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Servanthood

This content is drawn from: Psalm 116:16-19

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38

In the 21st century, talk of being a servant might seem a bit dated. Who would want to submit to a master who might be harsh? However, in the Bible being a servant of the Lord was an honor, whether you were a king or a peasant. The mighty King David and the lowly girl Mary desired alike to be servants of God.

Thus, I was moved by a Cuban pastor and his family who would ride their bicycles 45 minutes to a house church where he served. Additionally, when we asked him to not only continue pastoring his existing church but also to pick up another one in need of a leader, he answered, “I’m the Lord’s servant; therefore, I’m your servant. It will be an honor to share the gospel and continue to expand God’s Kingdom.”

How does one embrace such sincere servanthood? It comes because the God we serve humbled Himself to walk and eat among outcasts, to wash the feet of His often-doubting friends, and to give Himself up on a cross for us. Being a servant requires submission, but none greater than that which Jesus has already shown.

INSIGHT

“I am not here to survive, but I am here to serve God’s purpose.” (Corrie Ten Boom, 1974)

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Daily Devotional

God’s Kingdom is Available

God makes himself and his kingdom available, not in every way human beings have imagined, surely, but in a simple way—in a way that, paradoxically, is quite familiar to billions of people and that millions more have heard about. “Paradoxically” because, though multitudes have heard about this Way, and even insist upon its rightness, humanity for the most part still lives in “a far country.”

From The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. Copyright © 1997 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Losses and Gains of Knowing Christ

On our journey with Christ to the cross, we gain two companions this week, Mary of Bethany and the apostle Paul. With their actions and words, both Mary and Paul help us to understand the necessary losses and inestimable gains of knowing Christ.

1. Jesus is now in the closing days of his earthly ministry. In a brief calm before the tumultuous events to come, he and the disciples are having dinner with dear friends. But even among his closest companions, there is trouble. Read the story in John 12:1-8 (NLT).

For insights into the setting and characters in this story, see “Jesus Is Anointed at Bethany (11:55–12:11)” in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

  • The NIV First-Century Study Bible note (“Jn 12:1–11”) characterizes Mary’s act of anointing Jesus as “a great reversal of royal expectations.” To better understand this reference, read the entry for “Anoint” in Easton’s Bible Dictionary. How does Mary’s anointing both fulfill the purpose of a royal anointing and also constitute a “great reversal” of it? In what other ways is her act a unique fulfillment of the various purposes of anointing?
  • The story contains other “reversals” as well, particularly in the contrasts between Mary and Judas. For insights into the actions and character of both Mary and Judas, see this note in the New Bible Commentary. What contrasts are evident between Judas and Mary? In what ways do they constitute opposites?
  • It is the scandalous extravagance of Mary’s offering that Judas criticizes—and that Jesus affirms. To learn more about the nard Mary used to anoint Jesus, see the corresponding note from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament. The great value of the perfume suggests that Mary’s offering was sacrificial. Purchasing the nard likely required a lifetime of savings. It may also have been her financial security for the present as well as the future. What does the costly nature of her act demonstrate about the true scope of what she sacrificed for her devotion to Christ?

2. In his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul describes how “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” led to a great reversal in his own life. Read the passage in Philippians 3:4b–14 (CEV).

  • For background and insights into this significant passage, see the corresponding note “The Example of Paul” in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. How does Paul use his own life to illustrate what it means to “know Christ”?
  • Paul stresses his desire to know Christ in both his power and his suffering (v. 10). Why is it significant that he includes both? In other words, what would be lost if Paul sought to know only Christ’s power, or only Christ’s suffering?
  • Paul imagines himself as an athlete running and struggling for a prize. For a fresh perspective on these verses, read Philippians 3:12–14 in both the CEV and The Voice (VOICE). What insights does reading the two translations side by side provide about what it means to “run toward the goal”? What does “struggling to take hold of the prize” require?

Questions for Reflection

  • Both Mary and the apostle Paul are examples of what it means to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (St. Benedict of Nursia). Few would have faulted them for “preferring” other things—their reputation, social norms, or their own security—but they considered such things “worthless.” In the past, what have you tended to prefer to Christ or been unwilling to sacrifice for love of Christ?
  • What, if anything, do you tend to prefer to Christ in this season of life? How do you imagine your life might be different if, for love of Christ, you could release whatever you are withholding?
  • In the days ahead, how might you be “scandalous” as Mary was, extravagant in expressing your love for Christ?

A Prayer for the Week Ahead

Pray Psalm 126:4–6.

For Additional Study

  • To learn more about Mary of Bethany, go to John 12:1–8 and see the corresponding note “Mary 1” in the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters.
  • To learn more about Judas Iscariot, go to John 12:1-8 and see the corresponding note “Personality Profiles: Judas Iscariot” in the King James Study Bible Notes.
  • The church at Philippi is one that was founded by Paul. For a comprehensive overview of his letter to the Philippian church, go to Philippians 3:4–14 and see the corresponding note “Letter to the Philippians” in the Encyclopedia of the Bible.

View today’s reading at Bible Gateway

Luke 7:31-50

31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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