Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Abandonment" Versus "Responsibility"





How can a Christian “lose their life for [Jesus’] sake” (Matt. 10:39) and still be a “responsible” person? 

In other words, how does one abandon or surrender their lives, substituting their will continuously for the Lord’s, while making sure all the bills are paid and funds are set aside for college or retirement, etc.?

It kinda sounds like an illogical question when you think about it.  By following the Lord’s will all the time, don’t you think He would want you to pay your bills?  And don’t you think He’s interested in taking care of you in the future?

I like a particular passage that speaks right into this issue:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
   “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
   “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
   “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
   “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Luke 14:25-35

Let’s start with this word, “hate.”  It is common belief that Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic as his native tongue.  In Aramaic, there is no word for “like” or “dislike.”  It was one extreme or the other.  But another way of looking at it, if you look at the text in other passages, is to “favor one more or less than the other.”

In Genesis 29:30-1, it says that Jacob “went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.”  Jacob favored Rachel more than Leah.  If he literally hated her, I doubt he would’ve married her.

Look also in Luke 16:13: 

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”

Here we can tell that the word “hate” should not be taken literally.  If that’s so, then one who claims to serve Jesus and money, for example, if he has a problem idolizing money, he doesn’t necessarily mean to “hate” Jesus.  In fact, that would be the last thing he would admit!  The struggle he has is that he prefers one more than the other, which causes inner torment.  If he actually hated Jesus, there’s no torment.  He chooses money.  Done deal.

So now let’s look at the passage in proper context in Luke.  It still sounds harsh, though, doesn’t it?  I absolutely LOVE my wife and kids.  I would do anything for them.  But when push comes to shove, Jesus wants me to prefer Him to all of the others in my life.  Well, what does that mean, exactly?  It means that all of our attention, all of our adoration, and yes, all of our will, must go to serving Him first and foremost, even before our “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and [our] own life.”

I am so glad that the Lord added the most important part to that passage—our “own life.”  If He did not add that, then we would be tempted to place ourselves in preeminence at the expense of others.  But when we “hate” our own life, we are literally saying, “Not my will, but yours be done!”

So now let’s put some meat to the bones of this discussion.  Jesus gives two practical examples of something.  First, he mentions a time when you might want to build a tower.  In so many words, He says, You know you’ll need to do a cost estimate, because if you don’t, your future is bleak with it—you can’t finish it!  Then people will make fun of you.

In the second story, Jesus says a king does a huge assessment before going to war to see if he’ll be able to win with the amount of men he has.  Otherwise, he’ll try to make peace before his men get slaughtered!

In both stories, note that Jesus includes the embarrassment factor.  Both people will feel so much shame by their actions.

THEN…after these two stories, Jesus emphasizes (by His second mention of this), “those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”  What?  But I thought Jesus was trying to emphasize the importance of planning, not throwing everything away!  Seems to me that giving up everything is reckless, irresponsible, and doesn’t show much foresight of planning.

Aha, but that’s exactly Jesus’ point!  BY GIVING UP YOUR LIFE, YOU ARE BEING RESPONSIBLE, BECAUSE HE IS THERE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU!

And THAT’S the very reason why Jesus adds the last part of the passage about being salt that does not lose its flavor.  When we abandon our life to Him, we are incredible salt—kinda like my favorite, Lawry’s!—because EVERYONE will see that God comes in and provides for you.  And in that, there is no shame or embarrassment.  The shame and embarrassment come when we try to save our own life.  But how does God get glory when we save our own life?

Does that make sense?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  It should excite you.  It should energize you to jump off the cliff.

But, Anthony, are you saying I shouldn’t pay my bills?  As Paul would say in Romans 6, “God forbid!” 

“But what if God tells me to give to a mission instead of paying my bill?”

Hahahaha…HA-hahaha.  Nice try.  Can God do that?  Yes.  And if He does, you had better make sure that it’s HIM saying that, that He will give you money another way to pay the bill later.  BUT…this is rare. 

You see, abandoning your life does not mean you don’t pay bills or put money aside for your future.  You can do all that.  But it does mean that we need to a) obey the Word of God AND b) heed the voice of the Spirit.

For example, we know the Lord commands us in the Word to “look after widows and orphans in their distress” (James 1:27).  That means that we need to do this.  Period.  The question then becomes, “What is my or my family’s role in doing this?”  That’s when the Spirit comes in.

Galatians 5:16 says to “walk in the Spirit.”  We must rely on the Holy Spirit for when the Word is not specific with us on particular issues. 

For example, in Acts 16:6-10, Paul and company were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.”  Now preaching the Word is good thing, right?  But that is not what God wanted him to do at that time.  Later, we learn that God wanted Paul to go instead to Macedonia, via a vision he had received one night.

Of course, there are many ways we can hear from God.  I even wrote a post about the different ways HERE on my wife’s blog.

But for the sake of this post, suffice it to say if we receive a command from Scripture to do something, like care for the orphan, then we had better not ask the Lord if we’re “called” to do that.  He’ll just shake His head.  We are ALL called to care for the orphan.  No, it would be wise if we asked the Lord, “How do you want me to do that?”

Can you imagine if every Christian on the face of the planet did that one simple thing—ask God what his or her role is in caring for the orphan?  There would be no orphan crisis.

It all starts with what I call “simple substitution.”  We simply say to God, I want YOUR will in this, not mine.  What can I do for YOU, Lord Jesus, for the orphan or for the poor or for the prisoner…

We must not be afraid that we’ll hear something in return from God that we won’t like, kinda like, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

If we’re afraid, we’re not there yet.

6 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved this post and needed to see it! I have recently found myself in that "place" of answering the Lord's call, but not knowing how. Of course all I need to to do is stop and say, "How Lord, what would you have me do?" and I know that He will show me, but boy reading this was so reassuring, and a much needed blessing to me tonight! Thank you for the well thought out and encouraging post.

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    1. You are so welcome. It is always a blessing to hear that God is at work in our brothers and sisters in Christ. Proceed humbly but boldly. Read the Word. Heed the Spirit. And spread the word. It's time for the body of Christ to arise!

      God bless you and thank you for your comment.

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  2. Thank you, Anthony. This is just what I needed. Bible passages to read and think about AND an explanation. I have been struggling with unemployment and what I need to do now. Take a better paying job, wait for one that lets me do the work in the best way, what about retirement, blah blah blah. Now I have a way to deepen my prayer.

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    1. And let my prayers join yours, rosedel. "Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:31). :)

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  3. Anthony - that's too for going back to the "root language"! Every time we read Scripture in English - we're reading a translation! And yes - the men that wrote the translations did their absolute best - but - some things (like the word 'hate') just don't translate well! Without some understanding of the root language - the nuance and meaning can be lost.

    And when you read the Words of Christ - the beauty of the language with which He spoke - and the depth and nuance of the stories that He told - sometimes I just want to bask in the feelings you would get when you would hear Him teach!

    aus

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    1. Ah, you get it, Aus. So in other words, I love my wife, but I hate you. lol! Sounds harsh, but that's how they'd say it. I'd rather settle for the long translation--I love my wife, but Aus, I love you too...just not as much.

      Thanks for a great comment!

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