Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
For Abram, the Lord was to hold first place. Worship held priority. In the second place, it still wasn’t about Abram, but about others. Worship was to lead to serve. This was emphasized in verse 2, and will now be reiterated in verse 3.
Gen. 12:3 “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth
thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
God promised, in verse 2, to bless Abram, to make him a great nation and famous. In verse 3 God pledged that all who bless Abram shall be blessed, all who curse him shall be cursed. As in verse 2, again in verse 3 Abram is reminded, these honors are not given for his own self-indulgence. God blessed Abram in order that others would be blessed because of him. Abram was called to serve.
When our Master walked on this earth, living and ministering in the very piece of property God had promised to Abram, He followed Abram’s example. Our Lord Jesus came to be a blessing, to serve others. We too must do the same.
We are called to serve, to follow the example of Jesus, who gave us in John 13 a beautiful model of what it means to serve. In that passage our Master stooped to the role of a slave and washed His disciples’ feet. Why did He do this?
First, Jesus loved them. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (JN 13:1b). Do we love one another, do needs of believers here and around the world tug at us? Do we love irreligious people? Jesus called us to be fishers of men. I always hated to fish. It’s dangerous. My Uncle Bill once hooked me in the head. It’s stinky. We want our fish processed and cleaned, but fishing is messy. Ken Sorrell says missions is messy work. He’s right. We do it anyway, because we love people, the fish. To serve means to love.
Second, Jesus was humble. Washing feet was the lowly work of slaves, but nothing or no one was beneath Christ’s dignity. Washing feet is messy, it makes a person feel silly. You have to kneel, touch people in awkward ways, and get wet. Water sloshes on the floor. Lowly service jerks us away from self-absorption.
This is good, because pride is dangerous. The fullest sails most require a ballast to avoid overturning a boat. Some feel too important to be used in lowly work. I pray God will deliver Second from this. To serve means to be humble.
Ken Blanchard highlights the danger of ego by use of an acronym, Edging God Out. Pride exaggerates self, sets our agendas above God and others. Believers who want to excel in “worship, serve, and go” must humbly Edge God In.
Unbelievers are often deeply offended by the pride they sense in believers. We at times speak with an air of harshness, better-than-thou smugness. Arrogance is not winsome. Humility is beautiful. Few things are more powerful in winning unbelievers than a lowly, Christ-like, servant heart. The historian Mark Noll says Christianity has been its best “when believers who are strong–because of wealth, education, political power, superior, or favored location–have reached out to the despised, the forsaken, the abandoned, the lost, the insignificant, or powerless.”
After the Salem witch trials, Puritan Judge Samuel Sewall of Boston grew distressed over his role in the debacle. On January 14, 1697, he gave his pastor a statement to read to the church as the contrite, heartbroken Judge stood before them ashamed. The statement confessed guilt in the affair, saying Sewall “desires to take the blame and shame of it, asking pardon of men, and especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin.”
Christianity at its best causes the strong to bend one knee in repentance before God (worship), and the other knee in lowly ministry to others (serve).
This emphasis on “serve” is not merely an exercise in intellectual gymnastics. The future of our culture is at stake. James says, “Faith without works is dead” (2:20). Let me add, “The USA church without works is dead.” Without loving deeds of service to capture our culture’s attention, we’re done.
I recently heard one of the most startling statistics I ever encountered. In 1900, five percent of college students in Europe were attending church. Sixty years later, Europe was a spiritual wasteland. In 2000, five percent of USA college students were attending church. Sixty years from now, . . . . .
Second Baptist looks effective when we measure ourselves by certain other churches, or if we assess ourselves by finances, by the past, or by the contentment in our pews. But our standing is not as impressive when we measure ourselves by the abundant number of untouched hurting souls in the neighborhoods near us.
There’s a world of hurts out there, in the world, that churches are not touching. Churches also don’t fare well when we measure ourselves by how many lost people are hearing us. Our TV, radio, and other media efforts are good, but the bulk of it is preaching to the choir. The USA church is more and more a self-contained, shrinking, subculture within a larger, ever growing, context.
My intent is not to spread doom and gloom, but rather to sound the alarm. God may be granting the USA church one last chance to change this culture. We have ample examples of how to get it done. How did God seek to win to Himself the unconcerned? He became flesh and dwelt among us. He shared our existence. He got close to our hurts, and let His life be living proof that His was a better way. Jesus was wonderful and the people knew it (Powell). They loved Him for it.
How did the marginalized, persecuted, uneducated early church thrive? Holiness and helping, worship and service. Greg Laurie wrote, “Christians didn’t outargue pagans. They outlived them. Christians of the first century outthought, outprayed, and outlived unbelievers. Their weapons were positive, not negative. As far as we know, they did not hold protests or conduct boycotts. They did not put on campaigns to try to unseat the emperor. Instead, they prayed and preached and proclaimed the message of Christ. And they backed up their message with actions: giving, loving” (excerpts from “The Upside Down Church”).
How did Patrick win Ireland? By each city, he built communities for the hurting to come to. The beauty of “serve” in the alternate town won the masses.
How can we win the USA? Find the real hurts, real pains, real problems. Draw close to the agony. Love the grieving. Listen to them. Loving deeds will pull unbelievers toward us. Once people experience love, they can’t live without it. That’s why Robert Lewis says loving churches have irresistible influence.
In “serve,” we build bridges to the culture. Bridges are built to provide two-way transportation. Believers cross the bridge through loving acts of service performed for unbelievers. Unbelievers cross the bridge due to curiosity and appreciation, checking out the believing side to see if it is deserving of faith.
The love of God extended to every need of every individual is the most compelling assertion of our faith. Jesus taught us to serve, to love our neighbor, every living, breathing human being within the orb of our lives and influence. Every human pain hurts Jesus and should hurt us too. Be alert. Stay awake. See what kindness God may be wanting to do so we can join Him in it.
View opportunities to help as obligations to help. When presented a need, always take one step toward yes. If we can help, we must try to help. Let someone else’s cup of joy rise out of our crucible of sacrificial service.
Directives sent down from a sequestered castle of asceticism and piety do not become us. Debates of philosophy accomplish little apart from deeds of philanthropy. As William Booth said, “Whenever you preach a sermon, wrap it in a sandwich.”
In approaching a lost world, we must initially come on more as secular benefactors and less as theological belligerents (David Thomas). God help us to be kind everyday to everyone every way we can. Our future success depends on our ability to serve. We will win the lost when we love them beyond their ability to understand.