative things to say about Job, God had this to say about him:
- Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
What a great reminder this book has been to me to be careful how I judge someone. More often than not, what people need from me is not criticism, but sympathy, empathy, genuine concern and care. As Job’s friends, they did not offer him their love, support, and sympathy, but their criticism, their accusations, and their cruelty. And because these men were his “friends” I believe that their words stung Job harder than the loss of his wealth, his children, and his health.
Job 12:4 “I am one mocked by his friends, Who called on God, and He answered him, The just and blameless who is ridiculed.”
Job 16:10 “They gape at me with their mouth, They strike me reproachfully on the cheek, They gather together against me.”
Job 17:1 ¶ “My spirit is broken, My days are extinguished, The grave is ready for me. 2 Are not mockers with me? And does not my eye dwell on their provocation? …. 6 “But He has made me a byword of the people, And I have become one in whose face men spit.
Job 21:3 Bear with me that I may speak, And after I have spoken, keep mocking.
My prayer today is that the Holy Spirit will control my thoughts of others, and the words that I will speak to them.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
If you are the object of someone’s criticism and scorn, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) And remember, that the only person who’s opinion of us really matters, is the LORD’s. As it is written:
Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Proverbs 24:5 A wise man is strong, Yes, a man of knowledge increases strength;
Proverbs 24:10 ¶ If you faint in the day of adversity, Your strength is small.
A wise person knows that his strength is in Christ, and not in his flesh. A wise person knows that they cannot live a godly life through their own self-effort, but through the power of Christ alone.
Three times the apostle Paul prayed and asked God to remove from his life what he called “a thorn in the flesh” (Take a look at the context of Paul’s prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, and note that Paul was being demonized – “the messenger of Satan” was a demon), and three times God answered Paul’s prayer. Note, however, that the way God answered Paul was not the way that most of us consider answered prayer.
God answered Paul’s prayer by choosing not to remove the “thorn” from Paul’s life. Although God did not answer Paul by giving him relief from the tormenting demon, what He did give him was much better. God gave Paul His personal assurance that by His empowering presence, and through His amazing grace, he would make it.
God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” As a result Paul boasted, not in his healing and deliverance, but in his weakness. Paul said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
God’s presence and His grace are more than enough to see us through any situation. Boasting about God’s empowering presence and grace is true wisdom, and the key that unlocks the door to abundant living. As it is written:
Jeremiah 9:23 ¶ Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: 24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
Proverbs 23:29 ¶ Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30 Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. 31 Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; 32 At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. 34 Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
35 “They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?” (NKJV)
Although the Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shall not drink adult beverages,” it makes it very clear that we should be very, very careful how we use this freedom of choice. Personally, I believe that while living in a culture where 10 thousand persons a year are killed drunk drivers, and where thousands upon thousands of others are seriously hurt or maimed by the same, where the misuse of alcohol is directly responsible for the neglect of children, and the abuse of both moms and dads, that using alcoholic beverages is not a smart way to use my Christian liberty.
As a Bible believing Christian, I would rather use the liberty that God has given me to engage in activities that build up and encourage others, and activities that promote life and peace. As it is written:
Romans 14:16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.