Growing In Godliness Blog
Humbled For Service
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life-changing tool. Consider, for a moment, the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him, he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self-assured young man who seemingly “knew it all.” It is not unusual for young men (and women, too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain that Christianity—like Christ—had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self-assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong.
As he journeyed to Damascus, he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body which he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he had been.
But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word is amazing, for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation—indeed, his journey of humility—is seen in his writings. Note the progression:
• In 1 Corinthians 15:9, written about 56 AD, he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” This was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying, I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team.”
• Then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8. He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger—much larger—but is still comprised of a minority.
• Then two years later he writes, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his own words, we learn Paul has been completely humbled. By the time he wrote 1 Timothy he says is was the foremost of ALL sinners.
How did this journey of humility come to be? By constant contact with the inspired Word and by contemplation of the gold standard Himself – Jesus Christ. Paul was changed. If we will let it, such is the transforming power of the Word in us. Paul was transformed by the Word and the Word will transform us so we will have our high self-opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our Lord.
One New Man
How can man have a relationship with God? How can man who is far off from God be near? How can man be part of God’s family? How can a dead man be a new man?
Without hope, now hope
Man needs God. Man needs what God provides. Sin estranged man from God (2:1-3). God did not abandon man. Man abandoned God. In Christ, God makes the move toward man to reconcile him. It may be hard for us to see ourselves in the book of Ephesians. We do not see ourselves as Gentiles. Yet, the description by Paul about the Gentiles applies to us (Ephesians 2:11-12). Paul has said that man is lost and God has reached out in mercy, love and kindness through His Son to save him (2:1-10). Now, he describes the Gentile (and us) as estranged from God, a stranger, without hope and without God (2:11-12). What a desperate, bleak picture. Good news! Man does not have to be without Christ. Gentiles may not have had a codified law, like the Jew, but in Christ he can have a covenant relationship with God. He does not have to remain alien to God or be without promise. Because of God’s grace, the Gentile, who was once far off can now be near (2:13). He can belong to God. He can be a citizen in His kingdom. He can have a home. Once described in the bleakest of terms, he can now be described as God’s child.
Both, Jew and Gentile, One New Man
The focus of the gospel message is singular: “I have given My Son, so you can be my child.” In Christ, God’s purpose is making both Jew and Gentile one new man (2:14). He made both one. Yes, He made possible for Jew and Gentile to be brothers. But in making both one His aim was reconciling Jew and Gentile. The reconciliation is not between them. The one new man is not Jew and Gentile, but out of the Jews and out of the Gentiles, one new man, that is the same kind of new man. One kind of man that serves God, a Christian. He made both one, one thing of them both. A Jew still remained a Jew; a Gentile still remained a Gentile. But, in Christ, both are a new creation, a new kind of man. Now at peace with God (2:16-17). The law is taken out of the way (2:15). It was the special arrangement for Jews that made them a different kind of people from the Gentiles. When that was taken out of the way Jew and Gentile could be one with God. The force of what separated them has been dissolved. Not only that, but the estrangement man had with man has now been removed, especially between Jew and Gentile. There was a middle wall of partition. That wall has been abolished. Abolished means that which has separated Jew and Gentile has been rendered inoperative. That is, by His death on the cross, Jesus abolished the law of commandment and rendered inoperative the whole Mosaical system. That system contained ordinances that were designed to keep the Jews separate from the rest of mankind. But those ordinances were only designed to continue until Christ came and died as a sacrifice. After His death there was no longer any occasion to continue the ordinances and figure of the law that caused enmity between Jew and Gentile.
No access, now access
As a result, both have access to the Father (2:18). The idea of access takes us back to the imagery that if a person wanted an audience with royalty, that is a King or Queen, it was not because one sought it freely. If a person went up to the door of the King and knocked on his door to request an audience with Him, he may find himself without a head. No, if a person wanted access to the king, the king sent for that person. It was a great honor to have an invitation with the king. It was a great honor to have his attention. Here is the great news! In Christ we have an audience with the King and we do not have to wait to be invited by Him. We can have access to Him any time, any day, any place. The new man, with his new mind and new relationship, because of Christ’s blood, can have access to God!
Now family, now God’s child
Further, because of what God has provided in Christ this one new man can be a member of God’s household (2:19). Just think, one time man was a stranger to God, now, in Christ, he can be a member of His household. One time man was without right of citizenship. Now he is a fellow citizen enjoying equal privileges. Is it any wonder we sing, “Our God is an awesome God?”
Built on the chief cornerstone
Finally, Christ is the foundation of this new relationship. He is described as the chief cornerstone (2:20-21). The chief corner stone served as the primary foundation stone at the corner of a building. The architect fixed his standard for all measurements of the building on this stone. There was not a single line or angle of the building which was not determined by and adjusted to perfect symmetry of that stone. So it is with Christ. Christians find their true place of usefulness because of their relationship with Him. We find our rule and order for life in Him. Everything is measured by Him and everything is builded together and fitly framed in Him. Because of what Christ has done for us, God can live, rule in and dwell in us. His spirit can become my spirit (2:22).
So What Does This Mean For me?
Ephesians tells me I can receive God’s grace. I can live with hope and face God with hope. I can receive His promises. I can belong to Him. I can be a citizen in His kingdom. I can be a new kind of man. I can have the peace of God that passes understanding. I can have access to Him as my Father. I can be part of His family. I can enjoy all the privileges of being His child (1:1-14). I can build my life with Christ as my foundation. I can have His spirit. I can be His special creature created by Him for every good work (2:10). Look at what God has made possible for me! He made it possible for you too!
Two Ways to Read the Bible
I would suggest that there are two basic ways in which people read the Bible. There are those who read the Bible superficially, and there are those who read it more accurately. Now the alarming news is that sometimes it is sincerely religious people who make the mistake of reading the Bible superficially. Think of the difference between the way the Jews of Jesus’ day handled the Scriptures (take Matt 19.18-20 or Matt 15.3-6 as an example), and the way Jesus approached it (compare Matt 22.31-32). The Jews of Jesus’ day are a good example of highly religious people who had read the Scriptures superficially.
What is this superficial kind of reading? It is, among other things, often a self-centered and a this-worldly reading. In other words, people who take this approach often believe that the Bible is about some earthly condition or situation that will come about for them if they can understand how to get it from God. The condition may be the hope of an earthly kingdom, or it may be the prospect of getting rich, or it may be some nebulous sense of intellectual enlightenment, but whatever form it takes this approach to the Bible says that the Bible is about me and what good things God will do for me in my present life if I can just manage to please God. This is, generally speaking, the approach to religion of most pagans in the ancient world, and it is the approach to the Bible that is commonly found among the television evangelists today (especially those who preach the “Health and Wealth Gospel”). The tragic thing about this approach to the Bible is that it actually prevents the Bible from communicating its message. When we read the Bible through the lens of our own hopes and aspirations, the result is that we convince ourselves that the Bible really is talking about such things when in fact it is otherwise. In the end we only become self-deceived as we read the Bible in this way.
What about the other way of reading the Bible? How can we make sure we are reading it correctly and accurately?
Getting It Right
The answer is that we need to let the Bible itself show us the way. What we need to do is adopt the perspective of the Bible authors themselves (if we indeed believe that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit), and learn to read the Scriptures like they did. Then we will be reading the Bible as God meant it to be read; then the Bible will be communicating its message more clearly to us.
Now I realize that things are not always black-and-white. The fact is that some people manage to understand some parts of the Bible accurately while reading other parts superficially. Some parts of the Bible are “naturally” easy to understand correctly (although some people manage to misunderstand even the easy parts), and others are more difficult. Yet it is not a matter of percentages, as if the person who reads 51% of the Bible more accurately is the better Bible reader than the person who only gets 27% of it correctly. Furthermore, the Bible does not begin with a list of hermeneutical rules. Instead, God expects us to pick up the Bible and simply “listen.” He wants us to learn His view of things and see the story from His point of view. When we let the Bible simply tell its story on its own terms, then we are reading it correctly. When we bring our own self-seeking agendas to it, then we end up preventing the Bible from communicating to us, and the result is that we read it superficially.
We are talking here about first getting the right orientation, the right perspective. The orientation determines, in a large measure, the destination.
So what does the Bible tell us about this? Does the Bible reveal a particular perspective through which we are to understand the Biblical story? Is there a particular orientation which the Bible itself presents to us, for us to adopt as the way we look at things? I believe the answer to these questions is “yes,” and in the following installments on this topic I hope to help you see it.
Before we do that, however, a fundamental starting-point needs to be established. If we truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, then it would be best to begin reading the Bible with the understanding that it is God’s revelation of Himself to us. In other words, the Bible is primarily about God. That is to say, it is not primarily about us. Oh, we are involved to be sure, and God makes some wonderful offers and invitations to us in His word. But the Bible is not about satisfying our self-centered personal ambitions and worldly dreams. It is not some kind of code for getting rich or for dominating the world (like a political nation-state would). It is the revelation of God about Himself. It is the story, told by God Himself, of what God has done, is doing, and will do, a story that invites us to share the benefits of God’s wonderful activity.
God of Wonders
Habakkuk decries the evil running amuck among the Lord’s people and asks God to act. He could not have anticipated God’s reply, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:5). God further reveals that the Babylonians would serve as God’s instrument to judge His wayward people. Habakkuk was not particularly excited about the news and it only raised more questions in his mind.
The last statement of verse 5 is worthy of much meditation as it summarizes the ways and activity of God. Our God is a God of Wonders! “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways” (Romans 11:33). While we may greatly struggle to fully process the depths of this statement about God, such lofty thoughts of Him should be often frequented in our minds.
Three important thoughts flow out of God’s words to Habakkuk: 1) God’s activity astonishes. 2) God’s activity is not thwarted by powerful men. 3) This same God is still active today.
The whole Bible story continually reveals the grandiose nature of God’s doings. Anticipating the role of a suffering Savior in man’s redemption, the inspired psalmist writes, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-24).
Extraordinary signs demonstrate God’s limitless ability. He makes an axe head float. Jesus walks on water. He feeds thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread while the leftover fragments exceed the original amount of food. While astonishing, such acts are easily consistent with a God whose “understanding is infinite” and One who is “abundant in strength.” After all, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them” (Psalm 147:4, 5).
Particularly impressive to me is the day of which it is said, “And there was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14). Following the dramatic victory at Jericho and ultimate victory at Ai, the Amorite kings and a quite formidable army unite to attack Gibeon, who had made a life-saving alliance with Israel. God informs Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands, not one of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:8). Joshua and his army march all night and suddenly fall upon their foes. The Lord confounds the Amorites and pummels them with hailstones as they flee. Joshua needs more daylight to finish them off and pleads, “O, sun stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12). Both the sun and moon stop, “And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13).
Some claim, “Impossible!” We know what Joshua did not. It’s not the sun moving around the earth but the earth’s rotation that gives the appearance of the sun moving from the east to west. We are told by skeptics, if the sun stood still for “about a whole day,” the effects would be cataclysmic. But remember, this is the Creator we’re talking about. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
When God speaks to Habakkuk of His wonder He is about to perform, nothing miraculous is under consideration. Assyria, the present world power, is going to eventually relinquish world dominance to the Babylonians and God is going to use them to judge and teach His people in Judah as He had used the Assyrians — “the rod of My anger” — to punish Israel (Isaiah 10:5).
A careful reading of the last several chapters in Daniel causes one to marvel at the activity in the spiritual realm that is behind what is playing out in the kingdoms of men. Government leaders rarely see themselves for what they really are, nothing more than God’s pawns to accomplish His purposes (cf. Isaiah 40:12-25). Even the Babylonians did not see it, “…they whose strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:11).
No elected official or government in this whole world is capable of overthrowing what God has done or is planning to do. Certain freedoms might be restricted that we might presently enjoy but God’s salvation will still be provided to those who seek it. His spiritual kingdom will continue on (cf. Daniel 2:44). History will culminate the way God intends and at the time He decides. Only due to God’s patience does the world still exist to this time (2 Peter 3:9, 15).
The appropriate reaction to the God of wonders is to fully submit to His purposes. Find your purpose in His great purposes. No greater purpose for our lives can be pursued. If you think about it, how do most people spend their days? They work, accumulate things, improve their circumstances, enjoy family, seek fun and then ultimately someone else ends up with all of their stuff and their position. Eventually, they become just a footnote in history and most are forgotten. How much do you know about your great great grandparents?
While our deeds in human history may not be remembered by future generations, involvement in God’s things contains far-reaching and eternal implications…the destiny of souls! Can anything in this world exceed being “a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21)? People get excited about a lot of different things that have a temporal purpose and a temporal reward. We stack those things back to back to back and they become the stuff of life. But those things must be secondary to our greater spiritual purpose and pursued in light of it or they become a snare to our souls. Ultimately, only one thing matters, “…rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 17:20). And God will not forget the things we have done to promote His cause in the world (Hebrews 6:10).
Christians find liberation from the anxieties that plague so many. God equips us to face and endure the crippling pain and troubles associated with life in this world. We trust in the God of wonders! We know “Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).
Peace With All Men
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
Paul implies peace may not always be possible, but it is an object of desire. “As much as lieth in you,” that is, do your best to preserve peace. Don’t begin or originate a quarrel. Don’t stir up trouble over things of no vital importance. So far as we are concerned, we are to seek peace, but it doesn’t always depend on us. We may be attacked one day by snarling, biting dogs. We may be called upon to defend truth. Ours is to live peaceably. We start no strife, or contention.
It was not possible for Paul to live peaceable with all men. He will reference many times how he was among those who sought to do him harm (2Cor. 11:24-26). Paul referred to the wild beast in Ephesus. He said that “Alexander did me much harm” (2 Tim 4:14). Even our Lord did not find it possible to live peaceably with all men. He overthrew the table of the money changers on two separate occasions. He warned His own disciples, “If the world hates me they will hate you” (John 15:18). The Jews were determined to kill Him. Caiaphas said, “This man has got to die for the nation” (John 11:51-52). However, Jesus nor Paul went about looking to start a fight or stir up trouble. When they faced the difficulty of living peaceably with others they made sure it was others who stirred the strife.
We ought to be a peace loving people. In fact, we are commanded to “seek peace” (1Pet. 3:11). Peace is something we must pursue (2Tim. 2:22). Peace is to be a present characteristic of our life. We also need to pursue peace so that our lives may be tranquil and live at peace before God in the same way we live righteously before God. Peace is as foundational as faith, love and righteousness. It is not optional! Yet, at times we find ourselves embroiled with others who just will not live peaceably and so we are left to contend for what is right or what is truth. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers…” (Mt 5). That is an interesting concept. He did not say, Blessed are those who enjoy peace, nor, those that want peace, or even, maintain peace. But, instead, make peace. Making peace means there is a situation where peace does not exist. The Lord had in mind, first and foremost, peace with God.
So here is the real question. How do we do live peaceably? Well, first we will not be able to live in peace with others until we live in peace with God (Romans 5:1). If we find ourselves enemies of the Creator we are not at peace. Peace is found in salvation. Salvation is found in the Savior. The Savior brings peace. Enemies are reconciled to Him by His blood (Eph. 2: 13-14). There is no peace with God apart from Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace.
So for us, peace can be attained in this manner: “to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility” (Tit. 3:2). See the family of words? They all form a unit. Get the point! We live peaceable with all men when we do not speak evil, when we are gentle and show all humility. Notice right before peaceable is to speaking evil of no one. How many times is peace interrupted because someone has a poorly thought out word? It only takes one word to do it. Then notice what follows. What would be the impact on peace if we put gentle into the equation? Not a harsh word or action. What if everybody were gentle? Would that contribute a lot to peace? Would that make it possible to live peaceably with all men? Then see, “showing all humility.” Man is at the apex of all God created. Man is made in God’s own image. To depreciate man is to depreciate God. Humility is a chosen place in which one chooses to take second place to others. We let someone go before us. We give our self second place. We do that not because the other is better than us but because we think they deserve to be first. We show humility because that makes us like God (Matthew 5:45). Did the Lord ask the impossible of us?
Sadly, in spite of all this it is still not possible to live peaceable with all men. But, when it is not possible I need to make sure I am not the reason why. Sometimes we may have to fight a war to have peace. However, I need to make sure I am not just wanting to make war. We have confused those who contend for the faith and those who are contentious. Contentious people like to fight. They do not care what the fight is about. Fighting for the faith is just a convenient excuse to fight. Some just like to stir the pot. They destroy unity, set everyone on edge, and make people suspicious of others. Controversy for the sake of controversy is not seeking peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 sets the tone and attitudes necessary for brethren to get along. Patience, forebearing, humility are the necessary ingredients. True enough we may have to be at war. The call to peace is a not a figure. It is a factual matter. We have been called to be peaceable people. The angels declared at the birth of Jesus that He would bring “Peace on Earth.” The prophets called Him the “Prince of Peace.” The people of Jesus follow that model. That does not mean peace over right or heresy. It means we have been called in a high priority matter to be peaceable, as much as we can, in all circumstances, and with all people. That is built into the peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). It only takes one to disturb the peace. I can only control me and what I am pursuing. I need to make sure I am pursuing peace. I need to make sure I am fighting only when the fight is necessary. Can we carry grudges? Can we be a grouch to those around us? Can we be obstinate and obnoxious so that we do not get along with anybody? Yes. And, we cannot say, “Well, that is just the way I am.” There are consequences if we behave that way. “Pursue peace with all men,” not just brethren. That is our call.
Peace is not the absence of trouble. It is hard work. It deals with our spirit, our heart. It is attainable. The Lord expects it. We are to pursue it. Here is a novel idea, “Let’s give it a try and see how it works.” The fruit is better (Jas. 3:17). The church will be better. Our homes will be better. Society will be better. I will be better. The path to heaven is through Christ. He provides peace. Give His way a try.