Serving the Lord
Thy servant will go a little way over Jordan with the king: and why should the king recompense it me with such a reward? ~ 2 Samuel 19:36
The church is growing. Our Lord is “exalted, extolled, and very high,” and under his reign, all is well. There is no room for despair. Ungodly men are despairing that their plans are being resisted, and all is alarm and fear in the city of man, for their plans and delusions hit a hidden wall at every turn. This immovable wall, this stone of stumbling, is our Savior’s reign. Ungodly men will not recognize or yield to their rightful King, but their resistance is futile. Of course they are fearful. They have no one to whom to turn but themselves, and this is a pitiable way to live – and a destructive one.
Each one of us has our little bit to do in our Savior’s reign. Many look for the big thing they can do for Christ, then we run into a little known man like Barzillai. He was one of the faithful men who assisted David when he fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 17:27). He provided food and sustenance to the rightful King. Most of Judah and Israel’s leaders were ready to hitch themselves to Absalom’s rising star. Barzillai hitched himself to David’s apparently setting star.
When David was restored, he asked Barzillai to come to Jerusalem with him. He wanted to reward his faithful servant. Barzillai’s response is instructive. I am an old man. I cannot enjoy court life. Reward my servant, Chinham, and let him come with you, but I have done my little bit and wish only to return home and be buried next to my parents. Barzillai was a great man in his own right, very wealthy (2 Sam. 19:32), but he was happy to be eclipsed and forgotten. He loved Israel’s true king. It was his pleasure to serve David in the king’s hour of need. This was his reward.
Millions of joyful ones in heaven will be like Barzillai. He would never have been remembered except for a few days or weeks of service that he rendered. David did not forget his service; our King will not forget our service. He is served by the mother who joyfully raises children and keeps home, enduring many vexations, but with an eye to her Lord’s pleasure. He is served by the man who returns home each day, embraces his children, asks his wife about her day, reads the Bible with his family, and prays. He is served by the worker who heartily serves the Lord while serving a thankless boss.
The King’s faithful servants consider his pleasure their reward. He takes each little thing done for him as service that will be rewarded. We often forget that we are in service to the King. He may have given us many or a few talents. He does not reward based upon the largeness of his gifts but upon the love and faithfulness with which we use them. Especially if they are small and dedicated to him, he is well-pleased, for this is the life he led to save us: going about doing good, spurning the notice of the great and notable, weeping with the weepers, rejoicing with the joyful, speaking gently to the struggling, and always seeking to please his Father. He saved us by his life of doing his Father’s will; he calls us to the imitation of his life. He will not forget.
Barzillai reminds us to seek nothing for ourselves, to stand ready to serve our King wherever he calls us, and not to seek notoriety for ourselves. One single ambition must seize our hearts – that Jesus Christ and his precious ones are served and loved. Begin with your children, who need a kind word and a warm heart as they grow and learn of the conflicts and joys in Christ’s service. Treat your spouse as God’s appointed helper to his eternal kingdom. Above all, grow in love for Jesus Christ. Read and take into your heart his precious word. Seek him at all times. Lay your cares before him. See your life as his gift to you to do your part in his great, worldwide work of drawing all men to himself.
Tuesday: God’s Great Compassion
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him ~ Luke 15:20
Living in these particular times, a godly man cannot but feel God’s great displeasure at this “crooked and perverse generation.” He must weep over the sins of his land, for they dishonor his God and Savior. He trembles when he thinks that God is just, that the nation that forgets him will be turned into hell, that his longsuffering hand must eventually fall in judgment. He rejoices when he hears preaching that warns of “sin, righteousness, and judgment,” for he knows that this is the Spirit’s work. He may, however, forget God’s mercy.
I think of the prodigal son in Jesus’ famous parable. He was a ruined and broken man. We know not how long he had been a wanderer from his father’s comfortable house. He had tried everything to save himself, even eating pig’s food, but he was hungry, lonely, and desperate. The thought of returning to his father’s house entered his mind. I cannot return as a son, he thought to himself, for I have sinned against God and against my father. I have broken every commandment that I have been taught. Perhaps he will receive me back as a servant.
He began the hungry journey – tattered clothes, worn out shoes, an empty purse – bitter reminders of his foolishness, testimonies against his being received home with favor. After many days, he climbed the last hill, and looked down upon the familiar scene – pastures, servants working, the hearth fires burning. Perhaps I should turn back, he must have thought. I wanted to come home a conqueror, worldly wise, proof that my father’s warnings did not apply to me. What am I now? A dirty man, a vagabond. If I descend into this happy valley, I shall likely receive the lecture of a lifetime, and perhaps a good thrashing. It will be embarrassing. Father may send me away. Surely I have out-sinned his compassion. I have nowhere else to turn; I will go home.
His father was outside working – had he often lifted his eyes to the hills during those empty months and perhaps years that his son had been away, hoping to catch a glimpse of him? He looked up; still a long away off, he saw his son. He ran to him, embraced him, put a clean coat upon him, and cried tears of joy. My son, my son! No questions. No condemnation. No aloof reserve: I told you so. Nothing but compassion for his lost son, now returned home. No servant will you be; no, you are mine, and I receive you with love and honor.
O wandering sinner, you will think of many reasons that God will not possibly receive you home to himself. Yes, your sins scream against you. Pride also screams, not wanting to release its victim from its deceiving grip of guilt, fear, and stingy views of mercy. Preachers may also put barriers between you and the Christ you crave, the God to whom you want to return. You are not good enough. Clean yourself up, then come home. Forget all this and remember that in Jesus’ parable, he is opening his heart to you. What awaits the broken sinner who is trying to return to his Father’s house is compassion. Your Father’s heart longs for you. Angels are waiting to sing at your return. God’s heart is open to you. Will you open your heart to him and come? Delay only keeps you from his merciful embrace.
Wednesday: Marriage Requires a Third Person
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church ~ Ephesians 5:32
Marriage is not primarily about marriage. Marriage is a mystery that sets forth Christ’s love for his church, and the church’s believing, responsive love and obedience to her Husband. Thus, the duties of husband and wife are particularly unto Christ, in Christ, impossible without him. The husband is to love as Christ loves. He loved and gave himself for us. His love was a passionate, self-emptying of himself for the good of his wife. He did think about what he was getting out of the relationship. He did think about the worthiness of his wife. The more faithful Lover, he did not “seek his own,” think first of himself, but “not my will” was his banner of love. He saw his bride in the pit of sin, in the bonds of iniquity, dead and ugly. His love was enduring; he did not take into account the wrongs he had suffered from her. His one thought was to save her by his love, to lay down his life for her. His love thus led him to make the ultimate sacrifice – not simply to die, but to take the sword of justice into his holy breast, to suffer the sorrows of death and hell, to endure hellish terrors under the wrath and curse of God. None has ever loved us as he does.
Yet, Christian husbands are to love their wives as he loved his. We are not to measure our love by what we receive in return. We are to bear with wrongs and cherish our wives, to view them as the sole earthly object of our emotional, physical, and spiritual affection. When a wife accuses, a godly husband will not accuse back, but will answer meekly, willing to receive her admonitions, calming her by his tender humility. He does not love her because of sex. He does not love her because she retains her youthful beauty. He loves her in covenant. He is bound to love her in this way, because this is the way Christ loves his bride. And the more he knows Christ’s love in his heart, the more he is enabled to love.
And this means that no husband is capable of this unless there is a third party in the marriage: Jesus Christ himself. Can we overcome our selfishness? Can we restrain our anger when provoked? Do we have limitless resources of patience to listen and to communicate in a meaningful way to our wives? Can we tame our tongues so that we speak kindly? Absolutely not. And thus, all marriage problems are not marriage problems as much as they are the failure of husband (and wives) to walk in union with Jesus and to be tamed by him. Christ’s love cleansed his bride, and the husband’s love beautifies his wife, but only Christ can do this. We must consecrate ourselves to seeking him, abiding in his word, calling upon him for strength, and then obeying him.
Jesus’ love was not simply a feeling; it was a commitment. And this commitment directly relates to the wife’s submission to her husband. She is to do so “as unto the Lord.” His commitment to obey his Father to the end brought upon him agonies we can but dimly perceive. And from him, the wife draws grace abounding to keep her vow to reverence her husband. Admittedly, the analogy breaks down, for no earthly husband is always loving and respectable. But this is not the point. The Christian husband is worthy of your respect, by virtue of his headship, of his professing allegiance to Christ, and supremely because by obeying your husband, you obey your Lord.
Falling in and out of love has little to do with healthy marriages, although too many Christian marriages began this way. Marriage is built upon nothing less than Jesus’ cleansing blood and his call to imitate him, in his love and in his obedience. Neither husband nor wife can do this unless they are growing in Christ’s love. Pray to be strengthened by his Spirit so that Christ will dwell in you. Pray to know his love, which surpasses loveliness and knowledge. The more you walk with him, the more you will love your wife and obey your husband, for the sake of the third Person who is always present. Go to him, confess your sins to one another, wash in his wounds, and he will do in you and in your marriage what you cannot do in yourself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Thursday: Life without the Bible
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word,
it is because there is no light in them ~ Isaiah 8:20
Was there ever such a sad sight as our nation’s descent into darkness? Political parties, educational paradigms, market schemes, the domestic circle – all like blind men beating their collective heads against the wall. The usual response is, “We need more money.” Money never cured blindness. More laws cannot. An army of bureaucrats and experts never healed one blind man. And there is no light, or dawn for those who refuse to come to the light. Do not expect for God to make an exception in our national case.
There is another dynamic working in this twilight. God has given us a great light. He has sent his Son into the world. He heals blind men. We should have learned this from his Gospel. Born blind, he can heal. Temporarily blind, like Paul, he can heal. Blinded by particular sins, like David and Peter, he restores sight. He is the light of the world. He is the only light. All other paths are hopelessly darkened, but he makes blind men children of light. Some will hold to a natural light, from nature or within man, but sin gouges out our eyes so that even if blind men see snippets of truth for a moment or two, the veil soon falls again.
Jesus brings us back to the light and makes his word precious to us again. Isaiah and the prophets condemned the Jews for spurning the light God gave them in his word. They had no heart for it. When the heart is enslaved to the darkness, it grows to love the dark. We cannot stand to look at the sun, and evil cannot stand for the light to shine upon it. Blind men hate those who can see. They say that our sight is illusory, religious enthusiasm, refuted by science. But again, we should not trust blind men to tell us what the world is like. They certainly cannot stand in judgment of light they do not have.
A new heart is required, and Jesus Christ alone by his Spirit gives that heart. The new birth brings new eyes. Upon the new heart is emblazoned God’s law, and all is light for the child of God. He sees the world through new eyes. He sees men differently, as eternal souls, with a destiny of blessedness or slavery to endless night. Above all, he loves more light. He wants to keep coming to the light. What the law exposes, his Savior’s blood cleanses. Where he needs wisdom, God gives it in the darkest places.
A believer who neglects the Bible, therefore, is the saddest of all creatures. It is like he throws away all his candles. Darkness begins creeping back into his life. He blames his wife for everything, or his children, or his circumstances. He starts playing with dark things. She worries, loses hope, worries, pushes God’s hand, tries to control everything and everyone around her. He wonders what is wrong. Am I not a child of light? Yes, but we must walk in the light as he is in the light (Eph. 5:8; 1 John 1:7). The Sun of righteousness has risen in our lives. Hope has dawned, but we are not yet in the bright noon of heaven’s splendor enjoying the perfect radiance of our Savior’s face. Toward the Light we must ever tilt, like the rose leaning toward the sunlight. To God’s word we must go, and then hope dawns.
Friday: A Plan for Failure
For a just man falls seven times, and rises up again ~ Proverbs 24:16
Many times the godliest of men fall. Like a toddler that cannot stop scraping his knees on the pavement, you and I keep falling. Some would use this as an excuse for their falls, but God intends it otherwise. Redeemed men, the godliest of men, fall. Like a toddler that cannot stop scraping his knees on the pavement, you and I keep falling. Some would use the inescapability of falling to excuse their falls, but God intends it otherwise. We are not yet perfected in holiness. We must have a plan for failure.
When you succumb to the anger you promised never to have again, or find yourself pouting yet again, or fall into despairing of God’s mercy, what will you do? It is good to think about this before your next fall. What would God have you do when you fall? He tells us that only liars say they have no sin (1 John 1:8). Only fools think they will never sin again.
The first part of our plan must be God’s mercy. John adds that we must confess our sins. He tells us that God will forgive us, and his forgiveness is necessary before we can truly stand again. That we fall many times means that we need much mercy. We shall learn that we never outgrow our need of Jesus’ cleansing blood and of his help. Oh yes, he helps us when we fall into sin!
Does he not want us to be holy? Yes, and he knows that one sure way to whet our appetite for righteousness is to keep us feeling the pinch of hunger. We feel this pinch when we stumble and fall. Our Savior says, “I am your Advocate (1 John 2:1-2). I am your righteousness. You are not forgiven or raised up again because you promise to do better next time. I raise you up because I am your righteousness and your cleansing. I am praying for you, as I did for Peter, that your faith fail not.”
Take heart, falling believer. This is not the end. God is not surprised by your sin, and neither should you be. You are in a war. He will soon give you the victor’s medal, but you must fight first. God will not cast you off because you are not yet perfect. And this, after running to Jesus, is the second step in our plan for failure. Trust God’s promise of mercy and his faithfulness. He who never began loving us will never stop. He does not love you less because you have fallen again. He will make you stand again by the power of his love (Rom. 14:4). Rejoice with wonder!