Matthew 20 Verse by Verse

Matt photoJesus tells a parable about rewards which leads to some surprises.  Then he once again foretells his death and resurrection.  He also gives his disciples a lesson on greatness.

Matthew 20.mp3     (Kenny Washington)

A Prayer Prompted by the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16

Heavenly Father,

I count it as a privilege to serve you, so help me always to be content in my service.  Help me also to be content with what you bless me with in the way of wages or rewards.  I know that all that you give me, especially that which will come my way in eternity is completely undeserved.

Help me not to look at the service or the wages of others in such a way as to make me envious of them.  I can easily forget that you are always fair and even generous when I fall into improper comparisons.

In the deepest sense it is really not possible for me to see what others experience as they serve you.  I cannot see their inner conflicts or background struggles, nor can they fully see mine.  In the end, all of us truly need to trust you and know that all that we have from you is all of grace.

Keep us ever mindful of your goodness and grace toward us.

In Christ,
Amen

Seeking positions – Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There may be a proper motive and a right way to seek desired positions within the church, but it isn’t easy.  Whatever it is, James and John still had to learn how to do it and so did their mother.

To refuse a position of responsibility, should it be offered to us, is to risk sounding like Moses.  He argued with God at the burning bush over his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt.  At the same time, to seek the position is risk looking like Zebedee’s family in the passage above.

God calls people to take positions of responsibility.  We don’t call ourselves.  The most balanced attitude toward this service/greatness tension might have been both expressed and lived out by Archbishop William Temple, who said, “I have never sought and never refused a position of greater responsibility,”*

The key might be in the love of the service itself, rather than the position.  Paul put it like this in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  The task, not the office, is the motivator.  Jesus uses terms like “servant,” “slave,” “to serve,” and “to give his life,” to describe his own mission.  Ours may look similar to his.

If we focus on service, we won’t get derailed by seeking positions.  It may be that a higher position of some sort will come our way.  If it doesn’t, we still get to serve right where we already are.

*Quoted in Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 191). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Matthew 19 Verse by Verse

Matt photoJesus answers a question about divorce by explaining God’s design for marriage.  He also highlights the importance of children and points out the flaw in the rich young man’s religion.

Matthew 19.pdf

Matthew 19.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Matthew 19

Heavenly Father,

Our lives belong to you.  Help us to trust you completely as obedient children.

If there is anything standing in the way of our complete commitment, we ask you to reveal it to us so that we can serve you with all that we have and all that we are.

We admit that we have ignored your instructions for marriage as you intended it. We have made marriage more about our personal wishes than your perfect will.  Again, since we belong to you, help us to serve you, whether married or single, with contentment and with willing hearts.

In the end we see that eternal life is nothing more, nothing less and nothing other than life given to us as a gift from you and to be lived completely for you.  Make us people whose lives reveal that to the world.

In Christ,

Amen.

Going last – Matthew 19:29-30

30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

This verse does wonders to correct our outlook on life.  First, it discourages the bigger, better, faster, more mentality that we so often engage in.  If only … and everything would be all right.  And so we strive with all our might for whatever “…” is, on the assumption that if we achieve it, we would be happy, or finally attain our rightful position in life.  Sometimes this is really about seeking to be first.  If so, we can be pretty sure God is not pleased with it.  The verse come right after a verse on self-sacrifice or self-denial.

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

If self-sacrifice or self-denial involves putting ourselves last for the sake of Jesus, then we can do so happily, trusting that we lose nothing in the process.  It will likely even lead to long-term gain.

Second, we sometimes feel “last” unintentionally.  Despite our best efforts, things just have not gone our way.  This may be a blessing in disguise.  If we had our way, we might have succeeded and been able to put ourselves first, and then what?  In the Great Future Reversal of Status (a term I just made up), we would lose.  Honestly, we would rather be last now.  There is little advantage to the attainment of visible status at the present time.  So says Jesus.

Our goal must be to put Jesus first no matter what.  There may be an “opportunity” to give something or someone up for him, though it may be disappointing in the present moment.  Then, of course, we can often give priority to others.  Let their needs be met, even if we do without, for Jesus’ sake.  That’s often hard and doesn’t feel right or enjoyable most of the time.  The point is we should not live for the present, but for eternity.  Going last is the way to do it.

Matthew 18 Verse by Verse

Matt photoIn this chapter Jesus teaches us about life in the community of believers.  Some of the things he focuses on are greatness, temptation, sin, correction and forgiveness.

Matthew 18.pdf

Matthew 18.mp3