Sunday, November 4, 2007


Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who... emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling-block to the weak... When you sin against others in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?. But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

'Everything is permissible' -- but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible' -- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek their own good, but the good of others.

If any would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

But in your society... if anyone wishes to be great they must be your servant; if anyone wishes to hold the first place, they must be everyone's slave.

I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet.

(Philippians 2:5-7, RSV; 1 Corinthians 8:9,12, NIV; 1 Corinthians 9:12, NIV; 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NIV; Mark 8:34, RSV; Matthew 20:26-27, Barclay; John 13:14, GNB)

We live in a world that is drunk with rights. Women's rights, children's rights, land rights, human rights, animal rights, civil rights, the rights of the unborn: the varieties crowd around us like bottles on the shelves of a liquor shop. And having imbibed, we reel down the street, unable to distinguish tree from lamppost, unable to walk a straight line. Like alcohol, 'rights' have become for some a panacea for all our social ills.

Into this intoxicating environment, the words of the Bible crash with all the gentleness of an axe wielded by a temperance crusader in a bar.

Jesus and Paul are not wowsers on a rampage, however: the concept of 'rights' has some value for expressing spiritual truth and focussing efforts for social change. But their calls to servanthood move us beyond the chimera of self-assertion to the reality of a love so concrete it is prepared to sacrifice for the sake of others even things to which we have a right.

Here is one of the touchstones of true servanthood. Are we prepared to give up legitimate and treasured pastimes, possessions, prerogatives if love for someone, Christian or non-Christian, asks it?.

The idea is appallingly practical, appalling because it is practical. We know that in so many ways we are capable of it. But time and again we refuse it, choosing instead the road of self- indulgence and pride and delusion.

Giving up our 'rights' is a kind of death: a death to self. And dying is hard. But in the end, despite our unwillingness to believe so, it is the way to life. The only way.

I need to be so utterly God's, that he can use me or hide me, as he chooses, as an arrow in his hand or in his quiver. I will ask no questions: I relinquish all rights to him who desires my supreme good.

Helen Roseveare, Living Sacrifice

We are neither big nor small but what we are in the eyes of God, and as long as we surrender ourselves totally then God can use us without consulting us. We like to be consulted but letting him use us without consultation is very good for us. We must accept emptiness, accept being broken in pieces, accept success or failure.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.

Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water

The Learner: How often am I to surrender myself, Lord, and in what matters am I to leave my own preferences behind?. The Beloved: Always; at every moment, in small things as much as in great.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Our whole personality can be established, strengthened, settled, given a sure confidence, only when there is a basis of abundant love.

Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians

Mechanical, the
Amber cricket makes her way
Across the concrete:

Eggs must be laid and there is
So much dying to be done!

Andrew Lansdown, Counterpoise

We must see the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we choose to serve we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve... But when we choose to be a servant we give up the right to be in charge.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowest offices to the lowest of mankind.

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Oh, beware of the mistake so many make, who would fain be humble, but are afraid to be too humble. They have so many qualifications and limitations, so many reasonings and questionings, as to what true humility is to be and to do, that they never unreservedly yield themselves to it. Beware of this. Humble yourself unto death. It is in the death of self that humility is perfected.

Andrew Murray, Humility

But the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world: and as for superiority, he knows that the vulgar since they include most of the poor probably include most of his superiors.

C.S. Lewis, article on 'Christianity and Literature'

The Church... will have to take a strong line with the blasphemies of hubris, power-worship, envy and humbug, for these are the roots of evil. She will have to speak of moderation, purity, confidence, loyalty, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, content and modesty.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

No one has any right to claim a right, to indulge in a pleasure, to demand a liberty which may be the ruination of someone else... A pleasure or an indulgence which may be the ruin of someone else is not a pleasure but a sin.

William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians

This attitude -- the willingness to give oneself away, to give up good things for the sake of the better... is loss only in a limited sense. On the one hand it is real loss because what we lay aside in redeeming the world is in fact laid aside -- time to enjoy an artistic talent, to read a book or to make a garden. This is not insignificant. At times it causes great longing and heart-searching and is a source of temptation just as the devil used life itself to tempt Jesus when Peter said, 'This [suffering] shall never happen to you' (Matthew 16:22). We must not underestimate this loss. Yet in another sense we lose nothing. We do not experience only loss now, for God honours the imitation of his love.

Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs, Being Human

Lord, your gentle words are strong enough to break me. They ruthlessly expose my duplicity. Deep down, I want to love and serve you; and equally deeply, l resist you.

This double-mindedness has wounded me. Lord: heal me. And it has wounded others, little ones for whom Jesus died: heal them where I have harmed.

I confess that many times I have heard your call to servanthood but have pretended to be deaf to your voice. I confess that often, when l have committed myself to serve you, as soon as you have faced me in one of your children I have withdrawn my service. I am like the man who put his hand to the plough but looked back; I am not fit for the kingdom of God. Your mercy is my only hope.

There are things in my life, Lord, that are legitimate and good, but that I have clung to and even now would be reluctant to give up for the sake of love. I name them before you... Lord, these things stand like sea-walls between me and the ocean of your love; I renounce them, and pray for the strength to live out that renunciation.

Jesus, you are king of the universe, yet you wrapped a towel around your waist and washed the smelly feet of your disciples. This is not only an example for me to follow; it is an offer for me to accept. Yet like Peter, I have often refused your service, being strangely reluctant to let the one who drips love like water from his hands touch my feet. Give me a vision of your desire to serve me, so that -- like Peter -- I will come to accept this astonishing love and be transformed.

A Benediction

Go under God's mercy, knowing that when you are faithless he is faithful, and that when you fail he can redeem your failure. All things are possible for him, and 'he will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 1:8, NIV).

Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters, Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion), chapter 11

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