In this week’s lesson on the life of Jesus we will turn our attention away from the action particulars of the works which he performed to look instead at the desire and motivation behind the works. Too often as Christians we find ourselves wanting to focus on the acts of Jesus instead of the purpose and the desire which was behind each and every act. Much of this stems from the fact that we are such a success oriented society that we are always looking for simply another quick fix to our mounting spiritual needs. Need to lose weight – take a diet pill – which gives you the runs and makes you feel nauseas all day instead of changing our diet and the focus and purpose of why and how we eat.
We think our works will bring about a greater spiritual awareness. As Christians, with enough conviction, whether it is of the Holy Spirit, or a result of our own guilt, we are oftentimes willing to wash someone’s feet, feed a multitude or work with the sick in an attempt to raise our spiritual awareness or dare I say our spiritual self-worth. Yes, Jesus healed the sick, washed the feet of his disciples, and fed a multitude but this was not to give him any greater sense of well-being but rather it is because he recognized and understood the purpose to which he had been called.
We think works will help us humble ourselves.
Yes Jesus tells us that we must humble ourselves as little children but as adults we generally take this the wrong way. We expend effort and energy in seeking to dumb ourselves down and pretending that our feelings and emotions don’t control us as much as they do. Jesus was not telling us to act like a child but rather to become as a child. There is a great difference and we would be well to understand this.
We think works are another weapon in our spiritual arsenal.
I have passed by a couple of churches in the last few months which have had the same sign posted outside on their marquee, “For every Goliath there is a stone.” This certainly sounds good and to some degree it even stirs our flesh and we get excited about this possibility for now we only have to find the right stone to correct the issues in our life. The problem with this thought pattern is that while God did allow David to use a stone to knock down the giant that was simply the tool of the moment. The overreaching and impacting reality in this story of David is the faith that David had that God would sustain him for he (David) was fighting for God in defense of his people. We like finding stones because then we can attribute our success, if there is any, to us. If there is no success in what we are battling then we just assume that somewhere out there is another stone and we must keep pressing towards this elusive 12 step, purpose-driven, mind motivated, better you process. If you truly understand the story of David and Goliath then you understand that it was not even that David had mustered this great amount of faith that brought upon him the blessing of God. Rather it was that David realized that God would protect the one who stood in the defense of Israel. David’s statement, “Is there not a cause,” exposes the condition of his heart. He was not stating that he had superior faith but rather God would provide for anyone who stood against the Philistine. David’s faith was in God not in his faith.
By and large as Christians we fail in this area of works.
So why do we as Christians have a hard time in the area of service. There have been a multitude of books written on the service of Jesus and how we should emulate such service. We should, and in no way am I seeking to detract from that fact. However, if we are honest we can all look back at times in our life when we enjoyed our service to Christ and were willing to do anything for the cause of Christ. Yet many times we find ourselves abandoning different areas of service and the things which gave us so much pleasure no longer bring any joy but rather seem as burdens in our lives. Certainly I have felt this way and if you have not just look around your church and ask where the Sunday School teacher is who was so faithful three or four years ago. As well as the preschool director and we could go on and on. In order to better understand why this happens we will look briefly at some realities of service.
If works are so good why are we quitting?
In today’s culture we have traded the word service for the word volunteer and have given it a great deal of attention and recognition. In fact many are aware that this year Disney World is offering a free ticket to those who dedicate a set amount of time during a particular time frame. Volunteering has probably never been lauded and approved as much as it is now. So why is the church having difficulty holding on to its volunteers? Are we not rewarding them enough? If the world is doing this with increased regularity then shouldn’t we be able to as well. After all aren’t we serving the Great Kingdom?
What is the purpose of our works?
In order to have a better understanding of how we should serve as Jesus I believe we should look deeper at the meaning and purpose behind his serving. For if we simply study the acts themselves and work to understand the setting, His positioning, the people and other variables then we will be placing our emphasis on the act of works and we must remember the words of the Apostle Paul; “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6) Therefore we should seek to understand the mind of Christ as he was performing these works instead of simply placing on our emphasis on what he did and how he did these works.
Jesus understood the source of His power. Here is where as believers we get distracted and of course before we ever begin. We read, we study, and we plan to teach a lesson but how often do we seek for the source of power to attend the lesson we are teaching until we bow our heads as we are beginning and say, “Holy Spirit speak these truths to our hearts.” I must confess that while I have given cursory attention to understanding the will of God for this lesson until this point I have not sought and pursued after the mind of God in this teaching…now I have. Jesus tells us in verse 19 that the Son can do nothing of Himself or in his own power. The action of the Son is simply mimicking the action of the Father and receiving the power to commit such actions himself. 1 Corinthians 1:4-10 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Jesus had an absolute dependence on the Father. This is shown in several ways in this passage as Jesus points to His dependence on the Father. First Jesus states that the authority which he exhibits has been given to him by the Father (vs. 26-27). Do we even understand that we must be dependent on the work of God? Our abilities are as the Bible says, “as filthy rags.”
Secondly Jesus tells us that in his works he is not seeking his own will but rather the will of the Father (vs. 30). These works were not an attempt by Jesus to manifest his power but rather they were to fulfill the work of the Father. How often as a child of God has this not been the case with me? We are too quick to show what we have learned and therefore we go and serve in an attempt to make our ability manifest our dependence on God instead of allowing our dependence to lead us into service.
Thirdly, Jesus states that although his works bring the praise of man he is not doing these works to earn man’s praise (vs. 34-36). We as individuals are prideful and we must constantly be aware of this in our lives and completely place our pride and need for recognition by man aside in seeking to do the works of God. Yes John came to bear witness of Jesus but Jesus was not doing these works to fulfill what John said about him but rather to fulfill the plan of God. A spirit such as this might change our willingness to press on when others do not notice. Too often I believe as Christians that we are seeking to become a self-fulfilling prophecy: someone has boasted of our ability in a certain area and thus we serve to fulfill what others believe to be already the case in our personal lives, or maybe someone has told others that we are willing to do anything and we begin to pride ourselves on the fact that there is no bounds to our service and we now serve to prove that there are none. A dependence on the Father and an understanding of this will lead us to say as Paul did: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Jesus’ works were a manifestation of the presence of God and as such pointed to God. If we were able to fully grasp this one thought I believe the transformation that would take place in our lives would cause others to pause and consider our works. This area if understood and carried out with humility would rectify any other concerns and interests as we serve God. Our works as children of God are simply a manifestation of the work of God. Jesus proclaimed (vs. 36) that it is his works that prove that God has sent him. However, he was not out creating works to do but rather he was fulfilling what had already been ordained for him by God. James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Our works, when done from a pure heart are an outward manifestation of the presence of God in our lives. John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Would this change the way we act and the looks on our faces if we considered that our works are a visible manifestation of the presence of God in our lives?
Where am I?
Where do I seek to receive my strength? Is my attention given to my intellect, my “good” life, and other visible, measurable qualities?
Do I live daily dependent on the grace of God for my life?
Do the works which I do manifest the presence and power of God?