In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
We tend to get it wrong when it comes to good deeds. We assume that our upright actions garner favor and blessing from God. We barter with God, “I’m doing this for you so I expect something in return.” We may not explicitly say that but it’s there under the surface. Then we take our good deeds and use them as an opportunity to get glory from others. We post our acts for the world to see in the hopes of getting a few digital pats on the back. Again, we may not consciously think about that but it’s there. But our approach is backwards.
Our good deeds are for the glory of God and the benefit of others. They are a tangible way in which we love our neighbor. Even when no one is watching or knows what we have done, they are how we shine light. And when we approach our good deeds from this perspective, all the glory goes straight to the only one who deserves it.
Relationships are messy. They aren’t static nor do they follow a linear progression. We’d never try to program our relationship with our spouse or our friends. So why do we try to program discipleship in the local church? If discipleship is fundamentally about a growing relationship with Jesus, why do we insist on treating it so differently? Programs have a role to play and we definitely need a strategy for making disciples. We also need to teach people how to grow as disciples as they go about their work, school, child-rearing, marriage, etc.
When Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples, he meant for that to be done in the context of everyday life. You could argue this has always been God’s design. In Deuteronomy 6, Israel was told to talk about God’s law in the rhythms of daily life. Growing our love for God and others doesn’t primarily happen in an awkward one-on-one relationship or a one-size-fits-all program. It happens when we realize that everything we do, from the mundane to the exciting, is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Jesus. The challenge is to see what it is about our situation that can increase our love for Jesus.
The religious leaders disliked Jesus for a lot of reasons. They didn’t like who he hung out with, the way he didn’t keep the Law according to their interpretations, and the fact that he was more popular with the crowds than they were. So I imagine they were shocked when they heard Jesus say, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20 ESV). How could anyone be more righteous then they were? They had developed laws to keep themselves from breaking God’s laws. I doubt it was just the religious leaders who were taken aback by this statement. The average person must have thought, if not them, then who? Unbeknownst to both groups, they had the same problem: they weren’t perfect. So in stepped Jesus as the substitute. His perfection is given to those who put full trust in him alone.
Which brings us to our situation today. Every single person I’ve met, Christian or otherwise, would readily admit they aren’t perfect. In that moment, we are admitting two things: 1) we are not God and 2) we need God. The only question is whether we realize that Jesus alone is the answer to our sin problem. Only then can we be perfect in the midst of our imperfection.
We live in a metric driven society. The better you are at meeting your stated goals, the more successful you are considered. This way of thinking has crept into the American church during the last century and it’s wreaked havoc on many churches. The truth is, someone is always doing it better. Someone always has more. Someone always he higher numbers. And so on we go as leaders pushing and trying to make things happen all the while missing the fact that our responsibility is not to secure results.
Our role is to faithfully share the message that Peter proclaimed about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Mt 16:16 ESV). It’s in response to this statement that Jesus promises, “I will build my church and the gate of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18 ESV). We will not give an account for what we did in relation to others. But we will give an account of how faithful we were to God’s unique calling for us. When it comes to defining success in ministry, faithfulness is success.
Chapter and verse divisions are immensely helpful when trying to locate a given passage of Scripture. Other times they obscure the flow of the text. Take, for example, the following juxtaposition: “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 3:17-4:1 ESV) When read together, these verses provide an amazing insight.
Sometimes you end up in the desert because of decisions you’ve made. Other times, God takes you there. And it has nothing to do with his feelings toward you. It’s actually because he loves you.