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The glory of God's servant

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Introduction

  • Last night I talked about focusing on God's glory. How we actually apply that may seem somewhat confusing. Maybe you are asking the question, "When you are thinking about something so big as God's glory over all the earth, doesn't that mean that my part is pretty insignificant?" Does my contribution, my ministry here in MacGregor even count when you are talking about a dream as big as that?
  • Pictures of Michael Phelps with 8 gold medals around his neck, world’s greatest Olympian, world’s greatest athlete. Is this what it means to be great? If so, then we might as well give up now.
  • We can’t all win 8 gold medals.  We can’t all be Olympic champions.  
  • How does God define greatness?  Who is successful in God's eyes? Who will hear "Well done, good and faithful servant"?
  • Friday night, I shared about how the question posed by my General Director “Does he pursue God's glory?” on an evaluation really shook me up, and made me reconsider my life and ministry.   About 2 years ago, he asked me another question, “What does it mean for SEND in Far East Russia to be successful?  What do we need to do as a mission in FER so that one day we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.  I did a lot of thinking about that question, and it prompted me to do an extensive personal Bible study, and lead our area through a number of Bible studies over a few months on this topic.   We ended up coming up a statement that we approved at our annual conference in 2007.
  • Why did that question motivate to do all that work?  
    • I do not want to waste my life. I want my life to count. I don't want to spend all those years in a foreign culture, only to realize that I had been using the wrong scale to determine what is means to do a good job.
    • A lot of the things we do in missions don't make the news. Often the results are pretty unimpressive. There is a lot of just tough slugging with little fruit in many of the mission fields.
    • And just like any other red-blooded human being, we missionaries tend to compare ourselves with others. When we hear about fantastic church growth in other parts of the world, we ask, "What is wrong with me?" Why doesn't God bless what I am doing here in Far East Russia?
  • What does it mean to be great in God’s kingdom?  Is that even a fair question?

Text:  Matt 18:1-4

The question of greatness.  

  • The very fact that this was a question indicates that the concept of greatness in the kingdom of heaven is hard to understand.   The parallels in Luke and Mark indicate that the disciples were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest before they asked this question of Jesus.   They didn’t understand Jesus’ scale of greatness, and so continually got it wrong when they tried to put themselves on that scale.
  • The fact that the question is addressed to Jesus and Jesus honours it with an answer, rather than a rebuke, indicates that Jesus is not altogether unconcerned about greatness
    • Jesus does not condemn the desire to be great among the disciples, but rather gives this desire some needed correction and direction.   He never infers that it is an inappropriate desire.
    • In fact, as you read through the Gospels, you find that Jesus talks about greatness quite often, and not only in response to his disciples' arguments

The visual aid of greatness

  • I think the disciples were looking for a name, not a principle or an illustration, as an answer to their question.  Which one of them was the greatest?   Jesus didn’t want to give that kind of an answer, and I think we understand why.
  • If you had to give a name, what would be your answer to the question?    JESUS.  He is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • But Jesus was not about to give this answer if the disciples couldn’t see it themselves, and so he picked someone that the disciples would never have considered a candidate for greatness - a child.   If you want to become great, become like this child!

What does it mean to become like a child?

  • What it does not mean?
    • Innocence - Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Pr 22:15)
    • Childishness (immaturity, naivety) - 1 Cor. 14:20 - Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
  • So what does it mean to become like a child?  Fortunately Jesus clear spells out what childlikeness means. It means to humble oneself (Matt 18:4)
    • To get into the kingdom requires a childlike attitude - an attitude of humble repentance and dependence in faith on our Saviour. 
    • To achieve greatness in that kingdom requires that same spirit of humility and dependence.

Humility

  • So in our pursuit of greatness, we have to understand humility the way Jesus understands it.
  • To humble oneself is very difficult to do, because whenever you think you have attained it, you are guilty of pride.     Wiersbe - Someone has accurately defined humility as that grace that, when you know you have it, you’ve lost it.
  • What does this suggest about our striving for greatness as a Christian or as a church?   We just have to remember that we have not and we never will achieve greatness to the extent that we could.   Once we think we have achieved greatness, we will have lost it.
  • So the road to greatness is the road characterized by humility.  How do we become more humble?   
  • Many Mennonites over the years have come to the conclusion that humility is found in dressing plainly, not driving tractors with rubber tires and rejecting any forms of higher education.  Unfortunately the recipe for humility and consequent greatness is not quite that simple.
  • What does humility mean for us as individuals and for us as a church?  I think it involves repeatedly coming back to 3 values and seeking to work them out in everything we do:
    • servanthood
    • willingness to learn and change
    • dependence

Servanthood

  • Humbles himself - not is humble in the eyes of others, but humbles himself.   A person who humbles himself has a certain status, and declines to make use of the advantages, privileges and power that comes with that status. 
  • Jesus humbled himself by coming to serve others, rather than expecting them to serve him.   “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28).   The only one who has ever humbled himself to this extent is Jesus, and so He truly is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • In our society, children are not often called servants, as they are in other cultures
    • e.g. househelpers in the Philippines sending money home, beggars on the streets begging for their parents or gang bosses
    • but those of us who grew up on farms know that although we were not considered as "servants", we definitely had work to do, and our parents were clearly our "bosses".
  • When we talk about status among adults, we invariably talk about who is subordinate to whom.   Those who are of lower status in society work for and take orders from those who have higher societal status.   The boss is greater than the secretary.  So the secretary serves the boss, and help him accomplish the goals that the boss has established.  
  • But in the kingdom of God, this model is turned on its head.  The greatest are those who serve.
  • So to be great in God’s kingdom, we have to be great servants.   We are called to help others accomplish the goals that God has given them, rather than expecting others to help us accomplish our goals.   In missions, this is so crucial - we as missionaries must listen to the national church and their aspirations and desires, rather than insisting on our goals and desires for the church.
  • We serve, not because we are forced to as slaves, but because we willingly help those who might be less educated, less wealthy and less honoured in the world’s eyes
  • This includes the alcoholic, the guy without a job, the street people.  But it also includes our neighbours, our employees, our children, our wives.
  • The people whom God has called us to serve often do not appreciate our service and we may think they don’t serve to be helped.   Often the reason they are in this mess is their own doing.
  • Leander Rempel’s email to me when I complained about new missionaries, “Wash their feet.”
  • So servanthood is not easy - it requires determination and self-discipline.
  • Are we trying to outdo one another in serving one another and the people in our community?  On Jesus’ measuring stick, that is how you attain greatness.

Teachability

  • It seems to me that humility is inseparably connected to a willingness to learn and to change.   Becoming teachable.  A proud person refuses to admit that he has something to learn, that he needs to follow someone else’s example.
  • But this is rarely a problem of children.  Children want to change, and grow up and become like the people they admire.  It is an inescapable part of the development process.   Except for Peter Pan, children do not want to stay like they are.  They may not like school, but they want to learn to do the things that those they admire and respect are able to do - play basketball, play a guitar, date girls, drive a car.
  • Was there anything unique about this child that Jesus used as an example?
    • He was nearby.  Likely listening in on what Jesus was saying to his disciples.
    • This event likely happened in Capernaum, in Jesus’ home base, so this child knew who Jesus is.
    • I can imagine that this boy admired Jesus and loved to hang around him.   Jesus was his hero.  He wanted to become like Him.
  • We need to become like this boy, admiring Jesus, seeking His fellowship and striving to become like Him.   In fact, our greatness is measured by how much we become like our Master.   The more we can copy Him, the greater we are.  
  • This requires great teachability, a sincere desire to grow and change, both as individuals and as a church.   
  • Are we great when it comes to teachability?  Not great talkers, teachers, and preachers, but great learners.
  • How is this expressed in practical terms?
    • asking for regular and honest feedback.   This is tough, and not nearly always pleasant, but so very necessary if we want to grow and improve.
    • never becoming complacent with our level of proficiency.  Always reading, taking courses, attending seminars.
    • asking questions, rather than always telling.   Sincerely expecting that others have something to teach us.

Dependence and trust

  • The humility of a child is also seen in his weakness and vulnerability and profound trust in those who feed them, clothe them, house them and protect and care for them.
  • In the world’s eyes, great people are those who are independent - self-made man, independently wealthy,  insulated from all adverse circumstances by their golden parachute. 
  • But in the kingdom of God, the great ones are the ones that admit their weakness, their helplessness, their dependence.   This really bothers us men.   We struggle with dependency, and it runs so counter to our understanding of greatness, and seems to have absolutely nothing to do with our competitive spirit.
  • But I think if we truly understand dependency from God’s perspective, this is also a wonderful field in which to seek to become great.
  • We become great when we admit that we can do nothing without God’s empowering, and desperately seek His wisdom, strength and grace to accomplish His work, relying on His resources and not our own.   So how do we do that? 
    • Courage to step out and accomplish great things for God despite our limited resources.    Be a David and face up to Goliath.  Be a Nehemiah and tackle the burnt walls of Jerusalem.
    • Prayer -   Are we great pray-ers?  Are we desperately crying out to God because we are so far over our heads in what we are attempting for God that unless He comes to our aid, we will have mud all over our faces?
  • William Carey - Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.   
  • There is nothing proud about that.   Dreaming to do great things for God when we freely admit that we are totally dependent upon him gives Him the glory He deserves.  

Conclusion

  • Are we great?  Are we there yet?   No, and we will never be able to say that we have fully arrived.   Because remember the definition of greatness in the kingdom of God is bound up with humility.
  • On this side of heaven, we will never be displayed on the front of SI or even Faith Today with 8 gold medals around our neck.
  • But I think we can set the direction of our lives today so that one day we will hear our Lord Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”   That is our goal.   That is the only applause that counts.   Let’s pursue greatness - as Jesus defines it.
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