Old school Piper at his best, with sage advice for Bible reading.
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Old school Piper at his best, with sage advice for Bible reading.
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Originally published January 6, 2013.
“1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4
This past Lord’s Day, the pastor of our local congregation challenged us to take time and meditate on what it means to be a child of God, specifically the love of God toward His children as spoken of in 1 John 3:1a, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
The other night, as I was checking in on my sleeping daughter before going to bed, I paused extra long (I most always pause, just to be thankful, admire, and wonder) and just thought about her sleeping so peacefully. The mind of this near 3-year old was perfectly relaxed, and at rest. No worries or stress about the next day. No anxiety over physical ailments or future ones. No fear of what tomorrow brings. No worry over life, job, finances, food, clothing, shelter. By all respects, not a single worry to distract the mind. The word free comes to mind. Free from burden.
As I watched her with tears welling in my eyes, it occurred to me that this is exactly how God wants His children to live, free; free from burden, free from worry, stress, anxiety about what will come tomorrow or what life may bring next. Not living irresponsibly, mind you, but freely reliant upon our Heavenly Father, much like a child is reliant upon his/her own parents. Isn’t this what it looks like to be a child of God?
Too often it seems instead of being a child of God, we’re more like a teenager of God. Rebellious, self-centered, selfish. We want control of our lives and want so much to break free from the control of our parents. What do teenagers call this? Freedom. Free to make their own choices and do what they want. But this isn’t freedom, it’s bondage, or better a false-freedom. This inward focus and inward reliance upon self is the foundation for those things mentioned earlier such as worry, stress, anxiety, or even worse an eerie calm that self-strength and determination can carry you through any problem, i.e. over-confidence. Each of these are ultimately sin and are in fact the opposite of faith. To be a child is to be reliant; at its very essence, helpless.
Which brings me to the passage from Matthew cited above. Note the question of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?” Isn’t that just like the question of an over-confident teenager holding out hope that maybe they would be the greatest. Or at the very least, desiring to know who #1 is so that they can work harder to beat them. But notice how Jesus responds, by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “unless you turn and become like children,” and answers their question accordingly, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
It’s so simple to understand that we miss it everyday. Why didn’t Jesus point toward one of the disciples? Why not point out a “righteous” man whom they could model their lives after? Why not say a teenager, or an adult, or a mom or dad? Why a child? In fact, Jesus could have even said unless you become like Me. Certainly He was the perfect example of reliance upon the Father. Yet He chose the simplest, most basic example that the disciples (and us) could understand, a child. The humility of a child speaks of their reliance upon their parent for everything: food, clothing, shelter, basically life.
My little girl does not sit around and worry where her next meal is going to come from. She relies. She doesn’t wonder how she will clothe herself or whether she will have a roof over her head. She relies. She doesn’t worry about health, her future, what obstacles may or may not come her way in a month, year, or 10 years. She lives free from day to day. What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live as a child of God. Reliant upon Him, not only for our material needs, but for all sustenance in life both now and in the life to come. Practically, this is what faith in Christ looks like in the everyday.
We are to humble ourselves as little children. Turn from our teenage, over-confident, self-reliant ways, and become like a child. Reliant. Free. Such are the greatest in the kingdom.
Having already addressed the first part of a difficult, and sometimes abused passage, from Hebrews 13:17 (see the post Obey or Be Persuaded), we need to examine the meaning of the second half of the verse, “obey your leaders and submit to them….” However, before proceeding into the translation and meaning of submit, it would do us well to review what our Lord had to say regarding leadership during His earthly ministry. Whatever else the New Testament says regarding “church leaders” must flow downstream from the kingdom paradigm that Jesus established.
Below are two critical passages concerning the nature of leadership, according to the kingdom paradigm of Jesus Christ. Notice how He dismantles the present religious leadership and then rebuilds with kingdom principles.
First is Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Second is Matthew 23:1-12
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
How do these passages inform the nature of leadership in our modern churches?
Is a leader a servant or is a servant a leader?
Are those in “offices” or who bear titles, pastor, elder, shepherd, bishop, deacon, de facto leaders because of their position?
What is the nature of authority among believers?
Is their a hierarchical leadership or authority structure among believers?
Before one can build a framework for leadership based on such passages as 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, or even difficult passages such as Hebrews 13:17, we must come to an understanding of the kingdom leadership principles that Jesus laid out which were counter-cultural and counter man-centered religiosity. The difficulty, and it is real, is to view these passages without the influence of culture or our own religious experiences and preferences.