Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37             James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

Sometime around 1995 I was working in research and development on a new type of control system for residential forced-air heating systems.  We had developed the technology in the laboratory and were ready to install several systems, in various parts of the country, run them in the homes of real people, and collect data on their operation.  One of the homes in which our system would be installed belonged to an executive in major furnace manufacturer which was one of our industry partners.  Everything was proceeding on schedule and under budget until we were within a week or two of the installation.  We had our plane tickets in hand.  The equipment was already on site.  But everything got jammed up when our company lawyers couldn’t agree with their company lawyers over who was liable for what.  As engineers, it was completely out of our hands.  All we could do was watch as faxes and emails went back and forth between us and our partner.

Until our Vice President, who oversaw the entire research department, stepped in.  One day, in the middle of this impasse, he stopped in to ask why nothing was happening.  So, we told him.  By the next day, the contracts were completed, signed, and the project was back on track.  When I asked my manager what happened, he said that our VP had simply called their VP, they both called their respective lawyers, told them that they wanted it done, and POOF!  It got done.

I’ve always remembered that story because it reminds me that a key responsibility of leaders is to work for, to serve, their subordinates.  Our VP rarely involved himself in the daily affairs of engineers, but he reminded us that when we really needed his authority, he worked for us.  By virtue of his position, title, and power, he could get things done that we couldn’t hope to do.  We had no ability to argue with our legal team or to overcome their objections and concerns, but all he needed to do was to tell them to get it done… and it was done.

In each of our scriptures today we see different types of godly leadership that we can apply to our lives in church, at home, and in our schools and workplaces.  We begin at home, in Proverbs 31:10-31, which is the one chapter of the Bible that is known to be written by a woman.  Proverbs 31:1 says that these words are:

31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

And so, even though King Lemuel put the words on paper, he made sure that everyone knew that these were his mother’s words.  We continue reading in verse ten where it says:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This passage is sometimes criticized as a description of the expectations placed upon women, but I don’t see it that way.  Instead, I find that this describes a woman of strong character who is, as much as possible in the culture in which she lives, a full and dedicated partner, with her spouse, in the life of their family and in building a life together.  She is, without question, a leader in her community who dedicates her time and effort to lifting up her family, her household, the poor, and her entire community.  She and her husband act as a team.  Their efforts, together, build the respect in the community for both of them and although he must have some sort of employment, she seems to earn just as much for her family and provides for them in ways that he cannot.  Neither of the members of this partnership would do as well without the other.  She is able to do what she does because of him, and he is able to do what he does because of her and each would be severely handicapped without the other.  Because of her hard work, her leadership, and her compassion for others, she is honored and praised by her family, and by the leaders of her community.

But what is it about this woman that makes her good and honorable?

Is it just because she works hard?  And what can we learn from this and apply to our own lives?

In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a, we hear this explanation:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James simply says that character matters.  If you are wise and understanding… prove it.  If you are smart, then your life will show the world that you are smart.  The way that you live, the deeds that you do, the friends that you keep, the actions that you take, the humility that you show in your interactions with others, is the proof that the world will witness.  At the same time, bitter envy and selfish ambition is proof that you are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic because envy and selfish ambition are not the proof of wisdom, but the hallmarks of disorder and evil.

In contrast, the wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and full of good fruit.  It is the peacemakers, James says, who produce great harvests of righteousness in the lives of others.  Fights and quarrels are the result of conflicting human desires.  Our desires, greed, and covetousness drive us toward evil, violence, and death.  We claim that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but the James says that the real reason our prayers go unanswered is that we ask with the wrong motives.  We ask God to give us stuff so that we can spend what he gives us for our own pleasure and not for the things of God and for God’s kingdom.

James’ recipe for success, is to submit to God.  Men and women must both submit to God.  We must resist the devil, resist evil, come to God, and only then will God come close to us.  We must purify ourselves, our motive must be pure, so that we are not double-minded.  We cannot want what God wants and want what we want.  We cannot pray that God would bless his ministry and grow his church and use his blessings for our own pleasures.

I admit that this is difficult stuff.  James is ruthless and his teaching pierces the hearts of the best among us.  But his message is clear.  A pure heart is a heart that is dedicated to God… alone.

And so, what does any of that have to do with leadership?  How does a heart dedicated to God look to the outside world, or to our church, or to our family?

And for that, we turn to Mark 9:30-37 where we hear the answer from Jesus.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus says that the hallmark of true, humble, peace-loving, pure, godly leadership is servanthood.  Leaders are called to be servants first and tyrants last.  These are the things that reveal our character.  David fell when he considered his desires ahead of Uriah’s, but also ahead of the needs of Bathsheba, the needs of his nation, or the will of God.  The illustration and visual aid that Jesus uses is the welcoming of little children.  With few words, this speaks volumes about leadership.  Jesus says that leaders do good, even for those who can do nothing for you in return.  This is as far from “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as you can possibly get.  This says, “I’ll scratch your back, even if you don’t have any arms.”  This says that leaders help others, not because they expect something in return, but simply because they can.  The Vice President of Research had little (something but not much) to gain by helping us break the logjam on our project, but with one phone call, he did what several engineers and two or three managers couldn’t get done in weeks.  He wasn’t a particularly godly man, as far as I know, but I have always remembered this example of leadership.

This is why character matters.  Real leaders are not just leaders.  Real leaders, godly leaders, must be servants at heart.

As leaders, our personal desires must take a back seat to the needs of those whom we lead and serve.

Our priority must always be the mission, but also the care of those under our authority, whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do something for us in return.

And don’t think that you are off the hook because you aren’t a leader.  All of us, in one way or another, are leaders or, at the very least, are training for leadership.  All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves responsible for others.  We teach Sunday school, we parent children, we babysit, and so on.  Many of us are what the military refers to as unofficial leaders, or back-channel leaders.  We are people who others look up to, and respect, simply because we are older, or have done our jobs longer, or because we are known to be honest, or diligent, in our work.  Leadership doesn’t have to come with an official title.

All of us are leaders.

All of us must lead with a servant’s heart.

Because…

…character matters.

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?


Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

_______________

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Courage Unbound

“Courage Unbound”

April 29, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 10:11-18            Acts 4:1-12                 1 John 3:16-24

 

 

Where have you seen courage?

 

We’ve all been witnesses to courage at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s as simple as tasting a new food, emptying a mousetrap, or a new parent changing a diaper for the first time.  Sometimes it’s a cancer patient willing themselves to show up for one more chemotherapy treatment, or the parent of sick child putting on a brave face to calm the child’s fears.  But sometimes it’s more than that.

 

During the war in Yugoslavia, a Bosnian Muslim factory manager was captured by Croatian soldiers along with his family and his neighbors.  They were all taken to a makeshift prison camp and after several days, 40 of the prisoners, including this man, his wife, and his five year old twin boys, were taken out of the camp and lined up in a row.  The soldiers brought out a civilian man who was Croatian as they were, and demanded that he choose 12 of the prisoners from the lineup, and decide how they would be killed.  But, although he was ethnically Croatian, he had also been a neighbor to the people who stood before him and the closest friend of the Muslim father.  Rather than follow their orders, the man turned on the soldiers and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! These people are innocent. Release them. Let them go home.”  He then turned to his friends and said, “I’m so sorry. This is all I can do. I know they will kill me tonight. I wish all of you the best.”  The soldiers dragged the man off and took the Muslim prisoners back to the prison camp.  That night the Croatian man was killed by the soldiers, but many of the prisoners were later saved through a prisoner exchange.  (Story from Courage Under Fire – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/courage_under_fire)

 

Imagine the courage that it took for that man to risk his life in order to do what was right?

 

In the last couple of messages, we have paid particular attention to the change that we see in Jesus’ disciples from the time of the crucifixion to the days immediately following Pentecost.   In a way, our scriptures revisit that today, but our focus this time is on us more than it is on the disciples.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in John 10:11-18.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Long before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was going to happen, but he also knew why it was going to happen.  Jesus said that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Someone who is just in it for the money, fakers, thieves, and charlatans, don’t stick around when things get difficult.  Real shepherds are in it for keeps and are ready to stand and fight for their sheep.  But Jesus also says that the relationship goes the other way as well.  Real sheep know the shepherd and they follow him, they listen to his voice, and they join together as one flock.  This is the way that God intended for it to be and Jesus has been given the power and the authority to do everything that God commanded.

 

But Jesus did more than that.  His ability and willingness to sacrifice for his flock was passed on to his disciples.  After Jesus rose from the dead, they began to more fully understand who he was, what he did, and what he had accomplished.  And as they understood, they began to follow his example. (Acts 4:1-12)

4:1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

As you will remember from last week, Peter and the disciples are proclaiming the name of Jesus to the crowd that gathered after Peter healed a lame man who was begging by the gate of the temple.  Now, as they preach, they are approached not only by passers-by, but by priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the representatives of the Sadducees and, we are told, they were “greatly disturbed.”  Most likely, if they weren’t being unruly, or causing a nuisance, the captain of the guard wouldn’t be too concerned, but the Sadducees were the political group that did not believe in any kind of afterlife.  They didn’t believe in heaven or hell, in souls, or spirits, and they certainly didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.  This is most likely why they were greatly disturbed.  The teaching, let alone the existence, of a risen Jesus, was highly damaging to their worldview and to their ability to attract followers.

 

But many believed and the church grew.

 

Peter and John were arrested, thrown in prison, and the next day they were brought, almost certainly under guard, to appear before the high priest, the former high priest, the high priest’s father, all the elders, the teachers of the law, and all the political movers and shakers of the church power structures.

 

And Peter unapologetically preaches to them all.  Peter is bold and courageous and “in-your-face.”

 

Remember, that just a few weeks ago, this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples were so afraid of.  They were afraid that people would overhear.  They were afraid that the leaders of the temple would hear about them.  They were afraid that they would be arrested or manhandled by the temple guards.  They were afraid that they would be forced to appear before the leaders of the temple.  And now, that exact scenario has happened.

 

And at every step, the disciples are no longer afraid.

 

Why?

 

Peter’s explanation rocks the world of the temple leaders when he says, “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter essentially says that even though the temple leaders rejected him, Jesus is the cornerstone on which God’s church must be built.  Jesus has authority over life and death itself and nothing else matters because no one else, no other religious leader, no other political leader, no other church, matters because Jesus is the only one who can save them.

 

The disciples are no longer afraid because they know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus is in control.

 

The courage of the disciples came from knowing, and trusting, that Jesus was in control and had authority over everything, even life and death itself.  And that courage was transformational.  It changed their lives.  It changed everything.

 

But so what?

 

That was still two thousand years ago.  What does that have to do with us?

 

And again, John has the answer.  In 1 John 3:16-24, we hear these words:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John says the reason that we know what love is, is because Jesus showed us.  Because Jesus was willing to give up his life for us, we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the people around us.  But love isn’t just risking our lives for people, it’s being willing to give up material possessions as well.  We aren’t just called to love other when it doesn’t cost us anything; we are called to love others when loving them means that we give up some of the stuff that makes us comfortable.  Love, John says, is demonstrated not by the words that we say, but by our actions toward others.  And it is our actions toward others that tell us that we belong to Jesus.  We know that we belong, when we act like Jesus.  We know that we belong, when our hearts tell us that we are right.  We know that we belong, when our hearts do not condemn us for being selfish, or greedy, or guilty of other sins against God.

 

A significant part of our transformation as Christians comes as we grow in courage, and that courage comes to us because, like the disciples, we know that Jesus is in control and has authority over everything, even life and death itself.  John reminds us that God forgives our past but we must live in such a way that we do not feel guilty for our actions.  “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him.”  And we know that God lives in us because we live like Jesus.  We know that God lives in us because we love like Jesus…

…even when that love costs us something.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by meeting the risen Jesus because in meeting him, and knowing him, we are given the gift of courage.

 

We are transformed because we have the courage… to love like Jesus.

 

 

 

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?


Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

_______________

 

 

U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Leaders Lead from the Front

George Patton

General George Patton demanded much from those under his command, but he never asked them to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself.  During the heat of battle, General Patton demanded that his troops only sleep once every two or three days, but he did that himself.  Being his driver was known to be a dangerous assignment, because George Patton was often so close to the battle that he got shot at and lost at least one Jeep to shell fire.  General George Patton led from the front and intended for his officers and men to follow his example.

This is also a repeated theme in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  Paul often says things like “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1), and “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” (Philippians 3:17).  But Paul also expected the members of the church to live their lives the same way saying, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7)  Our calling is not only to hear about Jesus, and read about Jesus, but, as much as possible, to live like Jesus so that others can learn from our example.

While this applies to every believer, I believe that it is especially true for those in leadership.  Just as it was in the time of the Apostles, people today still look to their leaders to model what it means to be a follower.  This is why many people are so disappointed when our heroes fall, or when our elected representatives and other government officials act in ways that we think are inappropriate.  As a pastor, I find this to be especially challenging.

While I try to be a good example of how to lead a Christian life, I know that I often fall short.  But, at the same time, because I know that others are watching, I often try to lead from the front.  While I can’t come to every event, I try to pass out food at Perry Helping Perry, bag potatoes with the Society of St. Andrew, help where I can with the Homeless Outreach Team (H.O.T.) and participate in other ministries of the church.  This is also why I go on mission trips to Kentucky and Liberia.  I realize that some of the things that I am doing may be new to you.  But I hope that when you see me doing something new, you might ask yourself if maybe God might be calling you to do something new as well.

I’m obviously not perfect, but I am trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and I hope you are too.  But as we follow Jesus together, please remember that just as the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were watching the example of the Thessalonians, your friends, family, and coworkers are watching your example too.  Your life may be the only Jesus that they ever see.

Will you be leading from the front?

 

 

 

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.


Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

_______________

 

Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)

“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”

January 28, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           1 Corinthians 8:1-13              Mark 1:21-28

Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers.  In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so.  Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified.  Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops.  In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.

The same is true in our local church.  We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.

But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect.  We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent.  But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.

But then came Jesus.

After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different.  While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more.  (Mark 1:21-28)

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.

And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done.  Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended.  Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God.  Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him.  For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader.  He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant.  And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.

Jesus was different.

Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.

Jesus had authority.  Jesus was a leader.

But what does that mean for all of us?

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute.  Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known.  Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food.  For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.

But other believers had not made all of these connections.  For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted.  For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God.  Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith.  It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god.  It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.

Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers.  And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones.  They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.

And that’s where we intersect with our lives today.  Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders.  What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others.  But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all.  The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away.  Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do.  Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.

Jesus was God in human flesh.  He was the ultimate leader.  He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do.  Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets.  Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God.  Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God.  Today, all of our leaders have this same calling.  As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith.  But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.

You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.

All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened.  Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

You see, Jesus was not a follower.  But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus.  All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.

We are all followers.  But we are also all leaders.

And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

_______________

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

 

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.