Key Text: verse 20:“...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Theme: The Choice Before Us.......Consumerism or Discipleship
The purpose of this series of messages is not to cast ministry vision but to cast “values vision.” One of the core values of this house is Christian discipleship worked out in authentic covenant community and relationship. The number one enemy of true community is something called consumerism, and here’s why: true Christian community is driven and defined by serving one another – even as Christ declared of himself that he came not to be served but to serve. Consumerism is driven and defined not by serving but by being served.
In the last message I shared that at the heart of consumerism is perceived need. Today I want to identify the ‘twin sibling’ of perceived need. Here are the two sides of the single coin that drives consumerism: 1) perceived need, 2) personal ambition.
Note the following scriptures: 2Cor.5:9 - Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
1Thes.4:11 - and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you…
Phil.1: 15 – 17 - Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
James 3: 14 – 16 - But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural,demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambitionexist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
In these texts the word ‘ambition’ appears in two very different contexts. There is a healthy and essential ambition without which nothing would get accomplished. That use of the word is revealed in the first two texts. But in the next three references the word ‘ambition’ is qualified by the word ‘selfish.’
In the first two texts the word ‘ambition’ must be interpreted by the context in which it is found. In doing so it simply means “that which is aimed for.” So in the first text Paul is saying – here is my ambition, here is the aim toward which I am working with all my energy –to be pleasing to Him. The same is true of the second text; ambition means the aim toward which your whole life is being directed and by which your life is being disciplined. And basically the aim sited in this second text is to mind one’s own business.
But when we come to the next three texts we find something very different and very unhealthy. Just to set this up we need to understand that very early on the word was used to describe the activity of electioneering for public office. From there it took on the following shades of definition, and none of them are pretty.
: To influence others on one’s own behalf – that is to manipulate people and things for personal gain and especially personal position and title.
: To compromise a cause for the sake of personal interests or gain – to set self interests ahead of or before the greater good of the larger cause.
These first two expressions refer more to the external works or manifestation of selfish ambition. But James went behind the external works and addressed the heart: ‘selfish ambition in your heart.’ From that standpoint here is what we are looking at.
: Refers to the nature or disposition that is incapable of seeing the higher or greater good; as a matter of nature or disposition the true meaning of all things is understood only in relation to the self.
: Following are the words and phrases that define selfish ambition as a matter of nature or disposition – envy, strife, jealousy, contentious, rivalry, fractious and partisan.
And then we come to the very core and heart of the meaning of selfish ambition: to strive with one’s whole heart to bring something about – to establish something – BUT from or out of a love of personal honour.
It requires no real revelation to understand how this heart, this disposition, this mindset and attitude tears down and destroys community rather than building it. Community is about how each part serves and contributes to the health and enlargement of the whole rather than how the individual defines the whole and exist only to be served by the whole.
It has to be said – although with sincere regret – the North American church has become a culture driven and defined by selfish ambition and most especially the ministry of the North American church.
I will close this out by looking at the difference between Christian discipleship and selfish ambition. This contrast begins with a definition of a word. It is a word very prevalent in our culture and in the culture of the church. See if you can guess this mystery word. It begins with ‘S’and has two sets of double consonances: SUCCESS.
I do not wish to be overly simplistic but there are moments when I honestly feel there must be 10,000 definitions of Christian discipleship in the church and most have to do with external works. Let me be bold and daring and reduce all those definitions to a single word – a single reality. Whatever else Christian discipleship may be it is at heart a stewardshipwe have graciously been given by Christ. The word discipline is rooted in the word discipleship or disciple, and when we apply that to stewardshipwe have to conclude that a stewardship is structured and defined by the disciplines required to make that stewardship work.
Biblically, and according to the words of Christ himself, what is the single requirement of a steward/disciple? One word: ‘a steward must be found faithful.’ When I cut through the entire accumulated rumble I discover that the meaning of success in the Kingdom of God, the meaning of success in this stewardship of Christian discipleship begins and ends with one reality: FAITHFULNESS.
But somewhere this definition of success shifted away from faithfulness to something entirely different. That ‘different thing’ is expressed in a single word that begins with ‘P’ and ends with ‘TIVITY’.Fill in the missing letters: ‘RODUC’ and we have the word: PRODUCTIVITY. Faithfulness has been replaced by productivity.
This much I know for certain: When life is defined by productivity – when success is defined by productivity faithfulness will be meaningless while selfish ambition will reign as king.
Let me bring these considerations regarding selfish ambition to the issue of consumerism. What is the relationship between the two? Simply put they feed off each other, and here is how that looks within the ministry leadership of the North American church. As a pastor I first accept the cultural definition of success as being productivity. This definition of success awakens in me an ambition to be successful according to that definition and now my whole ministry is about productivity.
Driven by this ambition to succeed I study the culture to identify the dominate dynamic that is shaping the culture – in this case consumerism. I learn how to appeal to the basic consumeristic tendencies of people and whatever is required to meet their perceived need at the moment. If I do this well I will be rewarded by their attendance at my church and support of my ministry. Suddenly I am a success. We both win because my selfish ambition driven to produce is satisfied and their consumeristic nature is satisfied because its perceived need is met.
Here is how the word of God judges this madness: Phil.2: 3 – 8 Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble towards one another, always considering othersbetter than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—his death on the cross.
One of the core evidences that the ministry of the church is far from this truth is the fact that no pastors of congregations of certain smallness in numbers is ever invited to speak at church conferences and leadership gatherings. They may be and often are some of the most Godly people and effective leaders in the church – brilliant Bible teachers and full of revelation. And while they are seen and even acknowledged as being faithful they are nonetheless NOT seen as being successful because they have not yet reached the present standard of productivity that defines success in the church.
There is much more to be said about this – but later.