Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 7, 2022
“Fundamentally Sound: Service”
These are tougher times generally—that is, these are tougher times than formerly for just about everyone. Economic conditions challenge many of us: prices are higher and return on investment—in most cases—is lower. Epidemiological difficult continue to concern us. We continue to battle against the novel coronavirus—and lately parts of our nation and world struggle to contain monkeypox outbreak. We continue to endure—at all levels of society, from our house to the White House—relational breakdown and estrangement. In fact, the foregoing sounds a lot like the Scriptural description of the last days.
These are tougher times in which to be a Christian. We see, sadly, eroding external supports for Christian faith—such as Christian morality codified in law, for one. We also see, to our great distress, widespread declension from the Christian faith. Things in our land—yes, even here near the buckle of the so-called Bible Belt—have come to such a pass that we must now endure, at least occasionally though I expect increasingly, outright disdain, ridicule, and persecution directed toward us.
We must be fundamentally sound in Christ to survive and advance in these times. Over the past few weeks, we have seen some fundamental exercises to foster our growth into Christ’s likeness, and, God willing, we’ll see more in weeks to come. Today, we come to the spiritual discipline of service. Let us hear what God would say to us, by His Spirit, from His Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Today’s text cleaves neatly in two. First, we see that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus called Boanerges, which means sons of thunder, would be great—or, at least, they would be regarded as great (35-40). Their request of Jesus (perhaps fronted by their mother, cf. Matthew 20:20-28), reveals this. They desire first, whatever they ask, and, upon Jesus’ closer query, they desire positional greatness in His Kingdom. They desire positional greatness. They desire, when Jesus comes into His glory, to sit with Him—one on Jesus’ right hand, and the other on His left. Thus, their greatness will be apparent to all.
Jesus corrects these sons of thunder. He tells them that they know not what they ask. He then asks, in effect, “Are ye able to suffer with Me?” for this is the heart of Jesus’ references to cups and baptisms. James and John, predictably, assert, “We are able.” Jesus, upon hearing this response, guarantees that they will suffer—and then He disappoints them further by telling them that the chairs they seek are for whom they are prepared—presumably by the Father in the council of the Godhead. Jesus neither confers those seats to the brothers then nor guarantees them to sit there at any future time.
Second, Jesus shows James, and John, and the other ten disciples the true path to greatness (41-45). The other ten disciples, understandably, feel indignation, either at the cheek of James and John or at their cunning—wishing they had thought and acted similarly. Jesus calls all twelve together and teaches them. What they hear and learn, we hear—and may we learn and apply the same.
The rulers of this world value, among other things I’m sure, position, authority, and the wielding of these. They also gloat in these before those not in position and authority. In these, they miss the true path to greatness—and Jesus would not have His Twelve, nor us, miss this path. Whoever would be great must be a servant (Greek diakonos [diakonoV]: hence English deacon). One definition of serving includes discharging duties of a nature often humble and menial.1 This is not the world’s practice of greatness, but it is Christ’s—and His trumps all others. Moreover, whoever would be first must be a slave of all (Greek doulos [douloV]). A slave, in the New Testament sense, is someone emptied of property rights to self–whose rights belong to someone else. Therefore, greatness and firstness lies in renunciation of self in humble service—just as Jesus exemplified.
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. If anyone has the right to be served, it is He—yet He came as One who serves. He came, furthermore, to give His life a ransom for many—and that via His atoning death on the Cross for the salvific benefit of every elect soul. This is true service. We cannot follow to like degree, though we can follow somewhat in kind—to which this sermon now turns.
We serve in two spheres. First, we serve in a more general sense in a manner consistent with our spiritual gifting. God blessed His Church, and every member therein, with spiritual gifts. These gifts number about twenty, and we find them in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Ephesians 4:11-13, and 1 Peter 4:8-11. No Christian has all the gifts, and no one has none. Most have several. Each Christian, with his unique gift mix, interlocks with other Christians, and their gift mixes, to glorify the Lord, to display His reality to the world, and to bless both the Church and, at times, the world. We serve best, and most joyfully, consistent with our spiritual gift mix.
Second, we serve more immediately in any given moment as needed. We do this even if the service may lie outside our usual spiritual gifting—and, in this case, God will supply the gifts, the energy, the will, and so forth to serve Him, at least temporarily, outside our comfort zones. We serve even if the service be humble or menial. Too often we want easy, dignified service—but Jesus served in lowly ways, and so shall we as we follow Him in faith. We also serve even if the service gains no human recognition or thanks. Though it is true we serve others, ultimately it is the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23) Whom we serve—and it is His “Well done” we hope to hear. Therefore, let us, as we go from this place, serve our triune God as we serve Church and world in Jesus’ Name.
1 This form part of the definition of the Greek verb diakoneo (diakonew), translated I serve, from Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).