SERVE: "Lay down our what?"
There are 77 hard sayings of Jesus in FF Bruce's book called "The Hard Sayings of Jesus"[i] Today's passage "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me," is chapter 37. In my mind, in today's world, perhaps it should be number one.
One could spend a lifetime counting the problems in today's world. Many of them, however, can be traced right back to our arrogant, bull-headed, self-centeredness.
Wasn't that the issue in Genesis? Adam and Eve didn't disobey God in order to be disobedient. Adam and Eve disobeyed because they thought they entitled to the fruit and deserved the knowledge.
It's too bad they didn't understand the words "Deny yourself."
The Greeks had a character named Narcissus, from whom we receive the word narcissistic. Narcissus was so in love with himself that he could love no one else. In fact, he was so consumed with himself that when we caught a glimpse of his reflection in a pool, he couldn't take his eyes off his beauty. He stayed there gazing into the reflection of his own eyes until he died.
It's too bad he didn't understand the words "Deny yourself."
The Narcissuses of our day die in spirit as they stare all consumed into their TV's, their video games, the pornography on their computers, their investment accounts, or one more material possession that they are sure will make them happy. After all, no one deserves to be happy more than they do. Their hearts shrivel up and die as they are consumed with being a winner, being wealthy, being popular, being powerful.
They wouldn't deny themselves anything because they deserve it all. That's how you know that you have crossed the line to narcissism. You begin to believe that you deserve everything.
It's too bad more people don't understand the words "Deny yourself."
Think about the word deserving. DE-serving. It could also be NON-serving, UN-serving or my favorite ANTI-serving.
We don't understand serving because we live in an ANTI-serving society.
Contrast that with Jesus' hard saying "If anyone wants to be my follower, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me."
The MESSAGE Bible says it this way. "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self."
The AMPLIFIED Bible says "he must deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself]"
The phrase "deny himself" literally means, "To completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone." It is the same word used to describe Peter's denial of Jesus outside the High Priests home![ii] Each time he was confronted about his connection with Jesus, Peter more fervently denied knowing him (vv. 70, 72, 74).
We are to deny ourselves: to utterly disown ourselves, to refuse to acknowledge the old narcissistic person.
· Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself. (Phil. 2:5-8).
· Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:11).
· I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Gal. 2:20.
· This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
· By the mercies of God, present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:1
Oh, man . . . it just keeps getting worse. Now we have gone from denying ourselves to laying down our lives and being a living sacrifice . . . but let me tell you there really isn't any difference. Denying ourselves is just laying down our lives a little bit at a time.
I like the way the great preacher Fred Craddock, explains it. He says, "We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table—'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.' "But the reality for most of us is that God sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there.
· Listen to the neighbor kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.'
· Go to a committee meeting.
· Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
"For most of us, giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul." [iii] Does that make more sense laying down our life a quarter or 50cents at a time? It does to me.
Now let me add one more concept that I think helps us to understand laying down our lives or denying ourselves. You all know the Principle of Tradeoffs. The principle of tradeoffs says that some things need to be denied in order for other things to be gained.
Think about your budget, you might have to skip that vacation in order to buy that car. You all understand that.
In this passage, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves in order to gain some other things.
What does he mean?
Ø Well, one example is that we have to deny our time to some things in order to gain other things. If you want to pursue a certain career, you have to deny yourself time that would have been spent on other things in order to devote yourself to education, training, and experience required for that career. You are denying yourself certain other uses of that time, such as traveling the world, or starting a family, or dating; in order for you to gain something else.
Ø The same is true for raising kids. One has to trade sleep, and peace and quiet, and time, and money, and late nights on the town and many other things-- but you are not just denying them- you are denying them in order to care for and love the child you brought into the world.
Ø If you have a garden, you trade the hard labor of weeding and tending for fresh vegetables and flowers.
Ø If you are on a team, you trade hours of practice for the opportunity to win the championship.
So--- you see what I mean. Life is a series of tradeoffs. When Jesus told his disciples that they must deny themselves, he was saying that as a disciple of Christ, they will need to give up certain things in order to follow him. Discipleship requires that we give up-- lay down-- deny certain things in order to gain the benefits of following the forgiver, the prince of peace, the lord of life.
Don't think only of what is denied, though– that will only make you feel cheated out of something – instead, think of what you are choosing to gain. Salvation, hope, love, and joy.
Now to bring those two things together: the incremental 25 and 50 cent acts of love and service, and the Tradeoff Principle.
When Jesus laid down his life for us he did it in one great and glorious event of the cross and resurrection-- laying everything--- his whole $1000 on the table in a trade for our salvation, our faith, and our faithfulness. However, we aren't Jesus.
When the apostles and martyrs lay down their lives they do it in one grand and glorious sacrifice for the sake of the gospel-- they lay everything--- their whole $1000 on the table in exchange for fulfilling their call to be faithful.
However, God willing we will not be called to be martyrs for the faith.
So what does it mean for most of the rest of us- the 2 billion Christians that live our lives in the trenches trying to be servants every day in our families, our jobs, and our communities?
o Being a servant means, that we trade 25¢ worth of comfort today so that someone can have a warm blanket when they sleep under the bridge tomorrow night.
o Being a servant means, that we trade 50¢ worth of time while we hug a child scared of the thunder.
o Being a servant means, that we trade 25¢ worth of our favorite television show to join a committee.
o Being a servant means, that we trade 50¢ worth of gas to drive the neighbor kid home from school when mom is sick.
o Being a servant means, that we trade ½ a day to help someone move.
o Being a servant means, that we trade a week to go on a mission trip with the youth.
o Being a servant means, that we trade that fancy $5 coffee in order to contribute to Homes for Haiti.
o Being a servant means, trading a few words for the opportunity to invite someone to go to church with us.
o Being a servant means, we trade 25¢ worth of time in order to change the light bulb we notice is burned out at the church.
o Being a servant means, that we trade a penny's worth of gossip with our friends after church in order to greet the people who come to visit for the first time.
o Being a servant means, you trade a few Wednesday nights in order to teach a child about Jesus.
o Being a servant means, you trade a few words of encouragement to ease the tears of a mother who just experienced a miscarriage.
o Being a servant means, that you penny by penny, minute by minute trade your life away in favor of loving others, joining the kingdom of God and following Jesus Christ.
Do you see what I am saying? Being a servant is offering everything we have to the service of Christ one quarter, 1 word, one minute, and one day at a time.
If you are looking for the big flashy ways to serve you may have the wrong motivation.
If you are looking for opportunities to serve that maximize your gifts you may be thinking about this all wrong.
If you are waiting for God to call you to be a missionary or pastor, you have the wrong idea about servanthood.
We have been bought by God. Yes, Jesus traded all he had for you.
o We have been bought by God. One jagged lash at a time.
o We have been bought by God. One jeering, spitting mocker at a time.
o We have been bought by God. One nail at a time.
o We have been bought by God. One agonizing breath at a time.
o We have been bought by God. One dark moment at a time.
o Bought with a price! And what a tremendous price that was!
Servanthood is trading your life away one quarter, one word, one minute, one day at a time to the one who bought and paid for our sins.
Brothers and sisters let us serve one another.