The Christian’s Identity: God’s Lowly Farmhand

God gives you a role in His work of growing disciples. But do you know your identity in the spiritual harvest? Are you taking yourself too seriously?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in your ways.. Psalm 119:35-37

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Corinthians 3:7–9

Reflections

All progress in our personal lives and our ministry to others depends on God.  He commands us to be diligent in our use of the means of grace and in our proclaiming the gospel to the world, but He is the One who ultimately changes hearts and brings about growth.

The Psalmist proclaims his delight in God’s law, but, at the same time, prays to God for help in following that law.  As committed as he is to God’s word, his pleas to the Lord reveal an awareness of his dependence on God.  Of course, delight in God’s law is a good, admirable trait.  It is just not constant enough to be a reliable basis for one’s spiritual life.  God will have to work because there are innumerable other distractions, like selfish gain and worthless things.

The writer of the longest chapter in the Bible knew his own heart.  There were good moments when he could focus on the Lord and His Word with great exuberance.  He is not being deceptive when he professes to love the law, but he also knows the weaknesses of his flesh.  He can be drawn away by money and entertainment.  Jesus warned His disciples against these sorts of things in His parable about the sower.  He told them the good seed of the Word can be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

Paul, too, understands his dependence on God for fruitful ministry.  The Corinthians needed to learn that they are indebted to God for their responsiveness to the gospel, not to Paul or Apollos.  Their divisiveness was partly a result of their misplaced adulation of their mentors.

Think about it

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple and bearing fruit.  He alone causes the growth.  At most, our identity is that of unprofitable servants and God’s lowly farmhands.

Nobodies Made Famous by God

Those whom God chooses and uses for His purposes need not hold high standing in their society. Here we meet two ordinary men–nobodies until God used them.

Today’s Reading

Esther 7-10; Acts 6

Selected Verses

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.  Esther 8:2

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2-3

Reflections

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther, becoming her guardian and raising her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

The apostles assigned Stephen to a group of seven servants whose task was to serve tables and wait on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

Think about it

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams as they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

The Importance of Humility or Who’s on your guest list?

Lack of humility brings disaster.  Today we meet a king with great potential until he grew arrogant.  His reign failed not due to invaders but to his pride.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 13-14; Luke 14:1-24

Selected Verses

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you. I Samuel 13:14

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.  Luke 14:11

Reflections

Humility is a quality which God looks for in a person who is “after his own heart.”  Saul was a negative example of this truth which Jesus emphasized in His teaching.

Saul had early success as king and military commander, but it did not last long.  He knew he was supposed to wait for Samuel to meet him on the battlefield.  Saul  was not to offer sacrifices, a responsibility reserved for priests.  He knew, but he rationalized that it was more important to take matters in his own hands and avert a loss in battle than to trust God to work despite the circumstances.

It cost Saul his kingdom to offer the sacrifices.  His days were numbered and he would not have a son sitting on the throne.  God had a man after His own heart who would sit on Saul’s throne.  Saul lacked humility and trust in God and paid dearly for his arrogance.   In a short while he had gone from a frightened, self-deprecating nobody to a proud, self-righteous tyrant.  Promotion can be disastrous to one’s humility.

Jesus made a number of observations at the dinner he attended (Luke 14).  These observations served to provide a context for His teaching.  He saw the pride and jockeying of the guests for the best seats at the meal.  The Lord told them to take the lowest seats to avoid possible embarrassment later on when more distinguished guests arrived.  He also told them to apply humility in inviting guests, not seeking repayment for their invitation.   They should be concerned about their standing at the resurrection of the just (v. 14).  Here is the point. God invited people to His banquet and some rejected Him.  The Lord then invites those who were sick or even non-Jews because God does not honor those who exalt themselves but those who humble themselves and have nothing to offer.

Think about it

If we would be godly, we must seek to grow in humility.  Seek not the status and honors afforded by society, but instead seek to walk humbly before God and to be after His heart.  Who’s on your guest list?

Not Far from the Kingdom of God

Jesus told a scribe that he was not far from the kingdom of God.  What made Him say this?  Would Jesus say that about you?  Learn more in today’s reading.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 8-10; Mark 12:28-44

Selected Verses

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.  Deuteronomy 10:16

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:34

Reflections

In yesterday’s reading in Mark, wily questioners came to Jesus attempting to trick Him or trap Him in His words.  In today’s reading, however, a scribe who came appears to have been sincere.  He wanted to know “which commandment is the most important of all?”  He heard Jesus’ answer, repeated it, and affirmed it.  Jesus found the man’s response to reflect wisdom and commended him as being “not far from the kingdom of God.”

What indicated that this scribe was near the kingdom?  He seems to have recognized Jesus’ authority.  He showed receptivity to Jesus’ teaching.  His response to the Lord revealed a hunger to know the truth.  He was ready to obey the truth once it was clear to him.

Perhaps he had what Moses called a circumcised heart.

Moses told the Israelites to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts, and to stop being stubborn.  Their hearts were in danger of becoming insensitive.  They were at risk of becoming unreceptive.  Moses knew that even though Israel had God’s law, they might ignore it, growing callous to its commands.

Think about it

What is the condition of your heart before God’s word?  Are you wise and receptive, hungry to know and grow, like the scribe?  Beware of an uncircumcised heart that knows the truth but is insensitive to it.  Those who love God’s word are close to the kingdom of God.

Who’s the Greatest?

Today’s reading

Exodus 9-10; Matthew 18:1-20

Selected Verses

 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.  So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

Exodus 9:34-35

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:1-3

Reflections

A daily question in our society is “Who’s the greatest of them all?” The same question has these variations: Who’s the greatest athlete?  the greatest celebrity? the most powerful leader?  the richest person? We may even ask, “who is the worst of all?” Maybe a notorious gangster or traitor comes to mind.

The assumption is that superiority in certain categories like money, beauty, intelligence, physical strength, political power and influence make a person worthy of fame and adulation. We honor those who excel in the areas we consider important.

On a number of occasions, Jesus’ disciples showed that they competed among themselves for superior positions. Maybe that was in the back of their minds when they asked Him the question in today’s reading.

Jesus showed them that the categories which are generally considered important by society are not the same ones that are important in the kingdom of heaven. Superiority in those categories is therefore meaningless. A little child showing characteristic humility is held above the proud and haughty.

What a contrast! The little child and Pharaoh.  The latter’s experience certainly demonstrates the destruction that comes to the proud, the hard-hearted, and the spiritually blind.  A Pharaoh may impress the masses with his power and prestige, but, without a change of heart, he will not even enter the kingdom of heaven, much less be assigned a place of honor there.

Think about it

What categories of superiority do you value most?  Beware of idolizing that which has no importance in the kingdom of heaven. Pray that God may grant you the humility of a child and deliver you from the foolish, temporal values of this world.

Rock Stars and Spiritual Leaders

Spiritual leaders are not rock stars.  They should not be treated as such and, if they are, they should be like Paul and discourage that kind of crass display of immaturity.

Today’s reading:

1 Corinthians 2:6-6:20

My selection:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

1 Corinthians 3:1-4

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

A Warning against Pride

In our reading (Ezekiel 28:1-31:18), the prophet sounds a warning against nations that have ignored the God of creation and in pride have set themselves up as gods.  Their doom is sure.

Pride seems to be present if not central in every kind of sin.  Pride fuels our fear, our anger, and our deceptions.  We desire to rule our world, to answer to no one.

Today, let Ezekiel’s warnings motivate your humble submission to God.  Fear Him alone knowing that His mercy and grace lift up the lowly, those who repent and believe in the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ.

[For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

A Warning against Stereotyping

Why is it so tempting to engage in stereotyping?  With a little reflection on today’s reading (Proverbs 28-30) we can see that there are exceptions to the profiles we tend to develop.   For example,

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6 (ESV)

Rich people may be honest or deceptive.  Poor people may be lazy or diligent.  Although society tends to honor material success, God holds up the honest, hard-working poor as better than a wealthy swindler.

We stereotype because we resist thinking deeply about truth and reality.  In the present atmosphere of my country, deep divisions and animosity rock us.  These are often based on this dangerous practice of painting with a broad brush various categories of people based on ethnicity, political views, gender, religion,  or socioeconomic status.

What can we do?

Christians are commanded to pray. Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

Pray for our national and local leaders. Pray that we will not fall prey to a simplistic way of seeing everything.  Pray that God’s people will model wisdom and speak the truth in love.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Hunger for Growth

The path to spiritual growth leads straight through hard things.  Look at this passage in today’s reading (Proverbs 25-27):

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
One who is full loathes honey,
but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  Proverbs 25:5-7 ESV

What hard thing do you need to do today?  Maybe it is to rebuke a friend.  Or do you need to be more receptive and grateful for a friend who seems to be wounding you.  A hungry person will eat the bitter thing and be nourished by it.

Hard things bring growth if you are hungry to grow.  Stay hungry, my friend.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Lost Virtue of Humility

Whatever happened to humility?  Can you imagine a candidate for some high office being introduced with the description “above all, he is a humble man” or “she excels in humility”?  I don’t think so.

But in today’s reading (Proverbs 22-24) we find this:

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Once again God’s Word turns conventional wisdom on its head.  God calls us to believe Him and to seek Christlikeness, the characteristics of the Son of Man who exemplified what is truly praiseworthy.  He died for our sin to make us His own, new creations in Him.  Be humble. Fear Him.  Your reward awaits. Riches and honor and life.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].