Serving Versus Being Served
Follow along in the audio with the full transcript below….
We’re in the process of discussing the third great section of Matthew; chapters 16:21 all the way through chapter 16:25 which we call the nature of the kingdom of heaven. The whole book of Matthew deals with the kingdom of heaven. In a special way this section deals with the true nature of the kingdom of heaven which is spiritual; it’s a spiritual kingdom and it deals with the deep springs of our heart, and has to do with the inside. It’s not a kingdom of sight and sense, of externals, rules and programs, and that kind of thing. It’s internal, it’s spiritual, and has to do with relationship, with our hearts before God.
We divided this section into two to make it easy to discuss. Chapter 16:21 through chapter 17, and then chapter 18 through chapter 25, Chapter 16:21 through 17 gives us the essence of spirituality. In other words, what does it mean to be truly spiritual? God has given us three stories in this section. Each story contains a principle, and each principle has to do with the essence of spirituality. We’ve already gone through that, so I’ll just give you the three principles. If I’m really spiritual I’ll be seeing Jesus Christ in the book. That’s spirituality. I’ll be seeing Christ glorified. If I’m really spiritual I’ll be trusting Jesus Christ unreservedly. If I’m really spiritual I’ll be resting in Jesus Christ as my all-sufficiency. That’s bedrock. You find a person who is doing those three things, who sees Christ and trusts in Christ, and is resting in Christ, you’ll find a spiritual person. There are going to be certain characteristics and evidences of such a person. I’m suggesting that chapters 18-25 and through all of the stories in that section, lay down the principles. If I’m living this way, I’ll look like this. That will describe me.
We’ already discussed four evidences or out workings of a spiritual heart. Let me mention those four again, and then we’ll take up the fifth one. The first characteristic, if I’m really spiritual, is chapter 18:1-14; childlikeness. That’s one of the main evidences of a spiritual person. He’s childlike. Then chapter 18:15-35 is a forgiving spirit. That’s the second evidence. I’ll not be holding grudges and being vindictive and being filled with animosity and vengeance, filled with imprecation. I’ll have a forgiving spirit.
Then verses 1-15 of chapter 19; a holy life; holiness and Godliness. I’ll be in the process of being conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some people have the idea that if you live by grace that live a sloppy life, a slipshod life. That’s not true. If you are looking in reality to Jesus Christ, you are becoming holier and holier, and more and more separated and Godly, like Him. Then we’ve been discussing the fourth characteristic; chapter 19:16 through chapter 20:16; if I’m spiritual, then I’ll be living by the pure grace of God. All spiritual Christians live by the pure grace of God, over against legalism; self-trust; works. Let me mention those again and then we’ll move on. I will be childlike, I will be forgiving, I will be holy, and I will live by the pure grace of God.
That brings us to Matthew 20:17-28, the fifth out working characteristic, evidence of spirituality. I keep calling attention to the fact that it’s an outworking. I can’t drive this home enough. If in your study of this section of scripture, you see your life lacks any of these things, and you say, “Oh, I’m not childlike like I ought to be, and I’m not forgiving, and I’m legalistic, and I’m not living by the grace of God, and there is sin in my life,” don’t try to put these things in your life. No way in the world can you become forgiving by trying to be forgiving. No way in the world can you turn the other cheek by trying to turn the other cheek. None of these things are possible on the level of earth, and especially the one we’re going to look at here. It’s flat out not possible. If these things are lacking, it’s because this is lacking; this is designed to drive you to this. The high standards of Christ drive you to Christ. That’s what is so wonderful about them. Otherwise you would be crushed. You would look at this and say, “Alright, now put that in your life, and live like that.” You would go bananas and snaky; you couldn’t do it. These are out workings. If this is true, this WILL be true. This becomes an objective test to know whether or not you are doing this. God loves us too much to let us go on it unreality. Constantly in the Bible He lays down objective tests to test the reality of our heart and faith.
Let’s look at Matthew 20:17-28:
“Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’ Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ ‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father’ When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Let me try before I give you the principle, to get the scene before your mind’s eye by pooling together the records; in other words, not only Matthew, but also as it appears in the gospel of Mark. This was the third time the Lord Jesus spelled out the cross to His disciples. Look at Matthew 16. Just before the transfiguration, Matthew 16:21, we are now six months before the cross. Jesus had a three and a half year ministry, and the last half year was almost entirely turned over to explain to His disciples what was going to happen, to prepare them and give them the promises of what would take place later, in the blessed Person of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 16:21, “In that time,” that is six months, “Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” Then Matthew 17:22, “While they were gathering together in Galilee Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and He will be raised again on the third day.’ And they were deeply grieved.” Now our text, Matthew 20:17, “As He was about to go up the Jerusalem He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves on the way, and He said to them, “Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him up to the gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He’ll be raised up.”
I love the way Mark describes this scene because you are able to get it in your mind’s eye. Mark describes it this way. The disciples are walking down the road, so you can picture twelve men walking, but they aren’t alone because there are some women with them, the women who were used by God to supply their needs. Jesus is not walking with them. His pace is a little faster. The Bible says that He was walking ahead of the disciples. The disciples were following behind. He had just told them about the cross, and then He walked on ahead. Mark says, “They were amazed,” and the Greek word that is used is “dazed”. The disciples were dazed; they were numb, and they were shell shocked. Then Mark adds this, “And all that followed Him were fearful.” They were perplexed. All of a sudden He started talking about the cross, and about His death, about His rejection, and how He’d have to suffer and be scourged, and all. Why was He so intent on going to Jerusalem? Why did He set His face as a flint in that city that was so hostile to Him? They couldn’t understand that. So, they were walking in a daze.
Picture them following behind, and the Lord Jesus a few steps above, and then Mark says, “Two of the disciples broke from the crowd; James and John, the sons of Zebedee.” And they ran to catch up to the Lord Jesus. Salome, their mother, was with them. Evidently at this time Zebedee was dead. Salome was one of those women we read about in the Bible that travelled with the disciples and Jesus, and they were actually used to provide for material needs during His ministry. The three catch up to Jesus, and according to the record Salome becomes the mouth for the disciples. It wasn’t her idea. According to Mark it was James’ and John’s idea, but they are going to have their mother speak. Jesus, when He answers, doesn’t address her. He addresses the disciples, and they say, “Yeah, we’re able to drink the cup and be baptized with that baptism.” Try to get the impact of this, as they catch up to Jesus they request these seats of honor and glory in His kingdom, one on the right, and one of the left. Of course, they were thinking of a physical kingdom. They hadn’t come to the place yet where they understood spiritual things. They wanted preeminence over the ten. They wanted the high place.
Before we nail down the principle, let me try to clear the air on the very surface view of this particular passage. This passage is generally looked at in a surface way. We have a problem as human beings, and no matter how hard we fight it, we generally go by first impressions. When someone makes an impression on us, it’s hard to shake that. Later on when we get to know them, then we say, “Well, they aren’t really like that. They just came across that way.” Sometimes when you are studying the Bible, you are hit with a first impression. That’s why the Lord says to meditate, and to dig and pay attention. We’ve got to be careful in a passage like this to do a little digging. The first impression when I read this was, “Wow, can you imagine the audacity of these two disciples, going up to the Lord Jesus, and trying to put themselves above the other ten, and try to get the chief seats, and take all the glory. I can’t imagine that; trying to be preeminent like that, and trying to pull strings!” Some people think Salome was the sister of the virgin, Mary. Other commentators say, “No, she was the sister of Joseph.” Either way that makes her the aunt of the Lord Jesus. And some commentators just think they were pulling strings, and He can’t turn her down. The first impression is that these guys were really ambitious, selfish, and proud, and want to be exalted.
I’ve got about twenty five different commentaries on the book of Matthew, and all of them view this story that way; just two disciples who want to be exalted; the opposite of childlikeness and humility. I don’t think you can read this honestly and not see some self-seeking there. There certainly was that, and some ambition. But as you look at it and you see the way the Lord Jesus dealt with it, you wonder if all you get in the first impression is really there. The Lord Jesus deals so kindly and tenderly, and so compassionately. He’s not angry. He doesn’t even rebuke them. He doesn’t chide them. If I were writing that I’d show them how stupid they were, and what a dumb request that was, “You self-seeking hypocrites! What’s the matter with you?” That’s what I would say.
When the Pharisees sought the chief seats, the Lord Jesus didn’t hold back. He blasted them. When they wanted the chief seats, He rebuked them and called them names. We’ll get to that when we get to chapter 21. I’m not trying to excuse James and John, but I do see a difference here, and it’s not like it looks. It’s not how it appears on the surface, and not what it seems to be. I don’t believe in this passage that James and John are trying to push themselves to the front of the line, even though that’s what it looks like. It’s deeper than that, and since the principle hangs upon the correct understanding of this passage, let me try to show you what I think the Spirit of God intends by this passage.
Notice verse 25 & 26, “Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the gentiles Lord it over them, and exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, that whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your server.’” When the Lord Jesus in those two verses contrasts gentile greatness with Christian greatness, He is not rebuking James and John. He’s rebuking the ten who became indignant at James and John. They looked at those two and said, “Those sneaky guys; how could they dare to put themselves above us!” He deals harshly here, but it’s not at the two. It’s with the ten; with their jealousy, with their envy and their pride. I really believe though none of the disciples were perfect, and I’m not going to make James and John blameless here, but if there is real blame in this passage, I think it’s more with the ten, than with the two. Their indignation seems to show that they, also, secretly cherish the expectation of primacy; to be exalted. Let’s look a little deeper, and then we’ll glean out what I consider to be the marvelous principle here; the outworking of a spiritual heart.
In order to get the full impact of this passage, let me give a little background on James and John. I’m not just talking facts. I’m talking about how it ties in with the principle. There are only three men, if you leave out Herod who He surnamed “that fox”, that the Lord Jesus gave surnames to. One was Simon, and He surnamed him “rock”, “Peter”. The other were these two men here, James and John. Mark 3:17 records it and He surnamed them “Boanerges”, “Sons of Thunder”. For years I misunderstood that. I thought they got their names, Sons of Thunder, because of Luke 9:54 & 54, where the Lord Jesus was on His way into Samaria, and one of the Samaritan villages rejected Him. When they rejected Him, James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” I used to think that’s why He named them Sons of Thunder, because they were real fire crackers; they want to call out fire, and wipe out those Samaritans. “They had no right rejecting You.” Because these guys were full of hot zeal, that’s why they are called the Sons of Thunder. But that’s not true. When they tried to call down fire on the heads of those Samaritan rejecters, Christ rebuked them right there on the spot. He said, “You don’t know what spirit you are of. The Son of Man does not come to destroy life, but to save lives.” He rebuked them.
He didn’t call them sons of thunder because they were high spirited. Why then? Why did He call Cephas “rock”? You might say, “ He looked at Cephas and saw there was the foundation for the church.” No, Cephas wasn’t the foundation for the church when He saw him. Jesus named him “rock” because He saw potential. It was a prophesy. That surname was a prophesy. He was just a pebble when Jesus named him “rock”. Jesus was saying, “You are going to become a rock. I see the capacity in you, and you are going to become a rock.” Jesus saw what could be, and so He named him “rock”. Just so, the sons of thunder, when Jesus named them, they were not sons of thunder. Jesus saw what they would become.
Let me say a word about “son of”. Sometimes in the New Testament you’ll see the prefix Bar which means “son of” – Barjona, Bartimaeus, Barnibus, Barrabus, Bartholomew. This means “son of”. What that means is a literal generation, that I belong to them like a son belongs to a father. But when you come to this word Boanerges it’s an Aramaic word, according to Vine, and it uses son but it doesn’t use Bar. It uses Boan, son of thunder. When you have those prefixes, it’s different than this one because it is “son”, not as an offspring, but “son” as the builder in the family, as the carrier of influence. In other words, son of thunder means “son of authority”. It means “offspring of power”, “offspring of influence”, “rulership”. It means “ruling son”.
I call attention to that because far more is going on in chapter 20 than meets the eye. These two “sons of thunder”, these two sons of authority, these two ruling sons, Christ looked at them
and said, “Some day you are going to have authority, and some day you are going to rule, and some day you are going to be the offspring of power and influence.” He saw the capacity, and He saw inside, as He did in Peter. These two come to the Lord Jesus and they ask for authority.
Isn’t it strange for the sons of thunder to ask for authority? Perhaps this is why the Lord Jesus didn’t get angry. Maybe He was seeing them come to self realization. Maybe He was seeing in them what He saw in capacity. Maybe they were developing. He prophesied that they would become sons of thunder, and perhaps their request is not as childish as it appears on the surface. Maybe they were just expressing their real hearts and self-realization saying something like this, “Lord, one day you whispered in our ears “sons of thunder”. Now you are talking about dying. Lord, make us true sons of thunder. When You come into Your kingdom, that what you saw in us so long ago, when we were so weak and ignorant, and calling down fire from heaven to destroy the enemy, maybe. Lord, make us true sons of thunder. We’re afraid and shell shocked, and we’re numb, and we’re amazed, about Your death and about Your suffering, and about Your scourging. We don’t understand it. But somehow, Lord, we see through that, and we know You are going to have a kingdom, and we know it’s going to be a glorious kingdom, and You are going to be seated on a throne, and Lord we want to be there with You, on Your right and on Your left, as true sons of thunder.” I think that’s more to the meaning of the Holy Spirit than just saying you are just too ambitious, self-seeking disciples who desire preferment above the other ten, and they snuck off because they were just trying to let anybody know about it. I believe it’s deeper than that.
If I’m wrong about it, at least we’ve got to take their words at face value. You know they showed faith, because Christ was talking about His death, and they were talking about His kingdom. They showed some faith; they looked through the death, and the Bible says that they didn’t understand the resurrection. Certainly in verse 22 when the Lord Jesus asked if they could drink the cup that He drank, and they be baptized with the baptism that He was going to be baptized with, when they said, “We are able,” some have suggested they were as foolish in that boast as in their request to be exalted. Maybe, but if this was just proud talk, the Lord Jesus didn’t take it that way. That’s my point. I’ve seen Him deal with proud talk. He doesn’t deal with it that way. Maybe this was just a boast like Peter, “I’m willing to die for you,” but even there it was deep love that caused him to say that, and the Lord Jesus did not break the bruised reed or dear devotion.
When they said, “We are able to drink that cup and we are able to be baptized with that baptism,” whether they meant it there or not, the record shows that they did drink it, and that they were baptized with it. If they were unable when they said it, God certainly made them able later on, and they became sons of thunder. Acts 12:2 talks about the sword of Herod as it went through the body of James. He took the chalice of suffering to his lips and he drank it dry. He died a martyr’s death. The Apostle John, according to history, was boiled in oil in Rome by Nero’s command, and somehow supernaturally protected from that, and then he went on to be banished on the Isle of Patmos for the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s good history. Tertullian writes of it and Jerome writes of it. In the Catholic Church they celebrate May 6 in their calendar to commemorate the boiling of John. So, whether they meant it or not, they sure tasted of it later on. If they were not yet sons of thunder when they said they were able, they became sons of thunder, for they did drink the martyr’s cup.
What I’m saying is this, let’s just be careful when we come to a scripture, before we condemn people like James and John. If we really listen to the request… I know this is true in my life. That doesn’t make it right. There’s a lot in my life that doesn’t make it right. When the spiritual life rises highest in my heart, that is, when I have the most intense desires toward the Lord, I have a longing to share His glory and be near Him. When you boil it down, that’s all they asked for. They wanted to share His glory, and be near Him. I think we should at least be cautious in how we interpret this. Whatever the motives of James and John and Salome, we know that the ten were indignant, angry, jealous and maybe hurt. The Lord begins to deal with all of those problems with ambition and self-seeking and jealousy and hurt. When He contrasts gentile greatness with Christian greatness, He lays down the great principle that’s an outworking. If you are spiritual this principle will be true in our lives.
Let me give this outline and then we’ll look a little deeper at some of these things. Let me state the principle in clear words, and then I want to illustrate the principle as He does, first from the life of the Lord Jesus, and then how it applies in our own lives. He uses Himself in verse 28 as the illustration, and then how it applies in our own lives. I remind you before I begin that these are spiritual principles, and every spiritual principle, if it’s truly spiritual, is paradoxical. That is, it’s exactly the opposite of the thinking of the world. It goes in another direction. Unfortunately, because most Christians think naturally on the level of earth, it also goes against the thinking of many, many thousands of Christians. So, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
Let me just state it as a principle, and then illustrate it. It’ easy to state, and easy to say, “la, la, la”. May God burn it in our hearts! The principle is in verse 26 & 28 and can be summarized in these words, “A life poured out in service to others.” That’s a characteristic of a spiritual heart. If I’m really looking to Christ my life will be poured out in service to others. Again, on the surface, you could say, “Oh, yeah, that’s ministry to others; of course. Let’s get on to the next point.” Serving others, a life of self-denial, poured out for the sake of others. May the Spirit of God write its true meaning in our hearts! If I’m truly spiritual I’ll be childlike, I’ll be forgiving, I’ll be holy, I’ll be living by pure grace, and the direction of my life will be one continual pouring out for the sake of my fellow man.
It’s not an accident that the cross is in the center of this passage. Matthew 20:17-19, 22&23, and 28, because the cross is the heart of service, there is no Christian ministry, no Christian service without the cross. It’s only the spiritual that can really say, “I’m able to drink His cup; I’m able to be baptized with His baptism, and I choose to pour my life out in service to others.” In order to get the impact of the quality of service we’re talking about, let me show it in the life of the Lord Jesus as He illustrates it here. I love to relate verse 25 with verse 28. Verse 25, “You know the rulers of the gentiles Lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.” Hold that expression “lord it over them”. And then verse 28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served.” If I’m going to understand my service, I must understand His service, because mine is identical to His. They are exactly alike.
Two ideas that every Christian talks about, they are in every vocabulary, and it doesn’t matter what sectarian denomination you want to speak about, all Christians talk about two things. They talk about the Lordship of Christ and serving the Lord. You hear that all the time; the Lordship of Jesus Christ and serving the Lord. Many Christians don’t understand either one of those. Glance at verse 25 & 28 as I paraphrase. This is Miller’s reverse. It’s not inspired. Jesus said, don’t forget that we’re talking about Lordship of Christ, “I did not come to lord it over you.” That’s verse 25. We’re talking about serving the Lord. Verse 28 says, “I don’t want you to serve Me.” That’s paraphrased. “I don’t want to lord it over you, and I don’t want you to serve Me.” Until you can understand those two statements, you can’t understand His service, and you can’t understand yours. What does it mean?
Many people don’t understand the Lordship of the Lord Jesus. Thousands upon thousands of Christians think that the Christian life consists in serving the Lord. It does not. He did not come to be served. Acts 17 says, “We did not serve Him with human hands.” He doesn’t seek our service at all. All appeals that are made for Christians to serve the Lord and labor for the Lord and work for the Lord, they are all unbiblical and unscriptural.
I remember when I was growing up as a new Christian all I ever heard was, “Saved to serve,” and we even sang songs, “Saved to serve the Lord.” That’s not in the Bible. You are not saved to serve the Lord. You are saved to know the Lord, and you don’t get to know Him by serving Him. For seven years that’s how I thought I was to get to know Him. If I got real busy for Him, then I would know Him better. If I witnessed a lot for Him, then I would know Him better. If I would preach and teach and visit and get involved in ten thousand programs I’d know the Lord better. Sometimes we think we’re far from relationship with God, “I’ve been departing from the Lord. I’ve been drifting. I better get active.” That’s the solution; to get back to God; get active and get involved and get busy.
Let me tell you, brothers and sisters in Christ, that will bring you to bondage, and not to the knowledge of God. That’s not how you know God. He came to serve you, and to pour His life out for you. He came to minister to you and to me. He came to wash our feet. Old Peter couldn’t handle that either. Jesus said, “I’m going to wash your feet,” and Peter said, “No, that’s backwards. I’ll wash your feet.” Jesus said, “No, Peter, it’s got to be the other way. You’ve got to let me refresh you.” Peter said, “Never, no through the ages of eternity,” that’s the Greek, “I’ll never let you wash my feet.” Then Jesus said one of the saddest things ever spoken to Christians, “If you don’t let me wash your feet, then you’ll have no part with Me.” He didn’t mean that he’d be lost and go to hell. He meant there would be no intimate relationship, no union, no sweet fellowship. He wants to save us and pour out His love and His patience and goodness and kindness, grace and compassion. He’s not looking for servants. He’s looking for subjects.
You say, “Doesn’t He want to be Lord of my life?” Yes, but not to lord it over you. He doesn’t want to be lord in order that He might be Lord. He wants to be Lord so He can serve you. He wants to be Lord of my life so He can serve me. He doesn’t want to rule you and dictate to you and be king of your will in order that He might lord it over you, “Now you know who has the power – Me. I’m in charge and I’m God. What I say goes.” That isn’t what He wants. Not at all. He wants to be Lord so He can serve you. He wants the reigns because He knows the best direction in your life and heart. He wants to rule because He knows how to make good choices, and all of His choices consistent with His infinite love and infinite wisdom. That’s why He wants to be Lord. The Lord is constantly disrobing and constantly stooping and constantly bending and constantly washing our feet and constantly ministering unto us and serving us encouraging us and helping us and embracing us, providing for us, quickening us, restoring us, reclaiming us, cheering us, keeping us. He wants to minister to us, and the more we let Him minister to us, the more we’re going to understand the knowledge of God. That’s first. We can’t become this kind of a servant unless you know God that way. You can refresh others by being refreshed. Until God is refreshing you and ministering to you, you can’t minister to anyone else. Saved to serve – saved to be served; that’s the Bible teaching. The Christian life is letting the Lord serve us and pour Himself out. That’s the way of the cross.
What does it mean for us to serve others? I would suggest that it’s exactly the same thing. It’s the way of the cross. It’s death. When the Lord Jesus pours Himself out, the Bible speaks of Him emptying Himself, and the idea of pouring yourself out is just giving all of yourself so that there is no more to give. The cross is an eternal principle, and if the principle of the cross is not in operation in our lives, we are not spiritual. This is the results of being spiritual; we’ll be living for others. The spiritual Christian will be pouring out constantly, dying, dying, giving up all its ambitions and all its rights, and drinking the cup, identifying with Christ. It took me seven years in my Christian life to begin to see (I haven’t seen it all yet) that fruit is dying and not doing. Oh, what a bondage that was in my life.
In order to make this practical let me give you three principles, descriptions of true service. If I’m really pouring out my life for others, then these things will be true. Let me state them as principles. #1 True service, if I’m really living by the way of the cross, does not count the cost. I hear a lot of people say, “The Lord Jesus says to count the cost.” You won’t find that in your Bible. No place does the Lord Jesus says to count the cost. The only place it looks like He might be saying that in the parable about the one who counted the cost before he built the building and sent an army to war, in those two parables He’s the One counting the cost, and that’s why He is so severe with us. If you counted the cost you wouldn’t follow the Lord. He’s calling for those who will not count the cost, who will not consider negative or positive, or take into account what you are going to lose.
This is how it ties into the context, you don’t take into account what you are going to gain. That’s the mistake James and John made. They said, “We’re able to die. We’re able to drink the cup. We’re able to go all the way. Now, can we have this?” They had their eye on a certain reward, and the Lord Jesus answered in these words, Matthew 20:23, “My cup you shall drink, but to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” They tried to nail down a reward, and God said, “No, you don’t follow Me for reward. You don’t count the cost. You follow Me just to follow Me. You don’t try to nail down a reward; just the will of God, just whatever God has planned. If He has something prepared for you, that’s fine, and you do it just for the will of God. Matthew 20:23, “It’s for those for whom it has been prepared.”
I used to wonder if this was true. Does the Lord just look for that reckless abandonment? “Okay, Lord, here’s my life. I just give my whole life. I just take the cross. I don’t care anymore about my ambitions, and I don’t care about anything. I abandon everything. I’ll just take the cup wherever it leads. I’ll take the baptism wherever it leads.” Indeed he does! His heart thrills at that kind of reckless abandonment, if you call it that.
When I read about some of the saints of old who were really spiritual, and who really drank the cup, who embraced the cross, I’m rather ashamed. There was a day my wife and I were reading together, doing a little study on the ten imperial persecutions, and oh my, when you read how some of our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to suffer in the past… American Christianity is about the most watered down thing you can ever think off. Oh, that God would make us spiritual! If God would work in our hearts, and worked in our hearts, and we were really seeing Christ, and really trusting Him, and really resting in Him, then our lives would be poured out, even unto death. The Godly would suffer persecution. Our services give a few cents and buy a few groceries, drive someone to church, if it’s not inconvenient. That’s not pouring yourself out. Now, don’t try pouring yourself out. That’s an outworking of a relationship.
Let me quote you a couple of these facts. I’m not trying to be gory, but I’m trying to show you there have been God’s people who have poured out their lives unto death. Some of the tortures we read about were just so terrible. They were beaten with rods and scourges and whips and cords. Their bodies were soaked in vinegar and salt, and they were stretched on racks, and their bones were broken and crushed. They were flayed. Their noses and lips were cut off and their ears were cut off; fingers, hands. Terrible things; their eyes gouged out and their tongues ripped out from the roots. Their bodies were pulled apart in every direction. There are other tortures I won’t even mention, and they felt honored. You should read some of the testimonies. If you get a hold of Fox’s Book of Martyrs or Thomas Brooks has a whole section on it, there are tremendous testimonies, as they poured out their life unto death. They call their chains golden and they called the prisons palaces. They weren’t afraid of the cross, and they stood up for the Lord Jesus. They were corn and not chaff.
These ten disciples had the spirit of rivalry and competition. One said, “I want to get to the front,” and another said, “No, you are not! I’m going to get to the front.” They were going back and forth. Do you know what is interesting in this passage? The Lord Jesus Christ did not say, “Don’t compete, don’t be rivals, don’t try to outdo one another.” See, He’s the One that created the spirit of competition in us. That’s inbred. That’s put inside. We’ve got to compete, and go against our fellow. But notice what He does. He doesn’t rebuke them for their spirit of competition. He just changes the direction of it, and He says, “Alright, you want to compete,” verses 26&27, “and you want rivalry? Okay, go to it! See who can be the lowest. Go ahead. Race! Go ahead and have competition. Go at it and see who can be the lowest, and see who can serve the most, and see who can give the most, and see who can die the most. Help others. Meet them in their suffering; serve them. Christian, go against Christian; not to be the highest, but who can be the lowest, and who can serve the most.” That’s real service.
That’s how I will be automatically, if I’m really spiritual. Can you imagine what the church would be like if every Christian was in competition with every other Christian to see who could serve their fellow man the most? That’s a natural outworking of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It ought to be as natural as breathing. He says, “Go ahead; compete. Abandon your rights and pour out your lives. You have nothing. Pour it all out. There is no Christian life except the life lived unto Him and poured out for others. We can say anything we want and quote all the dogmas and sing all the songs and raise our hands and do everything else, but this is the acid test; are we living unto Him and letting Him serve us, and is our life being poured out for others? If not, we aren’t real. We’re playing some religious game, and going through some forms. He wants us real.
The second principle, not only is it a pouring out, but spiritual service is a direction of the will. As the cross is the heart of true Christian service, the will is the heart of the cross. Notice Matthew 20:22, those disciples said, “We are able.” Well, the Bible said that they were ignorant in this whole thing; when they asked the questions and gave that answer. They said, “We are able.” What they really meant was, “We’re willing.” That was the direction of their heart, “We’re willing.” And the Lord didn’t rebuke them for that. When God saw that “We are able”, He said, “You shall.” Isn’t that a precious truth? When I say, “I will,” God says, “You shall.” That doesn’t mean I’m able. It means that God will do it, if I have the willingness. John 17, “If any man is willing, He shall know.” God has never asked for more from you than the desire. You say, “But I’m not willing.” Are you willing to be willing? I hope I’m willing to be willing. Are you willing to be willing to be willing? Take it by faith. “I don’t know if I have faith.” Take it by faith by faith. “I don’t know if I have faith.” Take your faith by faith by faith by faith to be willing to be willing to be willing to be willing. He just sees the direction of your heart.
Notice that their direction was all wrong. They were looking at a physical kingdom and He’s going to come and set up His kingdom, and overthrow the Roman Empire, and their whole desire was in terms of that, and a physical seat and physical glory. But He saw their heart, and right at the spring and right at the root, and right at the fountain of their desires, He detected a change, and they became spiritual martyrs for the spiritual kingdom. When He sees your will, He will give the enablement. An old Scottish preacher used to say, “Lord, provide what Thou commands, and then command what Thou will!” Exactly so! The Lord is going to provide. Everything God has told you He will ever do, He will do for you. So, the heart of Christian service… You say, “I’m not pouring my life out.” Are you willing? That’s all He requires, and then He’ll make you able.
One other thing, and it’s sort of an overlap. Just as the Lord Jesus Christ does not seek our service, in our service to others, God has called us to serve, and not seek their service. The Lord wasn’t going around trying to enlist people, and get people to join anything. He wasn’t trying to recruit. A lot of our Christian service is nothing but a recruiting station, and see how many sign up, how many hands were raised, how big of a gathering can you get. Jesus never tried to get an army. He didn’t recruit others. We’re not trying to build programs and build followings and build ministries. He didn’t call us to do anything. He’ll take care of that. You just go serve and minister and help, and bind up the broken hearted, and don’t call to join anything. Just pour out your heart. I suggest that’ spiritual service; pouring itself out and not counting the cost, willingness to die, trusting God to make it real. Just serving, and not trying to get anybody to join anything. If I’m spiritual, my heart will be poured out for others.
Our Father we call upon You now. We don’t understand the service that has a cross in it. God, You as our model, when we think about the cup that You drained dry, the baptism that You were baptized with, we can’t be identified with that, and yet in part we want to associate with You and identify with You. In our willingness we say, “We are able,” because we know that Your grace will make us able. We want to drink that cup, and be baptized with that baptism. We want to be great by being low. Lord, work it in us that we might stoop in the service of others, not looking for reward, and not counting the cost. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen
(This full transcript is available to download in a Word document through www.biblestudyministriesinc.com)