Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Lesson of the Three Servants cont...

The third and last servant was Onesimus, or the “non-believer working for a believer”.

Here is a servant, a non-believer, who is working in the household of a Christian. Although the name Onesimus means useful he is the opposite of his name. Onesimus is quite useless! He doesn’t do his tasks with skill or dependability, he steals and he plots.

Whatever Christianity he is exposed to at his master’s house seems to have no impact on his life. Eventually he executes his escape and flees to freedom – a path that coincidently leads him to Paul. We don’t know how he first heard Paul speak. Since this is around the time of Paul’s house arrest, it is possible Onesimus simply got curious about a crowd gathered at an open window and joined in to listen.

The result of listening to Paul’s message about Jesus is that Onesimus becomes a Christian himself. What a transformation! He did not simply have an intellectual assent to the Message, Onesimus experienced a total life altering transformation. Paul describes him as virtually a “son” so complete was Onesimus’ love and care for others, especially Paul.

But the time came when Onesimus shared about his old life and Paul recognized the name of Onesimus’ master, Philemon! One of many converts of Paul himself. The choice was clear. The transformation of Christ in a life is not for cover-up or simple escape from the past. No, it is for power to confront the consequences of wrong actions taken and the initiation of setting right old wrongs to clear the path of the new creation's purpose.

This must have been a hard journey for Onesimus to take, doubtlessly made no lighter even by the letter in his pocket. Yes, Onesimus carried a letter from Paul himself addressed to Philemon. Paul beseeched Philemon to receive back Onesimus as a brother in Christ, a “useful” servant, even to the point of personally promising to pay back all that was stolen by Onesimus in the past. But the truth is Philemon was legally able to put Onesimus to death because of his escape. He would have been within his rights to do so and Onesimus was aware of this. Risking his very life Onesimus returned, a changed transformed man, to his former master.

The letter leaves us here to speculate on the result. Historical evidence tells us that Onesimus was not put to death by his old master. In fact it is said that Onesimus was eventually stoned for his faith – giving his life for the very Message that so radically transformed him.

So what are the keys to the attributes making up Onesimus’ character?

Before Christ:

Attributes: Unreliable – self-centered - thief – resentful - useless

After Christ:
Servant of Paul

Attributes: Reliable – giving – thankful – humble – useful!

These Lessons of the Three Servants are provided in the Bible for our benefit, insight, and personal challenge.

We all serve someone.

The question is:

“Who do you serve?” & “What kind of servant are you?"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lesson of Three Servants part 2

Last Sunday I spoke about the Lesson of the Three Servants.

Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve!”

In the Books of 2 Kings ch 5. We get a glimpse of two very different servants.

The second servant was Gehazi, or the “believer working for a believer”.

Gehazi was the servant of Elisha the prophet. He represented outwardly the faithful servant – putting on a show both for his master and others. He was an Israelite so he knew about the Living God. Gehazi had witnessed the power of God through Elisha.

But in this passage in 2 Kings we see Gehazi’s reaction to his master refusing the incredible riches offered to him by Naaman after he received his cure from Leprosy.

Gehazi was incredulous! To just say no to so much wealth was unthinkable to him. He immediately hatched a plan to gain some of the riches for himself without his master ever knowing.

Of course Gehazi’s concept of God was fatally flawed. Sure he understood God’s vast, incredible power but he was completely unfamiliar with God’s intimacy with His creation. The smallest detail of your life God is cognizant of – not as some would have us believe – to pounce on us or keep a running tally of wrongs, but to take every opportunity to be involved in our lives upon the faintest invitation on our part (Joel 2:32).

Gehazi was completely caught off guard when upon returning from his errand of mischief, Elisha gives him one chance to confess his misdeeds. Then Elisha demonstrates God’s power to Gehazi in providing one more thing from Naaman – his Leprosy!

So what are the keys to the attributes making up Gehazi’s character? As we look at these keep in mind it is a believer we are describing, not just some idol worshiper, atheist or agnostic.

1. Two faced – Gehazi was looking out for himself while representing that he was only concerned with fulfilling Elisha’s wishes.
2. Liar – Gehazi lied to both his master, a believer, but also to Naaman who had become a new believer by that time!
3. Materialistic – Gehazi did not go after the treasure of Naaman to enrich his master. By hiding the booty and returning to Elisha as if nothing happened, he showed his only concern was selfish in nature.
4. Ignorant of who God is – Gehazi knew about the Creator God. He knew God was more powerful than any idol. Gehazi knew Elisha was the prophet of this Living God but somehow compartmentalized this awareness to “God is concerned about great issues and people of status but not aware or concerned with me”.

The ache of my heart is that this servant is a believer! This servant is in the church! This servant may be sitting next to you on Sunday! Two faced, deceitful, a liar, materialistic, “having a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof!” (2 Tim.3:5).

Tomorrow we will look at the last example of a servant from the New Testament – the non-believer working for a believer.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Lesson of Three Servants part 1

Last Sunday I spoke about the Lesson of the Three Servants.

Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve!”

The question is what kind of servant are we? Whether we are a believer or non-believer we are all servants of someone
In the Books of 2 Kings ch 5. We get a glimpse of two very different servants.

The first servant is a believer working for a non- believer.

When I get to heaven, this is one of the first persons I want to find. She was a girl captured on one of the Syrian raids of Israel. We don’t know whether her parents also were taken, killed or still living in Israel. What we do know is she was taken to a foreign country against her will and forced to work in the household of the commander (Naaman) of the forces that attacked her homeland. She is in this position when she overhears her mistress lamenting about her husband’s diagnosis of Leprosy.

Her response is one of the most amazing I have ever witnessed. Most of us in the same position would be filled with joy - even vindication at this news. Leprosy! Yes! If anyone deserved it Naaman does! Take that for attacking my country, destroying my family and making me your prisoner! May your body parts drop one by one in front of your eyes!

But no, she does not rejoice. In fact she is greatly distressed for her “master”. Her response is to tell her mistress – not merely how sorry she is – but how Naaman can be healed of this terrible curse!

Incredible! We know so little about her, yet these few sentences tell us just enough to be astounded by the richness of her character. Why? Naaman goes immediately to the King of Syria and tells him with all confidence the solution this servant girl has offered. Why would he do this? His response gives us the key to her character, her attributes.

1. Reliability- She has apparently always been dependable with every task she has been given.
2. Truthfulness She was not one to either exaggerate, lie or mix truth with fantasy.
3. Compassion She was genuinely concerned and grieved with the plight of her master.
4. Forgiveness She held no grudge or secret desire for revenge, but instead freely forgave the wrong that was done to her by living her life continuing to follow the teachings she had as a child to love and honor God even in this circumstance of servitude to a known enemy!

Tomorrow we will look at the next example of a servant.