Category Archives: Bible Study

Humble Like a Child

 

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.

Who are your Leaders

 

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, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.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. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.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.

 

Remembering Egypt

 

Originally published Sept. 5, 2014.

The Israelite exodus from Egypt was a historical, monumental act by God to redeem the people whom He would set apart for His own ultimate purpose, the establishment of a lineage for the Messiah.  The promise for this began in Genesis 3:15, but continued with the covenant to Abraham, then his son Isaac and eventually his son Jacob (see Romans 9:6-13 for additional context).  Beginning in Genesis 46, the family of Jacob relocated to Egypt to survive the widespread famine that had stricken the region.  While there, the people begin to enlarge so much that the Egyptians began to worry about their numbers, resulting in enslavement of the people as a form of control (Exodus 1:10).

Throughout the Old Testament God was constantly reminding His people of His gracious redemption from their bondage to Egypt.  This occurred not only during their 40+ year exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, but was used as a reminder by the prophets of God’s care and mercy towards His people.  They were to look upon this merciful act with eyes of worship, recognizing that Yahweh had condescended Himself to redeem for Himself a people.  This great act was not to be forgotten in a generation but passed along to future generations.

Conversely, the people were constantly remembering Egypt, but not for the right reason.  Their hearts were set on the idolatry and delight in the pleasures of the flesh that they enjoyed while in their captivity.  Observe Numbers 11:4-64 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

We can see in this example during the Wilderness Years that not only were the Israelites grumbling about the provision of manna from the hand of God, but they were longing for the pleasures of Egypt even if it meant their re-enslavement.

Think about this.

They failed to remember their slavery, forced to work for little to nothing, forced to make bricks without straw, forced to labor for an idolatrous leader for idolatrous purposes; all forgotten as their focused turned to what they enjoyed during that time.  What God had provided them was unsatisfying because they failed to appreciate their redemption and worship God for providing their daily bread.  Instead their insatiable appetite lusted for the pleasures of Egypt.

How true is that for us today as believers?

Though we have been redeemed by Yahweh from the enslavement and bondage to sin, we often find ourselves complaining about the provisions of God and longing for the days when our fleshly desires were fulfilled.  All too familiar is this idea conveyed through the Israelites of our own bondage and slavery.  We forget all about the lack of reverence toward God, our failure to delight fully in Him and love Him with all our hearts, mind, soul, and strength.  We forget about the guilt and shame that our sin brought on us or the pain that we caused others because of our enslavement to sin.  Worst of all, we forget that our sin was an affront to the holiness of God, demanded the justice of God, satisfied through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Instead, we remember the fleeting pleasures of the flesh.  The momentary satisfaction that sin brought us.

Ezekiel 23 provides a helpful comparison and contrast of remembering Egypt for the wrong reasons and includes the account of how God feels about this.  Please take time to read it in it’s context, as it is quite provocative. While the force of God’s disdain towards those who would remember the lusts of Egypt cannot be fully expressed apart from the entire chapter in context, we can get a sense of it in verse 27 “Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.”

God’s desire for the Israelites was for them to remember His gracious goodness in their redemption and His providential care towards them throughout their Exodus.  However, as they looked in their rearview mirror at Egypt, they overlooked this and failed to give God the worship due His name.  In actuality, they perverted the goodness of God by embracing the lusts of their flesh experienced during their time in Egypt.

Too often, we look back on sin, our own personal Egypt, with delight in our eyes.  Perhaps it is a memory that we allow to linger or a thought that we fail to take captive, but sin has a surprising way of appearing crystal clear in our rear-view mirror.  Would that our hearts would be moved to focus more on the gospel of Jesus Christ; that our memories would be set upon the redemption that is only found in Him; that the cross would be vivid in our rearview and the glories of heaven a desire for our destination.  Set your minds on things above and not on things below.  Remember your redemption from Egypt and give no thought to her pleasures.  Her allurements are unsatisfying and she wishes nothing more for you than re-enslavement.  But you, believer, have been bought with a price; ransomed from Egypt by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.