Every one of us was created by God to be perfect. And I think that deep down in all of our hearts we know this. This is why even in the best people there is a sense of regret, there is a feeling of I could have done that better, I could have done more. Because of course we’re not perfect. We are all sinners. We are all, as we said last week, damaged. But the good news of the gospel is that God is in the business of saving us and restoring us, making our hearts and our souls beautiful and free.
In theological terms we call this saving justification, and the restoring sanctification. Justification where through faith our record of sin was applied to Jesus who paid for our sins on the cross, and because of his grace his record of perfect righteousness is applied to us. Therefore we are justified.
And we call this restoring sanctification – to be made Holy – to be made right. To be restored. And so for this past month we have been talking about how this happens, how God does this, how he restores our souls. And it happens when Christians, people who have trusted in Christ, begin to see the glory of God and are transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to the next.
And so the first week we talked about where you begin with this. And it is in this amazing love letter, God’s good instruction and encouragement to us, the Bible. And we need to be hearing His word, and studying His word, and teaching His word.
But then last week we realized that spiritual growth is hard. And so we looked at the trick to sustaining spiritual growth. How do we keep this up? And the key as we said is real intentional Christian community, where together we are continually stirring one another along toward love and good deeds.
But not only is spiritual growth hard it is also typically slow. It’s growth; it is gradual. The Bible gives us the picture of a tree or a vine. Alive, healthy, but the growth is typically very slow and very gradual. And if you are like me, and you know Jesus, and you know that the Holy Spirit is alive in your life, then you want this, you want to know God, you want to grow, and you want to grow now.
You know the first week of this series we talked about the hope of freedom. That the ultimate hope of Christian maturity is not just that your behavior changes, but that you change that your desires change that you become somebody new. So how do you speed this up, and really get this rolling? Because I want my desires to become God’s desires.
Aren’t you tired of being a sinner? Aren’t you tired of sin? It’s a cancer that is only killing your soul. And I hope you have seen this, I hope you feel this. Sin never satisfies if you are a Christian. Sin only leaves you feeling convicted after the fact. It never brings hope or real joy, and worse yet sin always separates you from God. It keeps you from being close to Christ.
So how? How can we speed up this process of sanctification, how can we speed up the process of becoming like Jesus and being close to Jesus? Is there any fertilizer is there any sort of growth catalyst that we can put on our spiritual life that will make us grow better, and faster?
Well the good news for you and for me is the answer is yes. There is a catalyst, there is a fertilizer and let me tell you, this will do so much for your spiritual growth. This will make you desire God’s word, this will make you desire Christian community, this will lessen the desire for sin in your life. This will ultimately lead to righteousness and freedom in your life.
So what am I talking about? What is this wonder drug? And where can you get it? Well Jesus gives us some great insight on this of course throughout his ministry but specifically in the book of Mark chapter 10.
Mark 10 is a really interesting chapter of scripture and in this chapter we learn a great deal about the Kingdom of Christ. Jesus receives poor children, but he denies a wealthy young ruler, and we begin to learn that there is something different about the Kingdom of Jesus
And then when James and John request to sit on his right and left in the Kingdom here is how Jesus responds.
Mark 10 beginning in verse 42.
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And in this text we learn a lot about Christian growth, and we learn really what this fertilizer is, how you can really grow fast and strong.
- The Way of Growth
- The Place of Growth
- The Model for Growth
So lets begin with the Way of Growth.
We didn’t read the verses but this section of text begins with aspiration. James and John are coming to Jesus and saying, “We want to be great in your Kingdom.” verse 37
“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Now when the other disciples heard this request, the Bible says they were indignant. How dare they ask this? But Jesus doesn’t respond this way. Jesus is ok with the request, but he does ask, “Do you know what you are asking for?”
You see Kingdom ambition is a good thing, it is a really good thing. Who doesn’t want to be close to God? Who doesn’t want to be great in the eternal Kingdom of Christ? That is a good ambition, it is a beautiful ambition. But be warned. Jesus says, the City of God is very different from the City of Man. You see the promise of the City of Man is to be served.
Paige and I were having lunch on Tuesday and she said, “So I saw in the grocery store that Kate Middleton is pregnant again” Kate Middleton, the Dutchess of Cambridge. Now I don’t think Kate Middleton is actually pregnant, grocery store news is never the most reliable. But Paige and I began talking about this and we said, “Well didn’t they just have a baby last summer, but we said, well why not have another? After all she has all the help she needs, she can have as many kids as she wants, she has nurses and maids, and people to change the baby’s diaper, I mean it is easy for the Dutchess of Cambridge of have a baby.
And you see that is the Kingdom of Man. What is better than being the King or the Queen and having everyone there to serve you, and to take care of you. The goal of the Kingdom of man is to be served.
And you don’t have to be the King, this is true of all of us.
My previous church First Baptist in Covington, was very much a suit and tie church. I wore a suit every Sunday when I preached and even several times throughout the week, and so my mother started buying me a suit every Christmas and maybe 3 Christmases in a row she bought me a suit. And we went to this one particular Men’s Warehouse in Huntsville. And I hate to admit this as a guy but I actually really enjoyed the experience because there was this great salesman there. His name was Justin Carol if you are ever in Huntsville and need a suit. And whenever I got there he would say, “well hello Mr. Dees so good to see you again, can I get you anything to drink” You know “let me show you what we have,” “well this is a really good cut for you, it is really built for someone with an athletic build like you have.” Well I might have played a little ball back in this day.
And what could be better there was this guy waiting on me hand and foot and I was spending my mother’s money. Man to be served like that.
Well we all love that, and we all feel great when we are served, and in the City of Man our greatest hope is that everyone would treat us like that, like we are important, like we matter. To be great in the City of Man is to be served.
But Jesus says don’t be confused, by the City of Man, because greatness in the City of God is not to be served, it is to serve.
He says in verse 42
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles in the city of man lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. That is the Gentile ethic that is the city of man ethic… 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”
Greatness in the city of God is found in serving, and so is growth.
This is the way of growth. If you want to grow faster and better, If you want to be made perfect, if you want to be made right by the Holy Spirit of God conformed into the very image of Christ well you have to serve. The way is up is not up its actually down.
The text goes on to say…
44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Again this is so counterintuitive; it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t even look right.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed He got down and washed his disciples feet. Jesus the Lord, their teacher, their leader became the servant. And Peter at first at least refused it saying, this is not the way it should go I should be washing Your feet. You are the leader, You are the great one, Yours are the feet that need to be washed here.
But Jesus was showing Peter the way of the City of God, the way of His Kingdom, the way of restoration, the way of beauty.
So how does this work? And seriously. Because again Jesus is not just saying this is the way to piety, or the way to seem spiritual. I mean that is obvious. But Jesus is saying to be the slave of all is the way to greatness. It is the way to joy, and restoration, and freedom, and beauty. So is that even true, and if it is how does it work? How is service this growth catalyst, that if you find this you will grow so fast and so good.
Well three things…
The first is ownership – When you become a servant of Christ, when you like Jesus serve the church, you become an owner. You move from being a spectator to actually having some skin in the game. When I go to a football game and my team loses I say, “Oh shucks” and walk out of the stadium and go to a tailgate and eat a hamburger” but when I played football and my team lost I would cry, and I would stay up all night replaying the whole game in my mind asking myself what I could have done better, and then the next week in practice I would stay late to work on those things… See?
There is a different ownership when you are actually doing something for the Lord. There is a sense when you begin to serve the church you really become a part of the family.
After Jesus washed Peter’s feet he told Peter that he would deny him three times before the following morning and Peter said back to Jesus there is no way I would never deny you, even if all of these others do, not me Jesus. Well of course just as Jesus said Peter did deny him. Well the next time that Jesus and Peter had an encounter of any kind was on a beach on the Sea of Galilee. You can actually go to this spot still, and it is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is in John 21, Peter had been fishing all night with the disciples and he recognized Jesus on the shore, and rather than waiting for the boat to row to shore Peter jumps out of the boat and swims as hard as he can to Jesus and Jesus asks him, “Peter do you love me?” And Peter said yes Lord, and Jesus said well then Feed my lambs and he was referring to his church, feed my church. And then Jesus asked him again, “Peter do you love me?” And Peter more emphatically this time said, “Yes Lord you know that I love you?” And Jesus said, “well then take care of my church.” And then a third time Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and this time Peter was actually hurt that he was being asked a third time, “And he said, yes Lord you know that I love you.” And Jesus said, “well then serve my church Peter.”
You see you can’t really love Jesus without serving his church, without feeding his church, without caring for his church. If you love him you will join him in loving his church, you will take ownership of what he is doing through his church, and it will change you.
The second reason that service leads to growth is accountability. This is something that I really believe in. Ministry is the greatest accountability partner you will ever have. But actually this is why people are afraid of ministry. Why don’t people want to serve? Why don’t people want to be in ministry? They don’t want the accountability.
If I am a LifeGroup leader, or if I lead a 4th grade class, well then I have to clean up my life. Well yeah. But isn’t the goal here. Righteousness isn’t the goal here being conformed into the image of Christ. Ministry has a great way of doing that.
Or how about this one. If I sign up to do that, then I will have to be here most every Sunday, right? Well yeah, we just spent the last two weeks saying you need to be here, you need to be hearing the Word of God, and you don’t need to neglect meeting with one another.
Ministry is this great accountability partner that is really good about asking you to do the things that you need to be doing anyway. And let me say this to our seniors. If you want to stay sexually pure in college, if you want to stay substantially pure, meaning you aren’t going to go get drunk and smoke marijuana get into all kinds of sin in your college years, if you want to keep your faith strong, I am telling you this… listen, the first Sunday of your college you need to find a church and commit to be in church every Sunday during your college career and you need a ministry. And parents please encourage this. Who cares about their grades if they lose their soul? You need a place to serve the Lord. I am telling you this is the only way you are going to keep your way pure, you need the accountability, there is no substitute. See right now you have your parents to keep you accountable, and I bet most of them are good accountability partners for you. “Too good” right? But trust me, go get a ministry. It will keep you in the fellowship of believers, it will keep you in God’s word, it will keep you challenged.
I always say the reason that God called me to be a pastor is that I needed the accountability. I like that there are people all over this city that know who I am and what I do. If I have to be honest it keeps me from a lot of sin, and that has always been the case for me, in college, in seminary… I had a ministry, I had an office, even if it was just being a helper in my church youth group, or fraternity chaplain… the office of ministry made me grow.
There is a movie that is 50 years old now called Becket and it was made in 1964 starring Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. I actually heard another preacher refer to this movie once and it made me want to watch it. But it’s the story of Henry II of England. This is 12th Century. It is based on a true story. So Henry the 2nd is friends with a priest named Thomas Becket, and they were really good friends, they were drinking buddies and trouble makers, and even though Henry the II was not a good guy at all Thomas loved him and did whatever he could to make him happy. And they were carrying on like this until one day the Arch Bishop died, and Henry hated the Arch Bishop because he was always commanding holiness, he wanted Henry to actually have honor and to be obedient to God. And so when the Arch Bishop died, Henry II has this great idea and he says, “I will make Thomas the Archbishop, because after all he is one of my buddies he’ll let me do whatever I want.” And at first Thomas refuses, he says I am not even a priest, how could I be Arch Bishop but Henry eventually persuades him so he makes Thomas the Archbishop. But when Thomas assumes this role, when he steps into this position he actually begins to feel the weight of the office, and he becomes a righteous man, he becomes a good man. He begins showing concern for the poor of for morality. And Henry hates it, and Thomas who used to go around drinking and making trouble with the king is now calling the King out. Thomas is doing what an arch bishop should actually do. The office changed him, the accountability of ministry made him a righteous man. And I don’t mean to spoil the movie but it is 50 years old if you haven’t seen it by now you probably won’t. But at the end of the movie of course Thomas is driving Henry crazy and Henry he actually has his knights go and kill Thomas in the church. And even as he is dying, Forgive Henry, he had become like Jesus, the accountability of ministry had totally changed him.
So look I know a lot of people think, well I need to become better and then I can begin serving. When it actually the other way around, start serving, make the commitment, decide I am going to do the work of the Lord, I am going to obey him, and the office, the calling of God, the accountability of ministry will actually be one of the things that God uses to make you a better man, or woman.
The third reason that service leads to growth is humility. I have been to a lot of weddings and when it’s someone that I love, I love to go to their wedding and celebrating with them. And when you go to weddings and the preacher announces the couple, you don’t think to yourself, “well how come everyone is applauding them, what about me.” Or when the bride and the groom get the first piece of cake you don’t think, well why didn’t I get the first piece of cake. You don’t think that way because you realize that that wedding is not about you, it is about them. And if you love the couple not only do you not care that the day is not about you, you will do whatever you can to make it more special for them.
And this is exactly the picture that John the Baptist gives us of the Kingdom in John 3
29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
You see this whole life, our whole existence is about Jesus. He must increase, and I must decrease. And when you see that, then you can really enjoy the wedding, then you can really have peace in this life, then your life will really have meaning. See?
And one the best ways to get there is to serve. So the way of growth is service.
What about the place of growth? And I think we find the answer right here in the next.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
And very simply, there are two places of service- in the church and outside of the church.
We serve one another, and we serve all… So the first call as we mentioned before with Peter is to take care of the Sheep, if to feed the Lambs.
If you love Jesus you will love his church and serve his church.
And I just want to say this as your pastor, you may have had trouble finding a place to serve before, but it is my priority that every one of you find meaningful ways to serve the church, where you are using your gifts and talents to make much of Jesus. And two times a year starting this July we are going to be making that as easy as possible for you.
We want you to find a meaningful service in the church.
And Jesus calls us to not only serve one another, but to be a servant of all. To have a servants heart, in our neighborhoods, on the highway (I need to hear that), for our city and for the world.
I think we have had as Christians a wrong attitude toward serving the Lord. Rather than being an opportunity, we see it as a burden. This is something I am telling our staff all the time, to give someone an opportunity to serve is like giving them gold. You are getting to serve Jesus, the King of the Universe. We often say, things like “Oh I have to go work in the nursery today” or “I need to volunteer with VBS” I mean what better thing could you be doing with your time than to help shape the eternal destiny of someone’s soul? That is an amazing privilege. That is gold.
There are a lot of times that I have wasted time, that I have said, man that was a big waste of time. I have never said that about serving the Lord, and specifically serving His church. Those are always golden moments.
And finally the model of growth, the one who was perfect, the one who had full righteousness, and full joy, and full beauty, and full love from the Father, became a servant.
45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here is the model, Jesus, who had everything, who created the whole world, who deserves to be served for all of eternity, who is worthy of everything.
Jesus became a servant, he came to serve, he came to love, he came to give his life for you. See Jesus became low for the lowly, he became poor for the poor, he became weak for the weak, he became sin for the sinner.
Jesus took on our greatest burden, our sin, and he faced the pain of judgment, the pain of hell for your soul and for mine in order that we might be justified, and in being justified we can now be sanctified made right, made beautiful just like Jesus. Don’t you want him? Won’t you trust him?
You see here is the amazing thing about Jesus, Jesus who never sinned, who was never out of step with the Father in his coming, when he became a servant, when he came to serve, in his serving he became even more righteous, and even more beautiful, and he gained even more favor with God. This is something that I don’t fully understand, but I know that it is true because we see this in scripture.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Or Hebrews 12:2 – Jesus who for the Joy that was set before him endured the cross
Philippians 2 – Jesus who was fully God became obedient unto death and now has been given an even higher name.
So Jesus who was perfect, submitted himself to the Father, served the Father, and served us an in doing and became even more perfect.
The way of growth is to serve in the church of Jesus following the example of Jesus, for the glory of Jesus, and for the restoration of our souls.