I think that there are many who confuse selfish ambition with faith. And I have been one of them.
Years ago, when I first stepped into ministry, it was a very heady experience. I enjoyed the approval of those around me and received praise from my peers. Like a strong intoxicant, I began to crave it more and more – so much so that I found myself in emotional withdrawals if I didn’t get my “fix.” I wanted to be the next great voice for the Kingdom of Christ – not because of Jesus, but because of personal ambition.
You see, I failed to understand what Paul meant when he said: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).
It’s that last statement that gripped me: “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I wanted those around me to think well of me, to approve of me. I wanted to be admired by men and this led me down a path where I no longer served the Lord Christ but my own ambition. However, I didn’t see it that way.
I looked upon what I did as advancing the cause of Christ. If I could become well-known, if I could be great in the eyes of men and be accepted as an influential voice, then I could REALLY serve the Lord. I transposed faith with ambition and deceived myself into believing my life was pursuing Christ. It didn’t work. And, let me tell you, the humbling power of God was on the way.
If you are a born-again believer in Jesus, and you have confused faith with selfish ambition, rest assured that God will humble you. Peter reiterates this, saying: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b, NIV). I won’t go into the details of how God humbled me because it will be different for everyone. Suffice it to say, it works.
As I look back, now, on the vanity and pride during the early days of my service to Jesus, I wonder how God could ever have chosen such an arrogant, self-serving person like me. I have learned what Paul meant in the text above. Personal ambition is no substitute for faith. True faith seeks the will of God and the delight of the Savior. True faith is satisfied when service is rendered, even when no applause are forthcoming. And, true faith does not seek to please men but to please God.
In the Gospel of John 5:44 (NIV), the Lord Jesus said this: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” The answer is: you can’t.
Let me conclude from the book of James: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:14-16, NIV).
Alone, unaided and filled with passion, the man pressed on to bring the message of Christ to those under the power of the enemy. His name is unknown—he is the anonymous servant of Christ. He never sought recognition and never clamored for fame.
This man faced opposition. There were men who possessed positions of prominence and demanded that the man stop his activity. He was a rogue, an outsider. He didn’t have the sanction of their group and they demanded he “cease and desist.” You may be surprised at who demanded that he stop.
You may be thinking that I’m speaking of someone today. That in some remote region of the world a solitary figure is striking a blow at the gates of hell and paving the way for the Kingdom of Christ into the hearts of all who hear him.
“Teacher," said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (Mark 9:38).
This is the anonymous servant – and it was the disciples who tried to stop him!
I wonder if there are anonymous servants today – men or women who strive to serve the Lord Jesus and defeat the enemy of Christ, bringing hope and the gospel to those who need it, all the while being told by those who are “in” that they need to stop! How many men or women are told that “God wouldn’t use you… you’re not one of us?” I fear that there are many.
Here was this man, outside the circle of the disciples, going rogue in Christ and sharing in the power of God. How dare he! How dare he think that he could do something for the Lord Jesus without being a part of the twelve.
We all must hear the words of our Lord Jesus:
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40).
I think it’s time we stop determining who can and cannot be a servant of Christ Jesus. God’s word alone sets the parameters for service in the Kingdom and we will do well to adhere to them. Determining that a man or woman cannot serve the Lord Jesus simply because they fail to make the grade with us is ludicrous. Get over it. Jesus calls His own servants – and He never seeks our approval.
You might be one of those anonymous servants. Press on! Don’t let others tell you that you have no right to serve Jesus Christ. The man the disciples tried to stop is living proof that God can and will use anyone who has an open heart to Christ. Simply follow Jesus – be obedient to His word – and let God have the final say in who can or cannot be a trusted vessel of the Gospel.
A.W. Tozer declared that this world is not a playground but a battleground. Still, many Christians walk through this world as if their faith is nothing more than a gentle stroll through a quaint vale. But one of the great realities of the Christian experience is that we are at war.
The Apostle Paul declared, "“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Let us use our imaginations as we consider this example:
You were born into a world at war – and you were born on the wrong side. Without being aware of it, you were drafted into the service of the enemy of God and were used to promote and advance his agenda.
Then something amazing happened – something beyond the comprehension of all but One. The King of creation stepped onto the field of battle and with one great exclamation provided the means of escape… and you took it! If you are in Christ you transferred your allegiance to the King of kings. One thing didn’t happen, however. You didn’t leave the war – in fact, you’ve become more a part of it than ever before.
For the enemy counts you a deserter and a traitor – you have changed sides and are marked. You stand as a testimony to the greatness of the King of kings, and all who see you will know that you no longer follow the patterns of this world but have been reborn and are now the servant of Jesus. But you are on a battlefield and are behind enemy lines. You are surrounded by those who still stand in opposition to your King – and they don’t even know it.
The promise of persecution has a reason:
What did you do to bring on persecution? Not much… just two things:
1. Your Relationship to Jesus
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
This is the first reason for persecution – you belong to Jesus. Your relationship to Him is of such a significant reality that you no longer even think like the rest of the world. Consider the changes in your attitudes, your manners, your loves and hates, your relationships and all that makes you a human being. All of these have changed.
Again, Jesus prays, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).
The transfer is done, the allegiance has changed, the truth has been revealed, the true King has deposed the usurper in your heart and you belong to Jesus.
2. Your Work for Jesus
Consider the response of the Sanhedrin: “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40b).
The Sanhedrin wanted to put the apostles to death, but only the sage advice of a man named Gamaliel prevented that. Yet, the men determined to stop the work of the apostles and had them flogged. In fact, you can read the history of the church and see down through the ages the response of the world to the work of those who are in Christ.
It is said that D. L. Moody, while he was traveling across Canada – preaching the word of God – was distressed. He had enjoyed favor and blessing at every stop, with no hindrance from anyone. Without any persecution, Moody was troubled and fearful that he had stepped out of God’s will. Instantly he stopped on the side of the road and knelt down to pray. At that moment a man happened to pass by. With a curse on his lips, the man spat on D. L. Moody as the preacher knelt in prayer. Moody jumped to his feet, hands lifted to the heavens, rejoicing that he was still on the right path with God.
The promise of persecution requires a response:
So, what do you do? What is the response of a born-again believer when it comes to the persecution of the world?
1. Shine Your Light
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
This declaration of Jesus comes right on the heels of His warning that we will be persecuted (see verses 11-12).What is the response from those who are persecuted – don’t go into hiding, shine all the more!
2. Set the Example
Peter declares, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). And again, “…keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).
Jesus set the example for us. He walked in the steps of suffering and persecution so that we could know the salvation that He freely offers. He showed us God and suffered for it. We are called to be the example to the world – the light of His glory to a watching planet that needs to see the truth of Christ and know that nothing can dim the Light.
The promise of persecution has a reward:
Never forget that God has a purpose for everything – even persecution. There are a multitude of promises that God provides for those who are willing to suffer for His name.
1. A Path to Maturity
James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
There is no road to spiritual maturity and vitality that does not go through times of trial and persecution. You must understand this – for then you will joyfully embrace whatever might come for you know that God will accomplish His grand purpose through it.
2. Confidence on the Day of Christ
Hebrews says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
One of the evidentiary signs that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ is that we have stood our ground when the world has come against us. Those who are willing to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus are those who truly belong to Him. If we acknowledge Jesus before men, we know that He will acknowledge us before the Father – that is His promise.
I want to leave you with one final thought: If you are able to get along with the systems of this world that are opposed to Christ – you might still belong to the enemy of God. Remember that Jesus said, “If you belong to the world, it will love you as its own” (John 15:19). Or in Luke 6:26 Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Paul was right: if you desire –just desire—to live a godly life, you will be persecuted! There is no escaping this reality. Every disciple of Jesus Christ must understand that this is a promised persecution.
(This article originally aired on Alive In Christ Radio Live.)
(This was originally heard on Alive in Christ radio - www.aliveinchristradio.com
When the early church began to grow, what foundation was set for the people of God to stand upon? For years I’ve heard how the church needs to “assimilate” new members and that the only way for new members in the church to maintain a healthy attachment to the congregation is to provide avenues of involvement. However, pot-lucks and programs are not the formula for spiritual vitality and maturity in the church.
It seems to me that a current trend in many churches is to build a fellowship that is geared toward the self-interests of the congregants. That is to say, many churches have adopted ministries and programs that only serve to feed the constant demand for entertainment and emotional hyperactivity. Pastors must be performers and the musicians had better be marque or the membership will move on to more pleasant pastures.
There was something different about the early church. Their leaders were “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13). They had no marque members, no organized social events, no Sunday school, no eight-week study course on spiritual formation and no building to meet in that could be decorated according to the whims of the women’s auxiliary. The early church didn’t stage protests – they prayed. They didn’t organize marches – they ministered. And they didn’t call people to a self-imposed religion – they called people to a self-denying repentance. And they changed the world.
What was it about the early church? They were devoted, not to a cause but to Christ, and that devotion was played out in every aspect of their lives. It is a devotion that is sorely lacking in the hearts of many Christians today and it is what we will be exploring, with a call to embrace the same principles that built the early church and gave it a strong and secure foundation. If we ever hope to build a Biblical culture, it has to start here. So let me encourage you: take these four commitments as a challenge for your own life. You may be surprised at how God will use you when you follow them. Acts 2:42 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
· Apostles Teaching – Devoted to the Word of God
This is where it begins. Without a true devotion to the Word of God, there will be no real foundation that can be trusted. But this foundation cannot only be knowledge of the Word of God, that’s just where it starts. The true foundation is built through obedience to the Word of God.
This is how discipleship is built: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock
” (Matthew 7:24).
The Great Commission of God concludes with this: “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you
” (Matthew 28:19b).
Love is seen in obedience: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him
” (John 14:23).Personal Commitment - Commit to participating in a regular Bible study
· Fellowship – Devoted to the People of God
God has called us to live in fellowship. There are Christians today that harbor the idea that they can be the “Lone Ranger” Christian and live their faith without the structure and support of the church. But God has purposed that only together will each individual Christian grow and develop as God intended.
Through fellowship we become mature: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work
” (Ephesians 4:16).
It provides the means of mutual encouragement: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching
” (Hebrews 10:25).
The evidence of real faith: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us
” (1 John 2:19). Personal Commitment - Commit to gathering with the church every Sunday unless God prevents it
· Breaking of Bread – Devoted to the Worship of God
The issue of “breaking bread” together is two-fold. First, it is the remembrance that Christ has given us when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is an expression of worship and a reminder of why we have salvation – the sacrifice of Christ. Second, it is an expression of sacrifice toward those around us by bringing them into our homes to “break bread” with us, especially those who cannot repay.
It is a call to self-examination: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup
” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
It shows a heart of generosity: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous
” (Luke 14:13-14).
Christ is honored in this: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me
” (Matthew 25:40).Personal Commitment - Commit to a personal sacrifice once a month for someone who cannot repay
· Prayer – Devoted to a Life with God
In all healthy relationships communication is critical. No marriage truly grows in depth and happiness without it. No family can survive when communication is lost. And no believer in Christ will have any hope of truly knowing and living in a relationship with the Lord if prayer is not an essential devotion in their lives.
Prayer is personal communion with God: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you
” (Matthew 6:6).
Prayer should fill the fellowship of God’s people: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him
” (Acts 12:5).
Prayer is essential for spiritual readiness: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints
” (Ephesians 6:18). Personal Commitment - Commit to daily, vocal prayer at home and at least once a month with your church
People are devoted to many things. Watch a football game and see how devoted the fans are. The team might be losing but the devoted fan will cheer them on as if they’re ready to take the Super Bowl. People are devoted to causes, political endeavors, altruistic philanthropy, medical research – and all these can be good. But the Christian must be devoted, first and always, to Christ Jesus our Lord. This devotion is played out in four arenas: the Word of God, the people of God, the worship of God and a life with God. This is how the early church anchored their faith and grew in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The modern church must return to this or risk losing her identity to the world.
As I prepared for the business meeting at church last Sunday, I began to think of the actual “business” of the church. What is it? And, are we accomplishing it? What we do as a body of believers is more important than we might possibly realize. Eternity hangs in the balance for many whom we know, and the strength and deliverance from sin that Christians need waits upon the church to rise up and reach out. So, as I studied the “business” of the church I rediscovered three things – and these things will be shared in the next coming weeks.
What is the mission of the church – and what is your mission in life? Are they the same? If you are a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ then you must understand that there is only one mission from God and it rests square upon your shoulders and mine.
With all that transpires in our world, with the political, societal and spiritual upheavals that rattle our sense of stability, there is a real need to rediscover the mission of the church. And that mission is: DISCIPLESHIP.
Are you up to it? Will you take God at His word and believe that you have a purpose far more profound than any worldly endeavor? There are four qualities that you must see and experience to accomplish the mission of God.
The Mission has Divine Power
We fail when we strive in our own power and strength to accomplish the mission of God. No matter how great our desire, we have no authority to do anything on our own. We must go in the name of Jesus – living out God’s mission in His power.
The Mission has Highest Priority
What gets in the way? We go though life with our eyes fixed upon those things that are priorities. But, do you view all things in life as a means to accomplish the mission of God? It is “as you go” make disciples. This mission must be accomplished along the ways of life.
The Mission has a Real Purpose
Every mission has a purpose. Often the sense of restlessness in the lives of God’s people is due to the absence of the sense of a real purpose in what they do. Simply navigating through life in aimless disarray is tantamount to abandoning the mission.
The Mission has the Divine Presence
We’ve come full circle. Where the mission cannot be accomplished without the power of God, the mission will be accompanied by the presence of God. Do you experience the Divine presence? If not, perhaps you’re not on mission. God will not follow you – He calls you to follow Him.
As we read in Scripture - "As the FAther sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). Never forget - you are on mission for God.