By Van Richmond
Pastor, New Life Church, Nashville
Focal Passage: Ephesians 5:15-21
Most people probably would not own a computer today if it was a stand-alone device. Whether used for e-mail, shopping for virtually anything imaginable, or keeping track of family and friends through Facebook or Instagram, the computer’s value to users is exponentially multiplied because of one thing: servers. An earth-spanning network of data-processing gee whiz boxes called servers makes it possible to earn a college degree from home, work from home, and even buy or sell a home.
Modeling Christian faith works best when we have a network of servers — not the digital doodads, but people who love God and love serving others. In this passage, Paul uses the words “unwise” and “wise” to refer to unbelievers and believers as he instructs followers of God in how they should operate (walk) within an obedient network. Tennessee Southern Baptists very frequently make the most of the time, just as the apostle directed. Giving through the Cooperative Program, traveling across the state and the nation to serve as part of a disaster relief team, conducting ESL classes, volunteering at a Crisis Pregnancy Center — these are just a few of the many ways we serve through a network of dedicated believers.
In 1 Peter 4:10 we read, “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others.” Paul tells us in verse 17 to “understand what the Lord’s will is,” a desire the Lord expressed yet again following the Last Supper. His apostles had apparently eaten a slice of pride pie for dessert and were arguing over who was the greatest among them. The Lord’s answer rang the bell on the selfless scale when He said, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Jesus’ lessons and Paul’s admonition in verse 21 to submit “to one another in the fear of Christ” form the operating system for our network. Occasionally, though, we get something that acts like a computer virus. A fellow pastor told a heartbreaking story you might have heard, a narrative that has played out far too frequently in far too many churches. A family that had visited a very few times over a three-year period arrived for worship one morning and settled into a pew. They were approached shortly by a long-time church member who brusquely said, “You are sitting in my seat.” Tension swept over the sanctuary as the husband and wife looked at one another in disbelief. Immediately, the family stood up and walked back down the aisle and out of the church. They won’t be back. The End.
Let’s focus on serving instead of self serving. Is where I sit more important than someone’s soul? The operating manual directs us, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Our capabilities are curtailed when we function as stand-alone units, but God’s power is greatly multiplied when we connect with other servers in love and faith.
Bruce Thielemann, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, told of a conversation with a member of his flock who said, “You preachers talk a lot about ‘do unto others,’ but when you get right down to it, it comes down to basin theology.” Thielemann asked, “Basin theology? What’s that?”
The layman said, “Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before His death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of the disciples. It all comes down to basin theology: Which one will you use?”