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Vocation-Serving God, Serving Neighbor

 

In the Ten Commandments, God gives His people what they are to do—love Him and love neighbor (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 22:34-40).  God even commands His people how to love others (i.e. Honor father and mother, not murdering, not bearing false witness (gossiping), etc.), as well as how to love Him (having no other gods before Him, not misusing His Name, and using His Word rightly).  By doing these, the people of God serve Him and one another.

We do not have to invent or discover “new ways” of serving God and the church.  God has already given us what to do.

We serve God by keeping His Word (not despising it, but believing it), worshiping only Him—the Holy Trinity (not committing idolatry), and hearing His Word (going to church where His Holy Word is proclaimed and receiving and rejoicing in His free gift of forgiveness and life, given through the preached Word, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper).

We serve God also by serving our neighbor.  This kind of service takes place in our vocation, our calling(s).  This is where we serve God and our neighbor.  Parents care for, and discipline their children, in their vocation.  Children honor and obey their parents in their vocation.  Teachers teach and instruct in their vocation.  Students hear and learn in their vocation.  Pastors preach and teach and administer the sacraments in their vocation.  Congregational members hear what is preached and receive from the Lord what He speaks and gives through the Words and the actions of the pastor.

Serving God this way, in one’s vocation, does not mean that we necessarily like or will like those who serve us.  Pastors and congregations, students and teachers, parents and children, civil authorities and citizens, and others all have their weaknesses, their quirks, and their sins.  They do not always do, act, or speak as they should within their vocation.  But rather than using these shortcomings as excuses not to honor or recognize those whom God has placed to serve us, all the more ought we to “bear with one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Also, concerning vocation, it is the office that we are to recognize, and to help the one in that office to do as he or she should.

Vocation is how God would have us serve one another.  “Discovering new ways of serving God and the church” is not of God, for God has already given us how to serve Him and one another.

The question then is, “how are we doing” at serving Him and serving one another in the calling to which God has called us? (1 Corinthians 7).  The answer for all of us is-poorly.  We are failing.  We do not do as we should and we do as we ought not (Romans 7).  God is not first in our lives, and we seek to serve ourselves first and not others.  Instead of encouraging one another to do as God has given us to do, we complain, tear down, bicker, and intentionally hurt our neighbor for what they have done or have not done.  We take the anger we have towards ourselves out on others.  In doing so, we do not love as God would have us love.  We despise and profane the Name of God among us, and demonstrate, not service to God, but service to ourselves and the evil one.

Yet God, in His service to the Father on our behalf, completely and perfectly demonstrated, not service to Himself or for Himself, but to His Father for us, and to us in obedience to His Father (Hebrews 5:8), that His Father declare from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  In other Words, Jesus fulfilled His calling, His vocation, before the Father, for you.

Jesus kept His Father’s Word.  He truly loved His neighbor (you and me), both in saying what the Father had given Him to say (the word of Law and Gospel), and doing what the Father had given Him to do (suffer and die on the cross).  Jesus did neither of these for Himself, but for us, for you.  He came to save you from your disobedience, neglect, and misuse of your calling, both to serve God and to serve one another.

Instead of inventing new ways of serving God and the church, all we have to do is look to what God Himself says.  In doing that, we will have more than enough “to do.”  In doing that, we will also recognize how we do not do as God would have us do.  But by God’s grace through His Son, we will also recognize how Christ has done all that His Father had given Him to do.  By God’s grace through Jesus, we will recognize that Christ, having done all that the Father had given Him to do, means new and eternal life, for Christ, in shedding His blood on the cross, shed His blood to cover all of our sins, all of our sins against God and against one another.

This means that those same sins no longer condemn us as guilty before God.  Those same sins against God and one another can hurt us no more, for in their place is Christ, the sinner of all sinners.

In return, Christ, having taken our place, gives to us what is His (called “the great exchange”).  His obedience and service to His Father is counted as our own.  Therefore, because of Jesus, God sees you as perfectly obedient and a faithful servant, not because of what you do, but because of what Christ Himself did.

Thus does St. Paul say, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Having peace with God means that all before Him is “alright.”  We have no need to fear for all that we have done and all that we have done wrong in our specific callings.  Before God, on account of Jesus, there is nothing but peace.  And because of Jesus, the Father also says to you, “You are My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

In contrast to taking these words as reason to “sit back and take it easy,” the Christian hears these words, and, in distinction from the sinful nature to serve nothing but itself, the Christian, according to the new man, seeks to all the more serve God and neighbor, faithfully and sacrificially, giving him or herself even in death for the benefit and well-being of those whom God would have be served.  Life begins to be focused on the other, on God and neighbor, not on self and ego.

As Christ lived, not for Himself, but in obedience to His Father and in service to us, so those born of God live, not for themselves, but in obedience to the Father in service to others.  This means that the Christian will seek, not his own benefit and gain, but that of others whom God has called to help and serve.

Such service to others will not take a “one size fits all approach.”  Nor does it have to be sought.  Rather, the Lord Himself reveals how we are to live with and to love one another, even as He, in Christ, loved and loves us, forgiving our sins and giving life and joy and peace (1 John 4:11).   As God loves us, so do His people love one another.

 

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Boasting in the Lord

17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”  18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18

These words of our Lord through St. Paul the Apostle are a stark contrast to the ways of the world.  St. Paul writes similar things in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  Likely referencing Jeremiah 9,[1] he writes the same thing, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

That word “glories” could be translated with the similar word “boasts,” and it is, in various places in the New Testament.  Sometimes the Greek word is translated with the verb “glory” and sometimes not.[2]  It would be worth looking into see if a consistency exists.

If we translate the verse above with “boasts,” the contrast between the way of the God and the way of the world perhaps becomes more clear.

The way of the world is to draw attention to one’s successes, strengths, abilities.  Yet the way of the Lord is to draw one’s attention to the paradox, the reality behind what is seen.

For example, Paul in 1 Corinthians bears this out, where he writes of God’s work in that which is contrary to human reason:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are…(1 Corinthians 1:18-28).

God works differently than the world does.  Where the world praises success, God chastises.  Where man exalts himself, God humbles (Luke 14:11).

These things the Christian might recognize more outside the church than inside it.  Yet human pride, arrogance, and boastfulness stand always at the ready, and wait at the door to make further entrance, even already having an abode in the human heart.  Such idolatries are only cleansed by Christ’s righteousness (1 John 1:8-10).

A phrase that I have seen on a sign for a baptist church reads, “Maximizing, Magnifying, Multiplying.”[3]  But one might wonder who the actor is!  If it’s God, then why advance what God already knows, as if He needs our recognition.  To remind ourselves that it is God doing these things?  I think not.

On the other hand, and more likely, such phraseology would seem to try to indicate that a church with such a sign is “doing” these things.  However, if this is the case, an honest question is simply, “Why?”  What is the purpose of such a phrase except to try to give an appearance of activity in the eyes of the world?  And to what end, to say that “the church is doing something?”  Why need it if it actually is?

Should the church ever need to defend her activity before the world, or before one another if she is being faithful to the Lord and preaching the truth?  Should the church ever need to tout its activities to demonstrate its “doingness when it’s not the world’s approval that counts, but God’s?”   Does the church now thrive on (or need) the praise of men?

Should the church seek to please men and the world, she ceases to be a servant of Christ.  Should the Christian pride his or her own activity, humbling is sure to come.

The church finds her confidence in her Lord and Head—not in what she is doing, how many people she reaches, or how many lives are changed as a result of her activity.  She rests her joy in her Lord who bought her, who purchased her with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  What she is to be doing is only what her Lord has given her to do (i.e. Matthew 28).  As she does this, she can only say, “I have only done what was commanded of me” (Luke 17:10).

Should the church find herself doing other than what the Lord has given her to do, and boasting in her own activities and not God’s, then she ceases to be the Lord’s church.  Thus will the bride of Christ and the body of Christ seek to please Him, boast in His grace, and in genuine humility, draw all attention to Christ seek commendation, not from the world, but from God.

It’s not he who commends himself who is approved, but whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:18).


[1] Jeremiah 9:23-24: 23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.

[2] At least in the New King James Version.

[3] Interestingly, these same three words clearly appear on publications in the South Wisconsin District (p2) of the LCMS.

 

 

All about People? The Place of the Word in Mission

Speaking to His disciples before ascending into heaven, Jesus said, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’  Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJ). [For reflection on the use of these words today, see this article from the [The Not-So Great Commission, part 1; The Not-So Great Commission, part 2].

Interestingly, in the Greek New Testament, the first verb in v19 is a participle, not an imperative (a command), as in many a translation.  In other words, after Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), He immediately follows with an aorist passive participle.  This is suggestive of another word of Jesus, where He says, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

In other words, just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world to speak life and salvation through the forgiveness of sins, so also, in a similar way, Jesus was sending out His disciples (apostles, “sent ones”) to speak the same words of life and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, in Matthew 28:19ff, Jesus was not telling His disciples to “go” in the sense of command.  Rather, as Jesus’ disciples, as He was sent, so He, Jesus, was sending them.  And being Jesus’ sent ones, “going” is what Jesus’ sent ones do.

The other verbs are significant as well… “(Make) Disciple(s)” Imperative, command … “baptizing” Present participle… “teaching” Present participle… “to observe/keep” Present infinitive… “commanded” Aorist… “I am Present with you”.

Going, the disciples were to “disciple”/”make disciples” by: 1 baptizing “all nations” (not just those of a certain age) and 2teaching, teaching what the Lord Jesus had commanded them.

The emphasis of Jesus’ words to His disciples before He ascended, then, were on the baptizing and teaching.  In this way, Jesus’ disciples/apostles were to be discipling others, the emphasis being on what Jesus said.

Such an emphasis seems to run contrary to current themes in what is today called “mission” or “evangelism.”  For example, at a recent conference, a pastor had said, “We need to know people as much as we know the Gospel” (Italics are the article’s).  He also “encouraged” the attending students “to share their personal testimony by describing what God has done in their lives” (Reporter).

Personal testimony about what God has done may have a place in witnessing, but it does not have the same place as God’s Word.  Personal testimony and people do not have the same position as the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  To say that knowledge of people is just as much a necessity as knowledge of the Gospel is to minimize Christ.  And to encourage the sharing of personal testimony by describing what God has done in one’s life maximizes subjective experience and minimizes the testimony of God’s Word.

Christ and the Gospel are first and foremost, and are to be nothing but central.  No equal standing exists between people and the Gospel nor personal testimony and the Gospel.  Personal testimony does not create faith.  It is God’s Word that does this (Romans 10:17).

So often, it seems, in dialogue about “mission” and “evangelism,” greater weight is given to the hearer than to the Gospel, or to the speaker than to the Gospel.  Lesser weight is attributed to God’s Word and the power of that Word to bring about changed hearts.  However, God Himself says that His Word “shall not return to” Him “void” (Isaiah 55:11), and that “Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Instead of focusing “as much” on knowing people, the Bible focuses on Christ and the Gospel.  This is what His disciples confess and delight in.  And Christ and the Gospel is what the church is about, not self-testimony, but the testimony of Him whom God sent, who was crucified, died, buried, resurrected the third day, and lives forevermore, sitting at God’s right hand.

Rather than emphasizing methodology, sociology, culture, the hearer or the speaker, Holy Scripture emphasizes that the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” and that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

In effect, Holy Scripture speaks Law and Gospel, distinguishing between the two; the Law convincing of sin, and the Gospel speaking of Christ the Savior.  To be “mission” and “evangelism” oriented is to speak God’s Word, centering on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and trusting in the same, acknowledging Him alone as Savior, and Him who alone forgives our weak witness.

Speaking the language of the people?  Of course!  Speaking the Word of Christ?  Unashamedly!

To God alone be the Glory!

Comment on a message from Brad Bright

In the mail the other day, I received a packet of information for general ministry items (books, signs, church supplies, etc.).  Included in this packet was a card advertising a message from Brad Bright, president of Bright Media and son of Dr. Bill Bright (Founder, Campus Crusade For Christ).  The card also had a picture of Brad Bright’s book entitled, Becoming An Agent of Real Change: God Is The Issue.

The message on the card included the following:

The only way to change culture is to change society’s view of God.

These words especially drew my attention.  In essence, Brad advocates changing the culture by changing the society’s view of God.  Such a dream is idealistic, however, because God’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  In fact, WE don’t change society’s view on anything.  It is the Lord, through His Word, who softens and changes hearts, calling to repentance and faith.

The Church, God’s people, simply proclaim the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ.  They “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and “let the chips fall where they might.”  It is God who “gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Does the Church have a responsibility to society?  Yes, but not to change it.  Rather, she, the Church, is to confess the truth, to call sin—sin, and to preach the Gospel.  The rest is in God’s hands.

The Church is also to be compassionate and merciful, not to change society, but simply because that’s what she does, out of love for neighbor.  Such is what the Father is toward us—in Christ.

Society and the citizens within it need help.  Plain and simple.  We, as God’s people, don’t change anything.  We are to be God’s people, a light with lamps burning (Matthew 5;16), not drawing attention to ourselves, but to Christ.

The reality is that culture won’t change even if society’s view of God changes.  Until Christ returns, the consequences and effects of sin remain.  And especially does the Christian struggle with these, living under the cross.  Christ didn’t come “to change” culture.  He came to save sinners.  He did that by shedding His blood on the cross.  The church doesn’t save anyone.  She is called to speak the truth.  And it is through that word proclaimed, which is not her own, that sinners come to faith, believe the Gospel and become heirs of eternal life.  And it is by that same Word by which Christians remain and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

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