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Disciplines That Grow Godliness

The Discipline Of Servanthood

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 29, 1995

Selected highlights from this sermon

The world’s opinion of Christianity is not always good, and often they think that we are not worth believing. In their eyes, our message lacks credibility which is often reinforced by the way we live. 

The remedy is servanthood, and the Apostle Paul provides a blueprint. In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us, by Paul’s example, that when we endure trials and live with purity while serving God and others, we make the Gospel worthy of investigation. 

If you were to ask the question, “What is it that people generally think today about us as Christians (I mean the born-again type of Christians)?” you’d probably get a variety of answers. But most people look at us very cynically. And they look at us very cynically because they think that we lack a crucial word, and that is credibility.

You know, that word credibility means worthy of belief, and many people think today that Christians are not worthy to be believed. What an indictment, but it is true in this cynical age. I was trying to think about why this was, and it dawned on me that there is a gap, I think (a couple of gaps), that we could speak about that cause this cynicism. And you know the cynicism, don’t you? You witness to somebody at work, or you know of somebody who witnessed to other people at work of Jesus Christ, and the person to whom they are talking basically just says, “Oh spare me.”

Let me give you three gaps that sometimes exist in our own lives. The first is the gap between belief and behavior. Yesterday my wife and I were out with some friends of ours and they were talking about a certain person who claims to be a Christian but is manipulative, dishonest, always out for himself and very selfish. He exists in the business world, and it would be better if a person like that would not identify himself with Christ.

Have you ever met some Christians that you just wish wouldn’t say that they are Christians, but tell people that they’ve been converted to some other religion? Let some other religion have them. You see, most people know that Jesus Christ was kind and honest and was a man of integrity and therefore they actually think that we should be like Him, of all things. Now I might say that they don’t expect us to be perfect, but what the world really hates is hypocrisy. They dislike it when we are unwilling to admit our imperfections and still go on pretending that we are on a higher platform than they are, preaching to them. That is deeply resisted in our culture.

So the first is the gap between belief and behavior. The second is the gap between life and lip. I make that a separate one because a lot of people who don’t have the life that is in conjunction with behavior nevertheless probably do not witness for Christ. In the second category I’m talking about the person whose life is a contradiction to what Jesus Christ is, but yet they tell others about Christ. And it’s that gap between life and lip that really turns people off.

There’s a third gap that we can’t deal with today. It has to do between fact and faith. Many people think that we are gullible because we believe the miracles and so forth, and they have no idea that all the good arguments for the Bible are on our side. And it’s also our responsibility to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us with meekness and with fear. That is your responsibility and mine.

And so you exist today with this gap in an age that does not want to believe because they think that belief has no merit. Many years ago I heard a story about a young boy who lived on the very top of a high hill. And he had an old jalopy. It was a car of very ancient vintage, and in order for him to make it to the other side of the other hill, he always needed a running start. So one morning he got his contraption all geared up, and he was zooming down the hill, giving it all that it could have, so that it would make it up the hill that was on its way. And as he came to the intersection at the base of the hill he suddenly noticed that to his right a car was coming, following by another. He had just a fraction of a moment to figure it out, but he discovered that by letting the first car go through and then gunning his pile of junk, he had just enough time to make it in between the two autos. The only miscalculation was that he didn’t realize that the first car was actually towing the second. (laughter) And he learned a very important lesson that day that you should never try to separate the inseparable. And what Jesus says to us today is, “If you follow Me, live like Me to give the Gospel the credibility and the worthiness of belief.” The question is how do we do that? How is it translated into culture? And that’s the purpose of this message.

Would you take your Bibles today please and turn to 2 Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul is speaking to this church and he is defending his (quote) credibility. And he is letting them know why it is that what he has to say is worthy of their attention and their belief because he experienced a lot of criticism. Some people said he didn’t have the right message, and so he wants to back it up with his life.

And we’re going to pick up the text in verse 3 of 2 Corinthians 6: “Giving no cause for an offense in anything in order that the ministry be not discredited.” (ESV: “We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”) That’s what we’re going to talk about today is that there be no offense so that the ministry is not discredited. Paul says, “I want to live in such a way that if people stumble, they stumble over the cross and not over my own inconsistencies and my hypocrisies.”

I hope that you regularly pray for me and for the pastoral staff, but there may be times when you say, “We don’t how to pray for the pastor,” because you may not know my schedule. I want you to know that even if you don’t know it, you can pray this verse for all those of us who are in the ministry. You can pray it consistently and everyday that we give no cause for stumbling or for offense that the Word of God and the ministry be not discredited.

But now the Apostle Paul begins to move on, and he begins to tell us what he has been through to show his credibility, and he picks up the text and says to himself that the reason for this is (in verse 4): “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” The bottom line is he says, “I am a servant of God, and the way in which I am a servant of God is going to show you that what I have to say is worthy of investigation and belief.” And he pins it down on servanthood. And then he launches into what most commentators think is a poem. He goes on and he begins to string words together. In fact, I want you to know that he has 27 different words or expressions in this text (so with your Bibles open, and it is important that you look at the text with me) - three different series of nine apiece! It was just Paul’s day for writing and he just took one phrase and laid it on another.

First of all, I want you to notice the trials that he endured. In verses 4 and 5 he lists nine of them. Notice he says, “We serve the Lord in afflictions.” This word is the general word that really covers everything. I don’t know whether or not you had any afflictions this week but if you did, they would fit immediately under this category. He said, “I have been through afflictions. I have been through hardships.” This refers to duties and obligations that have to be discharged with a great deal of grief. And maybe you had duties and obligations this week that had to be discharged with that kind of grief. You were told to do things at work that you didn’t want to do that were outside of your aptitude, outside of the range of your responsibility and gifting, and there was conflict within the office, and you experienced that hardship that he is talking about.

The next word is distresses. And notice that all of these words are plural. Paul is saying: “All the same I involved a lot of hassle.” Distresses! Places of perplexity! If you are a teenager and you couldn’t get your locker open this week that would be a distress. For some of you, perhaps, it was a distress because you could get it open. Either way, you know what distress is. It’s the frustrations of life. If you are a police officer you know what distress really is, and you could tell us a whole lot about it.

Beatings and stripes is the next one. He says in another place “stripes beyond measure.” “Five times,” he said, “I received 39 stripes from the Jews.” See, in those days you were supposed to beat a prisoner only 40. That was the max. In order to make sure that they did not exceed the max, they said, “We are satisfied with 39.” Paul said, “I went through those kinds of lacerations five times. He doesn’t say it here in the text, but elsewhere when he’s referring to the same ordeal, that’s what he says. He says, “On three occasions I was beaten with rods.” He went through that kind of persecution and that kind of hassle.

The next word is imprisonments. We have one example in the book of Acts where he and Silas were in prison, and they were singing hymns to God in the midst of it.

Tumults is the next one. This refers to the mob riots that frequently ensued when the Apostle Paul came to town. It happened in Antioch and Iconium and Lystra where he had a whole mob that was so angry with him because he was preaching the Gospel. He said, “In labors.” That’s the weariness that comes through bearing many burdens. Notice that the next one is sleeplessness. This isn’t insomnia. It means that the Apostle Paul was in situations where he couldn’t sleep very much because of the difficulties of travel and the stresses and the death threats and all the other things.

Sleeplessness and hunger! It was not fasting, though he fasted often. It has to do with the fact that sometimes he was hungry simply because he had nothing to eat in his travels and in his work.

Now what in the world is God doing in this? He says, “I am a servant of God and this is what I get.” Do you know what God is doing? God is taking the gap that exists between life and lip, between belief and behavior, and He’s closing it in the life of the Apostle Paul because He says, “Paul, what I’m trying to do is to put you through so much grief that people who look at you and see the way in which you respond to it will give you that crucial word called credibility. And that’s part of being credible. It’s suffering in the right way.

Alright, first of all, he’s told us his trials in verses 4 to 5. Now let’s look at his triumphs in verses 6 and 7. How did he handle it? Well, notice what the text says. In purity! That’s how he handled it. He didn’t succumb to immorality. He did not succumb to a false motive or with the duplicity of motive. He didn’t do that. He remained pure within. If the first nine descriptions have to do with the physical, aspects of the torment and the torture of the body, so to speak, and the hassle from outside, we get now to the triumphs which are in the inside of his life. It’s as if the Apostle Paul is allowing us to have an x-ray machine so that we can pick up exactly what was going on inside when outside was so difficult.

Purity, he says! Knowledge! That has to do with perspective, the ability to have the long-range point of view because the Scripture says that in Jesus Christ are hidden all the wisdom and knowledge that we will ever need. And people who have knowledge have the ability to see beyond the hassles of life.

And then he goes on to say in patience. That’s the ability to endure hardship without compromise. Kindness, which is a fruit of the Spirit! Let me ask you something today. High visible Christians that are sometimes even fighting in what is called today our cultural wars, do you see in their lives kindness?

The next one is the Holy Spirit, which I take to be the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ability of the Holy Spirit. And then verse 6, genuine love! I don’t know whether or not we always see that in the lives of Christians. We see an angry side. We see the same thing sometimes in their lives as we see in the world, and what is it that they lose? The crucial term – credibility! People think that the Gospel is unworthy to be believed.

And not only those folks out there! Let’s look at ourselves. Genuine love? Is that the way we respond to those who mistreat us at work and those who want to get ahead of us, and those who want to manipulate us, and those who want us out of the office because they want somebody else to take your place? Is that the way we respond, or do we respond with the same kind of response that they have?

The power of God, Paul says! And then a very interesting expression! He says the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left! The Apostle Paul says, “I’m ready for anybody who comes to me, and I want to live righteously. Whether the attack is coming from this way or that way, I’m going to be ready for all attacks.

I hope that you’ve seen two things already so far. First of all, in Paul’s trials and in his triumphs, does he not mirror Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is spoken of as the suffering servant. You think of all the sufferings that He went through, and then He said He didn’t come to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life as a ransom for many. You look at the life of Paul and you say, “Paul, you must be a follower of Jesus. You’re acting like Jesus,” about whom it is said that when He was reviled He reviled not again. And when He suffered He uttered no threats, but kept committing himself unto Him who judges righteously.

What is God trying to do in the life of the Apostle Paul? God is saying, “Paul, when people see the way they hassle you, and when they see the way you respond, which is so different from what would be expected, that is going to give your message credibility. It is going to make you authentic and believable.

Now let’s go on to a third category here. Paul gives his testimony. We’ve had the trials of the servant. We’ve had the triumphs, and now we have the testimony of the servant. And I need to tell you what I thought about as I was looking at this up and down – almost like a yo-yo. Some of you have heard my rather humorous news report, which actually goes on for about five or six minutes when I get wound up, but I remember that one of the lines is this. And some of the people on the platform are already snickering. I’m glad to know that, but one of the lines is this: “A ship carrying 100 metric tons of yo-yos hit a reef off the coast of Florida yesterday afternoon. The vessel sank and resurfaced 64 times.” (laughter)

Now I look at this and I read the passage of Scripture, and I say, “Paul, you seem to be sinking and resurfacing at least nine times.” Notice the expressions that he uses here. He says, first of all, “In glory and dishonor.” “Sometimes I’m popular,” he says, “and sometimes I am regarded with reproach.” An evil report and a good report!

He says, “Sometimes there are those who speak well of me (and he’s talking here about those who speak behind his back) – a good report, and then there are those who bring an evil report, and all of these things are swirling behind my back, and there is nothing that I can do to really substantiate myself. I have to entrust my reputation to God. I have to make sure that my conscience is clear before God that the ministry not be blamed, but ultimately I have to punt the ball to God because I can’t control what people say.” Some give a good report! Some an evil report!

Notice the next one. He says, “Deceiving, yet true!” People made up false stories about the Apostle Paul and they said, “He’s a deceiver,” and then there were others who said, “Oh no, no, he speaks the truth.” And so you have a debate about him. Notice what else! Unknown, yet well known! There were those who said, “Why do you follow the Apostle Paul? Nobody has ever heard about him. He’s not as famous as Peter.” And then there were those who said, “Well, he was well known as a persecutor of the church.” And on and on the Apostle Paul had to put up with this kind of activity.

“Dying,” he says, “behold we live.” Elsewhere he says, “Hour by hour my life has been in jeopardy.” He said, “I die daily.” And when he was stoned, that is to say when he had rocks thrown at him at Lystra, and when he was brought to life, it was like a resurrection. And that’s what he is referring to here. “Dying, behold we live. As punished, yet not put to death.” And so the Apostle Paul says that as a result of his experiences, he was punished by others, which was used as a discipline of God, and yet he’s alive. He survived. Sorrowful, yet rejoicing! Isn’t that a picture of the Christian life? We grieve but not as those who have no hope.

And then he says, “Poor, yet making many rich!” He was financially poor. He had nothing that he could depend upon, and yet spiritually he was very rich because of the wealth that he had in Jesus Christ, rich toward God, and communicating those riches toward others. And finally, “as having nothing,” Paul says, “and yet possessing all things.” What a wonderful passage of Scripture that the Apostle Paul gives us! He tells us his trials, he tells us his triumphs, and then he gives us his testimony of God’s grace through little.

How do we take all this and filter it down so that it becomes practical for you and for me and so that we can apply it? There are three very important principles that we need to draw from this passage of Scripture. First of all, credibility! Credibility comes through servanthood.

Some of you are new converts. You’ve received Jesus Christ as your Savior recently, and you’ve had the experience of going home and sharing with your friends and your family, and you say, “Why don’t you believe on Jesus too? Look at what Jesus has done.” And they don’t believe at all. In fact, they think that you have been derailed. They think that you are weird. They think that you don’t fit the normal pattern of human experience, and they reject you, and they deride you, and they disbelieve your Gospel. How do you handle a situation like that? You become a servant of the people to whom you are witnessing. Paul says it is through servanthood that we gain credibility. That’s what he’s talking about. He says, “We recommend ourselves as servants.” He began to serve. And as a result of service, God begins to use the message which people reject verbally, and show that it is a message that should be investigated.

Lorne Sanny for many years was the head of Navigators, and the Navigators emphasized servanthood. Somebody asked him one time, “How do you know whether you have the servant?” That’s a very good question. He said, “You know that you have the attitude of a servant by the way in which you respond when you are treated like one.” That’s a very good answer.

One day there were some disciples who were arguing as to who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. It was a big debate, and Jesus said, “You are talking like the pagans. You are talking like the Gentiles. That’s the way the world thinks but it’s not supposed to be like that among you. In fact, if any one among you is going to be great let him be as a little child. Let him be the servant of all.” And the bottom line that Jesus is saying (and it’s a very important principle because especially in some cultures the number of servants that you had was a sign of prestige) is it’s not the number of people that serve you that is important. It is the number of people whom you serve that is significant, and is the mark of greatness. That is what gives your life the authenticity that we all seek. And that’s why Jesus was so believable. It was because He did not come to lord it over people. He came to serve, and as a result of serving, people saw that He spoke the truth. So the first principle is that credibility comes through servanthood.

The second principle is that servanthood leads to or is made credible by suffering. That really then begins to get the gap between life and lip closed where what you believe and the way in which you behave now suddenly become one when you are in a position of suffering. It was Charles Colson who said that whenever God allows people in the world to get cancer, he also allows Christians to get cancer so that the world can see the difference. You see, that’s what gives credibility. It’s Tom Congran calling me two days before he died and saying, “Erwin, goodbye. I will see you in heaven.” I will never forget that conversation. Never! As long as I live! How deeply I was affected by it! Dying with such confidence that he said that all the promises of God had been made true to him as he lay on his deathbed. Now that’s what you mean by credibility. So servanthood leads to suffering.

And finally, suffering leads to salvation. I do not mean that through your suffering you are saved. Let me be very clear about that. I mean that through your suffering others are brought to salvation. That was true in the life of Jesus Christ. You know, Jesus died in many respects like other criminals died. Crucifixion in those days was very common. But there was something about Jesus that was so incredibly unique. There was something about Jesus, the way in which He was able to accept His fate with a sense of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He accepted it with a sense of resignation to the will of God who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return, but accepted it. People who looked upon Him were impressed. And while He was on the cross, the Bible says, a centurion, gazing at Jesus, said, “Surely, surely, this is the Son of God.” It’s because of His suffering. And as a result of His suffering salvation came to that centurion. And salvation comes to you and to me as well. And it is through the suffering of Christ! The Bible says it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. Jesus was a bruised servant, and because He was a bruised servant, He was a qualified servant and an authentic servant.

That’s why Tertullian said so many years ago that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And the Romans said, “The more Christians we kill, the more there are.” It seems as if that would be a difficult circumstance under which Christianity would spread. And yet the more Christians that were put to death, the more needed to be put to death. What brought that about? It is because the Christians who died, died with such a sense of commitment to God that other people said, “I want what they have even if I have to die to the ultimate statement of credibility.”

During those dark days in Germany – in Hitler’s Germany – when the church was under so much persecution, there was a pastor by the name of Baumgarten, which in German means tree garden literally. But he made a very wonderful and telling statement. He said, “Sometimes the Gospel can no longer be communicated with words.” He said, “The time has come where the Gospel must be communicated through the deeds and the sufferings of the saints.” And then he said, “It will be translated into a new vocabulary that will cause people to believe.”

May I say to you today that with our age of cynicism, oftentimes the Gospel can no longer be simply communicated with words? There are people whose hearts are open to the truth, but there are those whose hearts are closed to the truth. They say, “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear.” And how will we reach them? The answer is the deeds and the sufferings of the saints. The ability to have trials but to accept them with a sense of triumph, and to be able to give a testimony of God’s faithfulness through all the ups and downs of life! That’s what makes people think that we might have something they do not. And that is the key that God uses to unlock closed human hearts – the suffering and the deeds of the saints.

In 1934 Martin Niemöller stepped up to the pulpit in a suburb of Berlin, Germany – Dahlem, and he said to all of the people during the time of great Nazi persecution and infiltration into the church’s agenda (and I’m paraphrasing now; I wish I had the whole quote but I don’t), “God has allowed Satan to take the entire church in Germany and to shake it like a sieve.” And he said, “God has done that that the chaff might be separated from the wheat.”

And he didn’t say this, but I would like to add that God then takes that wheat that has been separated from the chaff, and when that wheat is planted, it bears fruit because it has proven its credibility. And when the Arian clause was to be signed, saying that no person of Jewish blood could occupy a pulpit in Germany, and in 1938 when the time came when all pastors were forced to sign personal allegiance to Hitler in an oath or be excommunicated, about 800 pastors didn’t. The rest did. And these 800 pastors were taken into concentration camps and into prisons, and they witnessed to the love of Christ, and reports had come from people who believed in Jesus because of their witness. And when they talked to people about Christ, nobody said, “Oh, spare me. Who are you to talk?” because that which they believed, and the way in which they behaved, and their life and their lip were one.

We’ve got all kinds of programs to save America at this critical hour, and all of them, I am sure, are good, but I’ll tell you this. America will not be saved from its critical hour until every single person that is listening to me, and the thousands and the millions of believers begin to say, “By God’s grace, I am going to live a life that will make the Gospel worthy of getting a hearing and investigation.” And what we will discover when that begins to happen is that throughout this whole country, men and women will believe. And the answer to it all is to become a servant who is willing to be a suffering servant that the salvation of others will be brought about.

I wish it were easier. I wish it were simply a matter of words, but the time has come when it is the deeds and suffering of the saints that will translate the Gospel into language that is understood.

And as I close, may I remind you that the Gospel that we’re talking about is the Good News of Christ. If you are here visiting today, I want you to know that we are not a group of “weirdoes.” We just act like it once in a while. What we believe is that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a voluntary death, given for sinners who desperately need to be reconciled to God. And Christ is the only one who can reconcile us to God. And there is no other way to be reconciled. And you can’t be reconciled through the various rituals of the church, and through good deeds. That comes as a result of being a Christian, but you must be reconciled by a transfer of faith in Christ alone, in humility, recognizing that apart from Him you will be lost forever. And it is that that saves you and makes you a member of God’s family, and then gives you the strength to be that credible Christian that the world so desperately needs.

Will you join me as we pray together today?

Our Father, we want to thank You today for the Apostle Paul who, in all of his suffering, managed to stay pure, kind and loving and experienced the power of God. Oh Father, how desperately we need that because you want us to live like Christ lived, and that would be what we would desire today. Father, I’m burdened for all the areas of inconsistency in our lives. We pray that today may be a day of repentance and a day of affirmation when we begin to say that we need to live what we believe. Do that, Lord, we ask. And Father, help us to be better servants. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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