Bernard Palmer asks what really motivates us.
Bernard Palmer is minister at ChristChurch Baldock, formerly a senior consultant surgeon and author of Cure for Life.
People get thrilled when battles are won. 'Arsenal won 3-0 yesterday - fantastic match.'
Christians can also get very excited when battles are won. A friend was troubled by the amount of swearing that was taking place at work. He decided to act. He confronted his supervisor and explained how offensive he found this. But the swearing continued. He wrote a letter to the senior management complaining about the practice. A notice was then put up on the notice board warning people to watch their language.
My friend was thrilled. But there was a cost. He was sidelined at work for being a 'snitch'. He was regarded as being narrow minded. A wall had been built separating him from others. Admittedly one or two acknowledged his stand for high ideals but what had been really won? Anything he says now about the Lord Jesus will be treated with ridicule. In a short time swearing will naturally return to that workplace because that is how many people naturally talk - because they don't care about Jesus. It is significant that often one of the first changes to occur when people become Christians is that they stop swearing, if this was a habit. thrilled for the wrong reason?
Jesus sent out 72 of his followers to prepare the way for him - he sent out workers 'into his harvest field'. They were to heal the sick and then say to the people:
'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
Where they were not welcomed they were still to say,
'The kingdom of God has come near.'
Jesus made it very clear that, as his emissaries, they were acting on God's behalf.
'Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.' (Luke 10:16)
God expects his disciples to pass on the news of how they can become members of God's kingdom. This is a thrilling task. Yet when the 72 returned full of joy, the cause of this was not that they had seen others respond to their message. They exclaimed, Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name. (Luke 10:17)
They were thrilled because they had experienced victories in spiritual battles.
Jesus however was clearly unhappy. His goal was that people should become members of his kingdom. Fulfilling that end should be enough to satisfy people. How easy it is to take our eyes off what satisfies Jesus onto what excites us. It is a matter of priorities. There was clearly nothing wrong in winning spiritual battles or in healing people. The problem comes when Christ's followers take their eyes off his prime goal, the bringing in of people into his eternal kingdom. Victories in individual battles are no substitute for winning the war.
What really matters
Jesus reminded his followers of the fact that although victories in spiritual battles are satisfying, having our names written in the Book of Life is what matters.
'However do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' (Luke 10:20)
According to Jesus, the purpose of life is for me to recognise who he is and then to make him the purpose of my life. Jesus goes on to say,
'All things have been committed to me by my Father. No-one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no-one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.' (Luke 10:22)
Jesus is saying here that nothing matters so much as knowing who he is and entering into a personal relationship with him. All of life's activities, however good they are, shrink into insignificance if we have not come to recognise the Lord Jesus and serve him by making him known through what we do and say. Questions should be asked if what I am doing does not lead to Christ being recognised and honoured.
Substitutes for the real thing
Luke makes this point abundantly clear by the story that follows. An expert in the Law asked Jesus,
'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' (Luke 10:25)
What thrills me most? Getting a good score for a round of golf, winning a battle of some sort against an adversary, enjoying a hobby, enjoying the garden, helping the family, progressing in my career - all these can become substitutes for the real thing. The God of the Bible wants us all to know Jesus and then make him known. He is the key to enjoying the good life both now and also, essentially, in eternity. The apostle John put this clearly,
'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.' (John 3:36)
The purpose of the church
The priority of making Jesus known so that others may be saved was clearly one that Jesus wanted all his disciples to understand. A few chapters further on Luke records the following account.
'Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'
Then Jesus told them this parable: 'Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.' (Luke 15:1-7, author's emphasis)
We can so easily rejoice over victories in this world, but in God's kingdom salvation is what matters. This is the purpose of the church. Jesus was talking to his disciples after his resurrection when he again made it clear that God's priority was seeking the spiritually lost.
'Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.' (Luke 24:45-48, author's emphasis)
What is happening to God's Church in the west? Why do so many not share this priority? Too often we find our joys and satisfactions in other forms of victory and not in helping others recognise their Lord and Saviour. Evangelism cannot be done in isolation; we must care for those in need so that others can see the love of God in action. However for the Church to embark on missions that exclude the Lord Jesus from the centre would go against the whole thrust of Scripture.