August 22, 2014

Defining ‘second-best’

Today’s focus is “the peril of second best” yet different people have different ideas of what that is. From three passages, the author of my devotional concludes that prayer, studying and preaching the Word of God take first place. His conclusion is that everything else comes second. But does it?

The first passage cited happened very soon after the formation of the church. Both Jews and Gentiles were coming to faith. The church was taking care of their widows and some of the non-Jewish believers felt that their widows were being neglected. To solve this problem, “the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’”

This pleased everyone, they choose seven men and the apostles prayed and laid their hands on them. Then the Bible says that “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1–7)

The devotional author attributes this growth to the apostles who choose to do what they did best. I’m sure that was important, but that growth also may have been because those godly seven men stepped up and did what they could do. If Christians only prayed and studied Scripture all day, preaching or teaching whenever possible, who would make meals and care for their families? Isn’t there more to being a Christian than those important spiritual disciplines? God does ask me to sit at His feet, but He also asks me to do other things.

A well-known example is the second passage. Jesus went to Martha’s house. She “had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38–42)

Those Christians whose gifts are in serving usually miss seeing that Jesus was gently rebuking Martha, but not for serving. Note that she was distracted and anxious about it. This attitude is not the first-best that Jesus gives His people.

I’ve been like Mary. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is far more interesting than making lunch, but lunch has to be made and Jesus often calls me to the kitchen. For Martha, it was not the serving that Jesus rebuked, but that Martha was serving with a sinful attitude. She may have wanted to be where Mary was, which was good, but she also resented Mary for being there. She even began giving the Lord of Lords a rebuke when all she needed was a few moments with Him to make serving others a joy and not a troublesome task.

Serving Jesus and His disciples lunch is not second-best, but serving with resentment, or doing anything without putting Jesus as the cornerstone of my heart, is. Jesus calls me to serve Him with all my heart, to do whatever I do (even eating and drinking) as unto Him, and by His grace and in His strength. If I do things for myself, half-heartedly, and in my own strength, and resent others who are not doing the hard work that I am doing . . . then I’ve stepped into the realm of second-best. Tasks done for the Lord are not graded by what the tasks are, but by the attitude in which I do them.

Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules . . . .” (2 Timothy 2:1–7)

Whatever I do can only be pleasing to God when they are done “as unto the Lord” – rather than for sinful reasons and motivations. Otherwise they are an entanglement. An athlete cannot be victorious if he ignores the rules of his sport just as a Christian must not ignore God’s guidance for our work.

Besides, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, there is no ‘secular’ work. The sovereign power of God is able to use all things to benefit and build His kingdom. Second-best happens only when I leave Him out of it.

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