Exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:15b–18 Paul’s gift to Corinth

1 Corinthians 9:15b–18

15b And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

At times, strong emotions break into Paul’s thinking and writing; 1 Cor. 15b is one such verse. Here are three translations of verse 15b:

(NIV) “. . . for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.”

(NET) “In fact, it would be better for me to die than — no one will deprive me of my reason for boasting!”

(Thiselton[1]) “I would rather die than — well, no one shall invalidate my ground for glorying!”

The last two translations are much closer to Paul’s Greek text and demonstrate his strong feelings about what his life is about — telling people about Christ crucified and seeing them grow into mature believers.

Verse 16 is rather simple in concept, though it sounds a bit strange to our ears. Just recall how many amazing heroes — from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or some death-risking rescue — say that they were not a hero because they were only doing their duty. Paul sees himself as a steward of the gospel (“I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” 1 Cor. 9:17b). Christ commissioned him to take the gospel to the gentiles. If he did not do so, he would be miserable over failing Christ (“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Cor. 9:16b). In preaching the gospel, Paul was doing his duty.

Paul thoroughly grasps the position he is in, because the prophet Jeremiah wrote eloquently of being under similar compulsion (Jer. 20:7–9). Jeremiah suffered severe persecution for speaking God’s message and considered remaining silent. Jeremiah tells what happened then (Jer. 20:9b): “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Paul understands that inner fire by personal experience. Since Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples in every nation, the fire of witness is to spread through us.

The only way Paul would be entitled to a reward is if he did something “entirely by personal choice.”[2] Thus, the first half of verse 17 says, “If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward.” Thiselton explains, “If Paul cannot ‘freely’ give his apostolic work (since to this he is pressed by God without choice), what is left to give freely is his toil and labor as a leather worker and salesman in the commercial [market].”[3] So, Paul surrendered his right to financial support as his own gift (1 Cor. 9:18). In this way he is going “the second mile” (Matt. 5:41).

So, how does this apply to the Corinthian church? Thiselton relates the ideas of Dale Martin by saying, “Paul does not ask every reader to give up a right, but those who have ‘rights’ to give up, i.e. the strong or socially influential. . . . Low-status persons, the weak, by definition have no [‘rights’] to give up.”[4] The socially influential are exactly the people exhibiting spiritual pride and trying to form stronger factions within the church. By example, Paul calls on them to imitate him instead.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 676.

[2] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 696.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 697.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 697–98.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:14–21 A father’s concern for his spiritual children

1 Corinthians 4:14–21

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

Paul once again changes metaphors, moving this time to depict himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers. This metaphor allows him certain advantages.

In spite of the criticism Paul has received from some of the Corinthians, he seeks to communicate that he is on their team — or, better yet, with them on Christ’s team — rather than tearing them down (1 Cor. 4:14). The Corinthian church was growing within a society that assigned status on the basis of honor and shame. Anthony Thiselton says, “Paul does not wish simply to remove all status, but to redefine what counts as status in terms of glorying in the cross, glorying in the Lord and perceiving . . . the honor of being accounted worthy to suffer hardships in the service of their Lord.”[1]

By calling the Corinthian believers “my dear children” (1 Cor. 4:14), Paul prepares the way to take the role of “your father through the gospel” (verse 15) while casting the faction leaders in the role of “guardians.” The guardian was usually a trusted slave that Greek plays portrayed with a rod in hand for correction of the children in his care. David Garland says: “The humorous picture of ten thousand custodians brandishing rods at their stubborn charges may soften the affront. . . . Who these caretakers are, Paul does not say. . . . They are likely to be the local leaders of the competitive factions.”[2]

Paul is well aware that these first Christian converts had no precedents to teach them how to live for Christ. So, Paul says to them, “Take your cue from me” (Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 4:16). By looking at Paul’s way of life, the Corinthians should know how to conduct their own lives in Christ. In his absence from them — Paul writes from Ephesus — he sends Timothy to remind them by example of the way of life Paul teaches in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17).

By mentioning “all the churches,” it is likely that Paul wants to put the Corinthians in a different competition for status. By taking their cue from his pattern of life, the Corinthian believers will take their rightful place among all the churches striving to live for Christ crucified and turn away from the pointless rivalries of Roman Corinth.

Thiselton says, “Being blown up with air was a more familiar metaphor for arrogant self-importance in the first century than today,”[3] and that is a colorful image for the faction leaders. They are behaving as if Paul will never return, but they get a rude shock by his announcement that he will come to Corinth “soon,” assuming the Lord wants him to (1 Cor. 4:19a). He makes it clear that he will not be testing the talk of the faction leaders but rather their power. When Paul came the first time, his preaching was accompanied by a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Paul knows that the kingdom of God can once again show its power over mere talk (1 Cor. 4:20). As he writes to the Corinthian church, Paul knows that others are also making decisions. The Greek verb thel? ties together verse 19 (Is God willing to allow Paul’s journey to Corinth?) and verse 21 (What type of visit do the Corinthians want?).

Thiselton relates a fascinating aspect of Roman culture affecting Roman Corinth: “The figures of the emperor and the father of the family were expected to admonish the communities for which they were responsible. The Corinthians would well understand the question: In which of these two ways am I to come as a father?”[4] That was the worldly viewpoint. As Christians we know that the spiritual oversight of Corinth lay with God the Father and his apostle, Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian church.

The moral issues which Paul addresses in chapter 5 made the rod more likely than the love and gentleness.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 369.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 146.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 376.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 378.

Exposition of Romans 1:13–15 — Win Christ’s disciples; equip Christ’s disciples!

When Paul speaks of reaping “some harvest” (Rom. 1:13) among the Roman Christians, perhaps he is looking back to the parable told by Jesus about the four soils (Luke 8:4-15). The only seed that grew and actually yielded a harvest of grain was that which fell on good soil. Perhaps we should regard this parable as a strong hint that it takes some time to know whether our evangelism results in a disciple of Jesus or not.

Either way, our job is to tell the good news about Jesus and build those who become his disciples (Matthew 28:18-19).

(ESV) Romans 1:13–15  I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul continues his efforts to defuse any criticisms of his ministry that might hinder his recipients from listening to his theological arguments about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In view of his extensive ministry among Gentiles in far-flung places, the Roman Christians might have felt slighted by the fact Paul had not visited the capital of the empire.

Once again John Chrysostom (a fourth-century father) offers a helpful set of insights about Paul’s inability to visit Rome sooner (1:13):

Paul does not concern himself with such things [as to why he was impeded], yielding instead to the incomprehensible nature of providence. By doing this he shows the right tone of his soul and also teaches us never to call God to account for what happens, even though what is done seems to trouble the minds of many. For it is the master’s place to command and the servant’s to obey.[1]

When Paul mentions the “Greeks” in 1:14, this term includes all those who considered themselves partakers of Greek culture; for example, the standard Greek lexicon says, “Cultured Romans affected interest in things Greek and would therefore recognize themselves under this term.”[2] We must also recall that due to the conquest of most of the known world by Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), Greek language and culture had spread throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.

So, when Paul speaks of “Greeks and . . . barbarians” (1:14), he is effectively saying everyone. The terms “the wise and. . . the foolish” also mean everyone. In saying “I am under obligation” (1:14), Paul uses the present tense and indicative mood to convey the ongoing nature of his moral obligation before God to preach the gospel.

If the idea that Paul is going to “preach the gospel” (1:15) to Roman Christians seems a bit jarring, the problem is in our limited contemporary understanding of this phrase. Moo observes, “In this case, ’preach the gospel’ will refer to the ongoing work of teaching and discipleship that builds on initial evangelization.”[3] Similarly, Osborne says, “Once more, it is important to realize that gospel in the New Testament included discipleship as well as evangelism.”[4] Paul had a big gospel.

Never shrink the gospel!

Perhaps some of you will remember the Walt Disney film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989); before you scorn the title, consider that the film grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. While shrinking might be comical in a Disney movie, it is serious when it comes to the gospel.

One popular tool for “sharing the gospel” is The Four Spiritual Laws, a brief booklet written by Bill Bright in 1952. While such tools are very useful in explaining the essentials of salvation — as in my own conversion to Christian faith — they often have the unfortunate side-effect of shrinking the gospel to a degree that Paul would find really tiny.

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. You will easily see both evangelism and discipleship in these verses. How would you relate these verses to the broader understanding of the gospel?

2. How might we get better educated on various aspects of salvation? Here are some references to consider: Substitution (Matt. 20:28; 2 Cor. 5:14); Justification (Rom. 3:21-26); Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19); Redemption (Eph. 1:7); Expiation (Col. 2:14); Regeneration (Titus 3:5). How do these verses help you to see various aspects of salvation?

Perhaps it will help to think of the gospel as a treasure. You would not want people taking away pieces while you were not looking! Another way the gospel is like a treasure is that we should get busy giving it away to those who need it so desperately!

Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas); used by permission.



[1] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 26.

[2] BDAG-3, Hell?n, Greek, q.v.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 63.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 39.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 10

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 Chapter 10

A Big Difference

Jesus commends serving others

Years ago I made a large astronomical telescope, which provided me with hours of fun. Whenever I set up my telescope in the front yard, it took about fifteen minutes to draw a crowd. When people walk up, they see a large cylinder pointed up toward the sky. Invariably, someone will go around behind the telescope, crouch down, and look up through the bottom, expecting to catch a glimpse of the heavens. It shocks them to realize that they can’t see a thing!

Anyone who grows up in America develops a general concept of how telescopes work. Through limited experience they develop the idea that you use every telescope by looking in one straight line through the optics to the target. That holds true for most telescopes, but not for mine.

The eyepiece on my telescope is on the side, near one end of the tube. To observe with me, people have to give up their time-honored ideas about how telescopes work. They must use my telescope according to its special — Newtonian reflector — design.

Sometimes the way we look at things makes a big difference indeed. I’m personally convinced that our principle of looking at things in culturally conditioned ways applies to the way we see the church and its leaders. Having grown up in America, the great majority of us have become accustomed to thinking of the church as working much like a corporation. As we will see, that is quite different from the way Jesus Christ designed his church to work.

As a direct result of adopting corporate culture, some churches don’t function as they should. Some church leaders don’t follow the role that Christ intended; they too are caught up in the cultural pattern. That makes a big difference.

One of the most critical Gospel passages on church leadership comes from Mark 10. This passage also illustrates why the authors of the Gospels sometimes put stories side by side. At first glance, many of these stories may seem unrelated, but further study will reveal a strong connection. Such is the case in Mark 10.

Mark’s account flows through three stages of thought. In the first stage the focus is on serving self, strictly catering to one’s pleasures. The second stage stresses serving other people, placing other people’s interests ahead of your own. The final stage involves serving God, putting his kingdom above all else.

A Faulty Design

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 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.”
(Mark 10:35–40)

Those events probably took place on the east side of the Jordan River while Jesus and his disciples journeyed south toward Jerusalem. It may have been during a brief rest stop that James and John made their play for power.

They began with one of the most open-ended requests in the history of the world: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35, italics added). When they got down to specifics, they were asking for the number two and number three positions in the kingdom of God. They wanted to be the second and third most powerful people in all eternity.

The other Gospels inform us that, at that point, James and John still thought Jesus would set up the millennial kingdom very soon. They believed that the trip to Jerusalem would conclude with his glorious reign. I really don’t know why they expected that, because Jesus told them repeatedly what would actually happen. He was going to Jerusalem to die. From their request, we can plainly see that his plans did not fit into theirs.

Some days before the approach by James and John, the disciples had argued vehemently among themselves (Mark 9:33–34). Jesus asked them what they had argued about, but none of them wanted to tell him. They were ashamed to admit that they had fought over who was the greatest among them.

Their self-interest had not gone away. That’s why James and John reasserted their claims. They were trying to sneak in front of the other ten by asking Jesus for those privileges first. Such tactics would have been logical, had they been serving in the court of King Herod, that master of political intrigue. That’s the way the game is played in this world’s councils of power. But James and John had totally misunderstood the design of Christ’s kingdom.

In responding to James and John, Jesus tried in several ways to point them in the opposite direction. First he warns them that they don’t know what they are asking (Mark 10:38a). And so, Christ’s question likely means, “You can’t drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, can you?” (Mark 10:38).

To drink someone’s cup means to share his fate, in this case, death on a Roman cross. To be baptized means to be overwhelmed or engulfed, in this case by God’s wrath against sin that would engulf the Son of God. But James and John demonstrated their lack of spiritual insight and the keenness of their self-interest by ignoring the rebuff Jesus had given them. They said, “We can.” They were willing to do whatever was necessary to gain supreme power!

Jesus then predicted that they would experience part of his suffering. (In A.D. 44, James was martyred by Herod Agrippa. John was ultimately banished to the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean, from which he wrote Revelation.)

Next, Jesus flatly denied the two brothers’ request by saying that those places of honor “belong to those for whom they have been prepared” (Mark 10:40). In my view, Jesus didn’t have anyone specific in mind; he was speaking of a certain kind of person. It would soon become obvious that James and John did not fit the description!

An Astonishing Design

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:41–45)

The two brothers’ power politics soon blew up in their faces. The other status-seekers learned what had happened and became “indignant” with the two. This word means to be angry at impropriety.

In trying to sneak in ahead of all the others, James and John hadn’t played by the rules. The other ten apostles actually wanted the same thing James and John did, but they didn’t get off the starting blocks quite as quickly. So, in the midst of his solemn journey to Jerusalem, where he was to suffer for humanity, Christ had to straighten out the twelve men in whom he had invested the most.

Jesus cut straight to the heart of their problem. They had totally misunderstood his design for the relationships among his followers. They had drawn their model for behavior from the surrounding pagan world. The rulers of the Gentiles “lord it over them”; the Greek verb has the clear nuance of self-interest.

The Herods and Caesars did not rule in the interest of those being governed, but solely for their own purposes. Their kingdoms functioned for maximum personal benefit. In the Roman world the high officials “exercise authority” over others, again with the implication of self-interest and exploitation. The whole power structure of the Gentile world served the interests of the people at the top, at the expense of the people on the bottom.

We should understand that, because we live in a world just like it. Like James and John, we have all grown accustomed to it and think that such power structures are normal. Within their cultural context, the request of James and John made complete sense, but they had drawn their model for the followers of Christ from their culture.

In response to that viewpoint, Jesus uttered four of the most important words in the New Testament: “Not so with you” (Mark 10:43). With this firm and simple statement, Jesus wiped the top-down model — power exercised for self-interest — right off the blackboard. Those who follow Jesus must adopt a totally different design.

Jesus then described what it takes to be great as a follower of Christ (Mark 10:43–44). To be great involves voluntary service on behalf of others, which is the underlying meaning of the Greek noun translated “servant.” To be first in the body of Christ, as James and John wanted to be, requires even more. Such a person must be the “slave” of all. The Greek noun refers to a person who has completely subjected his own interests to the interests of another.

Instead of drawing their model from the world, the disciples should have watched Jesus, who put his own interests aside. Christ voluntarily set aside the privileges of heaven to come to our world and share our struggle. Paul tells us that Jesus condescended to come in the very form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). God was trying to teach us something by the way that his Son came into the world. His message to us was totally counter-cultural and goes against the designs that we’ve all grown so accustomed to. But among us Jesus wants a different design, and leaders are to function there in a completely different way.

A Missed Opportunity

Now I want to give you a brief exposition of what is not written in the biblical text at this point. Mark should happily have reported that James and John repented of their extreme self-interest and bad attitude. But we don’t read that, do we? They appear unaffected by what Jesus had said.

And what would you expect Jesus to have done, in light of their lack of response? We might guess that Jesus would rebuke them and tell them that he was going to make them act like servants. He had the power to make them act any way he wanted. Jesus had both the power and the right to do that, but he knew that would be a violation of the very principles he was trying to teach them. It would have violated his design for those who follow him.

The church does not function by its leaders’ forcing others to do what they are supposed to do. Jesus didn’t work that way, either. He did exactly what he wanted future Christian leaders to do: after teaching others by word, he taught them by personal example.

An Incredible Request Granted

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
(Mark 10:46–52)

After teaching his disciples in a private setting, Jesus modeled for them in a public setting. Because Jesus was near Jericho, a large crowd had gathered around him. As the crowd walked along the road with Christ, suddenly one of Israel’s many blind men cried out. Most blind men probably would have welcomed a crowd as an opportunity to receive alms, but Bartimaeus was not like the others. He had heard that Jesus of Nazareth was coming (Mark 10:47).

Bartimaeus began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Think carefully; Bartimaeus was told that “Jesus of Nazareth” was coming. Nazareth is not the city of David; that distinction belongs to Bethlehem. So, Bartimaeus must have known more about Jesus than the average blind man did. He apparently understood who Jesus was and what he had come to do (“have mercy”).

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus for position or power, but for something in keeping with the design and purpose of Christ’s mission. James and John had requested something in opposition to Christ’s mission, and they had been denied. Jesus didn’t come to hand out seats of power, but to show the mercy of God.

For his outcry, Bartimaeus received nothing but grief. The crowd, the disciples, and — I would be willing to guarantee you — the Twelve joined together to rebuke the man. In effect, they said: “Shut up! Keep quiet. The Great Man doesn’t have time to fool around with the likes of you. Don’t you know he’s going to Jerusalem to do something important?”

They considered it improper for a blind man to halt Jesus on his holy mission. But Bartimaeus understood the design of Christ’s life far better than the multitude or the disciples did. He simply cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48).

At this, Jesus stopped dead in his tracks, and the whole multitude must have gradually ground to a halt. The Son of God, on his way to atone for the sins of the world, paused to meet the needs of one blind beggar. By his example, Jesus showed that he came to serve and not to be served.

Christ instructed those around him to call the blind man. Then the mood of the entire group changed, and the people began to encourage the blind man. When Jesus called him, Bartimaeus demonstrated all of the spiritual insight and faith that James and John had previously lacked. He threw his cloak aside and quickly approached Christ to make his request. In a matter of seconds, his eyesight was restored.

Consider what this man had done even before he approached Jesus. He had thrown his cloak aside! It gets cold in the Jericho valley at night, and he undoubtedly would have needed that cloak to survive. The poor often had to depend on such garments for shelter, because they couldn’t afford a house. In my opinion, Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside because he knew that in a few moments he would be able to find it with no difficulty. He believed that Jesus would grant his request.

Consider too why Bartimaeus wanted to see. He didn’t use the gift for his own interests. He immediately began to follow Jesus with his newfound eyesight. He wanted to use it to serve God and not just himself. The other Gospels tell us that he gave praise to God along the way to Jerusalem.

A Backward Glance

By placing these two incidents side-by-side, Mark made his point powerfully. The section begins with two men who were serving themselves. Jesus rebuked them and taught that anyone who wants to become great among his followers must put the interests of others ahead of his own. Jesus then modeled this principle, with the result that men praised God. Selfish interest leads to quarreling and bickering, but serving others leads to the glory of God.

James and John failed to understand the design of relationships among the followers of Jesus Christ. They lacked spiritual insight and drew their model from the world. By contrast, Bartimaeus understood what Jesus had come to do and tailored his request to fit that. As a result, Bartimaeus came away a big winner. It makes a big difference to follow the design that Jesus has revealed.

Finally, I think these incidents amply demonstrate how leaders ought to function within the body of Christ. Not only should they set aside any interest in power and status, but they should also realize that they will not accomplish Christ’s goals by commanding and controlling others. Jesus taught first by word and then by the model of his own life. He expects leaders in the body of Christ to follow the same pattern.

Greatness in the Family of God

What Jesus taught his disciples applies to everyone, not just leaders. Use the following ideas to evaluate your own life:

1. Climbing to some pinnacle of power is the sole pursuit of many in our culture. But Jesus firmly rejected power-seeking as a relational model among his followers.

Are you involved in the great power game advocated by this world? In what settings?

If so, have you brought those values modeled by James and John into the church or into your circle of Christian relationships?

2. Jesus did not say that a Christian must reject a position of great authority within the power structures set up by this world. Indeed, a Christian general in the Army or CEO in a company could have a great influence for Christ. But . . .

How would a Christian’s leadership in a secular setting be influenced by the idea of serving others rather than oneself?

In a secular setting, how might a Christian’s ambition and efforts to rise above others be affected by the values Jesus taught his disciples?

3. Above all, the church must honor the leadership design that Jesus taught his disciples.

To what extent does your church or Christian group function according to the design Jesus intended?

A Final Word

A problem once developed deep under Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. This granite giant houses the North American Air Defense Command and contains huge electronic display screens that signal the onset of any foreign military threat. One morning, a screen lit up suddenly, indicating that two submarine-launched ballistic missiles were headed for the east coast — Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or some other major city might only have a few minutes to live.

Signals immediately went out to American defense forces all over the world. Our bomber forces launched their armed flights to retaliate. At about that time, the attack signal vanished from the screen. It disappeared as quickly as it had come.

Later, military technicians discovered that within the computer a forty-nine-cent part had malfunctioned and reported an attack when, in fact, there had been none. That tiny part nearly changed world history.

What we need, for the church to function as Christ designed it, is a small but crucial change in each of our hearts. I think it boils down to a willingness to do things his way, not ours.

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 11, we learn how Jesus dealt with enormous pressure during a trial that was awash in Roman politics.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 8

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 Chapter 8

What’s in it for me?

Jesus models loving others

In the dark and dreary years of the Great Depression, Kitty McCulloch was known as a generous person. As hunger stalked the land, Kitty and her husband often didn’t know for sure about their next week’s food, yet a steady stream of hungry men found their back door to ask for a hot meal. And Kitty always gave it to them.

An especially ragged man came near Christmastime one year. Kitty, feeling great pity for him, gave the man one of her husband’s few suits. Though she didn’t know it for many years, her house had been marked as a message to other needy people that here was a person who cared.

We could define biblical love as a spontaneous desire moving a person to self-giving for the benefit of another. Kitty McCulloch exemplified that kind of love by meeting the needs of others, even when her own resources looked terribly thin.

Jesus Christ modeled such love more than anyone else. He took great personal risks to teach and demonstrate real caring for others. That sets him in stark contrast to the message our modern world gives to each of us. Culturally, we are all trained to ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus faced the very same attitude when he encountered the religious leaders of Israel. On one particular occasion, he confronted them with the ugly truth about their selfish way of living.

Caring About Others

1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.
(Luke 14:1–6)

As Jesus traveled south through Perea on his way to Jerusalem, he was invited to dine with a leading Pharisee, probably a member of the Sanhedrin. This banquet took place on the Sabbath, the trickiest day of the week. If God had made the Sabbath holy, the Pharisees had made it burdensome with the dense web of legislation they had created to control Sabbath behavior.

Pharisaic theology called on people to care for others, but their contemporaries considered them uncaring to a fault. They generally turned a blind eye toward the poor, the maimed, and the needy among their people.

One story from rabbinic literature should illustrate the issue quite well. A Pharisee once encountered a woman drowning in a pond. She died while he looked on without making any effort to help. He feared that if he touched her, then he might become ceremonially unclean.

You never can tell about a drowning woman. She might be having her monthly menstrual cycle, thus rendering anyone who touched her ceremonially unclean. That might affect the Pharisee’s income for a few days while he remedied his defilement. So, to avoid such terrible inconvenience, he simply let her drown. (I’m writing with sarcasm!)

We know that Jesus had a hostile audience because of the language used by Luke. He says that Jesus was being “carefully watched” (Luke 14:1), and this translates a verb that means to lie in wait to ambush someone. Beneath the external hospitality of this man lay the treacherous hook of a trap.

The Pharisees earnestly hoped that Jesus would make a big enough mistake so that he could be eliminated once and for all. The Pharisees and scribes had the callousness to use a human being to bait the hook. How else can we account for the fact that a man with a debilitating disease would show up for Sabbath lunch with a member of the Sanhedrin? He was planted there! The scribes and Pharisees were counting on Jesus’ feeling compassion toward this man in spite of the dangerous context.

The Law of Moses permitted miracles to be worked on the Sabbath. However, the super-religious crowd felt that such miracles smacked of working on the Sabbath day, which they abhorred — unless it served their own interests! These men had no concern for this sick individual; he was simply there as a tool to finesse a miracle out of Jesus. Sitting among the guests were scribes who knew every nook and cranny of the Law of Moses as well as the man-made rules that had been added.

Before working the expected miracle, Jesus asked the assembled theologians for a theological opinion about helping others: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” (Luke 14:3). Perhaps fearing the Lord’s well-known abilities, these leaders kept silent.

Jesus then healed the sick man in spite of the grave personal risk he was taking in doing so. He knew they would slander him as someone who had profaned the Sabbath. But such considerations never stopped Jesus; he cared for people even when there was a cost involved.

After sending the healed man away, Jesus confronted the religious leaders with the inconsistency between their own behavior and their super-strict Sabbath rules. Those men could not deny his charge that any one of them would do whatever work was necessary to save his son or his ox on the Sabbath day (Luke 14:5–6).

The Pharisees would gladly do the very thing they were condemning Jesus for, if their own interests would be served by such action. A Pharisee would not necessarily save his own son out of love. Their culture had no such thing as Social Security, and a man’s sons could be depended upon to support him in his elder years.

I think a better translation of Luke 14:6 would be, “they could make no reply to this.” Jesus had them, and they knew it. The hunted one had unexpectedly become the hunter!

The Basis for Caring

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
(Luke 14:7–11)

To understand this parable, notice first that the moral is expressed in Luke 14:11: “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The whole parable drives toward this truth.

Second, observe that the word “but” at the beginning of Luke 14:10 divides the parable into two contrasting halves. Jesus firmly rejected self-exalting behavior in the first half, while he affirmed humility in the second half.

Jesus based the parable on his own observations of guests taking their places at the table. The Jewish culture used a very strict pecking order to determine seating assignments at such banquets. Even in the ranks of the Pharisees some had taken stricter vows than others, and so earned the right to a seat of higher honor. To give a banquet like that, with a large number of guests arriving at slightly different times, could involve a tremendous amount of shuffling around.

Jesus poked fun at this self-serving game of musical chairs. The whole system was driven by a desire to say to others, “See how important I am!” Jesus pointedly reminded them that such self-interested behavior could ultimately result in humiliation if a more important guest arrived. In fact, the important people in that society usually did come late so that they could be widely noticed.

In the second half of the parable, Jesus threw social custom to the wind by urging the guests to take the lowest seat upon their arrival. In taking the usual approach, the guest assigns himself the honor, while the method Jesus described would involve the host giving the guest an honor. With his story Jesus said that if you deserve exaltation, let it come from others and not from yourself (applying Prov. 27:2).

Jesus capped off the parable with the principle, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” By whom? God. Jesus customarily used the passive voice to express God’s actions, as that was considered preferable to the frequent mention of his name. God is also the one who will humble the person who exalts himself.

Unfortunately, you seldom meet a Christian who aspires to be “humble.” This word conjures up an image of a person who is so self-effacing that they will hardly even look you in the eye. They feel bad about themselves and are so shy that they will never talk to anybody.

But that picture bears no resemblance at all to the biblical meaning of humility. Jesus was a humble person, in the biblical sense of the word, yet he never acted in any of those ways. Humility is not denying our own value, but involves granting value to others.

Giving to Others

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
(Luke 14:12–14)

A high official like the Sanhedrin leader would have held banquets quite regularly, and invariably such a person would have invited members of his own social class. Strong taboos held the social classes apart from one another.

In my opinion, Jesus was not telling the Pharisees — and by application, he is not telling us — that they had to invite someone who was poor, crippled, lame, or blind every time they held a dinner.

His real point was that they never showed any concern for such people because of their uncaring attitude. Jesus simply used the example of a banquet because he was sitting at one. It served to illustrate the broader problem.

It is amusing that Jesus mentioned “rich neighbors” (Luke 14:12), because that captured the Pharisaic mentality. A Pharisee might well have both rich and poor neighbors, but only the rich neighbor was invited to banquets. Only a rich neighbor could pay the Pharisee back by responding in kind.

In this subtle way Jesus pointed out the inability of the Pharisees to give to others of a lower station than themselves. He was asserting that their whole life revolved around what would ultimately flow back to them in the way of honor, repayment, or social status. Like some members of our own society, the Pharisees were constantly calculating: “What’s in it for me?”

In the place of their intense self-concern, Jesus exhorted the Pharisees and scribes to meet the needs of others, even if they had to wait until the resurrection of the righteous to receive their repayment. To act that way requires a very farsighted view of life. It won’t pay off in the short run. Instead, you have to trust God to reward behavior that pleases him.

Caring About Ourselves

I am not saying that it is wrong to care about yourself. That would simply solve one problem by creating another one!

Caring about ourselves is fundamental to spiritual, emotional, and physical health. What the Pharisees did not have, and what Jesus was seeking to give them, was a healthy allocation of concern for others in addition to their concern for themselves.

Unfortunately, Christians sometimes overreact to the presence of sin. They see self-concern as simply another manifestation of their sin. Yet each of us is made in the image of God and we should value ourselves accordingly! It is not more spiritual to put a low value on what God values highly.

Increasing Our Concern for Others

Use the following applicational ideas to apply the truth that Jesus taught.

1. In our hurried world, the clock seems to work against us as we try to care for others. The urgent can become the enemy of the important. How do you see yourself, in terms of caring for others?

Hiding from them

Overcommitted to them

Involved with them to a reasonable degree

It’s too easy to hide from people’s needs by simply avoiding venues in which we know that their needs will be revealed. Such behavior can betray that we would rather not know about the needs of other people. On the other hand, if we overcommit to meeting the needs of others, then we may be overlooking other priorities that God has given to each one of us.

2. Jesus made it quite clear that we should have a healthy concern for the value and needs of others.

How do you cope with social status and the needs of others in your own life?

Do you find yourself quite conscious of someone else’s social class, income, education, and so on?

A friend of mine told me a disturbing story about a prestigious Christian school. After many years of working there, a man was promoted to a higher level, but he still had friends among his former associates after the promotion. He was soon informed that he could not socialize with those (lower) people anymore! They didn’t share his status, so they couldn’t share his presence, either! Jesus spoke directly against that kind of thinking.

Do you find it difficult to roll up your sleeves and go to work in some thankless but vital job?

Every church has vital jobs that go begging because Christians aspire to something “higher.” Certainly all of us enjoy recognition, but Jesus said we should be willing to forego immediate rewards and recognition and to wait, if necessary, to be rewarded in eternity. After gaining some experience in the ministry, I started looking for people who willingly take such thankless jobs simply because they love Christ. Those are the people I would recommend for positions of leadership.

3. One estimate of our concern for others is whether we can give to them (time, money, a listening ear) without any thought of receiving any return.

When was the last time you gave something to someone who could never repay you?

When was the last time you gave a gift without concern for what had been or would be given to you by the other person?

4. Remember that the person who most needs your caring, serving, and giving may live within your own home. Or they may live next door.

A Final Word

Edith Evans found someone nearby to serve. She was cruising across the Atlantic, bound for New York from Liverpool on one of the most famous ships of history, the Titanic.

Before the Titanic sailed, one of the stewards had told a passenger that not even God could sink the ship, a view which most people aboard had believed as well.

But an iceberg struck the Titanic and ripped away part of the ship’s bottom. The ship began to sink quickly by the bow while the crew attempted to lower the lifeboats. However, over sixteen hundred people had no lifeboat, because the unsinkable ship had set sail without its full number of lifeboats!

Edith Evans and Mrs. John M. Brown showed up at the railing just as the last boat was about to be lowered from the sinking ship. Apart from that boat there was no hope; the dark freezing waters below would kill a person in minutes.

Only one seat remained when the two women got to the rail, and the boat was to be lowered as soon as it was filled. Edith turned to Mrs. Brown and said: “You go first. You have children at home.” Edith quickly pushed her over the rail and into the boat just as the deck officer shouted, “Lower away!”

Edith Evans gave up what I would call the seat of honor — the last seat. She had put the young mother’s needs ahead of her own.

Jesus was certainly like that. He gave his life for our sins, not because we deserved it or because we could ever repay him, but because he loved us that much. Those who follow him have a lot to live up to.

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 9, Jesus deals with an issue that plagues every disciple: what is already settled in the disciples’ minds can stand in the way of what Jesus wants them to learn. How does he get past that barrier?

 

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 7

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BIBLICAL CONCEPTS PRESS

 

 

 

 

Available at Amazon.com

 

Chapter 7

Conflicting Signals

Jesus pleases the Father

Anthony Turner had a decision to make, and he knew it was a whopper. He was engaged to a woman who expected him to take a job with a steady, dependable income to allow them a normal life. He even had a job offer that matched what he needed.

But Anthony had dreams of his own that would take him along a more risky path: he wanted to fulfill a long-standing desire to write a book. However, that path didn’t offer the financial security that his prospective wife felt was so necessary. Anthony was being pulled very strongly in two opposite directions.

Finally, Anthony made his choice. He declined the job and wrote the book. But, in making his choice he paid a price; his engagement was broken.

This story illustrates the kind of choices we commonly face. We live in a world that tugs and pulls us in many conflicting directions. As a result, we wind up saying yes to one thing and no to something else. Sometimes saying no can be tough because it involves rejecting something very good to do something better still. And that’s hard.

In the midst of conflicting interests we must choose who we are going to please. An old proverb says, “You can’t please everyone.” So, who are you going to please? How can you make such choices in a world of conflicting interests and demands?

I don’t have any easy answers for living in such a complex world, but Jesus models an approach that will help us to sort out our choices.

Jesus Models a Strategy

To illustrate how Jesus handled this problem I have taken incidents from three different Gospels. In each case Jesus faced a group of people who wanted something from him. In the first story Jesus was pressured by his own brothers, who were trying to influence him in an unfair and coercive way.

The second story involves a large group of needy people who wanted Jesus to meet their needs. They also behaved in a demanding way.

In the final story, Jesus interacted with his disciples. Like others, they wanted to take his life in a direction different from the one the Father had given to him.

You see, Jesus had to face pressures and expectations just as you and I do. He was being pulled in many directions, and people were trying to make him into different things. Jesus cut through all these pressures and expectations in a remarkable way!

The key to Christ’s approach was to set his own life agenda by living to please the Father. That gave him a very clear idea of what he should say no to and what he should say yes to. In other words, Jesus set his own priorities without regard for pressures from his disciples, his family or a needy multitude.

Family Tug of War

1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.
7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
(John 7:1–9)

It turns out that Jesus was dealing with opponents here. I feel sad about that, because they were his own brothers. But how real that is! Some of the strongest pressures any of us face come from our own families. Our parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters wield enormous influence over all that we do. Family life frequently involves subtle tactics by one person to bring about action in the life of another. That’s exactly what Jesus’ manipulative brothers tried on him.

From John 7:1, we gather that the death plots against Jesus were common knowledge. Nevertheless, his brothers tried to set his priorities and dictate his actions to send him into this danger when they said, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea.” The translators properly supply the italicized words to capture the ploy Jesus’ brothers were using on him.

They implied that he was not living as he should. (Pause for a moment here, and reflect on how many people have tried to tell you what you ought to do or should do).

In their next attempt, the brothers — wrongly — suggested that Jesus was seeking fame. By acting in secret, they said, he was foolishly squandering an opportunity to gain a following at the feast.

I cannot personally accept the translation given by the NIV (2011) in the latter half of John 7:4, because John himself informed us that Christ’s brothers did not believe in him. The brothers actually said to Jesus, “If indeed you are doing these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4b).

The brothers crassly dared Jesus to work his miracles where all could see. Just imagine, this was an opportunity for Jesus to witness to his own brothers. What an awesome tug that would be!

One option Jesus had was to consent to their wishes to maintain good relations with them. Or, he could have worked a miracle in their presence to bring them around.

But Jesus didn’t pursue peace at any price. He didn’t put pleasing people at the top of his priority list. Instead, he said, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right” (John 7:6). Jesus easily freed himself from the expectations and pressures of his own family by a simple means; he made his own choices, guided by his mission from the Father.

One lesson that emerges from this incident is that Jesus did not allow others — not even his own family — to set the agenda for his life. By application, this means that the Lord does not expect us to lead our lives to please other people. In fact, by following Jesus we may even suffer rejection from others.

Jesus also modeled firmness in resisting manipulation. He did not automatically respond to the “oughts” and “shoulds” placed upon him by others. Nor did he react to their scornful dares. Jesus showed us that living as a servant calls for courage and strength. Being a good Christian does not mean that we must comply with the wishes of others.

The Pressure of People’s Needs

42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
(Luke 4:42–44)

This second example took place near Capernaum, a city on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had moved there after being rejected by the people of Nazareth. When he arrived, he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a serious fever. News of this miracle traveled quickly through the city, and before long the whole town had gathered (Mark 1:32–34). Jesus stayed up late into the night, meeting people’s needs.

We join Luke’s story on the following morning, well before dawn, when Jesus had gone out alone into the countryside to pray. Jesus was acting according to a spiritual priority, that of prayer to his Father. Prayer was more important to him than what other people wanted.

Although Jesus had met many needs among people in the city of Capernaum on the previous night, many more needs undoubtedly remained. The people from the city searched diligently for him and actually tried to restrain Christ from leaving. They physically tried to hinder his departure. They didn’t want to let go of this miracle worker who had done such great things for their town.

They must have thought that if Capernaum could have a man like Jesus around for a few years, just think how good it would be for the community. Jesus would have become a civic treasure that they could have shown off to enhance their profit and influence.

Jesus realized that their motivation was not a response to God’s claims upon them, but a desire to experience more miracles. Would it have been evil for Jesus to stay in Capernaum to work more miracles? Would it have been wrong for him to continue preaching the gospel there? No! That would have been a very good thing, but sometimes the good can be the enemy of the best.

Those people had legitimate needs, in spite of their poor motivation. But Jesus didn’t respond automatically every time he encountered a human need; he had to decide whether to meet such needs or not.

Jesus weighed their needs against what his Father had sent him to do. And for him to stay and become the great miracle worker of Capernaum would have been inconsistent with what the Father had intended.

Jesus didn’t come to be the great doctor of Galilee or the favorite son of Capernaum. He came to be the Savior of the world. Because Jesus had a clear idea of his own priorities, he was able to say yes to some things. To other things, even to good things, he said no!

Jesus told the crowd that he “must” leave them to preach elsewhere (Luke 4:43), in keeping with his mission. Undoubtedly that announcement led to disappointment, frustration, and anger on the part of those who so desperately wanted him to stay. Even to us it may seem that Christ didn’t take advantage of a great evangelistic opportunity here. He had a crowd that was ready to eat out of his hand, and yet he moved on.

It’s jolting to see how differently Jesus operated than we do. He turned his back on the needy people of Capernaum and went on to accomplish his mission without regret or apology.

We, too, will encounter demanding people in the course of our lives. Some of them will be believers and may need us to be involved in good and godly causes. Others will be unbelievers who desperately need to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But just because these people have needs doesn’t necessarily mean that we are the ones to meet them.

I realize that we could use such thinking to avoid some legitimate responsibilities before God. But it concerns me that Christians can easily let the pressing needs of people set the whole agenda of their lives instead of making their choices in order to please the Lord.

Shattered Expectations

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
(Mark 1:35–39)

Mark here described exactly the same incident that we previously looked at in the Gospel of Luke. But Mark’s perspective is different. Luke focused his attention on the interaction between Jesus and the seeking multitudes. Mark concentrated attention on the relationship between Jesus and the disciples during the same set of events.

We would probably assume that Christ’s disciples would have responded in a more mature and understanding manner toward him in this situation. We naturally have a higher level of expectations about the disciples. So much the worse for our expectations!

As Simon and the others looked for Jesus, they searched with a special kind of intensity, as expressed by the Greek verb (Mark 1:36). The verb is also used of hunting for an animal or hunting for a fugitive from justice. They seemed driven by a special intensity to find him, and we soon discover the source of that intensity.

They said, “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37). This statement has an air of rebuke and displeasure in it. It is as if the disciples were saying, “Jesus, what are you doing out here? Capernaum is where you’re needed. And the people are getting upset with us, because we don’t know where you are. You’re not where we expected you to be.”

So, Jesus had to deal with the expectations of his disciples, especially Simon, because Capernaum was his hometown. The disciples wanted Jesus to go right back into town and do his thing. Even as their Lord and leader, Jesus must have cared about what his disciples thought of him, and with the multitudes also nearby searching, they wanted him to go back and meet those needs.

But in his remarkable way, Jesus did not bend to the expectations of his disciples. He didn’t say yes based on what people expected out of him. As the multitudes sought him and the disciples exhorted him, he said: “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). The reason we find this startling is because our expectations tend to be like those of the disciples. But Jesus made his own decisions based on his own priorities from the Father.

A Summary of the Main Point

Jesus did not necessarily respond to people’s expectations, even those coming from people who were very important to him, In the three passages we have examined, people tried to use manipulation, demands, needs, and expectations to compel our Lord to take certain actions. He simply didn’t let that happen!

In the face of many attempts by others to impress their wills upon him, Jesus maintained autonomy — the freedom to make his own choices before God. His example sets me free, because I have led much of my life giving in to the manipulations, demands, needs, and expectations of others.

I acted that way for many reasons, and partly because I thought it was the moral, or right, way to behave. But Jesus’ example forces me to reexamine the whole question and to see that, if I am to be a responsible person before God, I must sometimes say no to others.

The Compassionate Christ

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees,  “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
(Mark 1:40–42, NIV 1984)[1]

As Jesus walked away from the demanding multitude, he encountered a man with leprosy, who begged him for mercy. I am confident that Mark included this story to show that Jesus didn’t make his choices in an uncaring way. He deeply cared about the pain of this man, as he did about the pain of others. He met his need and cleansed him of leprosy.

Jesus lived compassionately, but he was not about to be diverted from his primary mission in order to become something else. He came primarily to be the Savior not the healer.

No wonder our Lord’s sensitive heart was filled with compassion. Leprosy savagely attacks the body and often leads to the ugly loss of fingers, toes, and other body parts. Perhaps worse than that, lepers in Israel had to walk around shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Imagine how you would have felt calling attention to your own ravaged body in that way.

But our caring Savior had a cry of his own: “Be clean!” Even beyond that, Jesus touched the man — something no Pharisee would ever do. Jesus touched the untouchable because that’s the kind of person he was.

In summary Mark presents this careful balance: Jesus cared deeply about people’s needs, but his life was not ruled by them.

Finding Your Own Way through the Maze

Our lives confront us with a bewildering array of tactics, demands, needs, and expectations. Use the following application concepts to try to clarify your own life in these areas.

1. Here are several questions to help you define the main sources of pressure, expectations, and demands in your life.

Who primarily influences your life agenda (i.e., how you spend your time and what you’re trying to do)? Is it your parents, your boss, your mate? Who really dictates how your life is lived?

Whoever you name may be robbing you of your responsibility before God to make choices about your own life.

Who in your life places significant expectations on you? Jesus’ disciples certainly had expectations for him. They wanted him to go back down to Capernaum to heal more people. Are there people in your life who are like that? It’s not evil for them to have such expectations, but should you meet them? Should you affirm them, or say no?

Whose rejection, criticism, or disapproval most influences your choices and behavior?

Do you think Jesus wanted to be rejected by his brothers? Of course not! Do you think he wanted to fail to meet the expectations of his disciples? He knew that would cause some friction.

There are people whose rejection wouldn’t phase me at all. And yet certain other people’s disapproval can devastate me. My life can get wrapped up in trying to please the latter group of people. In fact, I can get so wrapped up in pleasing them that I even lose sight of pleasing God. Is it the same for you?

Who in your life tends to use guilt, withdrawal of love, or threats to get certain responses from you?

Some people directly or indirectly say to us, “If you really love me, you will do [something].” That falls in the same category as the kind of thing Jesus’ brothers were attempting to pull on him.

2. You determine who you are by what you affirm and what you refuse. Saying yes and no are two of the most important tools you have in living your life for Christ. Many of us have good intentions, but what we actually do with our lives reveals more about who we really are.

If saying yes and no are so important, then a deep problem exists: very few people know how to say no.

If Jesus Christ restructured your life today, where would he say yes, and where would he say no?

3. To say yes and no effectively, we need guidance from God more than anything else. Our family, our friends, and our culture can play constructive parts in setting our course, but they cannot replace wisdom from God. I mean that we need to have the principles of God’s Word at our disposal to guide the choices that we make as we live our lives for Christ. God’s will stands revealed in his Word. To help you gain this wisdom, I would encourage you to set three goals:

(1) To spend time reading God’s Word

(2) To spend time in prayer

(3) To spend time in solitude thinking about what God wants in your life

I know these goals are very basic. But if we don’t keep them, our lives may become a reflex movement, lurching this way and that in response to an agenda set by others.

A Final Word

Jesus doesn’t ask us to seek popularity or to please everyone. He certainly didn’t. And he doesn’t promise that our lives will ever be free of conflicting demands. He faced them constantly, and so will we. But Jesus does call on us to follow him in learning to make hard choices.

If we follow that path, then at times we will have to say no to others. That’s hard. But in freeing ourselves from the treacherous net of other people’s demands and expectations, we free ourselves to live for God in the most effective way possible. Jesus modeled exactly that style of life.

 Coming next . . .

In Chapter 8, we see Jesus on the long road south toward Jerusalem where he has an appointment with a cross. As Jesus walks toward his own self-sacrifice, what values will he model to the disciples?



[1] In Mark 1:41, I prefer NIV 1984 to NIV 2011.

 

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 11:3–7

Revelation 11:3–7
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4 (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.) 5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way. 6 These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want. 7 When they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.
(NET Bible)

Revelation 10–11: The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets

Some things in life are hard, but they have to be done. Did you ever hold your small child while they squirmed in fear before getting a vaccination? How many times have you struggled through a comprehensive final exam? When have you been forced to be brave through awful conditions and wished for an alternative?

Jesus knew what lay ahead for him; but he went to Jerusalem anyway. Are we following him?

Robert Mounce explains how Revelation 10–11 function within Revelation as a whole:

With the close of chapter 9 six of the seven trumpets have sounded. Once again we encounter an interlude of two related visions — the angel with the little book (10:1–11) and the two witnesses (11:1–13). These interludes are not so much pauses in a sequence of events as they are literary devices by which the church is instructed concerning its role and destiny during the final period of world history.[1]

Grant Osborne[2] points out that in the prior biblical context (9:20–21) the judgments failed to bring about repentance. As a result, the scroll (10:2) will provide a more effective strategy for achieving the conversion of the nations.

Revelation 10 opens (10:1–7) with the appearance of the most awesome of all the angels described in the book of Revelation. Though part of his mighty announcement is sealed (10:4), he gives John a “little scroll” (10:2), which John is to internalize before revealing it to us (10:9–11). Concerning the scroll, Osborne says, “It too tells the divine plan for the end of the age, and now John is to be shown how that plan relates to the saints that are still on the earth.”[3] This plan will include both witness to the wicked world (the sweet taste of 10:10) and martyrdom (the bitter taste of 10:10).

Craig Keener describes Revelation 11 by saying, “This section is perhaps the most difficult passage to interpret in the entire book of Revelation.”[4] While I will offer some possible interpretations, it is reasonable to think that we do not better understand chapter 11 because the words spoken by the seven thunders (10:4) were sealed up and not written down. Keener shows insight when he says, “The concealment of the meaning of the seven thunders reminds us that God knows far more about the future than he tells us.”[5] God’s selective concealment of many details also suggests that trying to construct a precise timeline of future events is not the intended use of Revelation’s visions.

Clearing the fog of Revelation 11, Mounce[6] wisely counsels us that its figurative language does not make the underlying prophetic events any less real. Symbolism is not the enemy of facts. With this underlying reality in mind, we next consider the metaphors of 11:1–13.

To understand the metaphor of measuring the temple (11:1–2), it is necessary to realize that the image draws on Ezek. 40–42 and Zech. 2:1–5, which involve God’s ownership and protection for his people. We should expect the same themes to guide our interpretation of Rev. 11:1–2.

However, that understanding does not deliver us from deciding whether the temple (11:1) is literal or figurative. Since no temple presently stands in Jerusalem, a literal temple would require that a temple be rebuilt on Temple Mount after the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, was torn down. Those objections to an earthly temple are not insurmountable, but they are problems.

The Greek noun naos is used for temple in 11:1. Throughout the book of Revelation naos refers to the heavenly temple rather than either the earthly temple built by Solomon or the one built by Herod. It is hard to credit that 11:1 would prove an exception.

Note carefully that John is also commanded to measure “the ones who worship there” (11:1). So, these people belong to God and are under his protection in some form. But who are they?

Keener says: “In early Christian literature . . . the temple regularly symbolizes Christians, both Jewish and Gentile (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:18–22; 1 Pet. 2:5). This is also what the temple symbolizes elsewhere in Revelation (Rev. 3:12; 13:6); not surprisingly, this is the more common scholarly interpretation of this temple today.”[7]

The triumph of the Lamb will also be the triumph of his followers, just as 11:15–19 relate.

Protection within opposition

Standing up for Christ has never been a cost-free proposition, and it will be life-threatening during the period just before Christ’s return. Whether we will face those choices is disputed, but certainly some Christians will do so. Are you committed to be an overcomer?

When I took the mortal risk of heart bypass surgery, it was the first time I had to weigh my life against the needed benefits. Many casual Christians do not realize that their commitment to Christ is a life-or-death choice with risks. Unlike Jesus, we may not face certain death due to our witness, but there is no guarantee. What is certain is that Christ will reward us for overcoming!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 199.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 391.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 395.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 287.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 281.

[6] Mounce, Revelation, 212.

[7] Keener, Revelation, 288.