Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Full Extent

I've been basking in John 13:1-17 since Sunday. I've literally read those seventeen verses in the Bible eight times in the last five days. I have to thank my pastor, John, for teaching on it Sunday and for throwing out the challenge to live in it this week. It's working. The guy is onto something. I'm finding it very effective to dwell on the same chunk of scripture daily.

John 13:1-17 is found under the heading, "Jesus Washes His Disciples' Feet" and it's so full of wisdom. Each day something different has jumped out at me, spoken to me.

I think my first thought was, "Man, it's scary, I am so like Peter." The dude is so all-or-nothing. When Jesus begins to wash their feet, at first Peter says, "No. You shall never wash my feet." Jesus then responds, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Instead of saying what a normal person would say, Peter jumps to the extreme. My wife would say, "Okay, wash my feet Lord." However, Peter says what I would say: "Then Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well." So extreme! It's scary though, would I have denied Jesus as Peter later does in John 18? I hope not. At any rate, knowing full well that Peter would deny him three times, Jesus still tells him, "you are clean" in verse 10. Peter didn't need a bath, only a foot wash. Ultimately, this story makes me think of Jesus' amazing forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance because of how he reinstates Peter in the 21st chapter of John. But I digress.

I love John 13:16 where Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master." Very clear here. Jesus is my master, I am his servant. If he will wash feet, I am called to serve like that. Ironically, it is only in throwing on a towel, lowering myself, and serving that I can be raised up to Christ's level. Verse 17 says it all, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." In Matthew 20:27 Christ also says, "whoever wants to be first must be your slave." The paradigm is shifted.

Another line that really teaches me something is found in verse three: "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God." The profundity of this statement is staggering! It's bad enough that Peter would soon deny Jesus, but on top of that, Christ knew that Judas would totally betray his master. The devil is at work. Christ's followers are weak. Moreover, he's about to die a gruesome death. Yet, none of that matters because Jesus clearly knows who is in control: "the Father had put all things under his power." All things! On top of that, Jesus is firm in his identity: "he had come from God and was returning to God." God's son! Man, if I could just not falter on these two beliefs I would be such a better person. One, God is in control. Two, I am a child of God.

Finally, the title of this post comes from the first verse. It reads, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." The phrase "full extent of his love" has been haunting me and refining me all week. I even went to the dictionary and found this:

full - holding or having as much as the limits will allow

extent - the range or scope of something

Before he died Jesus made sure he showed his friends the full extent of his love. Wow! It's one thing for me to say "I love you" to my wife, I can say that I love my kids, but do my actions actually show all that my limits will allow? What would that even look like to show them the entire scope of my love? If I'm honest, it's not just what I would need to do in order to accomplish this; rather, there are things I need to not do. I need to not speak in sarcastic tones, I need to not grumble, and I need to not be selfish. Rest assured, I need to serve as well, but, for me, this statement, "full extent of his love," finds God whispering to me that I must discard some defense mechanisms as well.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Sharon Genton said...

All I can say is "I HEAR you" thank you for your honest reflection....

9:47 PM  
Blogger Truth said...

Doah - first, I want you to know I appreciate your genuinely humble spirit as it regards this passage of Scripture. There's no doubt in my mind that your desire is to live in humility as Christ's servant.

With that said, however, I was there the day that John Reed gave this message and, though I've kept silent for a long time regarding this, I have many concerns regarding John's teaching that day...

1 - Like so many of the other examples of love throughout the NT, Christ's demonstration of humility was intended (at the simplest level) to demonstrate how we, as Christians are to love one another. I'm not suggesting that we're not to love anyone else - but this passage in John 13 wasn't about serving anyone/everyone... it was about humility toward fellow brothers and sisters. If we don’t show love to one another first – as members of Christ’s body – any effort to show love to others cannot bear much, if any, fruit. This reminds me of John’s take on Acts 2 last year – when he described the church as being ‘more concerned with those outside than with those inside’. This wasn’t an accurate translation then, either – the reason that the early followers of Christ sold their belongings (2:45) was to provide for the needs of those inside the body of believers. If they were as ‘outwardly-focused’ as John would have had us believe, then their actions would have been for those outside the body. Here in the Gospel of John, it’s the same thing – Jesus is demonstrating His humility and willingness to serve – and telling us to do the same – because it’s how He wants us as believers to treat one another.

2 – As I was studying this passage in John (the apostle, not the pastor) at home after the service, I noticed that John (the pastor, not the apostle) skipped over vv. 6-11 in his sermon. In taking the passage as a whole, I can only surmise that the reason he did this was because this is the KEY section of the passage and it clearly indicates that the entire foot-washing illustration is, primarily, a parable – in deeds rather than words – regarding forgiveness. How else can you explain Jesus’ statement to Peter - “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me”? Once Peter recognizes this is what Christ is talking about, he responds with the "extreme" reply of requesting a washing (i.e. forgiveness) of his whole self. Clearly, Jesus is talking about the forgiveness of sins – His statement that “you are clean, but not every one of you” directly refers to Judas, as v.18 also makes clear - “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.” This aspect of the passage was not discussed at all – and the fact that the relevant verses were skipped over reveals (in my opinion) the mixed-up priority of Jesus as example, rather than Christ as Savior. Sadly, however, this is not untypical of the teaching I've experienced there. More importantly, it reveals John's unfortunate willingness to manipulate Scripture passages in order to prove his particular point. Pastors ought to let the Scripture speak through them, rather than making the Scriptures speak for them.

3 - Let's go back for a moment to Jesus' last statement in v. 18... "I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen." I know it's been awhile, but do you recall John telling us that if you do this (i.e. acts of humble service), you'll be blessed? He based this on v. 17, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." However, he neglected to point out the clear exception in v. 18 - only those whom Christ has chosen will be blessed as described in v.17. Now, without getting into the whole election/free-will debate (which I am not qualified to discuss), this verse makes abundantly clear that those who are not believers will not be “blessed” by doing this. Given John’s acknowledgment to me (multiple times) that many in our congregation are not (yet) believers, he would be wise to remind them that this promised blessing only applies to those who belong to Christ – and what a perfect opportunity that would be to encourage folks to come to Christ! What happens if one of these non-believing attendees took this “great gamble” but did not “feel blessed” at the end of the month (as John assured they would)? Are they to discard the word of God as not being true? Or should they rather have been taught that this promise does not apply to them until they are believers?

4 - In the study guide related to this sermon, John instructs us to “ask God to forgive and cleanse [us] specifically of any regrets or guilt [we’re] carrying today". Why does he so strenuously avoid the mere mention - let alone any discussion or teaching - of sin? Presumably, you know Scripture well enough to know that it is not our regrets, but our sin for which Christ died – thus demonstrating God’s righteous and just nature, while simultaneously revealing his mercy and love. I don’t know about you, Doah, but I still have plenty of “regrets” for sins that I committed in my youth – they haven’t been removed... partially, I suspect, because God uses those regrets to remind me not to head down that path of sin. (With all due respect, things may have changed at TerraNova since the time I eventually left - but this was a constant issue - or non-issue, technically speaking - while I was there.)

5 – Even if the suggestion was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is entirely inappropriate that the pastor suggested we follow the sinful path of self-gratification if we don’t find that following the righteous path of self-sacrifice leads to blessing. Why would a spiritual leader recommend this action? Analogy: “Worship God entirely and completely for one month – if you don’t find yourself blessed for doing so... feel free to worship another god during the next month.” Or, “Be faithful to your spouse for a month, but if you don’t find yourself blessed... try someone else the following month.” Why in the world would John honestly suggest that we follow a sinful, self-indulgent path if we don’t find ourselves blessed after one single month? In my opinion, this shows a lack of discernment – especially in light of concern #3 regarding unbelievers. Combine these two and you’ll see what I mean. (And if you don't remember his little "challenge", go listen to the podcast.)

6 – Finally, there was no mention of the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling in us that enables us to live beyond ourselves – it is only as we crucify our sinful nature and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us that we will ever truly desire to live self-sacrificially. The absence of this teaching leads naturally to the conclusion that we can – and should! - do this on our own. Once again, the spectre of works-based faith raises its Pelagian head and it becomes more evident that John isn't teaching a full-bodied, complete, Christianity. I believe that you and John – and most of TerraNova, for that matter – believe that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone... but I never heard that taught. Not once. So, if I’m a nonbeliever, and I heard that message, I would go out and do good things out of a desire to be acceptable to God. That’s a fatal trap, though, and we all know it... why doesn't your pastor teach it?

I realize this was a HUGE post - longer than some of yours, even - but I hope you took the time to read it carefully. This wasn't an attack on John - I love him as a brother in Christ. This was a clarification on John 13 that needed to be made by someone on the pastoral team... but wasn't.

2:43 PM  
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