Friday, July 21, 2006

Leak in the Bottom

The life dedicated to Jesus should always do its duty. Jesus illustrates this point in Luke 17:7-10. "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table?' Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what he was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are only unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Don't miss what Jesus is saying. As disciples of Jesus, servants of the Kingdom of God, there is an expectation, and the expecation is that God's people will do what is required of them as revealed in God's Word. Because of this, I confess that I find it more than a little amusing, as well as quite frustrating, that we honor and exalt those who have confessed Jesus as Lord who are simply doing what God anticipates they should. We applaud teenagers and young adults who guard their virginity until they enter into the covenant of marriage. We celebrate their chastity as if they have done something unusual. Yes, their physical purity is peculiar, in the eyes of the world, in a secular culture inundated with sexual deviance and imagery, but it is what is expected of servants of Jesus.

The problem with doing our duty is that, for many, it is a joyless expression of devotion to God. Far too often we do what we should, but secretly, in the depths of our hearts, we desire the very thing that we are abstaining from. Be sure, we should still do what we ought even when we don't feel like it. However, the problem with simply doing what we should while struggling in our heart with desires that conflict with our actions is that we fail to maximize the spiritual benefits of our duty.

Duty is a conduit of grace. It is intended to help cultivate a fertile heart in which the seeds of God's purposes in our lives grow. It is intended to move us from mundane repetition and ceremony in our worship of Gods to a response birthed from delight in who He is and the joy of serving Him as King. But this only happens with careful attention to the heart. Remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (17:9). We are incapable of seeing the depths of the depravity of our hearts without God's assistance, and as we do what we should in our relationship with God, we must always ask the Spirit to help us unearth the motive behind our obedience.

Take the confessing believer who maintains their virginity before marriage as an example. Such a person may remain pure, but the motive for their purity may not be devotion to Jesus. It might be that they fear their parents disapproval or they fear sex itself. Perhaps, if they are educated in the public school system, it could be that the sex education videos and pictures so disgusted them that they vowed to abstain from sex just to protect their bodies from disease or an unwanted pregnancy. Many believers maintain sexual purity because of pride. They wear their virginity like a badge of honor, a.k.a. Jessica Simpson, but they wear it, not because they love Jesus, but because they want to be a good role model for young girls, they want to please their peers, etc.

John Flavel, an English Puritan who lived over 300 years ago said, "The careless heart profits nothing by any duty or ordinance it performs or attends upon...a man may go with a heedless spirit from ordinance to ordinance, abide all his days under the choicest teaching, and yet never be improved by them; for heart-neglect is a leak in the bottom - no heavenly influences, however rich, abide in that soul." The truth that we need to be challenged by today is the reality that we must do what God desires and requires as servants of the Kingdom. But in our duty, we must also tend to the matters of the heart, asking what our motive is for obedience. We must, with the Spirit's help, crucify all pride, lust, arrogance, joylessness and self-sufficiency in our service to Jesus. This is the only way that our duty will ever profit us spiritually.


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